Rev. George Miller
1 Kings 19:9-15
June 19, 2016
Scripture is wonderful. It is rich. Alive. Breathing.
Though most of what we encounter in the Bible was written 2-3,000 years ago, it can speak to us as if it was just written this morning.
Scripture can say where we were. Scripture can point us to where we are going. Scripture speaks to us where we are.
In many ways, the Bible is simply written. Simply written, therefore wonderfully complex.
Rarely do the authors make a judgment about how someone behaves. Scripture sparingly uses adjectives to tell us if someone is good, bad, deceitful, trifling, so therefore the people just…are.
Scripture does not often tell us how someone speaks, or the tone they use, or the intonation of their voice.
Therefore, we are left to use our imagination. To approach stories with a new set of ears and eyes almost each and every time we read the Bible.
In its seeming simplicity, Scripture allows room for the Holy Spirit to come in and say “A-ha” or “Ahem” or “Oh my.”
Today’s reading is an example. Today, God asks Elijah in a Still-Speaking voice “What are you doing here…”
The story thus far: the country has been stuck with King Ahab, a ruler who has turned his back on justice, kindness and walking humbly with the Lord. Therefore, the nation has faced 3 years of drought.
Elijah and Ahab have a face-off in which they battle to see whose god is the true God.
Elijah wins when Yahweh sends fire from the sky to consume the burnt offering.
In an act of religious zeal Elijah gathers the 450 prophets of Baal…and kills them with a sword.
…even before there were AME churches and gay nightclubs, and guns, people were capable of being killed due simply to someone else’s zealousness…
…but that’s a sermon for another time…
When King Ahab’s wife hears the news, she places a bounty on Elijah’s head and he runs away for fear of his life.
Elijah wanders into the wilderness and rests under a tree, tired, and despondent and wishing he had never lived.
He comes to a cave, in a mountain; the same mountain that Moses had been too.
While there, feeling all alone in the world and extremely vulnerable, he hears a word from the Lord, saying “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Now, we don’t know exactly how the Lord said this. Was it said loud? Was it said soft?
Was Elijah’s name spoken sternly, as if God was a Dad about to punish his child?
Was Elijah’s name spoken tenderly, as if God was a Dad whose heart was breaking?
Were the words spoken with equal strength, or were certain words given more of an emphasis?
If so, was the emphasis on the word “what”? As in “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Or was the emphasis on the word “doing”? As in “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Or was the emphasis on the word “here”? As in “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
In the first case, the emphasis on the word “what” could imply that Elijah was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, that he is somewhere he is not supposed to be.
In the second case, the emphasis on the word “doing” could imply that Elijah was doing something inappropriate.
Then there is the emphasis on the word “here.” It has an almost philosophical, existential tone.
“What are you doing here…”
What are you doing here? What are we doing here? What are any of us doing here?
It’s almost like a “To be or not to be” of scripture.
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” God asks, and with this reading I feel that God’s like a Father who has compassion, concern, and care for God’s children.
“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
For me, this is God saying “Before I knit you together in your mother’s womb, I knew you. Before you were born I knew your name.”
For me, this is God saying “Elijah, you have a purpose in life. What is that purpose? Why are you right here, right now, during this time in history?”
“Is it to run away and to hide in a cave, or is it something greater, something more.”
I like to imagine that this is God saying “Elijah, tell me what you’re role in life is, and what you were placed on the earth to do.”
In other words “Why are you here…”
I think that’s a question God asks each and every one of us throughout our lives.
“Why are you here?”
The answers can be many. To raise a family. To work the farm. To be the best Parent you can be.
To care for the community. To usher in change. To feed. To teach. To heal.
To love. To be loved in return.
“Why are you here?”
That’s a question that resonates with me this week. Like Elijah, like Jonah, like so many others, I have spent a good deal of my life running away and hiding in caves.
Then something like the Pulse murders happen, and the answer becomes clear- I am here for a time like this. To be present, to minister, to speak up, to stand in solidarity.
I can ask each of you individually “Why are you here?”, and there’d be so many responses, because we are so many bodies.
However, we are One body- the body of Jesus Christ.
So today, as your pastor, I ask “Why, Emmanuel UCC, are we here?”
“Why, Emmanuel UCC, are you here?”
In memory of the 9 black people killed at Emanuel AME in Charleston;
in knowledge of the 49 gay, lesbian, Latino, white, black, straight, male, female, teenage and middle aged killed in Orlando last week,
Why are we here?
Why is it that 26 years ago God formed us?
Why is it that 26 years ago the Holy Spirit breathed life into us? Why is it that 26 years ago Jesus Christ said “follow in my foot-steps”?
Why are we here?
Why are we part of this particular body of Christ during this particular time in this particular place?
Is it to be a social group? Is it to be a safe haven? Is it to be a house of worship? Is it to be a place for feeding? Is it to be a place for healing?
Is it to be a place of silence? Is it to be a place with a voice?
Why are we, Emmanuel UCC here? What has God called us to do? What does God not want us to do?
How are we to act? What behaviors do we let go?
How do we be a church in a semi-rural, semi-small town made up of retirees and working-class citizens, northerners and native born, in the center of a state in which so much is going on?
Why are we here?
Tracy- why are you here as our moderator?
Nancy- why are you here as head of property?
Cindy- why are you here in charge of hospitality?
Silvia- why are you here overseeing word and sacrament?
Sheryl- why are you here putting together VBS and hopefully making plans for Sunday school?
Ken, Sue and Mary- why are you here, overseeing worship and making music?
People of the Shepherd’s Pantry- why will you be here tomorrow?
For those who’ll be present during Wednesday’s Vigil of Unity- why will you be there?
Randy, Dave, Buddy- why are you here handling finances and note-taking?
Tina- why are you here as liturgist?
Why are you, in the pews, here today?
Why am I here, in this time, in this place, in this unique, quirky town and amazing congregation???
…Elijah hits a speed bump, a tope, in his life and his initial answer is to run far, far away.
But God sees Elijah, God speaks to him, God says “What are you doing here…” and it is as if, today, God is speaking to each and everyone one of us.
What are we doing here?
I cannot answer that for you, or for anyone else.
But I believe that the answers continue to be the same as it’s been for thousands of years:
To do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with the Lord. To love our neighbor as ourselves.
To be the best reflections of Christ’s light that we can be.
What that means, how that looks, how it is done will be unique to each person.
Thankfully we don’t have to figure this out all alone; thankfully we have a guiding light in Jesus Christ who will continue to show us the way.
In peace and beauty, mystery and calm, let us say “Amen, and amen.”