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Where Is Your God?  Jeanne Gay, June 24, 2007 Where Is Your God? Jeanne Gay, June 24, 2007

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   Discussion: Where Is Your God? Jeanne Gay, June 24, 2007
Jeanne Gay · 10 years, 6 months ago

Where Is Your God?

Sermon preached by Jeanne Gay

June 24, 2007        Summit Presbyterian Church

Psalm 42          1 Kings 19:1-15

Where is your God? We heard this question in our psalm today.

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

The psalmist goes on to remember times when he was full of praise for God, leading a procession to the house of God, and he is full of hope that he will again praise God.

We’ve all had experiences like this, when the joys of yesterday have melted away and we know we’re missing something. Our souls are thirsty; our tears are our food day and night. Our culture tells us to solve the problem by buying something—shopping therapy—or taking a vacation to some beautiful place … or taking a pill. But I think the psalmist knew something.

            As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.

Theologians sometimes talk about this thirsting for God in terms of a “God-shaped hole” in each of us. We may try to fill it with all sorts of things—food, alcohol, relationships, a beautiful lawn, “stuff,”—but the hole we’re trying to fill can be satisfied only by God.

But where is our God?

As part of an intensive course in American Religious History that I’ve been taking for the past three weeks, we visited the Hindu temple on Allen’s Lane. We sat in the main room, with representations of various forms of Krishna at one end, and at 8:00 someone closed the doors in front of the gods and prepared them for bed. The man talking with us explained that Hindus believe that the gods actually inhabit images of them, so people treat the statues as if they were the gods themselves. Seeing the gods—and being seen by them (called darshan)—is also central to Hindu worship.

As I sat in this class, I was thinking about the question in this sermon’s title—Where is your God?—and thinking that, for Hindus, the answer is clear. Right over there. Whether the god images are in the temple or in a shrine at home, where isn’t an important question.

But for us Christians, it can be. If one of your neighbors or co-workers asked you, “Where is your God?” what would you say? In heaven? Okay. In church? Uh-huh. In the words of the scriptures? Right. In our hearts? Okay … but what if you’re not finding God in your heart?

That’s about what was happening to Elijah in this morning’s scripture. He had had a thrilling victory over the prophets of Ba’al, and now Jezebel was after him. “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” That’s a pretty serious threat, and Elijah took Jezebel at her word.

He fled—not only to the other end of the kingdom but into the wilderness beyond it, which is a bit like saying “to the ends of the earth.” And he sat down and asked God to take his life. And he slept.

When he woke up, it was because an angel was prodding him and saying, “Get up and eat.” And there where there had been nothing was a cake and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and then he slept again.

Same story: the angel comes again and says, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” And so he ate and drank, and then he started to travel again.

We read that he went for forty days and forty nights—which generally means “a long time” in the Hebrew scriptures. And where did he go? He went to Mt. Horeb, which is also known as Mt. Sinai. Is this ringing any bells? The number 40, Mt. Horeb? This is the mountain Moses climbed, the one where he spoke with God and received the 10 commandments. It’s not happenstance that Elijah traveled all that way across the desert; he didn’t make his way to this particular mountain for no reason at all. He’s looking for God.

He goes up on the mountain and spends the night in a cave there. And a voice tells him to go out of the cave. “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Now, what happened when the Lord passed by Moses on this mountain? Wind! Thunder! Lightning! Earthquake! So Elijah knows what to expect.

“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord … but the Lord was not in the wind.” Where is your God, Elijah?

“And after the wind an earthquake … but the Lord was not in the earthquake.” Where is your God, Elijah?

“And after the earthquake a fire … but the Lord was not in the fire.” Where is your God, Elijah?

“And after the fire a sound of sheer silence.”

Older translations call this a still, small voice, but the New Revised Standard says “a sound of sheer silence.”

Sheer silence. And Elijah knew that this was the voice of God. He wrapped his face in his mantle (so he wouldn’t be looking at God—a pretty darn scary thing to do), and he left his cave to talk with God. And God gave him assurances about his future.

Now there are two things I think we need to hear from this scripture this morning. The first is that God is not always where—and how—we expect God. Elijah was figuring that his experience of God would be like Moses’ experience of God … but it wasn’t.

