By Tanya Fernandes
OT: I King 19: 1-13
NT: Philippians 4: 4 – 9
I have tinnitus—constant ringing in right ear. I damaged it within a year of graduating from college with a degree in Music. In high school, I was the student band director my senior year. As I progressed through college, it was recognized by the faculty that I had talent in conducting. I was asked to be the college’s first student director of the college symphonic band my senior year.
I loved it, and I had my life all laid out—I was going to direct high school band and orchestra for a year or two, earn my master’s degree in music, move to conducting college symphonic bands, and then progress to conducting professional symphonic bands. I would eventually change my first name and become a maestro. Tanya is Russian and is the diminutive (the nick name) for Tatiana……..so I was going to be Maestro Tatiana someday. I moved just outside Boston a few months after graduating from college. The Boston School of Music was on my radar as a place to earn my master’s. While there, I attended a 4th of July concert with the Boston Pops on the Esplanade—conducted by John Williams—one of my music heroes. It was thrilling….and one day, I wanted to take his place. I had it all laid out…you know: “the best made plans of mice and men.” God had a different idea.
A few months later (less than a year after graduating) I tore a hole in the inner membrane of my right ear. None of us understood what happened, and it was two weeks before I saw a specialist. That time allowed all the fluid to drain from my inner ear which exposed the nerve endings and caused permanent damage.
Since that day, in 1984, my right ear has constant ringing…the nerve endings think they are hearing things. When it first happened, it was overwhelming. I was (and still am not) able to hear lower sounds in that ear—especially if other noise is competing with it. When the audiologist talks just into my right ear, it sounds like Lucy’s teacher—wa-wa-wa-wa.
When it first happened, I still had all the symphonic band scores in my head that I had conducted in concerts. I knew what each instrument was doing. I knew what trombones and the tubas were playing…but when I listened to tapes of the music, I could no longer hear those lower parts. The work of a conductor is to hear…waving the hands is just for drama. The real work of the maestro is to hear and help balance and guide the sound. I could no longer do that, and it was devastating to me at that time.
I have learned to work with the hearing loss fairly well over the past 30+ years, but I still do not hear right…you have a choir director who is partially deaf…sorry…and I have also had the constant tinnitus…the ringing. Sometimes, I want to turn to others and say, “Pardon me, but is this noise in my head bothering you????”
Losing my “supposed” life goal was tough, but this was followed by an even tougher time, losing quiet. I can no longer find a quiet place…I used to go into the woods or into one of our enormous barns and just drink in the quiet and peace of Ohio. In college, I would go to the local park just to get away from the clamor of all the students and stuff going on. I have always soot quiet…not any more.
As I was asking God what we, as a congregation, need right now, I had the strong impression that we need quiet. We need to hear the still, small voice of God—-and have it drown out all other irritating, overwhelming, and soul crushing noise in this world. The “noise” that is swirling around us massive: national politics, International politics, local politics, the drums of war, social unrest, environmental unrest, economic unrest, sexual unrest, one news program even had a witch on this week talking about a spell she is “casting” on Trump…the noise that is swirling around us is horrible. It is worldly and soul crushing…soul crushing.
I have been telling Andy for months, that we are hearing war preparation. Since Dictator Kim-Jung-un’s first rocket launch months ago, Eglin has been practicing and practicing and practicing and practicing.
And we have just gone through a period of 24/7 hurricane coverage—every hour, every minute, you could find out what was heading toward someone…and it might just be us. We have the double-edged sword of 24/7 news. It never stops. And because it never stops, they have to have something to say. You never hear this: “Gee-Golly-Gosh, since we told you the news a minute ago, we do not really have anything new. Everything seems hunky – dory at the moment.” No–they have to keep you tuned in. They have to hype things. They have to have something to say.
When I was in high school, we had morning news and nightly news. At night there was the half hour local news followed by the national news—then it was done. You had to wait to the next day to hear anything else anxiety producing. If there was a true emergency, we would hear about it on the radio and tell each other. We were sooooo ignorant of the dangers barreling at us each minute. However, on November 8, 1979…as I was freshman in college—Ted Koppel came on the air for the first time, hosting Nightline. It was a news program started 4 days after the beginning of the Iran Hostage Crisis for the sole purpose of keeping America informed about the plight of our hostages. We all thought it was good. The Iran Hostage Crisis was where Iranian students, belonging to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s line, took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. One of the Iranian students, as reported by the hostages, was to be the future president of Iran–Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—the CIA and the Iranian government deny this, but pictures and hostage reports say different.
So every night, for 444 days, Ted Kopple came on and told us the latest updates about our people. HOWEVER, once the crisis was over, Ted Kopple did not go away and Nightline continued…and continued and continued and sparked other news shows and they continued and continued and…… (have I been obnoxious enough??)
In my eyes, Ted Koppel and Nightline were the start of our endless news cycle…our endless need for talking-heads to have something to say…endless noise and opinion based all sorts of things OTHER THAN God and His truths most of the time—-endless noise that is robbing us of peace.
Elijah, a prophet of God, was robbed of his peace, but God did not leave him in that state. Nor will he leave us in this state if we are his children. Prior to I Kings 19, our reading today, Elijah is involved in a great show of God’s power. He takes on a challenge against 850 pagan prophets of the god Ba-al and the goddess Asherah. There has been no rain in Israel for more than 3 years as God, through Elijah, tries to warn King Ahab and the people of Israel to stop worshiping idols. Of course, they do not listen, so through God’s prompting, Elijah challenges King Ahab to a spiritual “showdown.” In I Kings 18:21, Elijah says to all gathered, “How long will you dither (hesitate) between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Ba-al, follow him…”
In a show of God’s power, Elijah challenges the 850 false prophets to call down fire and burn up their sacrifice. We are told that the false prophets danced and cried out to their god from morning to noon, and nothing happened. Elijah begins to mock them…so they step it up. They cried even louder and began to cut themselves with knives, as was their custom, they cried and yelled and danced and bleed for their useless god from noon until the evening sacrifice…as the sun was preparing to set. Can you picture 850…crowded around their bull sacrifice, crying out to emptiness.
