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Fed by an angel by Ferdinand Bol
What are you doing here?

1 Kings 19:1-15

June 19, 2016

Today’s reading from the lectionary falls just before last week’s reading. First Kings is an interesting book, so if you have time this afternoon to read it, please do that. I know some of you did go home last week and read the Book of Kings.

You need to know that Jezebel had killed the prophets of the God of Israel and so Elijah waited until he can do the same to the prophets of Baal.

Jezebel says,
“When I get my hands on you, I will kill you Elijah,” and so Elijah flees to the hills and that is where we meet him today’s story. He was hiding out in a cave. Elijah is afraid – afraid for his life. So he runs to Beer–Sheba where he falls asleep under a tree. Suddenly, an angel touches him on the shoulder and she says to him, “Get up and eat.” He does and then he goes back to sleep, the angel returns and again says, “Get up and eat.” He gets up again and he eats.

After journeying for forty days and forty nights, Elijah finds himself at Horeb, the mountain of God. Then the word of Yahweh comes to him,
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah tells his tale of woe: “The Israelites are unfaithful, your covenant has been broken, and the people have thrown down alters and killed your prophets with swords. I alone am left and they are seeking my life, they want to take my life away.”

If we read this story through, we know that this is not true. If you go back to Chapter 18 where Jezebel was killing the prophets, the story tells us that Obadiah hid 100 prophets in caves; he hid fifty to a cave and left them plenty of bread and water. And not a word from Elijah about why there is conflict between the worshippers of Baal and those who now worship the God of Israel, Yahweh. It appears Elijah is having difficulty coping with the reality of the situation.

However, regardless of how Elijah is feeling, Yahweh says to him,
“Go out, go out and stand on the mountain of God, for God is about to pass by.” Elijah goes out, and there is a wind so strong that it split the mountain, then there was an earthquake, then the fire, but God was not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire. When everything had settled down there was complete silence all around and that was when Elijah heard the voice of God.

God said again,
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah comes up with the same answer as the last time he was asked this question. All that stuff about how bad everything is and how everyone is out to get him. This time God keeps his promise from awhile back. God had said, “You just hang tough Elijah and I will have an army prepared for you.” This time God tells Elijah, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus and when you arrive the dynasty of Ahab will end. Jehu will be the successor.” As we know, Elijah will see Ahab face to face, but he never faces Jezebel. Despite Elijah’s pessimism 7000 people are still faithful to the God of Israel, Yahweh. Remember this is a religious war that is happening. This is about the power of the Gods. The old gods, Baal and Asherah and the new all powerful God, Yahweh.

What is this text saying to us?

I rather like the line where God says,
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah tells some half-truths and some lies. He tells, I suppose, what he believes to be close to the truth. Later, God asks again, “What are you doing here Elijah?” once again Elijah gives the same answer.

The story might speak to us at many levels. I expect we all experience that inner voice, the voice that we sometimes call Spirit and we might hear the question,
“What are you doing here?”

I might answer like Elijah, some half-truths, some not so straight answers, and I would try at some level to answer truthfully exactly what it is I am doing here. I am more like Elijah than I am like Jezebel. Jezebel was a warrior, she went after what she believed and never looked back. She died for her beliefs; Jezebel dies the most violent death in the Bible. I want to be like Jezebel, but I am more like Elijah.

This afternoon if God were to ask,
“What are you doing here, Sharon?” I would say, well, I am enjoying the summer; I like the warm summer wind and the warm summer nights. I like being close to Saskatoon so I can see some of my family and friends. Sometimes I like my work, actually most of the time I don’t mind work. I like the challenge that work brings and I do want the United Church to have a presence in Tisdale. I work because I would be unhappy if I didn’t work, because if I didn’t work, I wouldn’t have enough money to live like I want to live. That is the real truth as to why I am here.

See, it takes a while to get to the bottom of things. Like Elijah I whine and complain that it could be better. I believe that I will get to the important stuff, like: How should I vote and who is going to build homes for the homeless and why can’t there be more places for people who have addictions and need support? Who is going to make the institutions more accessible to those in need and why did wine go up 10%? Important questions and I will try and keep a cool head and I will ask them if God should happen to pass by today and ask,
“What are you doing here Sharon?”

What are you doing here?

You might be here for many reasons. None of which I know or understand. But I want to share a story with you from my time on Haida Gwaii.

It was a brilliant day, clear and sunny, with not a cloud in sight. We were a small group just myself, Gladys and Walter Noddin. There were few places Gladys wanted to see, and this was one of them. Gladys has an old leg injury and she has trouble walking, so this is difficult for her. The only way in to where we were going was to walk. We were on our way to the Rhododendron Forest at Kumdis Island. We made our way through the forest, we crossed the river to where the Rhododendrons were and we could see where the early settlement from the early 1900s had been. There was still a long fence, part of a house and a huge meadow where there was quite likely a garden. There were all those Rhododendron flowers in full bloom. The settlers who had come from England in the early 1900s came to farm and they must have brought the Rhododendron plants with them.

I turned to Gladys and said,
“Surely, the Spirit must have asked these early settlers, particularly the women, what are you doing here? They would have had no access to hospitals, or to schools, or to a post office – how did they survive?” It was a powerful place and it had that silence that takes over and the silence fills up the space. As I stood there in the middle of the homestead there was in the silence the sense of the Spirit.
There was the sense of this being a holy sort of place.

Perhaps that is how it was for Elijah after everything had settled down and he was surrounded by silence. It was then that he heard the question.

I believe that it is through our relationship with one another, it is in our openness to creation and to one another that we learn how to hear the questions and the answers.

I like to think that it wasn’t easy for Elijah to go back and murder Ahab and Jezebel. I like to think there must have been another answer. Or maybe Elijah heard the wrong answer. Maybe he misinterpreted what was said. But we know, don’t we, that God/Spirit is a different sort of force for each and every one of us. Each of us has our own notion of how the Spirit works in our lives. We have our conversations with God/Spirit and we hear what we need to hear, or what we want to hear. At this time in the Old Testament story Elijah heard what he heard. After all they had to win the religious battle and if they hadn’t won, well, we wouldn’t be worshipping here today or at least not as Christians because eventually our story grows out of their story.

Life is complex. God is often elusive, and not always available. We need experiences like the one at the Rhododendron Forest. We need this because it empowers us to believe. The Spiritual experience is central to the human experience and my sense is that occasionally we need to glimpse the Spirit at work in the world. We need to experience the power that keeps us asking the hard questions and keeps us keen to hear the question:
“What are you doing here?”

When we hear that question,
“What are you doing here?” and when we attempt to answer it, then we enter into a relationship with our inner self, which is heart, soul, consciousness and Spirit/God. This experience, this journey with God could take us places we never expected to go.

I believe it is a risky question,
“What are you doing here?” Worthwhile mind you, but nonetheless risky because it pulls us to places we might not want to go, but places we need to go, but would rather not, or maybe just not now, perhaps later.

As we journey no matter what questions we hear, there can be opportunity to be in relationship with the Holy presence, that we sense or feel. It might be an opportunity to be vulnerable and to seek a path of knowledge and understanding of our deepest selves. It is then, we find the unintelligible available. It is then, that we can let go of our fears and be honest with ourselves about the journey and the expectations surrounding the journey.

This morning Elijah has taken us on an interesting journey. His story has morphed into our story and it has turned out better than I imagined. Of course I leave you with the question that was presented to Elijah:
“What are you doing here?”
Sharon Ferguson-Hood