I am not preaching this weekend. But I've been watching the news - and trying to take in the terrible news from Orlando this week. In such matters I am a very slow processor in a world that moves through grief to anger and politics so very quickly. I mostly still feel numb. I don't spend much time at nightclubs anymore but my kids are right around the same age as many of these victims. That hits home.
One of the most real and honest reflections I read came from, of all places, the Lieutenant Governor of Utah. What I liked is that he spoke from the heart, his own heart. He is a politician but he spoke as a fellow American - as a fellow human being. Why is that so rare?
Preaching after national tragedies is always difficult because by the time people walk into church on Sunday morning after a week of vigils, speeches, Facebook posts, workplace conversations and the rest there is some part of many of us, I suspect - including the preacher - that wants to escape to some nice spiritual cliche for encouragement.
That, I think, is a temptation that should be resisted. Perhaps like Lt. Gov. Cox the first and most important thing we can do is speak from the heart - and to do so with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.
Depending on which track of the lectionary a congregation is using this weekend, one of the Old Testament options comes from the Book of First Kings. It goes like this:
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." [Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you."] He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but 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 sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." Then the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus."Interesting that what sends Elijah into the wilderness is a mass killing, "with the sword." He was afraid, and so he got up and fled for his life.
(1 Kings 19:1-15a)
So many of us are afraid, and yet where would we flee? Where are we safe? I just returned a couple of weeks ago from some time in Israel and Palestine. Some people wondered if I was crazy for going - isn't that dangerous? Well, I guess so. But so is the Boston Marathon. So is a movie theater. So is an elementary school. So is a nightclub. We live in fear - in terror. That's where we begin.
But it's not where we end, by God's grace. God is with us - sometimes in the wind, sometimes in the earthquake, sometimes in the fire. And sometimes in the sound of sheer silence - through that still small voice.
Out of that silence, Elijah hears a word of the Lord and it's to face fear and go back into the world. It's to find courage and hope to do the work God has given him to do.
Nothing has changed in this story with Ahab. But everything has changed for Elijah. So I wonder what it would be like this weekend for congregations to create a space where we can be still - where we might listen for that sound of sheer silence that does not take away the pain of the world but does empower and equip us to act with courage and with hope? That kind of preaching isn't about easy answers but about the hard work of wiping away the tears of all who mourn, and beyond that, participating in the work of being instruments of God's peace, by sharing in the work of beating swords into plowshares.