When I was a minister at a church in Greenville, Michigan I started a Beer and Bible Study for men. My secret goal wasn’t to just share my knowledge of God with them, but the help them crack the gold leaf on their bibles so they could search through the pages and get to know God on a more personal level.
As I was looking for a passage to preach on this week, I discovered that there were sections in my bible that just automatically open – places I tend to frequent. There is still some unchartered territory that I haven’t ever preached on. One such book is Chronicles, actually it’s two books but could easily be one.
Chronicles is a considered a historical book that literally chronicles the kings and players in Israel’s story. Todays reading focuses on the time in King David’s reign when the Ark of God has been returned to the tabernacle after having been lost in battle. It is a reason to celebrate, and to worship God! So David commemorates the event with liturgy, a song of praise.
It comes from 1 Chronicles 16:7-11:
I want you to take a moment and think about something your grateful for today. How does it make you feel? And how do you show it?
I asked this question at an assisted living facility and nearly everyone said the same thing. The first thing they do when they wake up is to pray thanking God that they woke up. We often overlook the obvious, like breathing, gravity, and good art.
I am grateful for the gift of life that is Colleen and for the love which she was created from. I am grateful God has chosen to make our home a holy space for people to worship in God’s presence. I am grateful to have my voice and the ears who are willing to hear what I have to say.
I met a man who, since childhood, has recited an ancient tribal prayer that had been passed down through his Locanda ancestors. He begins each day saying, “Spirit, I thank you for my first breath, and for the knowledge that every breath I take after this is my responsibility to reveal your truth through me.” What a powerful way to start your day, centered in gratitude for the gifts you’ve been given and accepting the responsibility to use them
More than just being grateful, giving thanks to God is a great way to check in with God on a daily basis. Our God is relational and loves to connect with us. We have all the time in the world for binge watching, hanging out with friends, or zoning out on Instagram. But when God wants to share some of our time we balk.
We should be grateful that God wants to be with us. God wants to have a relationship with us. The incarnation is a powerful reminder so that God was willing to become one with us through Jesus, so we could have a face to relate to. I’m grateful for that!
Social scientist have proven that living in gratitude builds better relationships, improves physical, mental and emotional health, and builds confidence and self-esteem. It actually helps us sleep better, and who doesn’t want that?
If living in gratefulness can have that affect on your life, imagine the transformation that can happen when you call upon God’s name – the second imperative in this verse.
Although he wasn’t always good at it, David made it his goal to make God his number one priority. He called on the Lord constantly. He sought God’s council. Pleaded for God’s help in matters big and small. As a result, David dwelt in the rich presence of God’s glory.
His story is similar to Abraham, Isaac, Samuel, Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul, and so many other saints who have experienced the transformative power of God’s glory simply by calling out to God. It could be a morning prayer, or just an ongoing conversation you have with God while driving to work. Another thing I am grateful for is the car phone…because I can talk out loud to God without looking crazy to the other drivers.
I don’t think it matters how you do it, or what you say, God just wants to hear from you. I have found that when I speak my problems out loud, I am able to deal with them better than if I stuffed them deep inside me. When I speak them out loud with God, I am inviting God to help me through them. God wants to help you through those tough situations or difficult challenges you might be facing. As C.S. Lewis said, “Prayer doesn’t change God. It changes me.”
Just as it is with gratitude, we need to give God a call at least once a day. Not only does it help turn the ritual of prayer into a relational conversation but it keeps us aligned with God’s will. Even if we falter from time to time.
Calling on the name of God keeps the connection between your heart and God’s heart moving in one continuous flow. When our hearts are connected to God, we find our inner peace; we receive a deeper understanding of who we are and the relations we have with God and others; and we develop a more accepting and loving spirit. We become a living testimony of God’s grace and love. The third imperative in this verse.
I don’t know if it’s because of where we live, or the time in which we live in, but it seems to me there is a greater and growing reticence among Christian people to share their faith in public. It’s almost as if we’re embarrassed of our faith, or by what God has done for us.
Just yesterday, while meeting someone for my KNOWvember challenge, the person opened up about his faith, and his failures in it. When I asked him why he felt comfortable sharing those things with me, he said, “because you’re a minister, non-believer can’t understand.” All the more reason to let the world know that God is worth knowing.
