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Epiphany – Between Noise and Silence

Date: 28/01/2024/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Epiphany: Between Noise and Silence

1 Kings 19:11-13

Free Community Church 

28 January 2024 

We are in the season of Epiphany – and I want to start off today talking about epiphanies – sudden revelations, realisations or insights.

Have you experienced epiphanies before? If you have, what are the circumstances, conditions, situations you experienced them?

I ask because I wanted to see if your experiences are similar to mine, and also to dispel the idea that epiphanies must come in a certain way (like with bright shining light and a choir of angels)

As you share your experiences in Menti, some of my experiences happen during worship, or during the sermon (usually when someone else is preaching)

Sometimes epiphanies come when I am walking in nature (hiking).

Sometimes they come when I am in discussion and sounding out / bouncing ideas with other people.

And most often – they happen when I am in the shower, or in the toilet.

Let’s take a look at your replies –

Today I am preaching from 1 Kings 19:9-16

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?” 14 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.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel, and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.

**NRSV vs other translation – “still small voice” – NRSVUE – I want to invite you to think about the translation not as one is accurate – but rather as both/and. Because still small voice can set expectations of hearing God and fuel the belief that God is not in the silence.

God is in both.

Elijah is told here that God is about to pass by – but instead of being in a wind strong enough to split mountains and break rocks, instead of being in an earthquake, or a fire – God was in the silence.

We often think about epiphanies as occasions where the Divine makes an appearance in bright lights, or in the hurricane that can split mountains, or in the moments when the earth shakes, or fire (like the burning bush) – but here the passage offers something quite different – the sound of sheer silence.

We think that God is found in the spectacle and the drama, so we keep on seeking the bright lights and the drama – like me hoping to see the northern lights at Iona Abbey. Yes – God is ever present, but if we are to hear God, then one thing is required. We need to stop talking and be quiet.

The sound of sheer silence.

But the sound of sheer silence isn’t the absence of noise, or that we are in a tranquil environment.

God asked Elijah twice – “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Both times Elijah answered the same way – “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.”

I was taught by my New Testament Professor Mary Tolbert that whenever something is repeated in the Bible, pay attention. And when something is repeated, don’t assume that they are the same.

They are repetitions with critical difference – and it is for us to figure out what the critical difference is.

The situation hasn’t changed – Elijah was still on the run from those who want to kill him. But what has changed was Elijah’s inner world. Between the two times God asked Elijah “what are you doing here,” was Elijah’s encounter with the sound of sheer silence.

I wonder if Elijah realised he was repeating himself in his answer to God. I wonder if it dawned on Elijah in all the drama, he had not learned to surrender and trust God.

I wonder what went on in Elijah’s mind between the second time Elijah replied God, and God’s instruction to Elijah – “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus”

Maybe it was an epiphany. A realisation. That in all the drama, he had not surrendered and let go, he had not trusted God.

So let go my soul and trust in You
The waves and wind still know Your name
So let go my soul and trust in You
The waves and wind still know Your name

If you find yourself going around in circles in your life, or repeating what you are saying to God, perhaps you are like Elijah, and perhaps you may need to find the sound of sheer silence. I have been asked before – how to I hear God?

How do I find this sound of sheer silence?

I wanted to somehow bring you behind the curtains and show you how the “magic” happens.

I thought about the occasions I experienced epiphanies – I wondered what do these situations have in common? They all seem to be disparate and have little in common.

But there is actually something that connects all these moments – they happened when I am not distracted. They happen when I am present in the moment. They don’t happen when I am in the toilet on my mobile phone doomscrolling or playing a mobile game. They happen when I am not distracted.

Epiphanies don’t happen when I am distracted in a meeting, but when I am very engaged and fully present in the meeting.

You see – noise isn’t just the audio kind. There are all kinds of noise in our lives. Even when we are quiet physically, there can still be a lot of other noise – noise inside our head.

Elijah, in his reply to God, says that “I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away” – but Obadiah, in the previous chapter 1 Kings 18, had told Elijah that he had hidden a hundred prophets and hid them fifty to a cave, and provided them with food and water.

Elijah, on the run from Queen Jezebel who wanted to kill him, couldn’t think properly, couldn’t see properly. There was noise and chaos within him.

God had to ask him twice before he could hear God’s instructions for him.

The sound of sheer silence is not about the external environment, but our inner world. The sound of sheer silence is about the calmness within, the inner quietness that can be there, even when our external world is chaotic. And that calmness comes from being present, and anchored in that.

That calmness and presence did not and still does not come easily to me. In the past, I would fill all the time in my life with activity. I cannot just sit still. I would be uncomfortable with silence, and just keep talking and talking when I am with people.

I would (and still) find different ways of distracting myself instead of being present.

I would like to invite you to take a moment to be vulnerable and reflect – What are the ways you distract yourself?

I want to first put this upfront – life can be overwhelming. Yes, we may not be in Elijah’s situation where there are people who want to kill us, we can still be struggling in our own ways. Distracting ourselves can be the only way we know how to cope.

Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, doomscrolling news, mobile games are just a few things that I dive into to distract myself from things I do not want to deal with, or things I want to run away from.

I have learned a lot on my journey of finding myself, and becoming comfortable in my own skin, and I was able to be present more often – and needing less distraction.

Being still inside is not easy. But being still within – what I think is finding the sound of sheer silence – is the way to open myself to God, and allow God’s will to direct me.

I want to highlight one thing that we do to distract ourselves – by doing something.

When Molly passed away – I have come to realise I couldn’t sit still – yes, there were things that needed to be done, but i could have waited a bit more. But I went into doing mode because that was how I was coping with the uncomfortable emotions that were surfacing up.

I think that happens too for many of us.

What were situations when you went into doing mode, instead of being still?

Doing something helps us feel as if we are still in control. We are also in denial of the reality that we are actually powerless and there is very little we can do.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do in a difficult situation is to do nothing.

And sometimes doing nothing is surrendering to God. I have journeyed with many people with cancer. I have witnessed many people around them trying to help by sharing about about a “miracle cure” they heard about.

While I have no doubt about their good intentions, these often come from an inability to accept how powerless we are over the situation, and our inability to deal with the fact that someone we care about is seriously ill, our discomfort over being powerless and helpless in the situation.

And often these people don’t realise that just being present – being there is enough.

Which is why I would like to invite all of you to think about doing less, so that between the noise and the silence you can hear God’s voice.

The hymn “It is well” opens with the verse

“When peace like a river attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll.

Whatever my lot

Thou has taught me to say

It is well, it is well with my soul”

It is well, with my soul

It is well, it is well with my soul.

May you find, as you say “it is well with my soul,” the sound of sheer silence where you encounter God.