Finally Elijah tells the people to pour four large jugs of water on Elijah’s sacrifice and alter…then he tells them to do it a second time….and then a 3rd time. Twelve (12) large jugs of water — the wood of the alter was soaked, everything was wet, a pool of water lay in a trench around the altar. Then Elijah prayed to the true God, our God and Father, in I King 18:36 & 37 “…O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant…Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God….” Simple prayer. Verse 38 tells us that “THEN the fire of the Lord fell…” It consumed the offering, it consumed the wood, it consumed the stones of the altar, and it consumed the extra water that was in a trench.….. and then the rain began. King Ahab rode to Jezreel….and Elijah experienced another miracle—I King 18: 46 says that the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, “…he girded up his loins and outran Ahab to Jezreel.” King Ahab was likely in a chariot, and Elijah on foot.
So Elijah saw some major God “stuff” and then we see in Chapter 19 that because King Ahab’s lovely wife—Jezebel—threatens Elijah’s life, Elijah runs for his life into the wilderness and sits down under a juniper tree and asks God to let him die. Elijah is then led to go to Mt Horeb, also called Mt Sinai, in the Sinai desert. There he lodges in a cave and the word of the Lord comes to him. “What you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah complains….I have been faithful and zealous for the Lord of hosts…but the people have turned away…they have torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword and I ALONE am left AND they seek my life to take it away.
There was a lot of noise in Elijah’s ears!!!!!!!! His head had to be swirling: Jezebel, King Ahab, false prophets, no one around him to share the good word of the living God……..stuck in his own head with all the hype and swirling false messages…..I alone remain—he tells God…which was not the truth.
God tells him to come out of the cave and God passes by. There is a whirl wind, so strong that it was breaking the rocks off the face of the mountain, but God is not in the whirl wind. There is a strong earth quake, but God is not in the earth quake. There is a fire, but God is not in the fire.
After the fire there is the sound of a gentle whisper…other versions of scripture say: “a still small voice” “a soft voice” “a gentle blowing.” This was God. The still small voice that stopped all the earthly, ungodly noise tormenting Elijah. Is God whispering to you in midst of this unsettling world?
Ronald Reagan said: “Peace is not absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” The Bible says it much better in our New Testament reading: Philippians 4:7 ”And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Was Jezebel still chasing Elijah after the still small voice—-you bet cha. Were the 850 shamed false prophets still angry with Elijah after the still small voice—you bet cha. Did anything on the surface really change????? Was God with Elijah before the still small voice—you bet cha. Elijah just could not hear it. His heart and his mind were focused on the things of the world that were swirling around him. God was there, but he was consumed with the anxiety and fear the world was pushing upon him. After the still small voice, all the things going on around him were still there, but God was the focus of his heart and mind.
The word of God promises—promises—that as time marches toward the return of Christ, the world will become worse and worse. Jesus tells us in Matt 24—we will hear of Wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes, many will be offended and betray one another and shall hate one another, false prophets will arise and deceive, iniquity (sin) will abound. Paul tells Timothy: understand that there will come difficult times, for people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Isaiah warned that there will be people who will call evil good and good evil. Troublesome times…soul crushing times.
The 24-hour news cycle and commentators declaring themselves to be reporters, the all night bombing practices surrounding us, the horrible political rhetoric nationally, the scary political rhetoric internationally, the social unrest on our TV’s each night, protests and injuries and looting, the sexualization of our music and movies and TV and children, the stress of an economy that feels fragile, monster storms, global disaster.
We are surrounded by “noise” that tries to destroy our peace and send us running like Elijah, but Paul tells us in Philippians 4 some tools to handle our “noisy” stressed-filled existence:
1. In Philippians 4:4, he says to rejoice always—again, I say rejoice—definition of rejoice = to feel or show great joy or delight! Paul is calling Christians to an action——Just do it!!! He didn’t say if you feel like it, rejoice. He didn’t say if all around you is making sense, rejoice. He said rejoice. Show great joy because God is the true and living God. Show great joy and delight in the fact that God loves you. Show great joy because God has provided salvation for you. Delight in reading God’s word and knowing him—–rejoice and I again, I say rejoice.
2. In Philippians 4:5, he says: “let your gentle spirit be known to all men for the Lord is near.” Be gentle. Don’t get caught up in the rhetoric, don’t get caught up in the fear, don’t get caught up in any of the nonsense—let all see your graciousness, your gentleness—–all men. As a sinner saved by grace, pass the Peace of Christ. Tell others about the saving grace of Jesus.
3. In Philippians 4:6, Paul gives us another command: “Be anxious for nothing…” But he does not leave it there, he tells us how to do this “…in everything by prayer and supplication (pleading) with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Our way to not be anxious about the news or the drums of war or whatever is coming to our eyes and ears is to go to our loving father and savior in prayer. Telling him honestly what you feel and need and praising him for who he is.
Excuse me—is this noise in my head bothering you? Don’t let the noise of our generation crowd in upon you. Go to Jesus in prayer, and may the peace that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!!