First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
August 12, 2018
Scripture: 1 Kings 19:1-12
Sermon: “What Are You Doing Here?”
What are you doing here? Why do you come to the community of faith on Sunday? What gets you out of bed every morning? What are you doing here?
I love stained glass, the colors, the way the light comes through. It is beautiful artwork. If you look at it closely, you will find imperfections, streaks, ridges, bubbles, waves, marks, deficiencies in the glass. Stain glass artisans refer to these imperfections as scars. Artisans refer these scars and how they are an integral part of the beauty of stained glass, giving each one its own uniqueness.
Not unlike our own journey… it is often the struggles and imperfections of life that bring out the beauty of who we are. Certainly, they can have the opposite effect, but the potential for good and beauty are present as well. Those dark and difficult times, the struggles in our lives that shape and mold who we are and what we do with our lives.
It is a question, in the context of this morning’s theme and reading drawing me to a favorite author. Rev. Robert Fulgham, his first book was, All I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten. He writes of a habit of his whenever he finds himself in a classroom setting, lecture, or other learning event. Most of us have been there to one extent or another. When we have sat through classes or a presentation, the outlines have been passed out, the notes taken, questions asked and everyone just hoping no one asks another question so we can wrap this up and go home?
Been there done that? Rev. Fulgham is the one who raises his hand at the last-minute causing everyone a deep sigh and a slouching in their seat. There is one in every setting such as this. He writes his question is always the same and usually gets a few chuckles and most often a half-hearted answer if an answer at all… until the experience he shares in his telling in the book.
This particular time as the time was winding down he raised his hand and asked his question, “What is the meaning of life?” He shares the presenter paused for a moment and began a story. Their lecturer that day was a survivor of WWII in Germany. WWII in Germany was a frightening time through which to live, many did not. He took a small round mirror out of his pocket, held it up and tells of being a young boy walking down a road near his home he comes upon a piece of glass in the road, jagged and sharp. It is a broken piece of mirror from a German soldier’s motorcycle. He picks up the piece of mirror and takes it home with him. Over the next few days he uses a rock and grinds away at the edges of the mirror in order to make it round, smooth, and safe to carry. He says, his mirror became a game of sorts, whether he was at home, in town with his parents, or in school at his desk he would take the mirror and reflect light into the darkest corners of the room.
This is the meaning of life, he shares with Rev. Fulgham; to take our own lives, or skills, talents, and compassion and no matter how dark and frightening it seems, we use what we have to shine the light into the darkest corners of the world. We are to make a difference, to make this world a better place in which to live.1
In our reading today, Elijah lives in a dark and frightening time as well. He has done battle with the prophets of Baal and killed them all. He is afraid, for Jezebel has threatened his life and so he runs. Fear can do a lot of things to us. Even when we have done our best to do what we think is right. When a community of faith, or an individual brings a prophet word to the world, we know, those of us such at First Church, encounter all kinds of resistance, push back, protests, and threats. It can be a frightening place in which to live… a life of facing the powers that be, speaking truth to power, and standing toe-to-toe with those who would advocate for the very opposite of what we believe is the kindom of God. Such push back and conflict can often cause us to question whether what we are doing, practicing, proclaiming is of God, or are we just shouting at the wind? Elijah finds himself in such a spot, and he runs… runs for his life!
Ever been there? Figuratively… or literally? Fear can do a lot of things to us. Throw up our hands and call it quits. Question whether it is all worth it or not. Maybe the detractors are right… cause us to question it all. What are you doing here Elijah? Seeking and finding that connection, that vocation, if you will, when the very thing you do is what connects you to not only God but with the world around you, others around you. It is when you hear the question… “What are you doing here?” and the answer is already on your tongue before the question is finished being asked. The answer to the question is what feeds our body, heart, and soul.
Fredrick Buechner, author theologian writes of Vocation, “It comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a person is called to do by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, or the superego, or self-interest. By and large a good rule for finding is this” the kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”2
In my experience a call, a vocation, a vision is not a one-time experience either. It can change, evolve, and build one experience and gift upon another equipping and preparing you for a next challenge and experience. The Buddhist philosophy that we are the culmination of everything and everyone we experience to this moment applies to this kind of call and vocation. It is not necessarily an easy journey.
Our calling by God, “what are you doing here?” is a vision of not just who we are, but who we might become, as well as who’s we are. How are we encouraged to reflect the Light into the darkest corners of the world? What keeps us from doing just that? Of what are we afraid? What drives us… our hopes and vision… or our fears? Our calling does not have to be something huge… but what is our passion, what are our gifts and talents?
Working with OTOC or other mercy and justice ministries? Teaching Sunday School? Working with Children and Youth? Greeter at the door or usher during worship? Working in the Commons making coffee or just the gift of a smile and a greeting in the grocery store to someone who looks like they could use a kind word?
In the book, Stories of Transformative Leadership in Human Services, Why the Glass is Always Full, Authors Burghardt and Tolliver speak of a client who’s calling was about doing… driven by his vision of hope as they write, “His actions are guided not by the authority of his external position but by his internal vision. …vision of how the world can be is constantly finding expression in the deeds of the day, not the words of the week. No task is too menial to avoid if it fits within the vision.”3 Elijah allowed the fear of his external position [circumstances] dictate his response to Jezebel, rather than allowing the internal vision of how the world can be… drive his work. That is why God sent his sustenance and nourishment for his calling, for his vision, ‘Get up and eat.’ But as Elijah discovered, we too, it is more than just bread for our bodies we need… we must live on bread… but not bread alone.” We need to nourishment of relationship, of affirmation, of community to keep the vision alive.
It is the Light of God… the light of compassion and love that we seek along our own journey that nourishes us and draws us forward. I have long appreciated Howard Thurman’s essay entitled, What Shall I do with My Life in which he writes, “Give me the courage to live! Really live – not merely exist. Live dangerously, scorning risk! Live honestly, daring the truth – particularly the truth of myself! Live resiliently – ever changing, ever growing, ever adapting. Enduring the pain of change as though ‘twere the travail of birth. Give me the courage to live!”4 In this writing he repeats the refrain numerous times… “I love Jesus for the shaft of light he throws across the pathway of those who seek to answer the question, What shall I do with my life?”5
As Elijah discovered… it is not just about knowing the answer to the question of what are you doing here. It is also about listening for that still small voice, the sound of sheer silence that continues to call us forward into the world around us reflecting the light of compassion and love into the darkest places of pain and brokenness.
What are your struggles? Where are your scars? What is your light? Where is your beauty? “What are you doing here?” Do you know the answer to the question today? Are you still wrestling with where it might lead tomorrow? How might you reflect… better reflect the light of compassion and love into your corner of the world today?
Live dangerously… Dare the truth… Embrace change and adapt… seek that shaft of Light Jesus throws across your pathway and reflect it into the darkest places you know. Take some time this week to listen. To look for the light, to find the mirror within you and reflect the Light and Love of God into this world so desperately in need of your… our work together.
Let Us Continue On. Amen.
1 Fulghum, Robert, 1988. It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It. New York, Villard Books.
2 Buechner, Frederick, 1973. Wishful Thinking, A Seeker’s ABC. San Francisco, Harper San Francisco.
3 Burghardt, Steve and Tolliver, Willie, 2010. Stories of Transformative Leadership in the Human Services, Why the Glass is Always Full. Los Angeles, Sage.
4 Thurman, Howard, 2005. Callings, Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation, William C. Placher editor. Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
5 Thurman, Howard, 2005. Callings, Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation, William C. Placher editor. Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.