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What are you doing here?

1 Kings 19:1-16

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 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.”

11 [God] 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; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 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?” 14 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.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus…when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.”                                                     The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

 

“What are you doing here?”

The question was directed to 15-year old Greta Thunberg.  It was August 20, 2018.

It was Greta’s first day of her school strike for the climate, sitting alone outside the parliament building in her native Sweden.

The police weren’t sure what to do with her.  What was a school girl doing here?

“At the age of 8, when she first learned about climate change, [Greta] was shocked that adults did not appear to be taking the issue seriously.”[1] She continued to research and read about the ravaging climate changes.  She convinced her mother, a famous opera singer, to stop flying.  She persuaded her father to become a vegetarian.  On her first day of her school strike, Greta was all alone, a curious sight with her hand-painted banner, “School Strike for Climate.”

“I painted the sign on a piece of wood and, for the flyers, wrote down some facts I thought everyone should know. And then I took my bike to the Parliament and just sat there,” she recalls. “The first day, I sat alone from about 8:30 am to 3 pm—the regular school day. And then on the second day, people started joining me. After that, there were people there all the time.”[2]

Every Friday since that day in August, in rain, sun, or snow, Greta has returned to her spot by the parliament building, continuing her strike.  But she is no longer protesting alone.  On Friday, just two days ago, “between 20,000 and 40,000 protesters joined a [climate] demonstration in the city of Aachen [in Germany] in support of the school strike movement launched by [the] Swedish teenager.”[3]  Her movement has spread across the world, and she continues to gain influence and persuade others to join her protests to protect the earth.  Even when the police and her parents weren’t sure what she was doing outside the parliament building, Greta knew, and her presence and protests are making a difference.  She is speaking up for the earth and the animals, for those who don’t have a voice.  Now, world leaders are listening.

 

God asks Elijah the same question that Greta heard—twice.  Both before and after God’s revelation to Elijah on Mount Horeb, God asks,

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” 

Our text today finds the prophet in a completely different place than in the chapter before.  In Chapter 18, Elijah is bold and confident in YHWH’s presence and power.  “On Mount Carmel, Elijah faces off against 450 prophets of the god Baal to determine which deity—YHWH or Baal—is the true God of Israel.  YHWH, of course, triumphs where Baal fails. … Elijah then leads those gathered in the slaying of Baal’s prophets.”[4]  The clarity and confidence Elijah musters in this showdown doesn’t carry him after hearing Queen Jezebel’s threat to end his life.  In fear and despair, Elijah flees to the wilderness, where he is tended to by God’s angels—twice in this story, with food and water to sustain him while he is in exile.

 

As he reaches Mount Horeb, considered by scholars to be the same as Mount Sinai, the very place where God gives Moses the ten commandments, God asks Elijah,

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah is quick to respond from the depth of his fear and doubt:  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.[5]

Elijah feels alone, desperate, afraid, left behind by the God he serves.  Even after the revelation of the Holy in the sheer silence, Elijah responds with the exact same words.  The presence of God is not enough to shake his fear, his feelings of futility, his disbelief that God will see him through.  Elijah responds out of his suffering.  As he runs away from danger and death threats, God seeks him out, just as God seeks us out.

 

Franciscan contemplative Richard Rohr describes how prayer and suffering lead to a new understanding. Rohr maintains that only suffering and prayer are strong enough to shake us up and set us on a new path. Rohr claims, “It is the things that you cannot do anything about and the things that you cannot do anything with that do something to you.” [6]  I agree with Rohr.  As Elijah listens to God’s message for him, as God meets him in his suffering and fear, Elijah’s vision for what is possible is transformed.  He gains the strength to trust in God, and he carries out his calling with a new purpose.

 

Elijah thought he was alone in his suffering.  Then God shows up.  As the scripture says, it was not in the wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but God shows up in the sheer silence.  Elijah’s plea for his life to end is not the final word.

God still shows up.  God is present despite Elijah’s doubt about his place in God’s plan.  God finds him and leads him to anoint two new kings and his own successor, a new prophet.  Elijah was never alone.  God is able to work through his doubt and despair.  This is good news for us as well.  Even when we are full of doubt and fear about the way forward, we are not alone.  God is present with us, able to work through us for good.  God has new plans for Israel, despite the prophet’s doubt and feelings of being lost.  Elijah may not have trusted the way ahead, but God, the One who is steadfast and abundantly patient, would never leave his people to face their fears—or their future—alone. God promises that there will be leaders to guide the way.  God will continue to lead the church, no matter the circumstances.

 

“What are you doing here?”

