Sermon: What Are You Doing Here? (V BS Sunday, 6/19/16)

It’s been an intense week, she understated.  It began last Sunday as reports of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando began pouring in.  VBS began the next  day.  Wednesday, many of us gathered here at Pilgrimage for a prayer vigil for those affected by the shooting in Orlando.  Friday marked the first anniversary of the mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.  Today, we hear from the children–both in their words for worship and in their actual voices–about their experiences during VBS.

It’s been an intense week.  I confess it would have been easier for my work as your pastor if I could have chosen to focus on just one thing, either the shooting or VBS.  But that’s not where the Spirit led.  The Spirit led me to be as present as I could to both places–to the place of outrage and grief over the Orlando massacre and to the place of imagination, hope, creativity, and joy of VBS.

I’m not going to lie.  I need a nap…as do, I suspect, most of the adults who helped with VBS this week.  For today, though, I invite us all to be as fully present as we can to all that has happened this week…because, though it might seem like mass shootings and VBS have nothing to do with each other, I suspect that finding the connections between them might just show us the way forward as we seek to act a hurting world into wellbeing.

A good place to begin is with one of the VBS Bible stories, the one about Elijah.  Elijah was a prophet of God…and a thorn in the flesh of the King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.  The conflict culminated in a contest between Elijah and Ahab and Jezebel’s prophets of Baal to see whose God was the true God.  Elijah won…which enraged the king and queen.  They were so enraged, in fact, they went after Elijah intending to kill him.

The besieged prophet ran and ran and ran into the wilderness.  Finally, he collapsed under a broom tree and asked to die.  “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  (Just so you know, we didn’t include this part of the story in VBS. J)  As soon as he speaks the words, Elijah promptly falls asleep.

Hopelessness is exhausting, isn’t it?  When you do your best to make the world a better place, when you share God’s love with others in compassionate, merciful, justice-seeking ways, when you parent your children as thoughtfully as you know how…when you do everything right and the world still falls apart…  Hopelessness is tempting.  And disempowering.  Sometimes the easiest thing to do is simply go to sleep and forget it all.

That’s what Elijah does.  He falls asleep.  When he wakens, an angel is there with food and water.  “Get up and eat,” the angel says.  Elijah does, then goes back to sleep.  When he wakes up the second time, the angel is there again with food and water.  “Get up and eat,” the angel says again, “otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”

It’s easy in the midst of tragedy and terror to neglect the things that nourish us.  We forget to eat.  We neglect sitting down at the table with our family every day.  We stop praying.  We avoid the faith community that nurtures us.

The angel reminds Elijah that even in the midst of tragedy and terror, it is vital that we continue doing those things that feed us—physically and spiritually.  If we don’t…if we don’t get the rest we need, if we don’t eat good food at regular intervals, if we neglect nurturing our spiritual selves, then the journey to a better, more hopeful place will be too much for us.

After a couple of good long naps and some nourishing food and drink, Elijah sets out.  “He goes in the strength of that food for 40 days and 40 nights to the mount of God.”  Then what does he do?  He finds a cave and spends the night.  Yes.  He sleeps again.

When he wakes up, the word of God comes to Elijah and asks:  “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  Elijah responds:  “I have been very zealous for God; the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets.  I alone am left and they want to kill me, too.”  Even after fleeing from those who wanted to kill him, getting some rest and nourishment, and journeying to the mount of God, Elijah still feels hopeless.  At least he wants to live now; that’s progress, I guess.  But he’s still sounding pretty whiny.

What are you doing here today?  When Miss Janet saw today’s sermon title, she said, “Because Miss Janet told me to be here.”  That, of course, goes without saying.  J

Why else are you here?  Are you here because your child is participating in worship?  Are you here because you’re trying to make sense of what happened in Orlando?  Are you here because this is where you always come when life goes off the rails?  Are you here because you want the wider community to know that the Christians getting most of the media coverage right now do NOT speak for all Christians?  Are you here because this is one place where you can just be yourself without fear of ridicule…or worse?  Are you here because you want folks who identify as LGBTQ to know they are loved?

Are you here because, like Elijah, you’re just hanging on by a thread and desperately NEED to experience some glimmer of hope?

So, Elijah is asked what he’s doing at the mount of God, he does his whiny, hopeless thing, then the Spirit tells him to wait for God, who’s about to pass by.

“There was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”

Then–you’re going to love this part–then God’s Spirit asks again, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’  I hope you won’t think less of Elijah when you hear that his response–even after the earth, wind, and fire…I mean, wind, earthquake, fire, and sheer silence–in response to the identical question of God’s Spirit, Elijah responds identically:  “I alone am left of the Prophets of God…and they’re trying to kill me.”

Will our response also be the same?  After Newtown, after Charleston, after San Bernardino….every time we say, This has to stop!  But it’s not stopping.  Gun violence–and other forms of violence–are escalating exponentially.  What will our response be this time?

What are we doing here, church?????  How will we respond this time to unspeakable violence?  Will we continue to wring our hands and allow ourselves to remain mired in helplessness and hopelessness?  Or.  Will.  We.  DO SOMETHING?

Despite his hopelessness, Elijah takes action.  He allows God’s Spirit to lead him.  He slowly acts himself back into doing the work God has for him to do.

The same can be true for us.  We’ve had the wind knocked out of our sails this week.  It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand where Elijah was coming from.  Sometimes you work and work and work to act the world into wellbeing and it’s like you’ve done nothing at all.  It’s easy to feel hopeless…and when we get hopeless, we get idle.  Nothing seems to work, so why try?  And when we get idle, the world really does become more broken.

So…What are we doing here, Church?  What will we do?  Will we, despite our hopelessness, listen to the still small voice and go where God’s Spirit leads?  The Missions Team is creating space for us to begin dreaming together about what we might do in response to the mass shooting in Orlando.  Our responses, no doubt, will be varied.  Will you ramp up your support for the LGBTQ community?  Will you seek to educate people about mental illness?  Will you work for sensible gun legislation?  Will you seek to strengthen ties between law enforcement and the community so that we can work more closely together to end violence?  Will you seek to work with those who’ve been traumatized by violence?

Wednesday at VBS, we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism.  I don’t know what the recreation activity was that day, but I’m pretty sure it involved large amounts of water.  Just before one of the groups came into music that day, Miss Janet warned us that the children might be drenched.  They were.  Head to toe.  And they were full of energy…laughing, loud, joyful.  On that day, for those children, baptism had become… a contact sport.

If you think about it, it kind of is, isn’t it?  After John baptizes Jesus, a dove descends and Jesus hears these words:  “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased.”   That moment—his baptism and the reminder of God’s deep love for him—THAT is what gave Jesus the energy he needed to do his work of acting the world into wellbeing.

Baptism isn’t some quaint ritual we Instagram and tweet then forget.  No, baptism is a contact sport!  It’s loud and playful and joyful!  And necessary.  Baptism—this knowledge that we (every person) is a beloved child of God, that God’s spirit is with us and leads us, that God is pleased with us, even when our efforts seem so tiny and ineffective—our baptism is what gives us the energy we need to continue Jesus’ vital work of acting the world into wellbeing.

Are you feeling hopeless and helpless today?  If so, remember your baptism…then get to work.  And if it still seems too hard, find a child to go with you—because children get it.  Like the child on the viral video who, instead of whacking the piñata Spiderman, drops the stick, walks over to the papier mache figure, and embraces it.  Children get it.  Children get it.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2016


About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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