The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s052o14   Sunday 19  10/8/2014

What are you doing here, Elijah?  I Kings 19.13

I have sometimes reflected that the Bible really demonstrates to us the failure of religion to guarantee anyone a life of health, wealth and happiness.   This is a fundamental theme of the books of Job and Ecclesiastes and the crucifixion of Jesus shows us that even the son of God did not enjoy a charmed, endless existence.

And poor Elijah the prophet is an example of this also.   He had defeated the prophets of Baal and fled from King Ahab and Jezabel on foot to the mountain of God.   Angels fed him along the way and we hear of how God greets him.   ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

Elijah is the archetypical faithful follower of God, alone resisting the apostasy of the rest of the nation, fearlessly calling kings to account.   He kept the faith of Israel wholly and purely, no prevarication, no exception, no dilution.  

And as I say he even had angels sustaining him on his journey to the mountain of God, only to be told that this wasn’t the destination.   His real destination was back from whence he came; to anoint kings and a new prophet.  I suspect that these tasks were not on Elijah’s agenda at all.   He thought that when he had finally reached the mountain and seen God he had arrived, and any idea that he had more to do was not at all welcome.   As I read the story I reckon Elijah is reluctant to have Elisha succeed him at all.  Indeed, it is Elisha who anoints Jehu and Hazael as kings, not Elijah.   In modern terminology we would say that Elijah has a hissy-fit, and does as little as possible of that which God directs.

So we may fairly conclude that even being faithful, even being a prophet, even having angels sustain us on our journey to God, that may well not be our right destination either.   Our true destination is in society, perhaps even in the centre of the ecclesiastical-political maelstrom.   No wonder Elijah wasn't impressed!   No wonder he wanted to be alone with his God!

‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ is to say that his whole raison d’ętre was misguided from the very beginning.

So too in our journey of faith, no matter all the encouragement we might receive to aspire to be with God, this is not the actual destination.   Like Elijah, our real destination is life in society, life with others.

This is not a second-class option, a consolation prize for the less-than-theologically-erudite, it is the whole task for one and for all.   And the church as a corporate entity has to take the lead and point us in this direction - but so often this is not on the radar.   There are fundraisers to support, fellowship groups to attend, bible studies and prayer groups to teach us the faith - all of which serve to distract us from the true destination, and marginalise those for whom real life precludes them from participating in such niceties.   Of course, those who find their spiritual sustenance in their day to day life, in their occupations, in community, in communion with nature, in music and art and sport - well - these are all like the Baals whom Elijah opposed.

And this points me to a culture of spiritual elitism that infects the church, individuals, congregations, dioceses, denominations, faiths - all of which work against incarnation.

I am reminded again of that most familiar of sayings of Jesus, the parable of the lost sheep being rescued after wandering off from the flock and being brought back the 99.  Of course, on the corporate level it is the church which needs to be brought back into society, and it will only do this kicking and screaming in protest.   Like Elijah, the church wants God to be the destination, not society! 

Incarnation is not optional any more than life is.

When I was young and impressionable, we used to sing that song: ‘I cannot come to the banquet, don’t trouble me now, I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow ..’  (1)  We were not like others who soiled their hands with filthy commerce and worldly concerns - we give time to God.   Like Elijah, we had arrived in our cave, all the while bemoaning that we were there alone.   Of course the parable on which the story is based is quite different, the excuses the invitees gave were just that - excuses - and you don’t expect excuses to be true.   They are excuses attempting to cover up the real reason they didn’t want to come - others who had soiled their hands with filthy commerce and worldly affairs were already there!

And the comment that Elijah has his hissy-fit is actually just a natural continuation of who he was earlier, a pretty disagreeable character anyway.   He was a loner from the beginning, friendless, believing that it was all God’s fault!   I don’t see Jesus like this at all.

We are visiting our grandchildren at the moment, a great joy for every grandparent, especially when distance means we are usually limited to Skyping.   But Granny and Gramps were able to take two and a half year old Sam on a tram.  (2)  After the 10 minute (free! :-) journey, we alighted and needed to wait for the tram to go by, before we could cross the road to the footpath.   I’m not sure if Sam noticed that the driver waved as he passed and he may not have realised that he also used the speaker system which was routed outside to say: ‘Goodbye, little man!’ as the loudspeaker passed us.   He had obviously done this before.   I suppose the tram-driver doesn’t change the world, confront injustice or establish righteousness; but he is friendly.   And being friendly, he makes his job that much more pleasurable and makes the lives of others that much more enjoyable.   I guess many folk around the world might smile a little more if more people did similar things.

For the tasks God assigns Elijah really say to him that life will go on.   It was and is God’s response to all that we might think is important: life will actually go on.

I read that: Insects ‘have maintained a position of ecological pre-eminence for over 400 million years:  they have witnessed the rise and fall of dinosaurs; they have survived at least four major cataclysms that resulted in planet-wide extinctions; and they continue to thrive despite mankind's best efforts at eradication.’ (3)   When Syria, the Ukraine and Gaza are finally fixed, they will still live on!