A sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, August 9, 2015
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.
I love Elijah, the prophet. We don’t have his writings, but there is a whole cycle of stories about him in the First Book of Kings. Some of the most memorable miracles in the Old Testament involve Elijah. The story in today’s lesson is when Elijah is on the run after one of the most memorable miracles.
Elijah was the only prophet of Yahweh, the Lord God, left. And the Kingdom of Israel was turning to Ba’al, so Elijah throws down against the 500 prophets of Ba’al and challenges them to a burnt offering contest to see whose God was real. The catch was that it was a burnt offering contest but nobody could light a fire. Elijah was quite a showman—he had water poured all over his sacrifice. And while the prophets of Ba’al went on for hours, doing all sorts of extreme things, Elijah calmly made a prayer over his soaking wet sacrifice. Of course fire came down from heaven and consumed Elijah’s sacrifice and the prophets of Ba’al were all put to death.
The thing is, triumph doesn’t stay triumphant. Queen Jezebel was quite a devotee of Ba’al and she was not pleased. So we pick up the story and Elijah is on the run. Out in the desert, and he comes to a solitary tree and sits down: “It’s enough. I have had enough of this. Let me die, take away my life, I’m no better than my ancestors.” He gave up, he was in despair and he lay down under that tree, thinking, or hoping that he would die.
Sometimes what happens in life can be overwhelming. The prophet Elijah was speaking on behalf of God, but he also was the kind of person who would be not too retiring, stand up to authority and get into trouble for it. It’s not like he had no responsibility in the whole thing. But still he was exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally. He could see no good way forward. He had no idea of where to go or what to do. He wanted out. In his prayer, that’s what Elijah told the Lord.
But lying there under the tree, a messenger from God woke him up. There was a cake of bread and a jug of water by Elijah’s head. Baked on a hot flat stone, the bread was nothing fancy—more of a camp bread, improvised in the wilderness—but nourishing. So Elijah got up and ate, and drank the water, and then … collapsed again and went back to sleep. Then the messenger came again and woke him up again. “Eat, or the journey will be too much for you.”
Sometimes the stresses of the world are too much. Too much for the great prophet Elijah, too much for any of us. And sometimes we feel we can’t face things, we collapse and fall down. And sometimes … we try to get up and it doesn’t work the first time … or even the second time.
But the messenger of the Lord says, “Eat and drink.” “Drink the cool, clean water that refreshes you, rehydrates you. Eat the nourishing bread, even if it is plain, whatever you have out there in the wilderness. People need rest, refreshment and nourishment. We should not pretend that we can tough it out and get by without them. Yet, when we look at Elijah, after those two days rest and two nourishing loaves and two jugs of water he did more than anyone could imagine—he crossed the wilderness for forty days until he reached Mount Horeb for his encounter with God.
God provided enough bread for Elijah’s journey, but it wasn’t some sort of “Poof! Everything is now fixed and easy!” kind of magic. The miraculous bread put Elijah in the midst of the real world, fully alive, yet with none of the difficulties gone.
When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” this is exactly what he means. Whoever believes in him has eternal life, not unending “Poof!” magic, not a life free of difficulty or discouragement, but a life of hope that brings us through and beyond despair.
“This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jesus, fed by the food from his Father and the living water of the Spirit, indeed had the courage to make his journey to Jerusalem for us, to sacrifice his life for the life of this world. In him, God brings us bread for our journey just as he did for Elijah.
Let us pray.
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen