What Are You Doing Here?

Written by Pastor Dan Wilfrid. Posted in Sermons

Pentecost 10 (A)     Matthew 14:22-33

Today’s Bible readings are filled with people in trouble: people in real trouble and very afraid; people of faith to be sure, but also of little faith, faltering faith, their fears leaving them feeling distant from God and all alone.

The first of these troubled people is the prophet Elijah. Our first reading finds Elijah in a cave, on Mt. Horeb, the mountain where God had long before spoken to Moses in a dramatic display of wind and fire and thunder. Elijah had fled there after Queen Jezebel, furious over the defeat of the prophets of Baal, had unleashed her bloody vengeance on God’s prophets and now had her sights set on Elijah. So when God comes and asks Elijah “What are you doing here?” …hiding in a cave? Elijah’s answer reveals both his lonely fear and his faltering faith.

“The leaders of your chosen people have turned on those trying to be faithful to your covenant. They’ve killed your prophets. I’m the only one left and now they’re after me.”

As you heard, God asks that question not once but twice, and gets the exact same incomplete answer from Elijah both times. Elijah honestly describes the circumstances that brought him to Horeb, but he does not truthfully say what he was doing there. The honest answer was that he was hiding there, …and hiding because he was afraid. And he was afraid, because he felt all alone with no way forward. He was a faithful man who had run out of faith, and having run out of faith, he went looking for faith. He ran to the place where he knew God first created faith in his people. Simply put, what Elijah was doing at Horeb was looking for God. 

The other fearful people in this morning’s readings are Jesus’ disciples. They are in a storm-tossed boat, with wind and waves against them, far from shore. Nobody asks them what they are doing out there, but we know. Jesus has sent them there. Jesus had instructed them to get into the boat and go on ahead of him. Kind of like a weary mother needing a break from the constant needs and demands of her children, Matthew tells us that Jesus sent the disciples to what was essentially a floating time-out, a time apart from him so that he could be alone and pray. 

And despite the fact that several of them were fishermen, and should have been well experienced in handling the adverse winds and storm-tossed waves of the Sea of Galilee, they were unable to control their vessel and afraid, and even more so terrified when they see a ghostly looking figure walking toward them on the sea. And so Jesus calls for them to “take heart” because it’s him that’s drawing near, to have courage and confidence despite the storm because they are not alone.

And then when Peter, the leader of all the disciples, steps out of the boat to try and do a water-walk himself, and he gets frightened by the waves and he begins to sink and cries out to be saved, Jesus simply reaches out and grabs hold of him. And back in the boat with Jesus, the wind stops, the scary waves settle down and the disciples worship Jesus as Son of God.

So what then can we learn from these faithful, but faith-faltering and fearful people? Or perhaps to put it another way: “What are we doing here?”

Like Elijah, we can each probably list some logical reasons for being here, or perhaps recent events that have driven us here. “It’s what I do on a Sunday.” “It’s where I find Christian community.” “It’s where I find peace.” “It’s my job!” “It’s my turn to do this or provide that.” “My parents made me come.” “I didn’t want my wife or husband to have to go alone.”

But what if God asks us again “What are you doing here?” Might we, at that point, be even more honest than Elijah and just say: “I’m scared.” (..of what North Korea might do, of what Donald Trump might do, of the bigotry and hatred that I see on display in places like Charlottesville, of the treatment I’m about to undergo, of the start of a new school year, of the results of the test I just had, of what my children and grandchildren are either getting into or missing out on. …I’m scared. ..or

“I’m feeling alone.” I still miss my late husband or wife or child. I’ve lost so many friends. Why don’t I see the people that I used to see so often here in church? These days, even God seems far away.  I’m lonely ..or

“I’m hiding.”  It doesn’t really matter what gets sung or said or believed by anyone here, I just need this time away from the chaos, to be still and be somewhere where I can both be alone with my thoughts and yet together with people who I know truly care about me.

What are we doing here? Like Elijah, the bottom line is that we’re looking for God, isn’t it? We’re looking for God on our own Mt. Horeb, a place where our ancestors and our own life experiences have taught us that God tends to show up. Like those disciples, we’re looking out across the storms of our lives hoping to see Jesus coming toward us here in the boat. Like Peter, with the last gasp of our little faith, we’re crying “Lord, save me!” …and trusting Jesus to just reach out through the hymns and Bible readings and the bread and the wine to just grab us and haul us back into the boat so that we can worship him saying “Truly you are the Son of God!”

Between the first and second times that God asked Elijah what he was doing on Mt. Horeb, he invited Elijah outside where there was wind and earthquake and fire: all three, biblically speaking at least, God’s preferred modes of making his presence known to humans. Shock and awe, I guess you could call it. But God wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. God came to Elijah in what the King James Bible called “a still small voice” and our newer and more accurate translation calls “the sound of sheer silence.”

And out of that sheer silence came a new sense of purpose and mission for Elijah. Jezebel didn’t have the last word. He wasn’t alone and his work wasn’t finished. He was to anoint two kings. He was to anoint his own successor. He had seven thousand faithful people that he could count on to stand beside him. God’s story, in which he played an important part, was not over.

Even by the time Matthew wrote his gospel, just a few decades after Easter, the disciples’ little boat had come to represent the church:
the vessel in which the faithful, even the little-faithful, ride out the storms and waves and winds of life together, where Jesus, who sends us out ahead of him each week, still comes back to grab hold of us yet again, and (as we prayed a while ago) rescue us from despair, deliver us from fear and preserve us in faith.

Truly, he is the Son of God. And what we’re doing here is worshiping him; listening for his saving word in the words of our worship and in the sheer silence between them, and coming to the table where Jesus reaches out and grabs us and pulls us back into the boat. We are not alone. Our work is not finished. We are the body of Christ. God is not done with us yet. God’s story, in which we play an important part, is not over.God has new things for us to do as God works to make all things new.

So come to supper. Take heart. It is Jesus. Do not be afraid.   AMEN