Proper 14, B
1 Kings 19:4-8
John 6:35, 41-51
I remember a time; about 10 years ago now; it seems both a very long time ago and as if it were just yesterday. You, Holy Trinity and I had just begun the discernment process for the priesthood, just begun it officially anyway. (I think I began the process in childhood. I just didn’t recognize it for another 30 years).
But still it marked a beginning and like all beginnings it was pregnant with promise, with hope. I went on with my normal, every day life, but all my life had become a prayer. I felt full of fervor and fever, like the Spirit of God was dancing around in my heart and my mind all the time, like the love of God surrounded me, permeated my being, oozed from my very pores. I wanted to laugh and shout and dance and cry all at the same time, all for the love of Christ. And then I knew. I was…
Crazy. Stark raving mad. Completely off the deep end. When God is oozing from your pores, this is the stuff of crazy.
Rather than present myself for psychiatric care, I went to talk to Lynn. (Lynn has talked me down from crazy more than once), Now Lynn, in her wisdom, while she did think that preaching might prove a better, or at least more sustainable outlet than mad shouting and dancing in the aisles, did not think I was crazy. Didn’t say I was crazy at least. I’ve always remembered what she did say, “I’m so happy. You need to remember this; hold on to this for the dry times”
Elijah, today, has reached the dry times, the scared times, the tired times. As Christians we mostly hear about Elijah in the New Testament when someone compares Jesus to him or wants to build him a tent, but most of us don’t know his story well.
800 years before Jesus’s birth, Israel’s King Ahab married a foreigner, Jezebel. Jezebel talked Ahab into abandoning Yahweh and worshiping the fertility god Baal, a fact which did not make God super happy. Jezebel also started killing off God’s prophets, which you can imagine was also not a source of delight for God. Elijah, fiery and full of zeal prophecied and preached truth to power, his ears full of the Word of the One God.
After a devastating 3 year drought and famine, Elijah arranged a dramatic confrontation with about four hundred and fifty priests of Baal on Mount Carmel. Read chapter 18 of I Kings for all the gory, exciting details, but there’s a lot of whole lot of trash talking, and God testing, and offerings and swords and blood and fire.
Eventually, after the priests of Baal utterly fail to bring down fire with their prayers and chants, Elijah calls down the fire of God. It consumes offering and altar, stones and all, just as he said it would. After that, in true Old Testament fashion, Elijah kills the priests of Baal, all 450 of them. This enrages the still powerful Jezebel. She promises Elijah that she will kill him if it is the last thing she does.
Elijah, earlier so full of zeal and courage and righteousness, takes off. Turns tail and runs. He does not say good bye, does not turn back, does not trust God to save him, does not deliver any pithy parting prophecies. He runs as fast as his legs will carry him, as far as he can go.
Which is where we meet up with Elijah today, sitting under a broom tree, knowing his failure, choking on his fear, disgusted with himself. “It is enough. Take away my life. I am no better than my ancestors.” Having confessed this, he sleeps, not knowing if he will wake, praying he will not. He awakes to the touch of an angel and the smell of freshly baked cake. Get up. Eat.
As interesting as what the angel does and says is what she does not say. She does not minimize or trivialize. The angel does not say, “It’s all part of God’s plan” or “Everything will be fine, the worst is over” or “Eat this and you’ll be rich and thin and beautiful and popular and everything will be easy from now on”
She touches him gently and as one writer paraphrases, she says, ““The journey is hard. It’s hard. You won’t ever make it on your own. But listen, you don’t have to. Here’s cake. Here’s sustenance. Here’s journeying bread. Get up and eat it. Eat it because life is hard. Eat it because there will be dangers along the way and you’ll need to stay alert. Eat it so you’ll be strong enough to face the perils that lie ahead. You can’t sidestep the journey; it belongs to you. But you can choose how you make it. Famished or fed. Strengthened or weak. Accompanied or alone. Which will you choose?” (Debie Thomas, Journeying Bread, Journey with Jesus)
“I am the Bread of Life”, says Jesus. The bread come down from heaven. Jesus offers Himself, life and love, flesh and soul to succor, to comfort, to sustain, to nourish – in the zealous times, in the crazy times, the dry times, the frightened times, the tired times – on a journey too difficult to undertake alone, and impossible to forgo.
Get up. Eat.
Hold out your hands, your heart, your sliver of faith. Walk in imitation of Christ, knowing that no matter how hard it is to put away anger and bitterness and malice, no matter how vulnerable it makes you to be kind and loving and to forgive, no matter how overwhelming the journey, or how poorly you travel, He offers the bread of life, sustenance for the journey.
One pastor writes, “When we come to our moments of sitting alone under the broom tree, “too tired to run and too scared to rest,” when we look back on our lives and see only our faults and failures, our disappointments and unfulfilled ambitions looming up and chasing us like Jezebel’s pursuing minions, when we feel like we have done all we can and despite our best intentions, we find we are no better than our ancestors, we must remember how God responded to Elijah and how God will respond to us.
We must listen carefully and hear God say to us, “Arise and eat. I know who you are and what you’ve done and failed to do and I love you anyway. Here, have some bread. I made it myself; I call it the bread of life.” (Delmer Chilton, Two Bubbas and a Bible, 2012)
Get up and eat. Amen