Sermon May 16
The sound of silence
This week we are preparing for Pentecost, when we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, and everyone else around them. There are many images for the Holy Spirit, and those in today’s readings are all based on natural phenomenon such as wind, fire, storms and earthquakes. First, we heard about Elijah fleeing from King Ahab’s wrath, and hiding in the desert.
A great wind came by, so powerful that it broke rocks. But God was not in that. Then an earthquake, and a fire, but God was not there either. The very fact of their inclusion in this story tells us how God might be expected to show God’s glory – in really dramatic gestures.
But then we hear that there was a sound of complete silence – and God was there. In our day-to-day lives there is rarely if ever such a thing as complete silence, certainly not in my busy household! I found out recently that when a television programme is being filmed, they record a track of three minutes where there is no dialogue, so that the background noises, the ambient sound, can be collected to use as a filler and joiner for other passages. This is called the wild-track. It is never complete silence, just an absence of written dialogue.
When you think back to the very beginning of the Bible, where we discover the very beginning of creation, we hear that the earth was without form, and void. Empty. No sound waves, no light, nothing. Until the Word of God spoke into the void the words of creation. God’s silence was there even before the creation, so it makes sense that it was in this intense and unusual silence that Elijah heard the voice of God.
What Elijah did next was interesting. He didn’t try and hide, fearing God. He covered his face, true, as he knew that he wouldn’t be able to look upon God, but he came out of his cave to meet God, who asked him what he was doing there. ‘Hi, Elijah, what’s up? Said God. Oh, you know, I’ve been really busy working for you, sorting out the mess the Israelites made, and it’s gone a bit pear-shaped, and now they’re after me.’
Well, that is a Kiwi paraphrase, but I like how God’s question is not a booming terrifying calling to account, but just, ‘what are you doing here mate?’
Maybe this story tells us to listen in the silences, to slow down our inner turmoil and inner voices which try and plan our every move, and let God talk to us in a casual and familiar way, loving us like a parent.
Some churches of the Pentecostal persuasion are very keen on visible signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence – talking in tongues, falling down slain in the spirit, holy laughter and other signs. These can be a wonderful experience, but I can’t help wondering if those who limit themselves to the mighty winds and fire and earthquakes of the holy Spirit’s presence are shutting out the still small voice in the midst of the silence.
In the story we heard of Jesus’ Baptism, the image for the Holy Spirit is again not a vivid, noisy or fiery one, but that of a Dove. In the Ordination service the line is used, ‘gentle as a dove,’ and it was in this form like a gentle, peaceful dove, a universal symbol for peace and innocence, that the Holy Spirit spoke to Jesus – ‘This is my son, and I am well pleased with him’.
Maybe the Holy Spirit is speaking to you too, in a still, small voice, in the sights and sounds of the autumn leaves falling, in the gentle raindrops, and the times of complete stillness when you can let your thoughts and worries stop whirling round long enough to hear from God. As you prepare for Pentecost, may you know the wild-track of the Holy Spirit, and recognise it in your life.