September 30, 2018: "What Are You Doing Here?"
What Are You Doing Here?
1 Kings 19:9b-13
Rev. Rhonda Blevins
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “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.” He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
“Whisper. If you want to capture someone’s attention, whisper.” This line from a 1970’s perfume commercial is forever imbedded in my frontal cortex. As a kid, the logic of whispering to get someone’s attention seemed counterintuitive. Yelling, screaming, shouting seemed to be the tried and true method. But a whisper? That just doesn’t make sense.
But a whisper is exactly what God used to get Elijah’s attention. Let’s start from the beginning of the story.
Our hero, Elijah, is running for his life from the villainous Queen Jezebel, who is leading the Israelites in the way of Baal worship. She assassinates many of the Lord’s prophets, so Elijah confronts her husband, King Ahab, and challenges the King to assemble all the prophets of Baal together for a dual to the end, so to speak, so that the people of Israel can choose once and for all whom they will worship. So King Ahab assembled 450 prophets of Baal together on Mt. Carmel. On two separate altars, two bulls would be placed. The prophets of Baal and Elijah would call on their respective gods to set fire to the altar. Whichever God responded, that would be the God Israel would worship. So the prophets of Baal went first. They danced. They prayed. They shouted “Answer us!” Nothing. Morning came and went. Nothing. Through the midday. Nothing. Then evening fell. Nothing. Then it was Elijah’s turn—the lone prophet of Yahweh. The bull was laid upon the altar in much the same way. But he added a little twist. He poured 12 large jars of water over the sacrifice, just for a little drama. He prayed. The fire of the Lord fell. The people rejected Baal and offered their worship to Yahweh. Then Elijah had the 450 prophets of Baal slaughtered—just for good measure. Well, Jezebel didn’t take too kindly to her prophets being killed, so she sent a text message to Elijah saying she would have his head on a platter. She was just the kind of woman to keep her promise. So Elijah ran for his life. 40 days and 40 nights, until he found a cave at Mt. Horeb. Scared, tired, alone, he spent the night in that cave, and that’s we find him in today’s lection.
Hiding out in a cave.
Do you ever feel like Elijah? Do you ever feel like hiding out in a cave? Every now and then, doesn’t it feel like Jezebel’s minions are after you, trying to kill you, and you simply want to find a safe place, far away from your troubles, and hide out? Now, Elijah was no coward. Mt. Carmel proved that. But sometimes, like for Elijah, it seems that we fight and we fight and eventually we’re all out of fight. We just want to run away and hide. And if what the poet said is true—there is a time for everything—then certainly there is a time for hiding. When threats are real. When mental and physical health are at stake. When healing is needed.
There is a time for hiding and there is a time to come out of hiding. That’s when the Lord says, “What are you doing here?” Did you notice the pity party Elijah offered as an answer? “Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. And it’s all your fault, God.”
I get this story. I’ve had those days, weeks, even seasons when I wanted nothing more than to hide out in a cave, far, far away from everyone and everything. Have you ever had one of those times in which nothing seemed to go right? Can you relate to the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?
I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. At breakfast Anthony found a Corvette Sting Ray car kit in his breakfast cereal box and Nick found a Junior Undercover Agent code ring in his breakfast cereal box but in my breakfast cereal box all I found was breakfast cereal. I think I’ll move to Australia.
Have you ever had one of those weeks? Your cat gets sick and some doofus rear-ends you and you burn yourself on the oven and an unexpected bill arrives and you drop your cell phone in the toilet and someone has the audacity to hurt your feelings. By Thursday you’re ready to crawl off into a cave with a good book, a cup of coffee, and have yourself a humdinger of a pity-party.
My friend, Carolyn, tells a story about a visit she made to see her cousin. Her cousin had one of those terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days that left a mark. She was in a serious car accident, placing her in a coma for a long time, and waking up to find herself quadriplegic. This particular visit Carolyn paid to her cousin was many years later. Despite the challenges of living as a quadriplegic, Carolyn described her cousin as one of the most joyful, upbeat people she knew. So Carolyn had to ask, “How do you stay so upbeat and positive given the many challenges you face?” Her cousin responded, “One day per month, I allow myself to have a pity party. I’ll spend that whole day feeling sorry for myself. And I resolve to be happy the rest of the month. And if I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself on one of those days, I’ll say to myself, “No! Pity party is next week.”
Back to Elijah, hanging out in a cave, when God comes to him and asks, “What are you doing here?” Elijah states his complaint; God listens. (God is good at that.) Then God tells Elijah, “Go out, the Lord is about to pass by.” Let’s read what happens next:
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence . . .
“What are you doing here?”
Again, Elijah states his complaints; God listens . . . again. Then God instructs Elijah, “go, return on your way.”
Apparently God wasn’t done with Elijah just yet.
Elijah was obedient to the Lord’s prompting. He left the cave and found the young Elisha and invested him with the prophetic office. Elijah spent the rest of his earthly life, some 7 or 8 years, mentoring Elisha and quite literally walking with him in the journey. Those 7 or 8 years paid off. Elisha served the Lord as a prophet to Israel for roughly 60 years, long after Elijah’s whirlwind trip to heaven. Job well done, Elijah. Time well spent. Much better than hanging out with a bunch of bats.
So you see, God wasn’t done with Elijah just yet. God’s not done with you, either. When you’re tempted to give up, I believe God whispers, saying, “Go, child. Return on your way.” The problem is, it’s hard to hear the whispers because there is so much noise. Our attention is fixated on the wind, the earthquake, and the fire. Most of us suffer from S.A.D.—silence avoidance disorder. When we’re at home, the TV is on. When we’re in the car, the radio is on. When we exercise, the ear buds make sure we have noise. Some of you, I’ll wager, even have machines near your bedside for the express purpose of making “white noise.” The constant cacophony leaves little space for the whispers of God.
God is in the silence. “Be still and know that I am God,” we read in Psalm 46:1. Stillness is both prescriptive and descriptive—it’s a mandate and a prerequisite for hearing and knowing a God who desperately wants to be known.
I read a story about several applicants seeking a position as a ship’s Morse code operator. While they were waiting to be interviewed, the room was filled with the sounds of conversation, and so the applicants were oblivious to the sound of dots and dashes emanating from an intercom. Then another applicant came in, sat down, and quietly waited. Suddenly, she jumped up, walked into the private office, and after a few minutes, walked out with the job. The other applicants exclaimed, “We were here first! How could you go ahead of us and get the job?” To which she replied, “Any of you could have gotten the job if you had just been quiet long enough to pay attention to the message on the intercom.” “What message?” “The code said, ‘A ship’s operator must always be on the alert. The first person who gets this message and comes directly into my office will get the job.’”
If we could just be quiet long enough, what might we hear? What might God be whispering to us today? After the wind, the earthquake, and the fire . . . what might the silence say?
Brothers and sisters stop looking for God in flashing neon and:
Make room for the whispers.
 Rev. Dr. Homer Henderson tells this story in his June 20, 2004 sermon, “Silence Bites.” http://www.day1.net/index.php5?view=transcripts&tid=11