Where We Meet God: E-pistle 07.14.11

Where We Meet God: E-pistle 07.14.11

Our story this Sunday about Jacob meeting God in the wilderness reminds me of another Jewish promise of encountering God, Elijah in the cave at Mt. Horeb.

These stories might make you wonder about your prospects looking for God at Old First– gathering on a sunny, comfortable (read that COOLl!) morning in a city church.

Is first-hand spiritual experience more likely on some scary, solo, backwoods-camping vision quest? Or when you’re in really bad straits? Or when you’ve done others dirty? Or only if you are one of the few lucky ones who get to know God?

Jacob, having wronged his brother and lied to his father to get what wasn’t his, had to get out of town. Headed to his mother’s people, looking for a safe haven and a new start, Jacob is greeted by God in what, otherwise, could have been one of those crushing “alone moments,” …in the wilderness far from home, his first night on the lam.

Elijah had to flee too. But he could carry with him the solace of knowing he had been courageous for the Lord. He’d already put enough distance between himself and Jezebel for safety by running to Beersheba. We meet up with him much further down the road: not just anywhere, but at the site of Moses’ encounter with God, in a cave on Mt. Sinai.

Elijah sees his predicament akin to Moses’ situation:

~ Moses faced off against Pharoah and Egypt’s god; Elijah confronted Ahab, Jezebel and Baal worship.
~ Pharoah pursued Moses and Israel to destroy them; Jezebel sought Elijah’s life.
~ Moses became discouraged and asked God to take his life; so did Elijah.
~ God provided food and water for Moses and Israel in the wilderness; angels of the Lord offered Elijah food for the journey.

So, following in Moses’ footsteps, what’s Elijah hoping for?

Like Moses, Elijah feels deserted by his own people and complains he’s alone in his faithfulness. That’s why he went to Sinai– Elijah is identifying with Moses who was confronted by the Israelites fashioning the golden calf. Elijah’s contemporaries were falling away from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob too… running after the easier gods of Baal.

So he went where Moses met God. Where God met and spoke to Moses. Where God restored the covenant, cut new tablets of stone. Where God answered Moses’ prayers and gave Israel a new start. Elijah was hoping God would do as much for him.

On that mountain, Elijah experienced driving winds, an earthquake, and fire. But God was not in any of them. Afterwards, came “sheer silence.” A sort of divine calm after the storm. Ironically, the text– or at least the argument from silence (no pun intended)– suggests God was in that stillness.

But, that theophany didn’t change Elijah or his situation: the conversation between God and Elijah is exactly the same after God’s passing by as it was before.

Except…

I wonder if God answered the prophet’s implicit question– what am I to do, Lord?– before the stillness, but somehow Elijah couldn’t hear what was being said? After God passed by, Elijah hears clearly God’s answer.

Instead of any supernatural intervention, in the place of God making all things new, God simply tells Elijah to go back home and get back to work. To make the point real, God even ticks off for Elijah his updated “to-do list.”

It wasn’t to be any mountaintop experience for Elijah and the people of his day. Or a dark night of the soul either. Nope, for them, God was in the day in, day out tasks of their everydays, the quotidian service of their callings.

Elijah would find God in doing what a prophet does. Likewise, for the people, God would be in acting as God’s people.

Beloved, there’s no ONE way to God. Try as we might to orchestrate our own meet-ups, God’s stays in charge of such encounters.

Yes, some of us get overwhelmed by God in the heights of a glorious worship service. Other’s get visited by God when we’re on the run or in some sort of time out. I know a bunch of people who bumped into God because they were drunk, or in jail!

And others, most of us, I suspect, we encounter God in our commonplace lives– washing the dishes, grading papers, restocking shelves, going for a walk.

Others, like the ancient Simeon, seem to pass almost all of our lives waiting to meet God.

And some of the time, all of us are bound to be disappointed that God didn’t show up the way we would like or expect.

But God’s promise isn’t confined by our experience. Or fears. Or inability to imagine what we can’t see or control. Ours is a God of heaven and earth, yesterday and tomorrow… always. God has promised us who are Christians to greet us most especially in Jesus.

See you in church,

Michael

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