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I’m sure that many of you who can still stomach watching the news these days saw or at least heard about the anger and the protests and the violence that sprung up over the last two days in Virginia. As a minister and a person of faith, I can’t not mention it. I know you don’t come here for politics… neither do I.

There is nothing “political” about what I’m going to say this morning. But I do feel called to address what’s happened. I think I’d be failing God if I didn’t.

A colleague of mine from seminary was there. A young Jewish man, a rabbi in training. Scrolling through pictures and videos all day yesterday, I saw him several times. First, in a Christian church Friday night during a prayer vigil, standing side-by-side with African-Americans and people of all races… while outside, protesters gathered carrying torches and shouting white nationalist rhetoric and giving Nazi salutes. The next day, there he was again, in the midst of another protest, arm in arm with clergy, men and women I hugely respect and admire, preaching love and peace, and facing down intolerance and violence and brandished weapons.

For those of you who haven’t seen it on the news, several groups began to gather on Friday in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the city council’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the park. Like I said, I’m not going to get into politics, and I’m not gonna get into the current debate around confederate statues and confederate flags and Civil War history this morning. Even way up here in Maine that debate rages. I’ve seen the flags. This morning I’m more interested in what the protest became.

I’m more interested in the haunting photographs of Hitler salutes illuminated by flickering torchlight. I’m more interested in the racist chants and the violence against counter-protesters that night. I’m more interested in Pastor Traci Blackmon’s tweet: “They are coming for the church! Police all around. They won’t let us go outside. Y’all these KKK are marching with torches!” I’m more interested in the live video I was watching yesterday while I waited in my office for my noon appointment. The live video of white protesters, many prepared with weapons, makeshift armor, and even shields, chanting horrible things and threatening violence, even as a line of riot police advanced to clear the park of the unlawful gathering.

I’m not going to get into what it means that the police showed remarkable restraint in confronting a primarily white protest, or that the only death in the thick of it yesterday wasn’t one of the protesters being cleared out by the police at all, but a woman struck by a car that accelerated into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters. God… people were actually thrown out of their shoes. I didn’t think that actually happened in real life, but… I saw the picture.

But you didn’t come here for “politics.”

What we’ve been seeing over the last two days—and it’s been becoming more and more visible in recent years if we’re being honest, and not just in Virginia—what we saw were people coming from places of pride, ignorance, fear, and threatened privilege. People who chose to respond to a change in their status quo and an attack on their worldview with hatred, violence, and a disgusting degree of disrespect. And I want to be clear, even if it upsets people, that I’m talking about what I can only characterize as words and actions of white supremacy. I don’t say that lightly, not from the pulpit. And, knowing full well what’s come before me, not from this pulpit.

Racism is bad. And the harm that it causes is not just to people’s “feelings.” I don’t think that’s a groundbreaking statement to make… And I swear, I am going to get off my soapbox and talk about the Bible in a minute. I promise.

God made each and every one of us, no matter our race, in God’s own image. We are all beloved children of God, and bigotry or stereotyping or hate speech or white supremacy is nothing less than spitting on the God that created the beautiful rainbow that is humanity. Whatever the motives for organizing and gathering this protest, the things that were said and the acts of hate that were committed in Charlottesville over the last two days… I believe we as people of faith are called to stand against that, and if I just ignored what had happened this morning I wouldn’t have been much of a servant of God. I wouldn’t.

So… how in the world do I connect what’s happened over the past two days to the Scripture verses Betty printed in our bulletins on, like, Wednesday? Well, we’ll see.

For my sake as well as yours, lets step away from current events for just a moment and into the relative safety of the Bible in your pews. Let’s just breathe for a minute, while I tell you a little bit about Elijah.

Elijah is actually a long story, full of adventures and all kinds of drama, but I’ll save his complicated life story for another sermon. For now, it’s enough to know that he lived about 850 years before the birth of Christ, and he was a prophet of the Lord, on a mission to get ancient Israel back on the straight-and-arrow, and to punish all those who would threaten it.

