He is afraid. He is exhausted. He has done all he can, so he throws in the towel, prays to God for death then does the one thing that gives him peace, he takes a nap.
An angel visits, gives him food. Strengthened, maybe encouraged, he continues on. Elijah travels forty days and nights until he gets to Mt. Horeb. Time and events catch up with him again. He crawls into a cave and seeks rest. When God’s word asks “What are you doing here?” he holds nothing back. In a fit of exhausted anguish he spews out all his loyalty and service, his disappointment and despair.
God doesn’t rebuke or argue. God gives Elijah the gift of presence. There are no special powers given, no promise of success, or even relief from the pain, suffering and aguish of his lot in life. God simply tells Elijah to meet the Holy outside the cave. There God asks again, “What are you doing here?”
Like any of us seeking to justify our life choices, Elijah once again recites the litany of his zealous service for the Lord, fully believing he has done enough, sacrificed enough. As far as he is concerned, his ticket to heaven has been paid in full.
And God tells Elijah to go back the way he came, face his fears and do the work God calls him to do.
Nothing has changed. Jezebel is still out to get him. God doesn’t grant him divine immunity to the hardships of being a prophet to a world bent on silencing the Word of God.
Nothing, on the surface, anyway, has changed. But Elijah goes back to face what he fled. He only has God’s presence. Yet it is enough assurance to get him out of the cave, off the mountain, through the wilderness and prepared once again to do the work of the Lord.
Outward circumstances, no matter how desperate or dire, cannot define the attitudes and actions of those who’ve experienced the presence and call of God.
Naked, demon-possessed, chained, homeless, under guard and given free-reign only to run around a graveyard, he will not be detained, or denied, or despised, once Jesus comes to him to name him and claim him.
Do you notice how all is reversed in today’s second story? The demons go into the swine, the man is clothed and in his right mind, and the decent and orderly citizens are in an uproar because their profitable pigs drown and they’re afraid of a presence that can free their graveyard sideshow. In this land of outcast, Gerasene, the outcast of outcasts has become the spokesperson for God.
The gift of God’s presence and Word are enough to transform terrified people into relentless prophets, marginalized people into divine messengers, and the most desperate of circumstances into staging grounds for upending, table-turning, empire-toppling, demon-damning, holy work.
The gift of God’s presence, the call and equipping of the divine, sends prophets back to stand up to those who wish them dead and propels the newly demon-free out of the the grave and into the very communities that chained them and left them for dead. Both proclaiming the life-saving message of the Lord.
God asks us the same question, “what are you doing here?”
Wherever we have fled, from whatever we are hiding, God wants to know: “What are you doing here?”
We are free to dump on the Lord. Free to give the Lord an earful of all that we have done, accomplished, tried to do. We are free to give the Lord a litany of the disappointments we have faced, to offer a litany of lament for the suffering we have undergone, and the pain we have known. Go ahead, give a shout of utter dismay for all that ails you and troubles you. You are free to pour out your heart to the Lord who loves you and knows everything.
Let God know the work is hard. The results abysmal. The people around you are stiff-necked and stubborn. The injustices you face are cruel and strong. Everywhere you look, the weak are trampled and the rich get richer. Every day the news is grim. We are out-numbered and afraid. Go ahead, let God know you would just as soon throw in the towel. You’ve tried and it’s not enough. Like Elijah, you just want a nap!
Go ahead and say it all, God will listen.
And when you are finished, God will respond. God responds to us: “Get up. I am here. I am with you. Always. Go.”
God’s presence and God’s word to us doesn’t change our circumstances, at least not immediately. But God’s presence in our lives does give us the ability to face them. To confront them. And most assuredly allows us to participate in God’s transformation of all that conspires to thwart the divine will for justice, wholeness and life.
When God in Jesus asked the man in the graveyard his name, we are being asked. Whatever events have threatened to erase your humanity, whoever has thwarted your understanding of your worth, Jesus wants to know.
What is your name? The one who counts the hairs on your head and knit you together in your mother’s womb, who knows each word before you speak it, meets you when you hit rock bottom, finds you chained to a graveyard and surrounded by the stench of death, asks: What is your name? Jesus recognizes that you are so much more than any demons that possess you, and sends them packing so you may be restored to your right mind and rightful place among the living.
God responds to us: You are not Legion, or any other label that is less than child of God. For you are Beloved, made whole, restored to life. And you are sent to tell your story that others will know the love, grace and mercy of God, too. That is to be our answer to “What are you doing here?
The world looks dark. The demons are legion. Jezebel still seeks to kill God’s prophet. The vulnerable are exploited. Rulers abuse their power and the innocent suffer. It will always stir our instinct to flee.
Yet angels appear when we have reached our limits. Sustenance comes when we least expect it. God speaks in a whisper. Jesus comes to the graveyard. And the least is lifted to divine commission and the strongest demon cannot stand the command of the Messiah.
The powers of empire will inevitably crumble under the weight of God’s creative Word. Whether whispered, spoken, or shouted, the breath of life cannot be thwarted or slain.
What are you doing here? You are here to proclaim the word of God. To speak God’s truth to corrupt powers. To go where God sends you to tell your story of the transformative grace of God, because you are a beloved child of God.