What Are You Doing Here?

Homily for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity—9 August 2020
The Reverend Gene Packwood

Sermon audio

it’s good to be able to meet with you here in your Father’s house again. Thank you. And thank you for coming to meet with us so faithfully wherever we were over these last few months. Now please open the Scriptures you’ve set for us today to show us where we are, where you’d like us to be and what you’d like us to do when we get there…in The Name of The Father and The Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

“What are you doing here?” says the Lord to Elijah in the 1 Kings passage. Twice! (1Kg19.9, 13) And twice Elijah responds. 

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. (1Kg19.10, 14)

Elijah was on the run—a frightened man. 

There are frightened men in this morning’s gospel, too—in a boat. The boat Jesus MADE the disciples get into, it says, to go where Jesus wanted them to go (Mt14.22), whereupon they got to spend a whole night being battered by the waves, far from land with the wind against them (Mt14.24). After such a night it’s no wonder they freaked out when, early in the morning, Jesus came walking toward them on the water—like a ghost (Mt14.25-26). 

Then Jesus said those wonderful memorable, calming, reassuring words:

Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid. (Mt14.27)

Words worth taking to heart still. Feeling battered? Jesus says, Take heart!” Too far from shore? Jesus says, “I am here.”  Wind against you? Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

Peter immediately takes his words to heart—impetuous, leading-with-his-chin, Peter—despite the weather, the waves, the fear and not being entirely sure it was Jesus—goes for it. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Mt14.28). Jesus said, “Come!” And he did (Mt14.29). But when he noticed the strong wind, Peter had second thoughts, became a frightened man and began to sink (Mt14.30). 

So we have two frightened men singled out for our edification this morning—both fearing for their lives. Both having recently witnessed or performed mind boggling miracles. And I wonder, if those two Bible giants could be so badly frightened, how can ordinary people like you and me expect to follow Jesus and do what he calls us to do without trembling in our boots from time to time? And if we’re never fearful or at least a little bit nervous about doing what we think Jesus is calling us to do, is it really him we’re following? 

It will be helpful to have a look at how the Lord helps them overcome their fear. Peter yells, “Lord, save me!” and immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him (Mt14.30-31). I wonder how far Peter got to walk with Jesus across the water before they got into the boat and the wind ceased. What a walk that must have been!

For Elijah, the Lord stages a great mountain splitting, rock breaking wind, earthquake and fire that was instructively devoid of his presence before making his actual presence known in the sound of sheer, serene, peace-bestowingsilence which made Jezebel’s threats and Elijah’s fears fade away into nothing. And, like Peter, Elijah “got back into the boat” with The LORD and they got on with things. The Lord had some people for Elijah to anoint and had chosen a successor for him, and Jesus had a church to build on the rock Peter was to become. 

Which brings me back to that original question—what are you doing here, Elijah? Only what if the Lord is asking me! What are you doing here, Gene? What can I say? What would you say if he asked you? What are we doing here? Elijah said he had been zealous for The LORD.  

Zealous—fervent, passionate, devout, devoted; committed, dedicated, enthusiastic, eager, keen, sincere, wholehearted, hearty, earnest, vigorous, energetic, single-minded. What would that look like in Anglicans like us? 

Here are some ideas from this morning’s readings: 

From St Paul: we could determine to confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord fervently and wholeheartedly. And we could decide to believe in our hearts passionately and devoutly that God raised him from the dead (Ro10.9).

From the gospel: keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, we could commit to stepping out of our boats like Peter did (Mt14.29) and start walking to where Jesus is calling us. We could vigorously resist the fear that might sink us because Jesus said don’t be afraid (Mt14.27) and because it’s not always, or even mostly, going to be stormy or dramatic when we go where he calls us. Remember The LORD wasn’t in any of the drama in today’s Elijah story. He was in the sound of sheer silence. Just so, most often for people like you and me The LORD is in the quiet, ordinary things. How beautiful will the quiet, obedient tread of ordinary feet like ours be when they bring the good news (Ro10.15) of The One who is truly the Son of God (Mt14.33), our Lord and Saviour,