19th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

In that famous first reading, the Prophet Elijah is told to expect the presence of God as he retreats to Mount Horeb, God’s holy mountain.  There is a strong rushing wind, but God is not in the wind. There is an earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake.  There is a fire, but God is not in the fire. I remember that because I can recall the great soul group of the seventies, Earth Wind and Fire.  Finally, there is a tiny whispering sound, and Elijah is completely aware and overwhelmed by the presence of God. And we always make the point that God is not only in the large and spectacular moments, but in the quiet and small moments as well.  But just because God is present in the quiet and the small, it does not mean his presence is any less awesome.  Elijah is aware of the full presence of God.  He covers his face with his cloak as I will demonstrate as I am the only one here with a cloak. 

If in the noise of our life, we are unable to tune into the quiet, if in the large motions and busyness in our lives, we miss the small, then we are missing the powerful presence of God who is trying to speak to us.  A God whose power is somehow multiplied by its intimacy.  If we fail to hear it, we are like the disciples on the boat who fail to recognize Christ for they think he is a ghost.

I don’t know about you, but I have been haunted by the images from Northern Iraq as Christians have been persecuted and killed for their faith.  They have fled and been chased to the mountains for refuge like the ancient Israelites.  Their tales are too brutal and too heartbreaking to tell.  It is easy enough to forget about them.  All it takes is a push of the thumb or a click away. We can resign the discussion to policy debates or to make political points. But their presence has now made these mountains holy.  And how do we hear them? Surely, not in the rushing wind of a missile.  Nor in the mortar crash of an earthquake.  Nor in the fire of an incendiary bomb.  Listen carefully, for the presence of tiny whispering sound.    Theirs is the plaintive cry of Peter, “Lord, save me.”  We have no choice but to hear. God is speaking again.

And the voice is for us.  Isn’t it startling and chilling that what they are hated for and killed for is for gathering as we are gather, for praying as we pray, for believing as we believe, for professing the same belief we are about to profess?  We cannot dismiss them.  They are a part of us.  They are far from half a world away.  They occupy every empty seat here.

So we must pray for them for surely what have the martyrs throughout the centuries asked for but to accompanied and prayed for.  Our prayers are not insignificant sighs of there is nothing else we can do. They are what draw us into the heart of their struggle.  We must crease our foreheads as we pray so that they are not consigned to political objects but we recall exactly who they are – our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We know the tiny whispering sound of the small and the broken. It is the voice of Jesus Christ.

It is truly amazing that hundreds and hundreds of years later, the areas that produced the great martyrs of Christianity, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are again giving witness to Jesus. They refuse to give in; they choose their faith over their life.  If we are truly to be the body of Christ, then we must be on that mountain, in their courage, tears, loss fears and ultimately their triumph.  It is not just our duty and responsibility to remember them – it is our privilege.  They are building the kingdom to which we claim citizenship.  We have but one way to respond that makes any sense – we must love them for they are Christ’s and they are ours.