Readings: 1 Kings 19 v 9-18
Matthew 14 v 22-33
All of us need different things when it comes to taking time out.
Some of us enjoy activity to help us relax.
Others enjoy doing nothing.
Some folk relax just by being free of routine and deadlines.
Others like structured breaks.
For some, a change is as good as a rest.
For others, only getting completely away and doing something different – will provide rest.
But we all need, at some level, to escape and feel the difference.
When we encounter Elijah in our Old Testament reading this morning, he was in need of a break.
Elijah had just achieved a massive victory over the prophets of Baal.
He’d won a major battle.
But then he discovered that the queen, Queen Jezebel, was out to kill him.
There was no time for him to celebrate his victory or to take time out to celebrate success.
Instead, Elijah was fleeing for his life.
And the strength and the faith that had seen him through one major crisis deserted him as he faced the next.
So he fled.
Trying to put as much distance as he possibly could between himself and the queen who, literally, was after his blood.
And so he finds himself about 300 miles away from where he had destroyed the 400 prophets of Baal.
And finds himself on a Holy Mountain, a place revered as a place of God.
It is as he hides away on that mountain that Elijah encounters God.
Not, as you might expect, in a mighty wind, or in an earthquake or in a ball of fire.
But in a deathly silence.
That is how God chose to appear.
Elijah, worn out after such a long journey, fearing for his life, had to be still to encounter God – in the silence.
My first question of this story is:
Did Elijah have to flee to this holy mountain to encounter God?
Or could that silence have stopped him in his tracks and soothed him at any point on his journey?
Perhaps an interesting question for us today:
What are the conditions under which we encounter God?
Do we need to be in a particular place?
Do we need to be in a particular frame of mind?
Do we need to be rested?
Do we need to be desperate?
To encounter God.
And my second question is:
What effect does meeting God have on us?
Before God is revealed to Elijah in this story, God asks him: what are you doing here?
And Elijah answers:
"I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
But once God is revealed to Elijah in the silence, God asks him the same question: What are you doing here?
And Elijah’s response is no different:
He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
Elijah, who is filled with God’s spirit.
Who has already achieved incredible feats in the name and power of God, is seemingly unchanged by this encounter.
He is still weary, still fearful, in spite of all that God enabled in him and through him.
Like so many of us.
Confronted by God in different times and places, in different ways.
Yet, often, unchanged by the encounter.
How often have we thought:
If only God would just give me a sign.
If only God would be a bit clearer.
If only God would give me a nudge – one way or the other.
But would it really make any difference?
Would we really be any the wiser?
How often have we chosen to ignore the prompting of God because we’re not convinced, or the timing’s not right, as we see it, or because we’re just not ready for that particular message?
We idealize how and when the Living God might show up in our lives – so much so – that we fail to recognize how often we are in fact in that Holy presence.
Our gospel reading continues the theme of rest, of escape.
Jesus sent the disciples off in a boat to escape the crowds and he spent some time by himself in prayer.
Of course we all know and have probably heard many a sermon on the rest of this story – when Jesus catches up with the disciples by walking on water to reach them.
Often, we focus on Peter, the disciple who left the boat and walked on water.
Whether Peter’s actions were acts of bravery or of foolishness is open for debate.
But there is even more going on in this gospel story.
At this point in their ministry together, Jesus is recognized, by the disciples, as the Son of God.
Because he walked on water to reach the disciples in the boat.
The disciples, terrified, not by the wind and the waves – they were fishermen, after all – the disciples, terrified by the sight of someone walking on the water, on discovering that the one who comes to them is Jesus, in that moment, recognize him as the Son of God and worship him.
The ARE changed by their encounter with God, with the Son of God.
Their fear leaves them and they begin to worship.
What a result!
And their journey continues…
The reason Jesus and the disciples were in the boat was to cross to the other side and carry on their ministry.
By the time the disciples got there, by the time they crossed the water, they were forever changed by their encounter with the living God.
They now knew who Jesus was – the Son of God.
And that encounter propelled them on
So which encounter resonates with us this morning?
Do we long to encounter God in quiet and reverence?
Or do we want to see God in the storm that is our life right now?
And would it make any difference either way?
Are we prepared to be challenged and changed by knowing God, however revealed?
Or have we lost the will to love and to serve because life is too hard?
We have been privileged this morning to hear just a brief update of our young folks’ trip to Romania – I’m sure there are lots more stories to come. (some not for telling here!)
A story that started out as a simple wish to help out by donating weekly tuck shop profits.
A story that grew.
Until that helping out at a distance was no longer enough.
We give thanks for all who have been inspired and enabled to go on this trip.
For leaders and for young people.
What is certain is that each of them will be changed forever by that experience.
By encountering new experiences, by encountering a very different culture and, whether they knew it or not, by encountering God in the people by whom they were welcomed and whom they served.
Because thank God, it’s not about when we are ready.
God appears anyway.
God appears and changes everything, using us to share the love of God and to live in the light of that love.
God changes you.
God changes me.
And, together, we go on to make God known throughout the world, starting right here.
May we be open and may we be surprised and empowered by encountering God this week, in the silence or in the storm.
Thanks be to God.