Imagine a world where people felt free to talk about God and share their faith – without shame, or fear of judgment. We have no problem spewing our political beliefs, or our opinion on a movie or celebrity. But when it comes to sharing our beliefs in God or our Christian faith we just clam up. It’s not easy to share something as personal as faith, but how else will people come to know God’s glory, or find the love God has for them?
Today also marks the 50th anniversary of the first episode of Sesame Street. For 50 years they have been proclaiming God’s will in the most creative, and unintentional ways. Sounds crazy, but watch an episode and you will see the ways they teach us to love and care for each other. Wasn’t that Jesus’s message?
If a big yellow bird can teach us how to be hospitable, kind, gracious and joyful, then so can you. If Oscar the grouch can teach us how to lament or be more accepting of who we are, then we can teach others as well. You see, talking about God doesn’t mean reciting bible verses to win a dogmatic argument.
King David did it with poetry and song. Jesus did it in the way he loved and forgave others. For Paul it was preaching and in his letter writing. To borrow from St. Francis, preach the gospel –use words only when necessary. How could you proclaim the good news without saying a word?
The prophet Micah said, “What does God want from us but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.”
John Piper teaches us that, “God calls us to enjoy continual consciousness of Divine greatness and beauty and worth.” This takes a daily, conscious effort to set our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection on God.
When we set our minds in God’s mind, we can do the will of God without fear or trepidation. When we set our hearts in God’s heart each day, we can revel in God’s love and peace always. When we testify to God’s great glory, our life and every life around us, can’t help but be transformed and rejoice.
So to borrow from David’s psalm, I leave you with this challenge: “Seek the Lord and God’s strength. And seek God’s presence always.” For there is no better way to worship God.
Let us pray: Most glorious and merciful God, we give you thanks for all that we have been given; especially through the the gift of your Son, Jesus the Christ. Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we can go out in the world to proclaim your glory by walking in the footsteps of Christ in all that we do. Amen.
This story comes on the heels of one of my favorite bible stories where Elijah the prophet challenges the prophets of the god Baal to a match. In a nutshell...YWHW comes through in the most powerful way. And the prophets of Baal lose more than they bargained for. But that’s a whole other sermon.
READ: 1 Kings 19: 9-13.
These verses are best understood in the larger context of 1 Kings. In the previous chapter, Elijah is a completely different person. He has raised the dead. Ended a three year drought. He’s challenged and defeated 450 prophets of Baal in the most specular competition. And boldly and bravely ordered them to be killed.
But when Queen Jezebel here’s about this she vows to kill Elijah in retaliation. Even after witnessing what God can do...Elijah is afraid for his life. He flees into the wilderness, sits down under a tree and prays to God to die.
Elijah, who had been so powerful and courageous is now despondent and discouraged. Full of God-inspired imagination before, Elijah now, can see no way out. He feels like a loser, believing he has failed God and his calling. Abandoned and alone, Elijah goes away to have a pity party for himself. He’s done speaking for God. It’s not worth the risk. He just wants to die.
Have you ever felt so broken or alone that death seems like the best possible solution? If so, you’re not alone.
Have you ever wandered in the wilderness...or trudged up a lonely mountain to feel closer to God only to sit and wait…wondering if Heaven has closed its doors. If so, you’re not alone.
Have you ever knelt by your bed and prayed intently for answers until your knees are screaming? Or sat in a pew clutching the bible to your breast waiting in faith and expectation while the airwaves remain silent. God is not home. If so, you’re not alone.
Silent but not alone. This is what Elijah teaches us.
Two years ago, I went to visit my friends in Mexico. I was in a bad place. Like Elijah, I too felt like a loser and a failure. The church wasn’t growing like I expected it to, nor did it look anything like I had imagined. I was struggling with my faith, my confidence, and my call. I was desolated and ran away to Southern Baja to find consolation.
My friend’s built a beautiful beach house where every window had a calming view of the sand and the sea. Getting to that beach was a bit stressful. The pathway was rough- built with rocks, shells and broken glass – each stood out like orange caution cones along the highway warning of danger ahead.
The path eventually gave way to the sand, which was soft and deep. Each step was a struggle... like marching through mud in flip flops. The sand did its best to keep me from advancing any further. But I was determined.
After a hundred yards or so of this thigh burning march, I came face to face with an enormous wall of sand dunes. I felt like I was in Game of Thrones and the giant ice wall was keeping me from going where I needed to go. And so I climbed, pushing through the soft sand.