The question was implied.  The North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church recently shared a video about women in ministry.[7]  Female pastors throughout our state submitted real comments and questions about their call.  Their male colleagues were tasked to read these comments for the camera, without seeing them beforehand.  The video included statements like:

“You do a really good job, but I think scripture is more meaningful if read with a male

voice.”

“Well, you don’t pray as well as the former pastor, but you sure are prettier.”

“Women are taking over the church!”

“The wedding service was so personal and so religious.  You put God in the service.

But you could never be my pastor because you’re a woman, and we know that God doesn’t want women to be pastors.”

“Women shouldn’t wear pants.”

“If God can use a donkey, then I guess he can use a woman in ministry.”

“I’ve never met one of you.  Is this something that you felt God calling you to do, or is

it really just something that you wanted to do?  (WINK)”

As they read these comments, the men express surprise, shock, disgust, and pain.

 

In the second half of the video, the male pastors are asked to respond and share how the comments made them feel, unscripted.

“It was worse that I thought.  It really was.”

“My heart is broken, quite frankly.  That I would have friends and colleagues who have answered the call from God and still won’t be accepted because of their gender.”

“It makes me even more endeared to my clergy colleagues that put up with this and continue to serve.”

 

God’s call isn’t predictable or tame.  It’s often unconventional and rarely glamorous.  Women leading the church isn’t a new, radical model for all Christians.  At UPC, we are familiar with women in ministry.  Right here in Chapel Hill, female clergy are leading congregations at the Chapel of the Cross, at Kehillah Synagogue, and a clergy couple co-led United Church of Chapel Hill for over three decades.  In this sanctuary, there have been multiple Sundays when the worship leaders leading liturgy have been an all-female team.  Young women and old women, and more than a few men, have shared with me how seeing women lead worship has encouraged and inspired them to experience the church differently.  As a family of faith, UPC has encouraged women in the pulpit, women in seminary, women on the session, and women as leaders in the community.  As a woman on staff, I am grateful to you, that you all have not questioned what I was doing here, you have not questioned God’s call on my life or in the lives of so many women, young and old, cradle Presbyterians and one-time Baptists or Methodists or Episcopalians.  As we prepare for a new model of leadership, let us remember that God often calls us to new places, out of our comfort zone, away from the norm, and into the wide realm of possibility with the Spirit’s provision.

 

So now, I pose the question to you.

And I’m talking to women and to men, to youth, and to children too.

To each of you, to ponder and discern:

What are you doing here? 

How is the living God moving in and guiding your life this week?

Like the angels who sustained Elijah in the wilderness, how are God’s messengers showing up for you and sustaining you along the way?

How has God shown up and helped you grow, even in times of suffering and doubt?

How are you being led by God to advocate, to serve, to share God’s love?

God is able to stir your heart.  God is able to speak in dramatic ways and also in the sheer silence.  That’s what we’re here for:

to be prepared to serve and share God’s love.

to be ready to notice God’s presence and to listen to God’s guidance.

God shows up for Elijah. God shows up to work through a teenager named Greta.  God  promises to show up for us.

When God shows up, with power and grace and provision, how will you respond?

 

[1] https://www.wired.com/story/a-teen-started-a-global-climate-protest-what-are-you-doing/

[2] https://www.wired.com/story/a-teen-started-a-global-climate-protest-what-are-you-doing/

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48734321

[4] Trevor Eppehimer, “1 Kings 19: 1-4(5-7), 8-15a:  Theological Perspective” Feasting on the Word. Year C, vol. 3. General Editors David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. 150.

[5] 1 Kings 19: 10 & 14

[6] Rohr, Richard & Andreas Ebert. The Enneagram:  A Christian Perspective. New York:  Crossroad Publishing, Co. 2014. xx.

[7] https://vimeo.com/335862568

“Male Pastors Read Sexist Comments People Made to Their Female Colleagues” HuffPost. June 18, 2019. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/umc-female-pastors-video_n_5d095148e4b0e560b70aca71

 

Kate Fiedler , Associate Pastor for Adult Ministries

Email: kate@upcch.org

Phone: (919) 929.2102 ext. 130

Bio:

Kate joined the staff in November of 2014 as the Associate Pastor for Adult Ministries. She focuses her energy on strengthening the adult education program, coordinating congregational life events, and extending warm hospitality to new members. Kate grew up in Virginia and North Carolina, and she has moved back and forth across the state line seven times. She is a graduate of Davidson College and Union Presbyterian Seminary. Before arriving in Chapel Hill, Kate served as the Associate Chaplain at Trinity Episcopal School in Charlotte–teaching third through eighth graders–and then as the Director of Admissions at Union Presbyterian Seminary. Kate enjoys road trips, live music, reading, exploring new restaurants, and cheering on her favorite sports teams: the Bears, the Cubs, and the Tar Heels.