What are you doing here?

God said to Elijah, “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;12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.”

And it is out of the silence the Elijah hears God ask him, for the second time, “What are you doing here?”

What a lesson for our time.  What a lesson for this day.  What a question for the ages, “What are you doing here?”

What are you doing here?  Where are you listening for God?  Where are you looking for God?  Where are you expecting God to show up in your life; how are you expecting God to show up, and why?

Elijah’s experience on the mountain, hiding in a cave from the elements, up-ends much of what we have been taught to believe about where God is, and how God operates.  Elijah learns God is not in the violent storm, not in the earthquake, not the fire.  God is in the silence and the peace that follows it all.

How odd, then, that people of faith would claim that the destructive forces of nature are meant to be messages from God. 

God, according to some, sends earthquakes, tornadoes, and fires to teach some particular group with whom they disagree some kind of lesson about God’s disapproval.

That’s not how God works.  God is not in the earthquake, or the tornado, or the tsunami.  God is not in the violence in Charlottesville, God is not in the mass shooting, not in the health crisis or any other manifestation of violence and destruction visited upon us by fellow humans or nature.  God is in the peace.  God is in the silence.  And out of that silence, God asks us, “What are you doing here?”

Perhaps you learned that God sends the earthquakes, fires and tornadoes in our lives not to punish others, but to test us, to try us, to see if we are strong enough to withstand the storm around us.  But why would a God of love do this? 

As a parent, my heart breaks when I see my child experience pain and I feel helpless.  Why would I add unnecessary challenges to his life just to see if he has the will to survive it?  I wouldn’t.  And if I wouldn’t do it, what sense does it make that God, the source of all love, would?

Teaching that God is in the earthquakes in our lives, either to punish us or to test us, has left many of us with an unhealthy image of God, or a sense that God has abandoned us in our greatest times of need.  We have peered into the chaos and destruction around us searching for God, and God has been nowhere to be found.  Because, as Elijah learns, that is not where God is.

Many of us have lived Elijah’s experience.  We have strained to hear the voice of God, to catch a Glimpse of God, or feel even the slightest sense of the presence of God in the middle of the storms, earthquakes and fires of our own lives.

When loved ones die, where is God?  When relationships end, where is God?

When our hearts are broken, where is God? In the violence in the world, where is God? 

We try to see God in the chaos of the storm and we are left comfortless because God seems to be nowhere to be found.  How could God leave us alone in our most difficult times?

Elijah finds that God comes to him not in the violent, destructive, vengeful power he was expecting to find God, but in the vulnerability and the longing of the silence that follows. 

During the hard times in my life, I can be like Peter in today’s Gospel.  I, Like Peter, can be too frightened by the storm, too tossed by the waves to trust that God is still there, not in the destruction of the wind and the turbulence of the waves, but in the extended, sure, quiet hand of support and comfort.  Peter becomes overwhelmed with fear of the storm around him, and so the storm around him begins to overwhelm him.

In the quiet calm of the boat, Jesus asks Peter why he doubted.  I wonder if Jesus is not judging Peter’s faith here, but lovingly asking him what got in the way of reaching out and grabbing on.  “What scared you, Peter?  What took your attention away from me?  Why were the waves any more real to you than my outstretched hand?”

Back in the boat, Jesus asks his disciples to consider the same question God posed to Elijah:  What are you doing here?  What are you hoping for?  What are you seeking, and where are you looking?  What do you long to hear and to whom are you listening?

And that is the same question God is continually asking us to consider. 

Why are you here?  For what are you hoping?  What are you seeking, and where are you looking?  What do you long to hear and to what or whom are you listening? What threatens to overwhelm you and break your trust that the outstretched hand of God is there for you, that the quiet boat waits for you?

In the scariest places in my life I have wondered where God was in it all. 

I strained to see God in those places, mostly because I was hoping that God’s presence would mean the storm wouldn’t come. 

But the storms come.

And so does the presence of God in an outstretched hand emerging from the chaos with a kind word, a laugh, a casserole, or an attentive ear.  And the storm around me begins to quiet. Eventually, I found myself back in the boat with a community, this community, who helps me to navigate the next storm.

My prayer, my hope is that the next time the storm comes, and come it will, I will have the strength to stand in the midst of it all and listen for the silence; the trust to step into the boat; the courage to reach for the extended hand, even as the waves toss, the wind whips, the fires rage and the ground beneath my feet shifts. And that is my prayer for you.

God asks us, “What are you doing here.”

Let our answer be, “God, we are listening.  We are searching.  We are reaching.”


© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello[i]

[i] While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing.  Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here:  David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .

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