After the stint in the wilderness, after the sigh that shook the leaves on the only tree, the LORD found Elijah in a cave by the mountain. That’s when God asked him the best question anyone could ask: What are you doing here?
Say it one way, it could mean: Hey! You don’t belong here. What are you doing *here*!
It could mean: Wow! I wasn’t expecting to bump into you! What are *you* doing here?
It could mean: You’ve come this far, now what do you think is next? Tell me Elijah, what are you really *doing* here?
See Elijah was a prophet of the LORD. Not long ago, he had been positively crushing it! He got himself into a miracle contest with the people who worshiped Baal. And as the story goes, God played along performing the tricks for Elijah. When our side won, Elijah rounded up the prophets of Baal and had them massacred. Now there’s a bounty out on Elijah’s head!
And maybe you’ve never been through this exact course of events before, but the next thing that happens is Elijah heads off into the wilderness alone, and I’m pretty sure, we’ve all been there.
The wilderness is the place between places on the map. It’s the thin place between heaven and earth. In this particular stretch of wilderness, there’s exactly one tree. So Elijah sits down beneath it, and that’s it. He gives up. Elijah tells the LORD, Please take my life. (breath)
Maybe he prayed for the angels to carry him home. Maybe he sighed so deeply it shook the leaves on the tree. Then Elijah fell asleep; that should’ve been it.
Next thing he knows, the angels are waking him up and so is the smell of pancakes. Elijah has breakfast, falls asleep again, wakes up, eats some more, drinks some water, then he’s off on the journey to the mountain. As it turns out, Elijah has come back to life!
That’s when the Holy Spirit finds him in the cave and asks the best question. I heard you give up, says the LORD. I heard your sigh. Now tell me, Elijah. What are you doing here?
Could be God is asking us the same question.
You and I know, we are living through a season of grieving and giving up. People are giving up their jobs, their commutes, their pre-pandemic routines. We might be giving up exploiting workers. We might be giving up on coming to church. It’s not all bad. It’s not all good. It’s definitely not all the same.
More than a few of us have given up driving or staying in our houses. More than a few of us have given up commitments that were not bringing our lives meaning and joy. More than a few of us have given up our beloved pets. More than a few of us have given up people we love. It’s been a lot.
We know what it is to find ourselves alone in the wilderness beneath the only tree making the choice to give up. But here’s the thing. Maybe this is not the way to die. Maybe this is the moment the story’s about to turn.
After the giving up, you might issue a sigh too deep for words. After the giving up, after the sigh, it’s my job to warn you, you’re about to get found by God.
Grief has a sneaky way of taking us by surprise. Sometimes we forget that the person we love has really died —until it hits us. Sometimes we think that grief from long ago has healed, then we’re at the grocery store and his favorite song comes on, and it knocks us down. Grief finds us when we don’t expect it, and you know what, so does God! And you know God. She’s about to change the whole story.
After the giving up, after the sigh, get ready for the angels because they might not be coming to carry us to death, they might be coming to bring us back to life. God keeps turning death into life. God keeps turning grief into life! Come on, says the Holy Spirit. Get up, there’s work to do, and we need you.
After Elijah gave up, after the LORD heard him sigh, after the angels made him pancakes and got him out of the wilderness, the word told Elijah to get ready, the LORD is on their way. The wind came crashing down; God was not in the wind. The earthquake shook the whole world; God was not in the earthquake. The fire tore through filling the heavens with smoke, and God was not in the fire— might as well give up! There’s only the silence too deep for words.
Then the Holy Spirit shows up and asks Elijah the same thing she’s asking us: What are you doing here? Come on, there’s a new day, and we need you.