Sermon for Pentecost 10 2020

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I’ve made various attempts throughout the years of trying to spend some time every day in silent prayer and meditation, and if you know me very well you’ll realize how difficult this can be for me. Praying the Office and other devotions (particulary Marian devotions) come easily enough, but quiet prayer with either an economy of words or none, comes far less naturally.

We seem these days to populate our lives with noise, and I am the worst offender in this regard. I listen to podcasts when I’m cooking dinner and doing laundry. My phone is constantly alerting me to emails and text messages which are often important and time sensitive and require quick response, but which do tend to invade the silence that all of us need from time to time. I do not believe I am alone in being captive (to a certain extent) to the noisy world in which we live. Turning the noise off, even for a few minutes sometimes seems beyond our ability.

In this morning’s Old Testament lesson, Elijah has retreated to Mount Horeb, which other biblical authors named Mount Sinai- the same place God had given the Law to Moses. He was seeking refuge from King Ahab and especially from Ahab’s wife Jezebel who desired the death of the prophet for challenging and defeating the followers of the pagan god Baal in a sort of tournament of miracles.

We can assume, though, that Elijah was looking for more than just a hiding place. He had already found a safe haven in the wilderness, and despite his own melancholy (which led him to desire death from starvation), God’s angels had ministered to him and kept him from falling prey to his depression. That Elijah made the long trek to Horeb—which we are told took him forty days and forty nights—suggests that he was looking for something more than just a “hidey-hole”. Rather, I believe he was seeking some kind of message from God, and what better place to find such a message than at that very place in which God’s greatest moment of self-disclosure up to that point (namely, the revelation of the Law) had occurred.

No doubt Elijah was hoping for a grand display of power. Moses had seen a burning bush on this mountain, and God had enclosed Horeb with clouds and fire while he communed with Moses at the summit. Elijah got what he was expecting in part: a wind strong enough to split rocks, a tremendous earthquake, and a firestorm. But in all these powerful signs, Elijah did not hear the message he desired from God. It was only after these apparently cataclysmic events that Elijah heard the still small voice of God, breaking through sheer silence.

And what does Elijah hear in that silence? It is not just a sense of calm or of affirmation. Elijah hears words of instruction. He gets his marching orders, as it were. He is told very specifically to anoint Hazael as king of Aram (modern day Syria) and to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel and to anoint Elisha as his successor as God’s prophet.

This is why quiet time with God is so terribly important. We’re not just out to feel God’s calming presence in some abstruse sense. That is certainly a secondary benefit we can gain from prayer, but it’s not the only reason we should listen in prayer as much as we talk. We need silence so that God can tell us what to do. He may tell us by giving us a sense of affirmation about some plans we mean to make or by implanting in our hearts feelings of unease about a course of action we ought not to take. This is how St. Ignatius Loyala suggests a decision should be prayerfully made, and I, for one, have found this an invaluable technique, as hard as I personally find it to put into practice.

God may even speak to us in discernible language as in Elijah’s case. I don’t know often this happens, and I think we are rightly suspicious when one claims God told them something. If that purportedly divine message makes claims which contradict scripture, church tradition, or a reasonable application of one or the other, then we are right to reject such a claim. Even so, God clearly and truly spoke in this way to the prophets, and undoubtedly does so even still to some. God has never spoken to me in the Queen’s English, but it his certainly possible that he could at some point choose to do so.

However God chooses to speak to us, though, we have to give God an opportunity. We have to carve out of our busy schedules moments for silence. I have often joked with Christians more preternaturally contemplative than I, that they can keep their centering prayer (which I’ve always found beyond difficult to get into) and I’ll just pray the daily office. Even so, I find that simply being quiet and present before God can do wonders, as hard as it is for me to do that. Even five or ten minutes of silent prayer and meditation can do wonders as we seek to become closer to God.

If you really believe that you don’t have five or ten minutes to do this, I encourage you to think again. Look at your day-planner and set some time aside. I put time for prayer into my calendar and my phone beeps at me and then I silence it for a while and I’m quiet. I’ve found it’s the only way I can stay honest with myself and God about praying as I should. However you manage to do it, if you try I think you’ll find that God will speak to you in a manner more clear and compelling than if we wait for an earthquake or a burning bush before we pay attention. Whether God speaks to you with an honest-to-God voice or with a small but discernible murmur in your heart, He will speak and He will give you that which is needful to accomplish His perfect Will.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.