Is God for Real? Experiencing God (1Kings 19:1-‐15) Jennifer Many years ago I was leading a Basics of Faith class and I asked folks in the class to write down different times in their life when they had experienced God. After a few minutes a man of about 55 in the class approached me and he said, Jennifer, I don’t know if I have ever had an experience of God; I don’t know if God is for real? I don’t think this man is alone. I think many of us have had our doubts as to the existence of God, especially when our life feels like it is falling apart or when we listen to the news and see tragedy all around us. We begin to wonder if there really is a God and if there is, what is God, and when is this God going to show up? All of us can argue our various perspectives on the existence of God whether or not there really is a God, and if there IS a God then what is the nature of this God? We can debate whether or not God is omnipotent, all powerful or whether there are limits to God’s power. We can argue whether you believe in a vengeful vindictive punitive Being that sits on a throne in judgment of us or a loving benevolent compassionate energy of goodness that pervades the Universe. We can discuss whether God is a puppeteer pulling strings in our lives or if the Creator has given us the awesome gift and responsibility of free will. We can explore whether you have concluded that God is Transcendent, above and beyond creation, or that God is immanent and within the created order. We can argue the difference between whether or not God is pantheistic, that “God IS everything” or whether God is panentheistic – “God is IN everything.” And I have my own opinions on all of these debates and I’m sure that you do too. But when all is said and done, I believe that beyond all of the debate, what we really want is not to have a concept of God, but to have an EXPERIENCE of God. When life gets hard we want to know that we matter to Someone, that there is a kind witness to our
lives and that they mean something in the bigger scheme of things, and that we are not alone in this world even when it feels like we might be. At least, that’s what Elijah, the Prophet wanted to know in our scripture today. Elijah was the prophet to King Ahab of Israel who worshipped the God of Israel and was married to Queen Jezebel of Phoenicia who worshipped the God of Baal. Now Elijah thought that was a problem and didn’t like the King of Israel to be married to a woman of a different faith so he insisted on a showdown between the two Gods which resulted in Elijah winning and slaughtering all 450 prophets to Queen Jezebel. When the husband Ahab told the wife Jezebel that his prophet Elijah had just slaughtered all of her prophets, she told King Ahab that his prophet Elijah was a dead man, that this time tomorrow he would be as dead as all of her men. So what does Elijah do? He does what every intelligent person whose life has been threatened does…he runs away and hides. He takes off for the wilderness and finds shade and rest under a solitary broom tree in the middle of nowhere and he begins to pray… God, I quit. Here’s my resignation. I’m done being your prophet. I want out. I’m just like all of the other prophets that have come before me…I have failed. I give up. I’m tired of speaking for you. Just let me die now and get it all over with. Let me out of this life. And then exhausted he falls asleep. Ever felt like that…like running away from it all, giving up, packing it in, quitting your life. I have numerous times…life is challenging, it can wear us down. So Elijah falls asleep, but much to his disappointment he wakes up to another day. And when he does, there is food and water next to him. And he hears a voice tell him to nourish himself, for the journey is
long and he will need sustenance. Elijah has an experience of God…he experiences God as compassionate and nurturing. He experiences a God who sees his dilemma, who hears his fear and desperation, a God who cares about him. Now most of us don’t have food miraculously and spontaneously manifest out of nowhere but we do have experiences of the Sacred if we can allow ourselves to accept them as such. A woman I know refers to them as GMCs – GOD MADE COINCIDENCES. Times when only we know we have uttered a quick silent prayer and moments or months later, the prayer that was just a thought transpires and becomes real. We wonder about a friend and the friend calls and we say…”I was just thinking of you.” The God of Mystery and GMCs happen all the time. A few days ago I was feeling discouraged and wondering if God was really with Traci and I, and so in a brief prayer I asked God to give me a sign to let me know if we were on the right path at Living Spirit. And then Friday afternoon a young vibrant woman walks in off the street and introduces herself and wonders if she could lead a parenting course for the community in our church…I almost fell down at her feet. I said, “ you are an answer to prayer, we were just saying we need someone to lead parenting courses”. Like Elijah, we ask for help, and help appears. Miracles happen like this every day because we are all tuned in and interconnected to a Sacred Cyberspace that existed long before cell towers were ever built. There is a Mystery to this existence that we have named God. And when we experience this GOD OF MYSTERY, we know that we are heard and seen and understood and cared for. We are not alone.
