What are you doing here?
1 Kings 19:9-18, Matthew 14:22-33
As with Jacob last week we come upon Elijah on his own in the dark, in the darkness of a cave and in his mind. He was no doubt exhausted after the showdown with the prophets of Baal and being on the run from Jezebel.
God’s question to him is a profound one. A question that might give us all reason to pause and reflect wherever we are. What are we doing here? Do we hear this question tenderly or with a critical tone, whether heard to Elijah or ourselves?
God’s response to Elijah’s justification for hiding in a cave is to provide a divine encounter. And while the traditional elements of fire, earthquake and wind pass by, Elijah does not discern God’s presence in any of these familiar Old Testament revelations.
Rather it is only when God is present in the sound of sheer silence that Elijah covers himself with his mantle and then ventures out of the cave. However ,this encounter does not change Elijah. His answer to the question, ‘what are you doing here’ remains unchanged.
And perhaps it is then that God recognises just how burnt out and resistant his once bold prophet and servant has become. Not even able to reorient himself towards his calling after a profound encounter with God in silence. And so God gives him instruction to appoint his successor, Elisha. The only one of the three tasks Elijah is given that he manages to fulfil.
Another important question this passage presents to those of us who seek to speak truth to power and be active in bringing God’s justice in the world, is how do we avoid burnout?
Richard Rohr writes that ‘too much activism without enough inner work, insight, or examination of conscience inevitably leads to violence—to the self, to the project at hand, and invariably to others…We need both inner communion and outer service to be “Jesus” in the world!’
This week we remember a prophet who exercised that inner communion and outer service in sustainable action until the dramatic end of his life. The centenary of Oscar Romero’s birth is on 15 August. We give thanks for his prophetic voice and the inspiration that he provides even now long after his assassination on 24 March 1980.
And perhaps it was because Peter, in the Gospel reading, asked himself the question ‘what am I doing here?’ that he began to sink into the sea. Sometimes the answer to the question, ‘what am I doing here?!” may only be, ‘I’m not sure but I am trusting God’.
When we are close to burnt out,
weary and worried,
remind us of why we are here.
Keep us from turning inward,
becoming lonely and isolated,
orientate us towards your world.
Refresh and renew our vision
Sustain us by your presence
And help us to be
where you would have us.
- Pray for all who depend on the sea for survival yet live at the mercy of strong winds. Pray for Christian Aid partner SIKAT, which helps small island communities in the Philippines to prepare for typhoons.
- The centenary of Oscar Romero is on 15 August. Pray for the Christian Aid partnership events marking it: The filming screening in Glasgow on 16 August and the church service in London on 23 September. Pray for this to be a time of renewed commitment and courage to stand with those who are oppressed.
God of courage,
help us to step out of our comfort zones for the sake of justice.
Help us keep our eyes fixed on you,
the one who says 'take heart' and ‘don’t be afraid’.