I read the story a couple of years ago of a young mother who was distraught because she didn’t have a strong prayer life. Other women in her church talked of the wonderful blessings they received from their times of meditation and Bible reading, but for this young woman that just didn’t happen. She had recently adopted two little children, and her life just didn’t seem to have room for even 15 minutes of quiet time each day.

“I’m just not a very good Christian,” she told an older woman in her congregation. “I guess I don’t have time for God in my life.”

Now, this older woman could have encouraged her to do something to find the time for prayer and meditation. Get up earlier! Hire a babysitter! Do it while the kids are napping! But she didn’t. She said, “Maybe God has other ways of speaking to you at this point in your life. Stop comparing your walk with God with someone else’s walk with God.”

And a few weeks later this same young woman came to her older friend and said, “I’m seeing God in my children, every day. And sometimes during the week I remember some of the message from Sunday, and it just comes alive for me, even in the middle of my daily life.”

Not all of us hear God in the same ways, and sometimes the ways we experience God change over the course of our lives. But I particularly like the advice to not compare our own faith journeys with other peoples’ – because I’ve found that when we spend our lives comparing, we’re filling our brains with little voices saying, “You’re not good enough. You should try to be like him. She sure has a better faith than you do.” And those little voices can keep us from hearing God in the ways that God is speaking to us.

And perhaps we can say that God has different purposes for us at different times—different reasons for speaking.

A meditative essay from Taizé, an ecumenical community in France, ponders the different voices of God this way:

Does God speak with a loud voice or in a breath of silence? Should we take as example the people gathered at Sinai or the prophet Elijah? This might be a wrong alternative. The terrifying phenomena related to the gift of the Ten Commandments emphasize how serious these are. Keeping or rejecting them is a question of life or death. Seeing a child running straight under a car, one is right to shout as loud as possible. In analogous situations prophets speak the word of God so that it makes our ears ring.

Loud words certainly make themselves heard; they are impressive. But we also know that they hardly touch the heart. They are resisted rather than welcomed. Elijah’s experience shows that God does not want to impress, but to be understood and accepted. God chose “a sound of sheer silence” in order to speak. This is a paradox: God is silent and yet speaking.

When God’s word becomes “a sound of sheer silence,” it is more efficient than ever to change our hearts. The heavy storm on Mt. Sinai was splitting rocks, but God’s silent word is able to break open human hearts of stone. [1]

God’s silent word is able to break open human hearts of stone.

And that is the second thing that I think this passage is saying to us this morning: Sometimes we need to be silent to hear the silent word of God.

Sometimes, with Elijah, we need to come out of our caves to meet the God whose voice is silence. The Taizé passage continues:

For Elijah himself the sudden silence was probably more fearsome than the storm and thunder. The loud and mighty manifestations of God were somehow familiar to him. God’s silence is disconcerting, so very different from all Elijah knew before.

Silence makes us ready for a new meeting with God. In silence, God’s word can reach the hidden corners of our hearts. In silence, we stop hiding before God, and the light of Christ can reach and heal and transform even what we are ashamed of. [2]

We’re going to try this this morning. We’re going to be silent and listen for God’s voice in the silence. I’ll ring a chime when I’m about ready to begin speaking again.

Just as the choir earlier sang “Kum Bah Yah,” we’re going to sit quietly and ask God to “Come by here.” To be here, with us, in the silence that speaks. Kum Ba Yah, O Lord, Come by here.

[Silence] 

[Chime] 

At the leadership retreat a few weeks ago, one of the suggestions was that we have some prayer and meditation worship times. If that’s something that you’re interested in, come see me after the service.

Silence may not work for you, or maybe it didn’t work this morning, or maybe you thought perhaps you were hearing God but there were too many other little voices in your head to be sure. It’s okay. Remember that the way God speaks to others may not be the way God speaks to you.

But remember also that God makes God’s presence known in our lives in unexpected ways. In silence instead of thunder, sometimes. In a single word of scripture rather than a whole sermon at other times.

And sometimes, with the psalmist, we have to hold on to other times when we knew God was present with us. Because the truth is that whether we can hear God or not, whether we feel God in our hearts or not, whether we sense God’s presence in our worship or not, the answer to the question “Where is your God? is HERE. God is here.

Thanks be to God. Amen.



[1] “The Value of Silence.” Ateliers et Presses de Taize, 2001, © 2007. < http://www.taize.fr/en_article12.html>

[2] Ibid.

Sean Forman (anon) · 10 years, 6 months ago
Thank you for posting these Jeanne.

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