And by this point in the Scripture things are going his way. He is strong in his conviction, on a mission from God, and God is on his side. He’s making serious progress, and chalking up some impressive victories. To misquote Ethel Merman, or Milhouse from the Simpsons: “Everthing’s comin’ up Elijah.”

And then, suddenly, everything breaks down. The bottom falls out and Elijah’s world comes crashing down around him. One day he was winning, and the next it felt like the world had turned completely against him. His life and limb were at risk, and he felt completely alone. To paraphrase a commentary I was reading Friday afternoon, “overnight his triumph turned to ashes.”

We know that feeling, don’t we? When all of a sudden something goes wrong and everything starts to come crashing down. Everything stops, and suddenly in a very real way the universe is out to get us. Maybe we’re abruptly laid off, and we don’t know if we’ll be able to put food on the table. Or maybe we find ourselves in the hospital with pneumonia or some kind of infection that came out of nowhere and leaves us bed-ridden. Maybe we’re hit by a car… or maybe—here’s my privilege talking—you’re like me and your car is broken into for the first time and your happy vacation turns into anger and hardship and theft.

God, all those feelings I had last week that seemed so important to me… I look at Charlottesville now and I’m reminded just how petty my little hiccup was compared with people facing real injustice.

But most of us here in this church at some point in our lives have actually faced the kind of moment Elijah was facing, when things come crashing down and we’re surrounded by the chaos of a harsh, unforgiving world. We don’t know what to do, we don’t know how to react, we’re scared, we’re angry, and we have to do something.

And so we find Elijah this morning, far from civilization, out in the wilderness of the desert, beset on all sides. He says it himself, he might as well just die.

Elijah finds himself alone on the dusty peak of Mount Horeb, another name for the very mountain where Moses gathered the Ten Commandments. And there, God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?”

Elijah hears an implied, “Don’t you have work to do somewhere else?” so he defends himself vehemently. “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.” Whether or not Elijah was actually the last upright person in Israel, in that moment he felt it was true, and that matters. His world has burned to the ground.

Nothing can help Elijah. He did his best, but, to misquote Forrest Gump… “stuff” happened. What Elijah needs, more than anything else right now, is the presence of God in his life.

And then something miraculous happened. Hidden in a cave, Elijah watched as an incredible wind, a great earthquake, and a terrible fire came down. The awe-inspiring drama and power and chaos of God tore through that mountaintop… but that wasn’t the miracle. The real miracle was what came next.

Those of you who are familiar with the King James Bible might remember the phrase “a still small voice.” This moment is where it comes from, very poetically translated from the Hebrew (kole dem-aw-maw’ daw-kaw’) qol dmamah daqah.

Normally the King James isn’t my favorite translation of the Bible, but most modern versions lose the poetry of this phrase. You get “a tiny whispering sound,” or “the sound of a light whisper,” or “a soft murmuring sound.” My typical go-to translation the NRSV at least says, “a sound of sheer silence,” and that’s a little better, but I still don’t think it gets to the heart of what Elijah experienced in that moment following the wind and the earthquake and the firestorm.

I prefer Rabbi Mike Comins’ literal translation… the “voice of fragile silence.”

Here we’re not talking about actual words, like “a still small voice” implies. That comes later. And we’re not talking about the sound of breeze through rocks or the subtle murmur of settling sand. Elijah is in a very real sense being “spoken to” by absolute silence.

I love the image Rabbi Comins invokes, so I want to take a second to quote it directly. So for a moment, could you indulge me and close your eyes. Go on, close your eyes and imagine with me.

“Not all silences are alike. Put in earplugs or enter a soundproof room and the silence is muggy and oppressive. Silence in a forested, mountain wilderness is rare. The wind howls, leaves rustle, birds chirp, insects buzz, creeks ‘sing.’ True silence, perhaps on a peak when the wind stops, is actually quite rare. It hits suddenly, with dramatic impact.

