First Mennonite Church
January 29. 2017
Text: 1 Kings 19:1-18
“What Are You Doing Here?”
I want to center our reflection on the following questions: What happens when God’s people are not in the place they should be? What happens when God’s servants fail to live up to their calling?
There is something in common among these animals: the Asian Snow leopard, the five subspecies of rhino and the Little Kern golden trout. They are endangered species. The Asian Snow leopard lives in parts of Russia, northern India, Kazakhstan, and eastern China. Of the five species of the rhino the largest of them is the white rhino and the smallest is the Sumatran rhino or Asian rhino. There are so few rhinos left that they are literally kept under armed guard. They forage during the day, accompanied by guards with rifles, and they are locked up at night under armed guard. In California there is a list of endangered species too. The Little Kern golden trout is one of them. This is a beautiful colorful fish.
Organizations around the world—such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) and The Conservation Foundation seek to protect what they call endangered species. In those attempts local governments and private entities join together to fund and protect animals, plants, and their habitats.
Elijah went through something that made him feel like an endangered species. He was fleeing for his life. Jezebel had vowed to make his life like one of her prophets that Elijah killed.
Chapters 17 and 18 of 1Kings narrate Elijah’s heroic acts. Elijah was a genuine hero of faith. He was faithful, confident, and spoke with an authoritative word. He was able to bring about miracles through prayer. He raised a dead boy, called fire to come down from heaven, called out for drought, and summoned the rain, and these things came to happen. He confronted a powerful king and accused him of his sins. In chapter 18, verse 21, Elijah challenged the people of Israel saying: “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
In the last part of chapter 18 Elijah demonstrated to the prophets of Baal that the Lord was indeed who speaks through him.
Chapters 17 & 18 portray Elijah as being on the top of the world. And nothing seemed to make Elijah afraid. So it surprises us that in light of all his great achievements he became easily intimidated, self-doubting and yet self-righteous.
Our passage begins by telling us King Ahab tells Jezebel, his wife, everything Elijah had done, and specifically of having killed all her sponsored prophets of Baal, 450 of them. Jezebel was a devout worshiper of Baal. In her response to the news, Jezebel sends a threatening message to Elijah and vows to kill him by that hour the following day. However, this message is what becomes the background for the actions, mood, and wandering of Elijah we find in the rest of chapter 19. Verses 3 -5 say: Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba . . . 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.
After two chapters of heroic acts, we see the same man more than just fleeing for his life; he was actually giving up. Elijah left his servant behind and walked for a day, came to this solitary place in the wilderness and lay there asking God to take his life away. What a sense of defeat! Elijah’s sense of defeat leads him away physically from the place of his calling. He was still in the land of Judah but not in Jerusalem where he should be. Elijah was almost suicidal. “Enough is enough! Take my life away!” We must wonder what could possibly be the reason for Elijah’s suicidal state? Elijah had a proven record of being a man of God. So, again, we wonder what brought upon Elijah that sense of hopelessness so that he wished he were dead. Prophets are called to speak the word of God. Prophets are sent by God to make known to his people his will or to announce judgment. Prophets call the people to return to God when they have lost their way. And that could be where Elijah felt he had failed. To make things worse, now the royal house is after him, looking for his life.
Elijah was awakened and fed by an angel of God. When Elijah wanted to die, God fed him. How ironic! But that is called grace. But again, Elijah goes to sleep. The angel comes a second time to feed Elijah and tells him to continue on his journey for there is a lot to do.
Elijah goes on to the place where God gave Moses the 10 Commandments. He enters the cave and waits. And it is there where God comes to him. 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.” (v.9b-10)
This brings us back to our initial questions: What happens when God’s people are not in the place they should be? What happens when God’s servants fail to live up to their calling?
God’s question to Elijah clearly indicates that he was not in the place he should be. What are you doing here, Elijah? This is a valid question, especially when God’s people begin to wander about and fail to be in the will of God. And the reason Elijah was so far removed from the place he was supposed to be was because he was afraid of Jezebel. Fear is a terrible thing. Fear of death, fear of being lonely, fear of ending as a destitute, fear of getting sick, and fear of something causes people to do things they normally would not otherwise do. Life is so complicated that I do not know the right question for you, but you know where you are in your life. You know what changes you had to make because you were afraid of something. So here is God’s question to you, What are you doing here/there?
This question also applies to the church. What are we doing here? And what has led us to be in this place and situation we are in today?
Elijah thought his failure to bring about change in the royal house and by extension in the house of Israel was due to his being a loner on the job. Elijah thought he had no help; he thought the job was too much for only one person to handle. And so he quit! What was worse is that Elijah assumed an endangered-species complex. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.
Let me tell you something, dear church. Feeling a “loner” in church is a terrible feeling. When the pastor, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, giver, faithful church goer, church cleaner, or committee member begins to feel like a loner, like an endangered species, giving up is the natural result. Wandering away from the place of our calling often happens when we begin to feel nobody else cares about the causes, commitments, sacrifices, time and resources we believe God calls us to. When we begin to feel like an endangered species we begin to protect ourselves. We begin to limit our commitments. We start lacking the joy of the things we do. We begin to stay away from the place we once thought was our place of calling and of service to the Lord. God is asking you and me, What are you doing here?
On a larger scale, the recent elections gave rise to the belief among conservative Christians that Christianity was also an endangered species and needed a savior. The most ironic thing was that these Christian groups found a savior in the least Christ-like character.
Elijah was not the hero in this story. The hero was God. His persistent grace was shown in providing his fleeing child sustenance when he desired to die. God’s grace is revealed in the way he addressed Elijah. When God appeared, he did not pronounce judgment upon Elijah, but he asked a soul-searching question: What are you doing here, Elijah? God’s grace and sovereignty are revealed by his sending back Elijah to continue to do the work of God. What was more is that God reminded Elijah that he in fact was not alone. There were men in Israel as well in the pagan neighboring countries God wanted him to anoint. Above all else, God wanted to remind Elijah that change in the human heart is his work, not that of prophets, pastors, church leaders or government leaders. God wants to remind us of his grace, his work, and his sovereignty. God wants to nourish us with his heavenly bread if we feel like dying. God wants to send us back to work for him and to do his bidding.
Let us not be afraid to engage in the task the Lord calls us to. Let us not believe that God’s work is wholly dependent on us. Let us go back to the place and the work God has called us to be and to do. Amen!