These readings are filled with storms. Understand the storms as life’s dangers, the consequence of fear and of having stepped out in conviction. Peter has faith enough to get out of the boat to walk on the water toward Jesus. Elijah has faith enough to challenge Baal’s prophets and then has them killed. Jezebel is out to get him.
What is God’s response to human fears? Jesus walks on water in a storm and pulls Peter-of-little-faith from death. Elijah stands on the mountain in a storm alone, in fear of assassins, not hearing or seeing the holy one, but the God of hosts comes and gives him a job, sends him on a mission. In both situations, God rescues the one in need.
We tend to ask the wrong question about our lives: How we are to find the power to combat fear? These readings plant in us the image of the holy one coming to us, setting the fear aside, rescuing us from our own failings, and setting us on the path… again and again.
The governing image for this Sunday is God’s rescue regardless of our amount of faith or fear.
A society that emphasizes what we have and what we do as measures of personal success and often equates wealth and might with power can be difficult to navigate. We find it hard to extricate ourselves from the habit of grabbing for power in the obvious places—habits that we have built over a lifetime.
When Peter leaves the boat, however, he shows us a way of navigating our storm of cultural values that surrounds us. As long as the focus is Jesus, Peter (and we) are all right. The minute the voices of greed and power tempt us to turn away, though, we will sink as surely as Peter did into a world that closes its eyes to injustice and the plight of the poor. . . . When Jesus pulls us into our boats, though, we are given new life and the power of such attitudes becomes nothing before the power of Jesus.
–– Mary Katharine Deeley, Pastoral Associate and Director of the Christ the Teacher Institute, Sheili Catholic Center, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
Hold onto that reference to the power of distracting, negative attitudes becoming “nothing.” The “nothing” is also crucial to Elijah’s story; it signals God’s power to give us strength, appearing out of nowhere.
1 Kings 19:9-18
Elijah’s vision of the One God, YHWH, stands in opposition to Baal, the god worshiped by the political powers. … Elijah is understandably running and hiding for his life. But the LORD finds him and gives him another boost of confidence with instructions on where to stand so that he might see the LORD and thereby be bolstered in courage for the tasks ahead of him. Elijah … looks to the wind, the earthquake, and the fire—all the earth’s means for astounding us with power.
Nature does not, however, contain the revelation. Not even an absence of nature’s witness—silence—holds what Elijah thinks he is there to hear or see. Instead, the Hebrew words for the NRSV’s “the sound of sheer silence” should be translated as “the sound of silence pulverized.” In other words, the deepest revelation of the Most High is not merely nothing, but crushed nothingness. . . . And yet, the LORD came again to Elijah in voice with instructions for more daring work for the prophet and, most importantly, promise of ultimate triumph.
–– Melinda Quivik, General Editor of Liturgy, independent liturgical scholar.
The divine voice sometimes is audible, sometimes a mere whisper of an inkling. We listen because that is the only trustworthy voice.
Commenting on the reading from Romans, Michael Van Horn reminds us of the story in C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia as a way of grasping that “Jesus is Lord.” Jill is lost in Narnia and very thirsty. She finds water but Aslan, the lion, stands in her way. He invites her to drink, but she is fearful that he will harm her. He is a lion, after all.
Terrifed, the girl politely asks the lion to go away before she drinks. The lion responds with a low growl.
Then she bargains, “Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” Aslan replies, “I make no promises.”
Desperate for water, but too fearful, Jill despairs, “I dare not come and drink.” “Then you will die of thirst,” says the lion.
“Oh dear,” said Jill, “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
And the lion answers, “There is no other stream.”
–– Michael A. Van Horn, at the time of this 2005 publication, was pastor of Trinity Church, Evangelical Covenant, in Livonia, Michigan
This is Elijah’s, Peter’s, and Jill’s dilemma: “There is no other stream.” Jesus is the face of the one who has rescued people of faith and doubt for centuries.
Homily Service 38, no. 9 (7 Aug 2005): 5-14.