Elijah, a prophet living some 1000 years before Jesus’ birth, was at the lowest point of his life, it seemed that the world was against him and his very life was in danger.
Israel had forsaken their God and were following other gods. The prophets of the lord had given up their faith and even the King followed the ways of idols. Elijah had just won a great contest in which he killed 400 prophets of fertility god Baal and now he alone remained as a prophet of the Lord. The kings wife had put a contact out on him he was a hunted man. He was alone and frightened and felt abandoned by God.
Maybe there has been a time in your life what you too have felt alone and abandoned by God, or if not God certainly by those around you. When feeling this way we tend to retreat, to hide, to keep a low profile. This is what Elijah was doing by hiding in the cave.
Elijah just wished to curl up and die, for all this struggle in the name of an invisible and silent God, to just go away. But it is hard to flee from God. There would be others too who felt this – remember what happened to Jonah when he tried to run away!
God speaks to Elijah ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
Elijah needs to feel the presence of God, he needs to see that God really exists and his desire, his need is fulfilled as God tells him to wait. God said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’
What then follows is a mighty wind and an earthquake: Here is a display of power, the ability to split mountains we are told. You can imagine Elijah thinking here is god Yes this is the kind of God I want, here is the evidence the world can sit up and take note of. But God is not in this display of power. Instead God is found in the sound of sheer silence.
Here is Elijah at the lowest point in his life and his request to see God, to meet with God is – silence. Isn’t that just typical!
Not many of us are very comfortable with silence.
If we turn to our partner and ask “Tell me that you love me” and are met with silence we would probably be none to pleased. When we are on our own do we feel comfortable with silence or do we not put on the radio or TV so that we can have some company.
It seems that all too often God is silent in our lives. We sense that he is not listening to our prayer.
There is a wonderful poem entitled “folk tales” by RS Thomas that speaks of prayer and the silence of God. In the few verses we are given a picture of lover throwing stones up at a window in order to attract the attention of the beloved. The window is too high and then we are reminded of the childhood tale of a girl letting down her hair so that the brave knight can climb up and free her. But both these images seem futile, the window remains closed the hair is never let down so that we can climb up, And yet we keep throwing pebbles up at the window trying to attract Gods attention:
Prayers like gravel
Flung at the sky’s Window,
Hoping to attract the loved one’s attention.
But without visible plaits to let down for the believer to climb up,
To what purpose open that far casement?
I would have refrained long since but that peering once through my locked fingers
I thought that I detected the movement of a curtain.
I thought I detected the movemement of a curtain – RS Thomas captures the beautiful truth that Thomas revealed that in our doubts in our uncertianity, in our disbelief God makes himself known.
Eilijah detects the movement of God, not in the display of power but in the sheer silence that followed. That still small voice of calm.
Whether we are at the lowest point in our lives or like Peter riding the storms of life we need to persevere and trust in God. In our prayer life we may feel that it is all a waste of time, that God is not really listening, but if we persevere, if we remain alert to the small movement of the curtain, in the poem, or the sheer silence outside the cave then we find God and he in turn will stretch out his hand to us and stop us from sinking into the waves of despair and be lost forever.
Elijah leaves that cave emboldened and re-energised to continue the dangerous work of being the prophet of the Lord. Peter too once his life is in the hands of Jesus is able to continue the work he as called to - to build his church.
But the readings of today teach us one other important insight. It is all very well to say that like Peter, we need only to fix our gaze and concentrate on Jesus for everything to be fine. But the truth we are shown is that there will be moments when we are made desperately aware of our vulnerability.
When we take the decision to follow Jesus we open ourselves to an environment were Jesus Christ is our only and our total security, the truth of our existence is that we are out on deep water without a boat, and of course it is at this moment of realisation that we begin to understand what faith is all about. Thankfully, when we are prepared to take that leap of faith Jesus is there to hold our hand and bring us back to where we feel safe.
It is of course a learning process and we see a very different Peter a few years later, after the death and resurrection of Jesus when he is boldly preaching the gospel and being thrown into prison – we can see a dramatic growth of faith.
Let us therefore be alert to the voice of God calling us in the night to place our hand in his and be led into the morning light. Like Peter let us be ready to leap out of the boat of our certainties and securities in order to meet with Jesus and follow him.