Sermons

Bread for the Journey

August 12, 2018
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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Bread for the Journey
1 Kings 19:1-8

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from the Old Testament, specifically where we hear of Elijah beg of God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

How did it come … to this? How did Elijah get to this point in his life, where he’s asking, begging his God YHWH to take his life? It doesn’t make much sense. Yes, Jezebel had made a threat against him, but it wasn’t like he hadn’t been threatened before. Elijah had practically lived most of his life in the valley of the shadow of death! But Jezebel’s threat, in the wake of the prophet’s victory over and execution of the 450 prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel seems to have been the last straw. Something about her threat seems to have shaken Elijah to his very core, and now, he wants to die – not by her evil hand, but by the hand of YHWH. He cries out in despair, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Is he confessing his own sin and weakness? Is he lamenting his cowardice, as many people believe? Is he bemoaning is own faithlessness, not trusting his God to protect him from that wicked woman? It’s certainly possible; Elijah is a fallen, sinful human creature just like us. But is there more to this?

Elijah is first introduced in chapter 17, and there he is described as a “Tishbite.” Our English translation goes on to say that he was from “Tishbe in Gilead,” but the word there isn’t the name of a place; it’s a description of a people. A better translation would be that Elijah was a Tishbite “from among the sojourners in Gilead.” It seems that the author of 1 Kings is wanting you, the reader, the hearer to know that, from his introduction, Elijah is known as a displaced person living among a displaced people. That seems to be the story of his life, in fact! Elijah didn’t have a place to call home; he was always on the run from someone. He starts by hiding out near the brook Cherith, then running clear up to Sidon to hide out with the widow of Zarephath. Now we’re here, and again, Elijah is on the run, fleeing from Jezebel, running way down south to Beersheeba, where he leaves his servant, and keeps on running into the wilderness. Still sojourning. Still journeying. Still passing through life and land. That’s the context of Elijah’s prayer, his cry for God to kill him. Even after all God had done through and for him, after all God’s steadfast faithfulness, evil still seemed to have the upper hand, and it didn’t seem like things were going to improve any time soon. So he cries out as he does, begging the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to end his misery, his running, his sojourning.

The sojourning life is no picnic; while bands like Metallica may take pride in being a “rover, wanderer, nomad, vagabond – call me what you will,” there’s nothing pleasant or romantic about journeying through life without having a place where you belong; without having a place to lay your head and rest. There is no joy in being hounded by enemies from without and from within as you run for your life. It’s a miserable existence to be constantly journeying, yet never reaching home … isn’t it?

As strangers in a strange land, we aren’t unsympathetic with Elijah’s plight. Knowing what we do about the broken nature of our fallen universe, knowing what we do about our own sinful nature, knowing as we do that man is by nature spiritually blind, dead, and an enemy of God and God’s people, we find ourselves constantly in a state of warfare, from without and from within. Look me in the eye and tell me honestly that you have never echoed Elijah’s cry. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” While I’m not proud of it, I can say that I have had those moments. Life is hard, yet in our insanity and stupidity, we often think we can go it alone. We can’t. The journey is long, the path is difficult, and we haven’t got anything to make it alone. We, Will. Not. Make it, left to ourselves.

Elijah certainly would not have made it. That’s why, in His mercy, his God YHWH provided for Elijah all that he needed to get where he needed to be. An angel of the Lord arrives with food and drink to revitalize the undoubtedly exhausted prophet. He partakes, but lies down again, and again, the angel comes, with more sustenance in tow, telling Elijah, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” Far from giving Elijah what he desired in his prayer – his death – God does what He has always done for His beloved creation: He provides. He provides for Elijah in body and spirit, to strengthen him for what lies ahead – not promising reprieve, nor the nearness of journey’s end, but we are told that Elijah went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God, and carried on with the work he was given to do.

That should sound very familiar. You hear something like it in one of our post-Communion collects: “We give thanks to You, Almighty God, that You have refreshed through this salutary, this helpful, this wonderful gift, and we ask You that, of Your mercy, You would strengthen us through the same, that same gift, in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another.” Yes, the Lord our God provides for our daily need – we confess it in the First Article of the Apostles Creed, as we believe that God provides for us food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that we have. More than this, however, is how God has provided for us an everlasting food that will not spoil or rot away, a food that lasts to eternity and strengthens us for this life’s journey.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 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. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Christ’s very body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, in, under, and with bread and wine, that is food which sustains you through the valley of the shadow of death to life everlasting! It’s the only food that provides this blessed assurance that you are literally tasting heaven, literally partaking of Jesus’s eternal life, here in this veil of tears, and there in eternity!

This food, this faith which God has so graciously given to us, sustains us. It is enough; YHWH’s grace and mercy is sufficient for us. It’s food for our sojourning, and strength for the journey! Like Elijah, we may be strangers here in this strange land, but we are not alone, and YHWH our God has given us all that we need for this journey, now and into eternity!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

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