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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Say What? Series: Hearing God Speak through Silence (1 Kings 19:11-13)


Centering Thought

This morning we kick off a new sermon series called "Say What?" God is still speaking, right now, to ordinary people - like us! But, how can we hear from God? How could our lives be different if we intentionally seek out the places God is speaking? What if we had the daily expectation that God has something to say to us?

 

Today our message will be “Hearing God Speak Through Silence.”  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a lot of silence in my life.  There’s a lot of noise in my life, much of it generated by me.  Maybe we avoid silence.  Maybe we find silence awkward or uncomfortable.  Sometimes it is.  But today, let’s see how leaning into silence is a way to better hear from God.

 

Sermon

Back before everyone carried a cell phone, we had this thing called a “landline” – a telephone that, somewhere in your house, was plugged into the wall, where it connected with a wire that ran over land and connected you with the outside world.

 

Back in the olden days, we also had this thing called “Dial-up Internet service.  I remember was getting kicked off the Internet when someone else in the house picked up the phone to make a call.  I also remember that when my parents were expecting an important call, we had to stay off the phone and stay off the computer, so the line would stay open for that call to come in.

 

In our faith, do we keep the line open to hear from God?  Is God important enough to us, is hearing from God important that we do what it takes to keep the line open?

 

In this new year, I want to be the kind of person who expects to hear from God.  I want us to be the kind of church who expects to hear from God.   There is no limit to the places and methods God uses to speak.  We won’t be paying much attention to the obvious places, but that doesn’t lessen the reality that yes, God still speaks to us through Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, through Scripture and prayer.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be paying attention to some of the less obvious ways that God speaks to us.  Because they’re less obvious, we’re more likely to miss them.  If God is trying to get through to me, I want to make sure all lines are open.

 

That’s the aim of the series of messages we’re beginning today – that we all expect to hear from God, that we keep all lines open, and are intentional to seek out those places where we can find God – both the obvious places, and the not-so-obvious places.

 

Turn with me in your Bibles to the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, Chapter 19, verses 11-13:

 

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

 

So here the prophet Elijah is told that God is about to pass by.  God has a history of showing up in the grandiose and spectacular, indeed, in things like fire, and smoke, and wind, and earthquakes.  We, too, look for God in awesome displays of power and grandeur.  Have your home damaged by an earthquake, fire, or storm, and the insurance company calls that, “an act of God.”  When asked to describe God, we offer superlatives like, “All-powerful,” “All-knowing, “All-present.”  What does God sound like?  Surely something deep and commanding like James Earl Jones in an echo chamber.

 

Our faith tradition witnesses to the reality of a God who is bigger, mightier, more awesome than our minds can fathom, and so we look for God in signs and wonders that are beyond our comprehension.  It’s easy to overlook that God is also found in stillness and quietness, in whispers and shadows, in movements imperceptible to the human eye and in silence indistinguishable to the human ear.

 

God spoke to Elijah, not in the power of the wind, earthquake, or fire, but in a still small voice. God often spoke to the prophets in the quietness of the day.

 

God still speaks in silence and stillness, indeed God speaks to us in the quietness of our days, yet how often do we miss it because our lives are too cluttered with other noise and distractions?

 

Several applicants were seeking a position as a ship's Morse Code operator. They gathered in a waiting room, which soon filled with the sounds of small talk between strangers.  Then another applicant comes in, sits alone, and waits quietly. Suddenly, she jumps up, walks into the private office, and after a few minutes, it was announced that the position had been filled.  The other applicants exclaim, "We were here first! Why did you hire her?" The captain replies, "Any of you could have gotten the job.  You see that intercom?” and points to a speaker on the counter.  “For the last twenty minutes, I’ve been transmitting a message in Morse Code through that intercom. If you had been quiet enough and paid attention, you would have heard the message, 'The first person who hears this message and comes directly into my office will get the job.’”

 

It’s often the same between us and God.  God is speaking to us all the time, but our ears may not be tuned to hear the message.  We are looking for God in the grand and mighty displays, the signs and wonders, the earthquake, wind, and fire, when all along God has been speaking quietly, almost imperceptibly, and for all the noise around us and within us, we miss it.

 

We are unfamiliar and unaccustomed to silence.  We find silence awkward and uncomfortable.  And yet, God is often speaking quietly in a still, small voice, so we need to become people who intentionally seek out silence.

 

How can we do that?  Well, first, each of us needs to talk less.  How much of the noise around us is self-generated?  We can all be more enamored with our own voice and opinion than is probably warranted, yet it’s very hard to hear God speaking if we never stop talking.  I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: we have one mouth and two ears for a reason; if we want to hear from God, we need to listen more than we speak.

 

Have you ever had a conversation with a person who talks non-stop and doesn’t let you say anything?  Or, a person who walks in, dumps their words all over you, and then walks out?  Or, a person who asks one question after another and never pauses long enough to hear the answer?  That’s frustrating, isn’t it?

 

I’ve often wondered if God experiences something of the same frustration in dealing with us.  How often is our prayer time a one-way conversation where we dial in, talk at God non-stop, and then dial back out?  Barraging God with our desires, our requests, our needs, our joys, our concerns.  I wonder if God says, “Hey, I’ve heard from you the whole time, which is great, but, can you take just a moment to listen to what I have to say?”

 

The first step in listening is to stop talking.  Friends, while we are bringing everything on our heart to God, can we also make space to hear what’s on God’s heart for us?

 

The second thing we can do, once we stop talking, is to turn off as much other noise as we can.  We live cluttered, busy, and noisy lives.  How often have I found myself working on something at home, laptop open, looking up something on my phone, Ashley showing me something on the iPad, TV on in the background.  Let’s assume God is trying to speak to me – how likely is it that I am going to hear God with all the rest of that going on?

 

To find some silence in order to hear that still, small voice in which God is constantly speaking, sometimes we need to simply turn off and put away some of the other distractions so we can focus on God.  The very definition of the word “focus” means to give our attention to one thing only, which means we are not giving attention to other things.  And so, focusing on God requires us to put other things away.

 

And then, after we’ve stopped talking so we can listen, after we’ve put other things away so we can focus, we may still need to seek a quiet place or create one.

 

That’s one of the things I love about our Wednesday night service at 5:30 – we’ve created that service as a place for some silence in the middle of the week.  Our Wednesday night service is completely different from what we do on Sunday – Sunday is often loud and celebratory, chatty, a bit chaotic sometimes.  Wednesday nights are simpler and quieter – where liturgy, Communion, prayer, and silence get center stage.  Silence isn’t popular – we rarely have more than a dozen people present each Wednesday – but for those few but faithful who do come, those 30 minutes of prayer and Communion and silence are an intimate experience of God’s presence that is far too rare in this busy, noisy world of ours.  Only when we are still and silent before God can we hear the faint, almost imperceptible whisper of his voice – a whisper that’s been there all along if we had only quieted down to hear it.

 

That’s a place we create a silent space as a church – silence that we can more intentionally and alertly draw into God’s presence.  Perhaps you also need to create some silence in your day – intentional silence where you practice hearing for the still, small voice of God.  A place where you can pause amidst the busy noise to not only pour out your heart to God, but where you also hear God speak, and show you what’s on God’s heart.

 

This week at home, I want you to prepare your own quiet place.  Some physical space – a room, a corner, a certain chair – where you will go for quiet and to hear from God.  Prepare some quiet space in your schedule – when during your day will you seek out that quiet place so you can hear from God?  Some people do that early in the morning, some late at night, some just after lunch or before dinner.  Remember, this is focused time, not while you’re doing some other task.  Not while you’re driving, not while you’re working out, not while you’re cooking.

 

And then, once you’ve prepared that quiet place – both physically and in your schedule – begin practicing being in silence.  If you’ve never done that before, start small with five minutes or ten minutes a day.  Sometimes it helps to keep a pad of paper nearby so you can jot down what you’re hearing from God.

 

God so often moves among us quietly and imperceptibly.  Silence doesn’t come to us naturally or easily, at least it doesn’t to me, I wonder how much of God I’ve missed over the years because I was making too much noise or paying too much attention to the noise around me.

 

Even so, it’s not too late to free up the line, because we are expecting to hear from someone important.  We’re expecting to hear from God.  Listen carefully to the silence.

 

Holy God, who speaks to us in the silences of our lives and invites us to listen closely for the Spirit's Presence, be with us as we continue to seek after you.  Forgive our noisy ways, reclothe us in a quieter mind.  Guide our hearts and open our eyes and ears so that we may gain new glimpses of you--trusting that there is deep faithfulness in listening deeply.  Teach us the gift of silence, that we may hear you, O still, small voice of calm and peace.  Amen.

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