Pentecost 10, Proper 14
Church of the Good Shepherd, Silver City, NM
LINK TO PDF VERSION (Good for saving or printing out)
Randy and I stood in the jungle looking up. We were hunting the larger cousin to the
Javelina, the White-lipped Peccary in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador when Randy heard
some parrots. We stopped to find them. They were the Mealy Amazon, the largest of the
green parrots. In body they are as large as a macaw, but without the bright colors and
long tail. Now, two things were going on. First of all, I was nearsighted as a young
adult, so anything beyond 20 yards or so had a fuzzy edge around it. I had glasses, but
glasses just get fogged up in the jungle, and I tended not to wear them if I thought I could
get away with it. I wasn’t wearing them that day. The other is that green parrots among
the green leaves of a tree are notoriously hard to see. You have to wonder why they are
green, right? They hide in plain sight really, really well.
Poor Randy, who saw the parrot rather quickly, kept telling me, “Look right above you,
right up there on that branch.” I kept looking in the crown of the tree for any movement
or anything that would somehow coalesce into a big green parrot—all to no avail. Then
suddenly the bird moved. I saw it. It was magnificent! It was huge, and green, and was
standing there, right in front of my eyes, not in the crown where I was looking, but about
half-way up the tree, right out in the open space beneath the canopy. I just wasn’t looking
in the right place.
In the lessons today people learn not about where to look but where to listen. Elijah was
listening in the wrong place. He had just won a ringing victory for God. Ahab, king of
Israel, had married Jezebel, who worshipped Baal, the Canaanite god of rain and fertility.
In a dramatic showdown on Mt. Carmel Elijah had bested 400 priests of Baal when God
sent fire down from heaven to consume the sacrifice. Now, afraid of Jezebel’s
retaliation, he was hiding. He was hiding, but he wasn’t listening.
Against this background we have Elijah in the cave, with the wind, the earthquake and
the fire. God was not in the blowing wind, breaking rocks and mountains. God was not
in the voice of the mountain gods who produced rain and fertility. The Baal of Jezebel
the queen had been vanquished. Fire had fallen at the humble prayer of God’s servant, but
ultimately God is only met in the contest. God may show up, but that’s not what a
relationship with God is made of. God is not in the blowing wind.
God was not in the earthquake. God was not with the wayward Hebrew monarchs who
chased after other gods. The Canaanite god, Baal, brought fertility, but didn’t insist on
his followers loving their neighbor as themselves. No wonder Ahab and Jezebel insisted
on stamping out the prophets of God in favor of him. A moral God goes to the heart of
living, and that is dangerous. This kind of God shakes our very foundations, requiring
obedience, even when it is inconvenient. Important as morality is however, a relationship
with God is about more than just following the rules. God is not in the earthquake.
God was not in the fire. The consuming fire that destroys the chaff at the end of the
harvest left behind the ashes of that chaff as fertilizer for next year’s crops. Moloch was
worshipped as the god of fire. His worshippers sacrificed their own children to the sacred
fire. The god of fire was a demanding god, but he could also be capricious. Sometimes
the sacrifice seemed to work and other times it seemed to be insufficient. Yes, God had
sent fire at the prayer of Elijah, but the God of the Hebrews, and the God of Jesus Christ
is not capricious. God is not in the fire.
Instead, God speaks to Elijah in the quiet after all the noise. It was so commanding that
Elijah wrapped his face in his cloak and went to stand in the front of his cave. Now he is
finally listening. Now he is listening in the right place.
He says the same thing twice. The first time, before the noise, Elijah shouts it at the
heavens in defiance. Now he humbly, yet genuinely and unhesitatingly, lays it before the
Throne of God. Now he is in a conversation with God, not a shouting match.
Now that we’ve got the basic idea, let’s look at the Epistle lesson. There were two great
Hellenistic philosophies at the time, the Epicureans and the Stoics. The Epicureans
believed that the unruly passions of the flesh destroyed one’s peace, so one must learn to
control one’s passions. I can hear an Epicurean being faced with the Gospel asking,
“Who will go into heaven (the land that transcends passions) to bring Christ down? The
stoics believed that bad things happen, and the good (wise) life is to confront them with
courage, strength and wisdom. I can hear a Stoic faced with the Gospel asking, “Who
will descend into the abyss (the land of chaos and suffering) to bring Christ up?” Paul
says, “The word is near you, even in your heart and in your mouth.”
