The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Based on 1 Kings 19: 1-13

What are you doing here?”

or

“What are you doing here?”

Or

 “What are you doing here?”

or even

“What are you doing here?”

This seems a timely question for all of us to consider in these days of rapid climate change and great global turmoil. 

God’s question to Elijah on the mountaintop keep resonating in my ear after hearing Sharon Copeman's words of introduction to this morning’s reading from 1 Kings, Chapter 19 and God's probing question to Elijah on the mountaintop: “What are you doing here?”

Sharon’s approach to the reading and Elijah’s passion for his prophetic ministry reminded me of two young women whose presence we hosted here at Knox a couple of years back. 

I recall with gratitude how our own curiosity about the degradation of our planet was surely piqued by the two guest speakers coming to us from the Fossil Free Faith Bureau. 

If any two young women are representative of messengers sent from God to keep before us climate change issues, it had to be Maggie, a Quaker and a Maisaloon, a young muslim woman, who came and shared their concerns with us. 

All of this ruminating on climate change got me thinking on two other young women actively involved in addressing climate change issues and negotiations with our Canadian trade partners.

 To my way of thinking, both Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change and Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, equally passionate champions on the same topic, might well also identify themselves as prophetic partners standing in solidarity around the need to address climate change and the degradation of God's good Creation.  That said, the life of prophet, change agent, and partners in addressing these issues can be exhilerating and life giving at best but exhausting and discouraging at worst.

For contemporary prophets and ancient ones too, I offer my heartfelt gratitude.

Coming back to this morning's reading from scripture, I am reminded of how easily we can become  confused by our own needs, our own agendas, and our own passion for change, and then how desolate we can become when our actions seem to wreak more havoc than good.

This  morning, we have a chance to reflect on what God might be saying to us through this passage about Elijah's faith journey and how that might relate to the topic of climate change.

What follows here, then, is my own prayerful consideration of Elijah’s story relying on a spiritual practice tool called ‘lectio divina’ or divine reading of scripture.

“Once there was a messenger from God who had great aspirations.

He was a man filled with passion and an unmeasurable zeal for justice.

He was a good man, to be sure, but he was also an impulsive, strong-willed, and self motivated individual.

Clever and articulate, he knew how to capture people’s attention, especially when he took to pointing out how easily and how far we can stray from living in God’s ways.

Pointing out people’s preoccupation with gods other than the Holy God of Israel turned out to be a dangerous pastime for Elijah.

You see, even Elijah, who prided himself on not falling prey to the gods of progress and self aggrandisement quickly discovered that his own righteous anger would have him soon crossing over the line. 

So much so, that he found himself in the dangerous position of committing violent acts, even murder, in the name of his own god, the God of Israel.

This is the backdrop for our reading this morning as we come upon Elijah fleeing the rage of Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, the royal authorities of the day.

“Surely, if the authorities find me,” he thinks, “my life will be over.”

And just as surely he desloately thinks: “God will never forgive me my impulsive acts and I will be severely punished. “

And so it is Elijah, isolated and alone, finds himself languishing under a scraggy bush in the desert wilderness.  Exhausted, he falls into a deep sleep.

Some time later, he awakens and finds an angel of God ministering to his needs.

Provided with food, water, and respite from his self imposed turmoil, Elijah is fortified and renewed.

Like Jonah at Ninevah and like Hagar in the wilderness, God has provided Elijah with everything he needed, without his even having to ask.

Pressing on to his destination-Mount Horeb, Elijah travels for forty days and forty nights in the hopes of coming face to face with his God.

On arrival, Elijah notices a change in the weather. 

Seeking shelter, he settles for the night in a protected cave. 

In the early hours of the dawn’s breaking light, Elijah hears what he thinks is God’s voice.

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” the voice asks. 

And, in response, Elijah finds himself answering the question in a round about way. 

After all, he really doesn't want tor reveal the truth to God about how far his zeal has taken him.

From there the voice advises Elijah to go out of the cave and wait on God who is about to pass by.

Doing just as he is bidden, Elijah goes out on the mountainside to wait on God’s arrival.

First there comes a wind of such great force and wreaking such havoc on the surrounding habitat Elijah is convinced that God must be there. 

But no, he is mistaken.

Then there comes an earthquake of such magnitude that the ground trembles at it's might.

However, no sign of God there either.

Then comes a scorching fire brutalizing trees.

Again, Elijah strains to see but find no sign of God there either.

Finally, in the aftermath of all this tumultuous weather, there is nothing left to experience but the sounds of ‘sheer silence”.

Here, Elijah feels himself more attentive and aware than ever before.

Here, Elijah feels himself more curious and more prepared to encounter God than ever before.

Like Moses, Elijah thinks to cover his face to shield it against the bright light of God he expects to see and emerges from the dark cave.

Then and only then, does he hear God’s voice.

Clear as a bell, God asks him again: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

In a nanosecond, all of the folly of Elijah’s life flashes before him. 

In an nanosecond, Elijah sees that God has been with him all along!

And he realizes that God was not in his righteous anger, his zeal for justice, and his zealous acts of violence.  

Nevertheless, God has been with him each and every step of his journey thus far.

Elijah, however, had been too busy doing what he thought was God’s bidding to even notice God’s presence.

Elijah had been too busy fleeing from the consequences of his own actions, he lost sight of God.

And in that very moment, Elijah realizes that God loves him more than he might ever ask or imagine.

Regardless of his impulsivity, his strong will, his self motivated and clever actions, or even his murderous acts, God still loves Elijah and God will provide for all of his needs.

In that realization, Elijah recognizes that he has been looking for God in all the wrong places.

Elijah’s God makes Godself known in the stillness of patient and silent waiting.

A costly lesson for Elijah to come to this realization at this juncture in his life! 

A cautionary tale also for our listening ears at this juncture in our own lives and in the life of the cosmos!

God meets us in the most surprising and unlikley circumstances and when we least expect it-when we feel the most abandoned, isolated, desolate, and the most vulnerable.  Ironically this is also the place we are the most open and receptive to God's presence.

Questions arising for me:

How long does it take to learn that lesson? 

How long does it take to learn that trust?

In the name of God’s love for all of humanity and God’s good creation in our own context of rapid climate change and increasing global turmoil, and in the name of ancient and contemporary prophets, let us pray that it's not too late. 

Let us pray that there’ s still time to heed that small, still voice within. Let us pray that we might be fortified by God's gentle breath inspiring us to do and be what God would have us do and be.  Let us pray that by striving together for good to respond to the issues of climate change and great global turmoil before us here, now, this very day, we will be doing God's will.

Alleluia and may it be so, amen.