Sunday 9th August 2020
Rev Dr John McCulloch
1 Kings 19: 9-18
Psalm 85: 8-13
St Matthew 14: 22-33
Let us pray
Eternal God, you sent your Holy Spirit to be the life of your Church. Open our hearts to the riches of your grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love, joy and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
I remember some years ago when I was in Central America, visiting some churches and Christian communities with my friend the Bishop of Chalatenango.
El Salvador, as many of you will know, suffered a brutal civil war in the 1980s when priests and nuns were among those murdered by the paramilitary death squads. Since then, it has been a society plagued by violence and drug gangs, with one of the highest murder rates in the world.
As we drove through the capital of San Salvador, my friend told me of how the church had taken a stance against the violence all around them, and offered an alternative narrative to the narratives of violence.
In a week when we have commemorated the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and seen the images of devastation coming out of Beirut, we are sadly reminded that our world is still beset by violence.
I will never forget that day when my bishop friend took me to visit a convent of Carmelite nuns, situated in the midst of the capital San Salvador. As we enjoyed coffee and chatted, the nuns told me about the rhythms of their day, centred around daily chores and making crafts to sustain their community, marked by prayer from early morning til night.
Some may ask what a small community of nuns could do in a context marked by armed violence and daily killings, how could they ever make a difference to the world around them? But I was struck by what one of them told me. She said that by being there, their convent offered an oasis of peace. The prayers of their community acted as an alternative, a kind of protest against the violence all around them, and although in natural terms they were small and weak, their witness and devotion in such a place, made room for the God of peace.
Our OT reading from 1 Kings 19, tells the story of Elijah who is weary of life, depressed, and his life is under threat by queen Jezebel. Jezebel had promoted the worship of the god Baal, and had killed most of the prophets of God. Elijah is in a cave, fleeing for his life, and it is there that the word of the Lord comes to him.
In verses 11&12 we read:
And he said, go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake, but the the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire, and after the fire, a still small voice.
God speaks to Elijah, in a still, small voice.
We often crave for God to manifest himself in great power and mighty acts that are visible for all to see, setting the world to rights and banishing evil once and for all. But in the verses we just read, God was not in the earthquake, not in the fire, not in the wind.
Do we listen for the still small voice of God in our world, where there are so many voices and so much confusion all around us clamouring for our attention?
Maybe, we too can feel like Elijah, alone in the caves of depression and fear, longing for things to change for the better, wanting to stand on the mountain and see God at work in our lives and in our world in a visible and tangible way, but our prayers seem to reach the ceiling, and our wavering faith struggles to believe that God is really with us. We fail to hear his still small voice.
Our gospel reading from Matthew 14 tells the well known story of Jesus walking on the water in the midst of the storm. Peter steps out of the boat and walks towards Jesus, but begins to sink.
In verses 30 & 31 we read:
But when he (Peter) saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried saying, Lord save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, why did you doubt?
It is easy to lose faith, when we are in the midst of the storms of life.
It is easy to lose faith, when we are all alone in the caves of depression and fear.
It is easy to lose faith, when it seems that the powerful forces of violence in our world rage against the fragility of human life and our planet.
It is easy to lose hope, to give up, to feel engulfed by the waves of doubt.
Faith is the the final refusal to give up, and it is measured not when all is going well, but when we are beset by the storms of life.
Our lectionary Psalm, psalm 85 gives us a vision of when heaven comes to earth.
In verses 10 & 11 we read:
Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
And in our epistle reading from Romans 10, we read in verses 6-8:
But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) 7 or, “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach)
The apostle Paul says that the word of faith is in our mouth, in our heart.
Whether we find ourselves stuck in the caves of despair, or drowning in the seas of fear, may we sense that the one who is the Word made flesh, is with us.
And as we come across those in our world struggling to find hope and purpose, may we, by God’s grace, be able to bring a word of peace.
May we go into this new week, believing that God still speaks to us, and is with us, wherever we find ourselves.
Go into the world, with the peace of God shed abroad in your hearts.
And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you and remain with you, now and forever more.