One commentator says that Paul is thinking about the Exile and return. Deuteronomy 30
details the blessings and curses God outlines for Israel at the end of Moses’ ministry. The
worst curse would be to be driven into exile, which of course, happened several hundred
years later. Paul is arguing that God has reestablished the old covenant of Abraham in a
newer and fuller way, not based on following the dictates of the law, but by belief in
Jesus Christ as the Messiah. The word is near you. It is your confession of your faith in
The message is clear. Jew or Greek, whoever you are, don’t overthink this. Don’t look in
the crowns of the trees for the parrot that is standing on the branch in front of you. Learn
to listen in the right places.
In the Gospel lesson the disciples are all listening in the wrong places. They have just
spent a day with Jesus in the wilderness where he fed 5000 men, plus women and
children, with five bolillos and two small fish. They have just witnessed the abundance
of the Kingdom of God that Jesus is bringing to bear on the world. Feeding in the
wilderness recalls God’s care of Israel crossing the Wilderness heading for the Promised
Land. This is clearly God at work.
He makes them get into the boat and go across, while he prays. Then he comes walking
to them on the water. Bodies of water symbolize the chaotic power of Leviathan, the
Monster of the Deep who can destroy the world if he ever gets out. Storms and waves
are symbols of his power. Jesus walks on the water. This is clearly God at work.
Now, don’t you think that the one who could feed people like God does could also control
the powers of destruction like God does? God is clearly at work here, but no, they can’t
hear the obvious. Peter almost gets it, but then his ears get full of the noise that so
quickly distracts us. Like Elijah, he hears the winds and the waves and the powers of
chaos and darkness, and fails to hear the still, sound of silence, the voice of the Spirit
within, and of course, he begins to sink.
Notice that Jesus calls this kind of listening “faith.” Faith is their relationship with Jesus
Christ as Son of God. It is not a doctrinal “statement of faith,” before it is a living
relationship. It is a conversation before it is a declaration. Listen in the right places.
Today we have someone who is listening. She is getting ready to go to Viet Nam on
mission. She will leave in October and be gone for just over two weeks. She will do
similar things to what we do in Honduras. She will provide medical services to those
who otherwise could not obtain them. She will be with people she has grown to love and
respect, and she will come home changed.
There are several places to “hear” in this. First of all, medical attention is needed. It is
what it is and it ain’t what it ain’t, and that’s all she wrote. These people will suffer much
more in life if they do not receive what Griffon brings. As my dear friend in Honduras
told us once, “It’s better than nothing.” Listen to the need.
Second, she will be in relationship with others. For those of you who heard her report
last time, the nuns with whom they work have become precious to her. They are dear
sisters in Christ who reveal the face of Christ to her in powerful ways. Whether she is
aware of it at the time or not (we usually aren’t) she does the same thing with them. Jesus
promised that where two or three are gathered in his name he would be there, too. They
come to know Christ in their midst. Listen to the heart.
Finally, she will return by a different road. The plane routes will be reversed, but the
Griffon who will leave will not be the Griffon who will not return. Oh, she will stand on
the same soil, resume life in the same house, and return to the faces she knows, but she
will see then slightly differently. Therefore, she will treat the world a little differently,
and the world, because she is different, will be ever-so-slightly different, because she is
listening a little better. Listen to the world.
Listening is powerful. If we listen wrongly we confuse ourselves, box ourselves in, and
so make the world smaller, paler and more afraid. If we listen rightly we hear truth, we
see beauty and we know goodness, and we make the world a bit bigger, brighter and
How to listen?
Stop. Elijah had to stop running from Jezebel. Stop rushing, striving, pushing and
shoving. Stop and look at the wall against which you’ve leaned your ladder. Stop
assuming what you know to be true.
Wait. Elijah had to wait to hear the sound of silence. Spend time stopped. Sit quietly for
a moment or two. Set aside the busy schedule and just take some time to be.
Pay attention. When the sound of silence came Elijah went to the mouth of the cave and
stood there. The sound of silence is not far away, hard to obtain or earn, in fact, it is not
earned at all, it is given. (It will be given, rest assured of that.) Pay attention to the needs
around you. Pay attention the your heart and those of others, pay attention to the world,
and you will hear the voice of God.