The Inheritance of God Worship Series: THE INHERITANCE OF ATTENTIVENESS
Second Sunday After Pentecost - June 23, 2019
The Inheritance of Attentiveness
Good listeners are risk takers.
Imagine a two-sided balancing scale (although the technical term is a “double-pan balance”).
If we were to place the act of speaking on one side of the scale and the act of listening on the other side, we might assign speaking the weightier importance. As communicators of the gospel, we think our words matter. By holding the Bible in one hand and our newspapers in the other, we might be prone to believe that our communication events are riskier than the act of listening. We think there is more at stake in miscommunicating something, rather than in not paying attention with our listening faculties.
Certainly, the dominance of speaking over listening reflects a largely Western worldview, and especially so in The United States.
Our political scene is full of talking heads.
In our churches, those who speak loudest at committee meetings are often the ones who get their way.
In our families, we are drawn to gregarious and warm personalities who can communicate love and affection with their words and actions.
We have assigned great cultural value to those who can risk “putting themselves out there” by asserting themselves through words and persuasive arguments, all while maintaining a friendly and approachable demeanor.
We prioritize the speakers over the listeners because speaking is believed to be riskier.
The prophet Elijah was a great risk-taking communicator, speaking God’s truth to power. In the previous chapter, he had declared the God of Israel’s superiority over the prophets of Baal, which resulted in the killing of these prophets. This sets us up for today’s scene, where Jezebel promises to exact revenge upon Elijah. Elijah runs for his life, flees the scene, finds a broom tree to sleep under, where he then pleads for God to take his life. Elijah is overcome with fear, overwhelmed, and is at his wit’s end.
Here the passage shifts from understanding Elijah as a risk-taking speaker to Elijah as a risk-taking listener. The angel of the Lord tells him to “get up and eat” two separate times. Elijah listens—even though he does not know what lies ahead—and is strengthened for his next journey.
Then the word of the Lord comes to Elijah, telling him to stand on the mountain while the Lord “passes by.”
A great wind surges to the point the mountains begin to break apart and rocks are splitting in half, again and again. The earth literally shakes and quakes beneath Elijah’s feet, followed by a fire.
BUT ELIJAH DOESN’T COVER HIS FACE.
Who, among you, if rocks were swirling around you, would not cover your face?
Who, among you, if fires were raging about, would not protect your face from being scorched?
All of us risk-taking communicators should be a little shocked right now, because we would like to keep our faces, especially for our line of work.
But here is the powerful moment: Elijah only covers his face with his mantle when he encounters God in the “sound of silence.”
As the scriptures said, God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire.
The very presence of God was in the sound of silence.
It is this still silence of God that causes Elijah to wrap his face in his mantle.
Elijah took the greatest risk by listening to God.
In the midst of Elijah’s fear after encountering God through the still silence, he simply repeats what he said to God in verse 10: “I have been very zealous for the Lord . . .”
[Note: I imagine in this moment that Elijah was a little shocked and did not know what to say, so he robotically repeated his earlier phrase.]
This time, God responds with direct instruction: “Go.”
“Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.”
It wasn’t until Elijah took the risk to listen to God’s still, small voice that he continued on in his terrifying journey.
Listening is risky.
Attending to the still, small voice of God is risky.
Yet, this is the inheritance of our faith as revealed through the scriptures: attending to God is risky, but it’s worth it.
How many times have we been in that situation?
How many times have we attended to the still, small voice of God and come out on the other side, realizing that it was worth it all along?
On the other hand, how many times have we intentionally ignored that voice, for fear that it might cause us to risk? For fear that it might cause us to transform?
Good listeners are risk takers.
The inheritance of our faith is to attend to God.
- To attend to God’s work and witness in the world.
- To attend to Christ’s command to love God and neighbor.
- To attend to the Spirit’s stirrings deep within us and in those around us.
And yes, to attend to the still, small voice of God that comes to us in the silence.
It’s that silence that causes us to cover our heads fearfully with our mantle.
And yet it is that same silence that causes us to take the risk and listen nonetheless.
To listen is to risk.
And in taking that risk of attending to God, we open ourselves up for transformation.
This does not negate the fear, though.
I imagine as Elijah went back into the wilderness that he was still afraid.
But he knew that the risk was going to be worth it.
Somehow—and in some way—it was going to be worth it.
As you are thinking about preaching on this inheritance of attentiveness, I invite you to reflect on situations where you have engaged in that risk-taking activity of listening to God.
- How did those situations turn out for you?
In thinking about your community of faith, how is your church called to be more attentive to God’s still, small (and risky) voice?
Attentiveness to God is our inheritance, even when it is risky.
Rev. Nelson Cowan, Ph.D., is an elder in the Florida Conference, a scholar of worship, and a member of the Hymnal Revision Committee of The United Methodist Church.