Atop of the dune the wind off the Pacific Ocean screamed past my face, “Go back. Go back.” But I did not listen. And walked towards the sea. The beach was at least three big city blocks wide and no less than four miles long. I had the entire place to myself. There was not a person in sight anywhere. Talk about being alone.
My focus was on the water that was beckoning and calling me like a salty siren leading a ship into the rocks. A part of me wanted to jump in and be carried out to sea. But with all the energy of the vast Pacific Ocean at it’s disposal something was pushing me back – I was refused and rejected.
Like Elijah, I felt exhausted, alone, self-righteous and under attack. So I screamed and yelled and shouted and cried out to God. The only response I received was a mocking tempest. After hours of this my voice gave out and I simply gave up. God wasn’t at this address.
Back in the solitude of the house I looked through the windows and saw where I had been. In the silence, a sense of peace and accomplishment settled within my soul. It was then I realized God was not absent, but waiting silently for me.
God tells Elijah to go stand on the mountain. Violent forces of nature break underneath him and whirl all around him. Yet God is not in these overwhelming demonstrations of power. Rather, it is out of sheer silence that God finally speaks.
This story reminds me that God’s silence is not God being absent. It’s a way for God to draw us closer to the Divine where we can vent, melt down, and feel sorry for ourselves because sometimes that is exactly what we need the most.
As my wife so brilliantly stated, “God silent is God listening.”
This makes me wonder about our listening. Perhaps we have trouble hearing God speak because of the winds, earthquakes and fires that are erupting all around us.
Social media and 24 hour news constantly vie for our attention. Some of us have marriage or financial troubles, health issues, a problem child or a dying parent that steal our focus from that small voice within. How many ways have you been distracted while reading this message, muchless this past week?
Sometimes we have to move beyond ourselves to hear what God has to say. But sometimes we don’t hear God speak, because we don’t like what God has to say.
Elijah knew what God wanted him to do. But when doing it put a price on his head, Elijah go the heck out of Dodge. It's not that unuaual.
Think about all the people who profess Jesus as their "personal Lord and Savior" but completely ignore what he taught or what he has called them to do.
How many churches are in the middle of building a bigger sanctuary even though Christ called them to build bigger homeless shelters?
Listening is not just hearing words spoken. Listening means fully taking in what God has said and living it out in our lives. It’s listening with the intention of hearing.
My dear friend Dawn and I have a special relationship that provides a sacred space to complain and vent our frustrations. We listen intently, offering ourselves to be the vessel by which God can speak to the other. Through her smoky southern drawl, I often hear God asking, “Are you done with your pity party?”
Sometimes we don’t know we aren’t listening to God. Or sometimes we ourselves are making too much noise to hear God speak to us. And sometimes God is just allowing us a space to vent. But in each of these situations...just as it is in all of life... God is very much present.
If you feel defeated or despondent, distracted or deflated, or like God has left you on your own, don’t despair. God is not absent, but silently at work. Despite Elijah’s fears and failings, God does not give up on him. And neither does God give up on us.
Jesus is our proof of how far God is willing to go to make that point. Jesus knew what it was like to be abandoned. Alone on a cross he cried out the psalm “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” And yet, God was with him. In life and through death. Just the same God is with us, leading us home to the Divine.
We ought to find it encouraging and comforting that God is faithful even in the face of our fear and depression, our worries and our weariness, and our blindness and deafness God does not abandon us. We abandon God. And even then, God sent the Christ to be the open arms of our loving creator.
If we see and do what Jesus does, then we too can help bring people back to the Divine Love of God that waits for them. That’s what God is calling us to do.
So I hope you will remember this: If God appears to be silent, be reassured that God’s loving kindness is never failing even when we can’t feel it.
In these seasons of silence, we need to look within ourselves where there is always a still small voice whispering, “You are my beloved child. Go and be who I called you to be.”
We may be thinking that we’re waiting for God, but really it’s God who silently waits for us.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3 (Westminster John Knox: 2009).
Bloom, Jon. When God Seems Silent. (July 18. 2014) https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/when-god-seems-silent
Harris, Tania. Three Reasons God is Silent. Relevant magazine (May 15, 2014) https://relevantmagazine.com/god/3-reasons-god-silent/
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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