And Elijah does not only encounter the experience the God of Mystery, but he feels LOVED and CARED FOR. He comes to know God as LOVE, not a God who punishes him for his fear and failure. God is the one who knows his need and has sent an angel, a messenger, another person to give him what he needs. God is made known to Elijah through another being who shows him compassion and nurture and care. God shows up everyday in our lives through the people we encounter. God is spirit and needs a body to be made manifest. God needs our bodies so that God can become tangible and real for someone else. We become God with skin on for the sake of another. A few days ago I called someone from our church and asked them to attend a meeting and she said, “Oh I was just making some soup for someone in our church who is having surgery this week. Do you think her family would like a casserole as well?” Although I’m sure she didn’t recognize herself as such, this woman served as an angel, bringing sustenance to someone else in need, making God visible. We are one another’s angels sent by a GOD OF LOVE to help others in times of difficulty. But Elijah’s experience of the Holy doesn’t end with the appearance of the bread and water. After he gains nourishment from the food that is provided he continues his journey and walks for 40 days and 40 nights which in Bible talk means he was out there a long time. And he is guided by the GOD OF GUIDANCE to a safe place to hide from Queen Jezebel when he finds himself a cave to live in. And as he dwells in this cave he calls out to God again for help and says, “I am the only prophet that is left. I have been faithful to you and now I am a dead man. He tells God off; he lets God have it. I like that. Elijah gets real with God and
apparently God likes honesty too, and gets real in return. Once again Elijah hears a voice say to him: “What the heck are you doing in a cave? Come out of the cave and stand on the edge cause God is going to show up.” And then Elijah hears the sound of a hurricane, but realizes that God isn’t in the natural disaster of the hurricane. And then a great earthquake happens and Elijah realizes that no, that earthquake wasn’t God either. And then there is a destructive wildfire, but Elijah recognizes that God isn’t in the fire either. Elijah is reminded that God isn’t the source of natural disasters, that while nature may be indifferent, God is not destructive. And maybe that’s when Elijah gets it, God isn’t in the massacre of the 450 prophets of Baal. God isn’t in natural disasters or human-‐created slaughters, God is in the whisper, the silence, the stillness that asks “What are you doing?” And THAT is when Elijah experiences the Presence of God. God is made real in those times when we are finally still. God is in the hush, in our inner questions. No wonder in our frantic modern world so many say God isn’t real; where is God? No wonder we can’t find God if God is to be found in the quiet, in the question on our heart. No wonder the Muslims rise to pray at 4:00 when the world is still. We can hear the whisper in our heart only when our lives and minds are still. And it is in the stillness that Elijah comes to know the God of Peace. And God tells him in a whisper that he can let go of his responsibilities, that it is time to pass them on to a younger man named Elisha who will be God’s new prophet. In the stillness of our lives, the peace that passes all understanding comes. Have you experienced this God of Peace? Perhaps in the middle of the night, as you rock a sleeping child, or when you stand vigil in the profound stillness and peace at the bedside of a loved one who is taking their last breath, or when you take time out of your busy day to meditate and still the scattered thoughts of all the shoulds.
It is in the stillness of God, that Elijah gains peace and wisdom and guidance as to how to proceed. The God of Guidance and Wisdom has become real to Elijah. And Elijah’s experience of God doesn’t stop there even though our scripture for today did. The God of Justice goes on through the new prophet Elisha to right the wrongs of violence and to strive for a mantle of peace and justice. The God of Justice is always moving throughout our world quietly changing hearts and minds and working to correct the wrongs we human beings insist on perpetuating. I experienced God a few days ago when miracle of miracles, the US decided not to bomb Syria but to work with Russia and the UN Security Council and Syria agreed to put away their chemical weapons…what a miracle! World powers working together to bring about peaceable solutions to war instead of adding more violence and grief; the God of Justice on the move in the world through leaders of world government. Talk of bombs one day to talks of disarmament the next…that my friends can only be an experience of God. The God of Reason and Justice sometimes prevails. Elijah experienced God as Mystery as Love as Guidance as Peace as Wisdom as Justice. So I ask you…when have you had an experience of God…the God of Mystery, or the God of Love, or the God of Peace in the Stillness, or the God of Wisdom and Guidance or the God of Reason and Justice in your life? Turn to your neighbours and share your experience in the next few moments. (Sharing Time) Is God real? Every day God shows up to offer us an experience of the Holy if only we have ears to hear and eyes to see and hearts to believe and receive. May it be so. Amen. (slide show with music by Carrie Newcomer)