What are you doing here Martin?
My sermon yesterday was a conversation intertwining Elijah, Martin Luther King, Junior, and prayerfully and hopefully, those who heard the sermon.
The text was the passage where Elijah has left Jerusalem out of fear for his life from Ahab and his wife Jezebel (1 Kings 19: 9b-13). Elijah has just been part of the demonstration of God’s power over the Baal priests but he seems terrified by a note from Jezebel that basically said “I will see you dead tomorrow”.
Exodus like, Elijah leaves the Kingdom of Anxiety created by Jezebel and Ahab, and is sustained in the desert by God. Exodus like, Elijah goes to the mountain to receive God’s word. Exodus like, Elijah goes to “the” cave (as opposed to “a” cave, thus an Exodus Echo of where Moses sees God’s glory) and God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?” That could mean many things, but my read was that Elijah wasn’t where he was supposed to be.
Elijah responds with a “pity party” list of all the problems back in Jerusalem, most of which simply are not true.
And to think that this guy would be on the Israelite Mount Rushmore if ever there was one!
God provides a demonstration of God’s glory by passing by in the form of wind and storm, but he speaks to Elijah in the form of what the King James Version calls “A small still voice.” It is really closer to the idea of a spoken silence. Talk about a hint of the luminous but I digress.
Sadly, the repeated question God asks of Elijah again following the demonstration and God speaking in the silence is met with the same pity party response: "I am all alone, and it is just terrible back in Jerusalem."
Talk about a guy not getting it! Hold the work order on that Israelite Mount Rushmore carving.
Martin Luther King, Junior when asked by God with a different emphasis on the words “What are you doing here, Martin” got it in 1954 Montgomery.
In his book Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. King lays out what was on his mind when he got to Montgomery, and being a major civil rights leader was not at the top his top 10 list of things to do for a while. He felt a pressing need to get his PhD, energize and lead his new congregation, and basically get his feet on the ground. But the qualities of leadership that would cause him to be recognized later by the nation was obvious to those around him, and he quickly was catapulted into leadership. He was able to answer God’s question of “what are you doing here Martin” with an answer that said “whatever you tell me Lord”. He listened to the small, still voice of God that Elijah just seems tone deaf to.
I posed at the end of the sermon three thoughts, and I am not normally a “three points and a poem” preacher, but it seemed to work this week.
God is with us in our travels in our personal wildernesses. Sometimes we are sent there by God, as with Moses and Martin, but sometimes we get to that wilderness by our own doing and a lack of faith in God’s power, like Elijah here.
God chooses the means and medium of demonstration. We call out for dramatic demonstrations, but at times, God speaks quietly and softly, and maybe even in the silence of the moment.
Finally, the question of “what are you doing here” is a good one for us to ask ourselves on a more regular basis. Sometimes, the question may be pointed at a response that like Elijah we should see is suggesting maybe we are not where we are supposed to be. I wonder if that is a strong emphasis on the word “here” in that question. But other times, the emphasis shifts to the “what” and perhaps more importantly the “you”. "What are YOU doing here, Martin" might have been the 1954 question from God. Martin responded with wonder and Grace and power that is to this day inspiring.
What are YOU doing here kind and gentle reader? What are YOU, doing here?