Sunday 13 August 2023 Trinity 10, Nineteenth in Ordinary time, Proper 14
Old Jack’s Boat
1 Kings 19:9-18
Context: a regular Sunday morning Salvation Army congregation of around fifty worshippers
Aim: to be aware of God speaking to us in a still small voice
Bernard Cribbins! I am not always sure how my mind works but all sorts of things get stuck in there which pop up at various times. This is one of them. When I was looking at these well-known verses about the ‘still small voice’ I thought of Bernard Cribbins. He died only last year aged 93. He seems to have been part of the television and film landscape to many of our lives. From ‘Perks’ in The Railway Children, to ’diggin’ that ‘ole in the ground’, to ‘Right Said Fred’, to voicing over a hundred episodes of The Wombles (doing all the furry animal voices), to completing 111 episodes of Jackanory. Add to this numerous film roles, plus characters in Dr Who, covering a prolific career spanning seven decades. Why then did he spring to mind when re-reading these verses?
It was Old Jack’s Boat that did it. This was a CBeebies series which ran from 2013 till 2015. It started at around the same time my grandchildren were at the age where they loved CBeebies and Grandma who was doing her duty loved being with them!
Old Jack was the owner of a multi-coloured boat called The Rainbow and, in each episode, he tells a story to his dog, Salty.
What struck me most about this little programme was Cribbins’ inimitable style of storytelling. For someone who grew up with Watch with Mother in black and white, with just a few voices and simple background music it sounded strangely familiar. Over the years children’s TV has (obviously) become multi-coloured but also at times very jangly, loud, and fast. Everything about Old Jack’s storytelling was quiet, simple, and imbued with that lovely expectancy that only such a seasoned narrator could provide. His was the still small voice, in what could sometimes be a hectic, jumpy, noisy battle for children’s attention.
There is only one place in Scripture where God is said to speak in a ’still small voice’, and it was to Elijah after his dramatic victory over the prophets of Baal. Told that Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, King of Israel, was seeking to kill him, Elijah ran into the wilderness and collapsed with exhaustion. God sent an angel with food and water to strengthen him, told him to rest, and then sent him to Horeb. In a cave there, Elijah voiced his complaint that all of God’s prophets had been killed by Jezebel and he alone had survived. God responded by instructing him to stand on the mountain in His presence. Then the Lord sent a mighty wind which broke the rocks in pieces; He then sent an earthquake, followed by a fire; but His voice was in none of them. The Lord, in fact, spoke to Elijah in the still small voice.
God spoke in the still small voice to show Elijah that His work need not always be accompanied by dramatic revelation or manifestations. Divine silence does not necessarily mean divine inactivity. In Zechariah chapter four, verse six, we are reminded that God’s work is ‘not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ implying that overt displays of power are not always necessary for God to work.
Sometimes God speaks to us in this way too. He spoke to Elijah in a way which was appropriate to the prophet. After all the upset, the running away and the depression, shouting loudly at Elijah may have been counterproductive. There are times when we perhaps need, or can appreciate, a loud and significant intervention from God but often it is in the quietness and reflection that we hear the still small voice.
The American theologian, Philip Ryken, suggests that in his weakness, anything more than a gentle God would have been too much for Elijah to bear. His power is a terrible reality, but sometimes we simply want to know that He is our friend. This is what God revealed to Elijah: ‘And after the fire the sound of a still small voice.’
And so, for us there is one thing that is required for God to show up and speak in this way. We must tune our ear to His voice. Most people will not hear God speak audibly but we may hear Him speaking to our heart through prayer, through Bible study, or via our conscience, that inward still small voice. I rather like the words of JK Rowling who speaks about conscience in this way: ’In my worldview, conscience speaks in a very small and inconvenient voice, and it is normally saying to you: think again, look more deeply, consider this.’
This is what we should always be ready to do: to think again, look more deeply, and consider what God has to say to us.
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