God speaks in many ways, but if you want to hear him you need to be prepared to listen. In 1 Kings 19:12, following wind, earthquake and fire –which is the name of a 70s band, I believe – Elijah hears a “sound of sheer silence” (NRSV), or “a tiny whispering sound” (NAB). The prophet Elijah responds to the imperceptible, the silence, or near silence and “when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (v. 13). Elijah had gone to Mt. Horeb to talk to God and indeed had been sent by God (vv. 1-11); as a prophet, a mouthpiece for God, he had every expectation that he would hear God’s voice. And he did, but the voice came in an unexpected way.
The account of Elijah is a fascinating one, not just for the manner in which God’s voice comes – quietly and unobtrusively - but it indicates that to hear God’s voice, we must be ready to hear it, listen for it intently and put ourselves in a place, in Elijah’s case figuratively and quite literally, where we can respond to it.
In some ways, it is difficult to connect this reading to the others for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, but here, too, we need to be attentive to God’s voice speaking to us. In Romans 9:1-5, Paul cries out that “I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” Paul says this in response to the reality that the message of Jesus had taken root amongst the Gentiles not his own people. Yet, as he develops this argument in Romans 9-11, Paul acknowledges that God is in this, that God’s ways are a mystery and that God will never abandon his people. Paul, to my mind, says "because I know how God loves and because I have heard and listened to his voice, I know he must be here too even if I cannot understand it." It is hard to accept how and where God is at times and so simply turn from his presence and reality. Peter falls victim to this kind of subtle rejection of the voice of God.
Peter listens to the voice of Jesus in Matthew 14:22-33, when he takes tentative steps on the water, which I suspect is the way that any of us take steps into the new and the unknown. He had asked Jesus to command him and the voice of Jesus said “come.” Peter listened and responded to the voice of God, but his tentativeness turned to fear when the wind and the waves arose. Peter began to sink.
“Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
Ultimately Peter does turn back to the voice of God, which can be heard in the stillness, in confusion and mystery, and in the midst of a great storm, if and when we are prepared to listen, able to hear, willing to take tentative steps and when we fall, to call out again and again for God to speak to us. Listen. God will speak.
John W. Martens
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