“In Israel's deserts and the Sinai, where the wind is usually still for at least half the day, the silence is vastly different… wait for the wind to stop. This silence is total, yet light and natural—even embracing.

“And precious. The smallest movement of an insect or the slightest breeze registers audibly. You hear the ruffling of your sleeve, or the call of a raven miles away. This is desert silence. Easily disturbed. A fragile silence.”

You can open your eyes now.

In the face of all the chaos, both the chaos of his life and challenges, and the chaos of God’s tremendous display there atop the mountain, Elijah could not find the presence of God in the chaos… he found it in the fragile silence.

The silence had something to tell him.

Only in the moment when all was perfectly still, within and without, was Elijah able to step out into the presence of God.

And, long story short, he found the direction he needed. In that fragile silence he was able, eventually, to really hear the voice of God, and to put his life back together. On that mountain he found his purpose again, and he was able to figure out what he needed to do to get back on track. He couldn’t do that in the face of chaos and fear. He couldn’t do it with knee-jerk reactions or acting out in violence. He found it in the voice of fragile silence.

Earlier this week when I was putting together what I was going to say today, I built it around the idea that, “when your world is thrown into chaos and your plans are thrown out the window, seek God’s voice in the silence.” Step back from the chaos and the anger and the craziness, find stillness in your mind, and seek the voice of fragile silence. I could talk more about that, and I would have, but then Virginia happened, as crises tend to do when you’re working on a sermon. So I’m just going to leave that thought there, knowing that you’re all wise enough to chew it over without me going on about it any more.

But with all of that still bubbling around in my head when I started hearing about Charlottesville and the chaos taking place there… well, it was hard for me to find the stillness to hear God’s voice. And I wasn’t even there. I was safe in my cushy office in a church in a picturesque beach town in New England, 600 miles away from the hatred and the violence, and I couldn’t find quiet in my own mind.

Watching the video clips and listening to the hatred and vileness being spouted, I kept asking myself why? How could these people say these things, do these things, believe these things? Why would they spew such hate? What pleasure do they derive from threatening their fellow human beings? What drew them to come to that place with torches and weapons and armor?

And I couldn’t help but think about Elijah. A human being just like any of us, who felt like his world was coming down. The place of power and superiority from which he had stood had begun to crumble beneath him, with people he considered inferior moving against the convictions he took for granted.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, I’ll admit I’m working backwards here, but I could see the parallels.

This weekend people gathered to protest the removal of a symbol of their convictions and pride, and in the face of that threat and what they perceive as the black and minority community threatening their cultural identity and their very existence, they gathered in a spirit of hate and war. These white nationalists, they know what Elijah was feeling, because they’re feeling it too, justified or not. I bet they feel beset on all sides, their position threatened by those on the “wrong” side. The bottom is falling out, slowly but surely, and God willing the injustices that support them will come crashing down.

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for them. I’m not even gonna ask you to feel for them, because I can tell you that’s hard. I said it so eloquently before, right? “Racism is bad.” And the actions of those this weekend are yet another indicator of something much bigger that lives within our country today.

But I am asking you to think, if their world coming crashing down can make them react like they did this weekend in Virginia, how will you react when your own world comes crashing down? Like it does to all of us in different ways, more than once in our lives. Will you react like Elijah, fleeing and wishing himself dead? Will you react like the worst of the protesters this weekend, with anger born of fear and ignorance, with violence born of chaos?

Or will you seek the fragile silence within yourself? Will you seek the voice of God?

The voice of God doesn’t chant “blood and soil.” It doesn’t chant slogans of hate. The voice of God preaches love and mercy and peace.

And it is for love and mercy and peace that I pray for the people in Charlottesville on all sides of the conflict this weekend. The protesters, the counter-protesters, the police and emergency responders, and the innocent bystanders. It’s a prayer I have for all of us, for all of God’s children. May love, mercy, and peace reign.

Amen.