Why Are You Here?


 “Why are you here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:9b and 13b (Common English Bible)


I sometimes hear this from people I speak with, “I’m working harder than ever before with fewer results.” In that statement, I hear an undertone of discouragement, frustration, resignation, despair, regret for not having chosen a different life path or a hint of nostalgia that yearns for the good ole’ days. If the conversation goes a little further along those lines, I hear things such as, “Maybe this is not my calling.” “I just don’t know what else to do.” “I’m burned out.” Or, “I’m tired of pushing a lethargic ‘wet noodle.'”

In 1 Kings 19, we find the prophet Elijah is weary, burned out, angry, and bemoaning his lack of success at leading the Israelites to be faithful to God. His single-minded faithfulness to God has brought troubles upon him. He is on the run and fearful for his life. His life and ministry have been for too long steeping in the boiling waters of social tensions, withering opposition, interpersonal clashes, and constant threats. He has had enough of it all and is fleeing from his ministry. He is holed up in a cave and ready to give up, but God will not let him quit.

God encounters Elijah at the cave and twice asks him, “Why are you here, Elijah?” Elijah responds with snarky pessimism and an exaggerated claim of self-importance. He blames God for the predicament he’s in and in essence says, “I am the only one in all of Israel that is faithful to your divine cause in the world! I’m here because of you!” Elijah need not be so discouraged or take himself so seriously because he is far from being the only person committed to the divine cause. There are 7,000 more faithful Israelites that are also carrying on God’s divine purpose.

After upheaving winds, earthquakes, and fire, God speaks to Elijah, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel interprets,  in a voice without sound. No birds sing. No trees rustle in the wind. No insects buzz. No crickets chirp. No creeks gurgle. No coyote howls. Nothing. No audible noise. Nature stands still and silent. It’s just Elijah and God’s quiet presence.

God reminds Elijah that a prophet does not belong out in the desert atop a mountain, hiding in a cave, separated from the troubles of life but in the world, carrying out God’s work, no matter how difficult it may be. Elijah is renewed through his encounter with God and returns back into the world’s arena as an agent of God’s divine purposes.

Like Elijah, we can find ourselves in some lonely caves during life from time to time, fleeing from life’s pressures, wallowing in self-pity, and self-righteousness. Sometimes we even come to blame God for our predicaments. But God meets us where we are at, in the stillness of crucial moments. God asks us the same question asked of Elijah, “Why are you here?” We realize it’s not a question asking about the circumstances that led us to retreat into the lonely deserts and caves of our own making. Instead, it is a question of life purpose accompanied by God’s affirmation. That is, “Why are you here when there is so much left to do in the world? You’re needed in the world to carry out my divine cause. And, I’m with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).

Prayer: Merciful God, overflowing with a redemptive purpose for our fractured world, enable us by your Spirit to have one foot on the ground, and the other raised to proceed on the journey your Son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, leads us in.  Prayer adapted from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s reflections, in Thoughts of St. Ignatius. 

No Place to Hide


Mark 7: 24  From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice.


Maye, Isaac, and I walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in July during our summer vacation. We sat on a pew and admired the architecture of the sanctuary, observed the tourists taking pictures while trying to pay attention to the evening Mass for young people occurring at the same time.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned to look back. The man asked if my last name was Saenz to which I responded, “Yes.” He went on to tell me that he recognized me because I look like my younger brother Ricky. He added that he was from a city 15 miles from my hometown of Rio Grande City and that he played golf on occasion with my dad. We chatted a while, took a group picture I texted to my brother and parted ways.

I never thought I’d be noticed in a city with millions of people, but I was.

Jesus was trying to escape notice but he could not escape notice. In the ensuing story, a Syro-phoenician Greek woman finds out Jesus is in the region of Tyre, north of the Israeli border, and goes out to him to ask for her daughter’s healing. Jesus proclaims her daughter is well and the woman returns home and finds her daughter healed and lying peacefully in bed.

The Unconcealable Christ cannot be hidden to a world that is hurting and searching. As disciples, we can’t be secret Christians who follow an unconcealable Christ that seeks to know others and be known by others.

Prayer: Reveal yourself through me today, Lord, through the words of my mouth and witness of life. Amen.


A Good Name



“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all.”               Proverbs 22:1-2

Reflection: This instructional or wisdom saying is directed at the rich and powerful, not the poor. It is a reminder to the rich and powerful to treat the poor and powerless with dignity, justice, generosity, and compassion because God cares and advocates for them.

Poverty is real in our Great Plains Kansas/Nebraska area. In 2016, Kansas ranked 20th and Nebraska 15th in the U.S. in the percentage of people who fell below the 2016 poverty line – $24,340 for a family of four. Also, Kansas ranked 36th and Nebraska 39th in the rate of households that at some point during the year experienced difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of money or resources (talkpoverty.org).

There is a tendency to blame the poor for their poverty. Behaviors such as poor life choices, a lazy work ethic, having too many children, a lack of education, and so on are often cited. While we find passages in scripture where laziness is mentioned as a root cause of poverty (Prov. 6:6, 10:4-5, 13:4, etc.), more often, the prophets cite social structures at the macro-level as the root cause of poverty.  The prophets denounced social structures built upon greed, injustice, inequality, and segregation that caused disparities and poverty.

Congregations receive a “good name” before the Lord when they alleviate the acute and chronic pangs of hunger and poverty with immediate assistance ministries such as food banks and clothing closets. And, they receive a “good name” before the Lord that is better than silver or gold when they implement initiatives and advocate for policies and just structures that eliminate barriers the poor and powerless confront so that all can access and enjoy the fullness of life.  As individuals, we also receive a “good name” before the Lord when we treat the poor with human dignity and honor because in so doing, we align ourselves with God’s love and care for them who rises to argue their case (Isaiah 3:13).

Prayer:  Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen