Summary: We come to a point when we feel depressed and think our lives have no meaning. Then God blesses us with physical, spiritual, and emotional sustenance, and sends us out to bless someone specific.
"What are you doing here?" What a question! Has anyone ever asked you that?
"What are you doing here?" You were some place where nobody expected to see you, but you turned up, and that was the reaction. I have heard it in the grocery store. I cannot go to this Safeway up here without running into church members. And a couple of times I’ve turned the corner around the canned goods and met one of you, and you’ve said, "What are you doing here?" You don’t think pastors eat? Just look at the evidence! An unexpected encounter. What are you doing here?
Let’s go deeper. "What are you doing here?" You were some place where you didn’t feel welcome; some place where you felt you didn’t belong. The atmosphere was strange. You felt you just wanted to get out of there. You were a fish out of water. Like the time I did a wedding in the Great Choir of National Cathedral. Felt like no place for a simple Baptist preacher. The question running through the mind was, "What are you doing here?"
Let’s go deeper still. Have you heard it in your head, when the technology on the job changed, and you couldn’t keep up? You felt that maybe you just couldn’t do any longer what needed to be done? You caught a hint that some machine, some computer, might replace you? "What are you doing here?"
Did you hear it when that last child graduated and declared himself independent, and all the energy you had put into parenting was suddenly no longer needed? "What are you doing here, you old fossil? Who needs you any more?" My parents heard that from me when I bought my first car, a well used and slightly clunky 1955 Dodge, and my girlfriend named that car "The Declaration of Independence." Aha, I see that she still remembers! Our children send us the message, "What are you doing here?"
Or maybe you heard it when you were widowed or divorced. That marriage, into which you had put everything for so many years, was suddenly and brutally ended. You hadn’t even thought of yourself as an individual for a long time. You thought of yourself as part of a couple. It wasn’t "John" and "Mary," it was" JohnandMary". But suddenly he was gone, and you found yourself rattling around the house with nothing to do and no one to invest in. Then you heard the question, "What are you doing here?"
That’s pretty challenging stuff. At various plateaus in our lives we face that question, "What are you doing here?" A number of years ago author Gail Sheehy wrote a book called Passages, in which she says that, for adults, about once every decade there is a challenge that has to be met. And that for middle-aged and older adults that challenge is the challenge of knowing that we did something. Knowing that we mattered. Believing that, when all is said and done, we succeeded in some kind of way. And, says Sheehy, if we get to those middle and older years and cannot feel we had some kind of success, then depression sets in and anxiety builds up. "What are you doing here?" We sure would like to know. When all is said and done, did we make a difference?
I can tell you that I’m arriving in that time of life, having been born back in nineteen hundred and none of your business – that time of life when I have to wonder what I’m doing here. Or, as one of you put it, you wonder if you’ll ever grow up (the person Who said that is about eighty years old!). Or, as Christians might frame it, we wonder whether God values who and what we are.
I know this is a theme for many of us. It’s uncanny. It really is. Normally I spend my Fridays at home writing the sermon. But this Friday there were two church members who needed some time with me. I do not turn that kind of request down if I can possibly agree to it. So I spent two or three hours on Friday afternoon with these folks; and, would you believe it ... they too were struggling with some of these issues! One of them ten or more years younger than I, the other almost twenty years younger. "What am I doing here?" When all is said and done, will it matter? So I cannot help but believe that a few moments spent with brother Elijah today will be immensely helpful to all of us.
Let me begin by setting up the problem. Let me try first of all to put ourselves in Elijah’s shoes. When we get to the place where we begin to wonder what we are doing here, when we begin to wonder whether our lives matter ... it’s common to feel depressed. It’s not unusual to feel down, a little unhappy, a little queasy. It’s pretty common to have a pity party, to whom no one else but yourself is invited. Feeling blah, depressed.