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What are we doing here?

By Mike Ruffin The people of Israel were in a precarious situation when the prophet Elijah came on the scene in the eighth century bc. King Ahab had married a Phoenician princess named Jezebel, who worshiped the fertility god and goddess Baal and Asherah. She put her money where her mouth was, providing room and board for 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. In a riveting scene, Elijah defeated the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah in a showdown on Mount Carmel. The two sides had agreed that whichever deity rained down fire from heaven to consume a sacrifice was indeed God. Elijah, being a polite prophet, let the other prophets go first. After Baal and Asherah spent a few hours trying and failing to find a match, God sent fire from heaven. It was a great victory! Elijah had stood up for God and had succeeded. All was well. We can imagine that Elijah was pretty satisfied with himself. (A heads up: when you start feeling satisfied with yourself, watch out!) But then Jezebel sent word that Elijah needed to get his affairs in order because she was going to make sure he was dead within twenty-four hours. And Elijah, who had just faced down 850 false prophets, ran away. Forty days later, Elijah arrived at Mount Horeb (also known as Mount Sinai). God spoke to him there: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ And Elijah told him: ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ In other words, Elijah said, ‘I’ve done what I’m supposed to do for you, God, and you see where it’s gotten me.’ God responded with a great wind, an earthquake, and fire, all things through which Elijah might expect God to make God’s presence known, but God didn’t. Then there was ‘a sound of sheer silence.’ And God was in the silence. Elijah needed to be still and listen for God in the silence. We do too. Out of the silence, God repeated God’s earlier question: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ And Elijah gave the same answer he had given before: ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ ’I’ve done what I’m supposed to do for you, God, and you see where it’s gotten me.’ I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but things are tough right now. Some of us have tried to be faithful to God during our crises as Elijah was during Israel’s crises. Others of us have sold out to the kind of materialism and worldliness that Jezebel promoted. That we disagree over who is on which side is one symptom of our deep divide. Maybe the question that God posed to Elijah’”’What are you doing here?’’”implied that the prophet should have stayed where he was. But he didn’t, and he couldn’t undo his leaving. Maybe our leaders should have responded differently to the COVID-19 pandemic than they did, but they didn’t, and they can’t go back and do differently. Maybe we should have elected different leaders, but we didn’t, and we can’t go back and change our votes. Maybe more of us should have followed the experts’ guidance on the best ways to limit the spread of COVID-19, but too many of us didn’t, and we can’t go back and change our past behavior. Maybe if we had done differently, our nation wouldn’t have 150,000 people dead from COVID-19 and 30 million people unemployed. But we didn’t, and so we do. In any case, here we are, and we can’t go back. The question is, what are we doing here? What are we going to do now that we’re where we are? What are we going to do in light of where we are? When God asked Elijah a second time what he was doing where he was, Elijah gave the same answer, word-for-word. God didn’t say, ‘I heard you the first time.’ God didn’t chastise Elijah for having done what he did. Instead, God gave Elijah instructions on what to do next. God told Elijah to pick up where he was and move forward, doing what he needed to do to address the crises that still existed. So here we are. We can’t change our past actions or inactions that got us here, but we can make positive choices and take positive actions in the present that will help us build a better future. When God told Elijah to get up and go, he got up and went. We need to get going too.

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