+ A sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 19B) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on August 8, 2021 +
Text: 1 Kings 19:4-13, John 6:35, 41-51
It’s quite possible that the best food I’ve ever had is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
That’s not to say it’s the best meal I’ve ever had.
It’s certainly not the most refined food I’ve ever had.
I mean, empirically, it’s pretty simple. But in the right circumstance, nothing can compare.
And that’s exactly why, whenever I go on a long hike, I make sure to pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Because there is absolutely nothing like getting to the summit of that mountain or sitting by a majestic lake and chomping into a PB&J.
And it’s exactly what you need right then too—some carbs, some sugar, and a good dose of protein.
But I swear it’s almost magical how wonderful those simple ingredients taste.
It’s the same magic you can experience on a backpacking trip when that freeze dried food from the packet, that stuff you’re cooking with boiling water from a tiny a gas stove, is suddenly transformed into a Michelin star quality gourmet meal.
It’s probably not what you’re going to make when you prepare dinner tonight, but there’s just nothing that compares to when you sit there, looking back on the work that got you up the mountain, that used so much energy, that sense of accomplishment as you refuel with a big drink of water from your Nalgene and that wonderful food.
Because you don’t just get to eat a delicious sandwich, you are also giving yourself the strength, both physically and mentally, to get up again and journey back home.
Today’s reading from the Hebrew Bible tells the story of another, very different journey.
We hear about the Prophet Elijah who has journeyed out into the wilderness.
But this isn’t just some recreational day hike, this is a flight for survival.
You see, in the chapter before, Elijah had just triumphed over the many prophets of Baal with a fiery display the Lord God’s power.
But when King Ahab and Queen Jezebel hear about what happened, how Elijah defeated the prophets they supported, how he had humiliated them and their god, they wanted revenge.
They sent for Elijah to be killed.
So Elijah flees to the desert, collapses under a broom tree and wants to just give up.
I mean, he’s exhausted.
He’s been God’s prophet for years.
He’s been doing so many wondrous works, he’s stood up to these wicked rulers for so long, he just triumphed over the opponents of God and after all of that, he feels like his life’s work has been for nothing.
Scripture will declare him one of the greatest prophets of all time, but right now he’s wrapped in despair.
He feels like he’s alone in the world, that he alone still follows God.
‘There is no one else left but me,’ Elijah says, ‘and I am just a remnant of what was. Everyone else has given up. What do I have to show for all my faithful work over all these years?’
Elijah is tired.
He’s worn out.
He wants out.
So, he lays under that broom tree and asks God to end it all.
And I kind of love that he gets so worked up that what does he do?
He takes a nap.
But what happens next might be one of the most tender parts of the whole Bible.
An angel appears next to Elijah, bakes him some cakes, and gently prods him awake.
“Get up and eat,” she invites him.
So that great prophet groggily nibbles on some food, drinks some water, and goes back to sleep.
But a second time, the angel wakes him up.
“Get up and eat,” she says again. “Otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
What a gentle, compassionate, and caring message.
The angel comes to this man who is at the end of his rope and stays with him in his despair doing what she can to support him.
And as much as I love what the angel does for Elijah and the words she speaks to him, I might love even more what she doesn’t say to him.
She never says, “Buck up, Elijah! You’re whining too much.”
Or “Come on, it’s not that bad.”
Or “It’ll all work out in the end.”
Or “Once you eat this bread, everything will get better—you’ll see.”
Or “What happened to your faith? Just put your trust in God.”
She tenderly invites him to eat.
“Eat,” she says, “because the journey ahead is difficult, and you need strength.”
“Eat,” she says, “because you won’t make it on your own.”
“Eat,” she says, “because God desperately wants to nourish you with food that will save your life.”
She’s not offering a shortcut.
She’s not offering a way out.
She’s not minimizing the difficulties ahead.
She’s simply providing bread for the journey.
So, Elijah gets up again.
He eats the deliciously divine cakes the angel has prepared.
And he discovers that somehow, they were exactly what he needed at that moment.
Because in that heavenly food, Elijah finds the strength, both physically and mentally, to get up from that broom tree and continue on his journey.
And journey he did.
Forty days and forty nights.
Until he reaches Mount Horeb—Mount Sinai, as we often call it—where the prophet would listen for the word of God.
For the guidance of what the next phase of his ministry will look like.
Where he will learn that God has not given up on him or the people, but that Elijah will get a companion, a successor to his ministry, named Elisha who will continue and expand on the work Elijah has been doing long after the Prophet has gone.
So, I guess this week I’m wondering what the witness of Elijah can tell us here at Holy Cross.
How the example of that great prophet of old might be speaking to our congregation right now.
To this congregation who has been doing amazing things in this place for 60 years now.
To this congregation who has seen its numbers decline over the decades and sometimes feels like a remnant of its former self.
To this congregation that has been pulled apart by pandemic closures only to come back and find that so many things have changed.
To this congregation who has journeyed so far, followed Jesus faithfully for so long, and now feels a little more tired than ever before.
To this congregation who is looking around and wondering who will take up the mantel we will leave behind.
To this congregation that has been trying its best to listen for the still small voice of God to guide us into the next phase of our ministry.
I don’t think Elijah would tell us to buck up or to just figure it out.
I don’t think he would give us false optimism about what’s ahead.
I don’t think he would criticize our fatigue or tell us to simply trust in God.
I don’t think he would let us sit alone in resignation or despair.
No, I think he would see us where we are, see all that we have done and are continuing to do in our community.
I think he would come to us, a messenger from the divine, and invite us to get up and eat.
To take the food our God is providing us so we can find the strength to continue our journey and find out what God has in store for us.
Because while we may not see an angel baking cakes for us as we sit here under these trees, while we may not even be given a peanut butter and jelly sandwich this morning, we have a promise that we have and will receive God’s divine gift of life in food beyond compare.
“I am the bread of life,” our Lord tells us. ‘Just as God gave the manna in the wilderness that fed your ancestors in faith, just as God sent the angel who baked the bread that sustained Elijah, so I am God’s gift of bread of life for the world. I am the bread that will feed you, will sustain you, will guide you into the future I have designed. Because the bread that you eat when you come to this table is my own flesh, my own life given for the abundant life of the world, so that all people may know my love, my teachings, my dreams for your future together.’
I know that these simple gifts may not seem like much—these little wafers and sips of wine.
But the divine mystery of this meal is that when we eat this bread and drink of this cup, we may just find that these are exactly what we need, not only in this time and this situation, but in every hour of our lives.
Because our Lord has called us to this table to experience in this bread and wine the abundant fullness of God’s love for the whole cosmos.
To see in this bread and wine the abundant fullness of God’s love for this congregation.
To taste in this bread and wine the abundant fullness of God’s love for each one of us.
To get up and eat, so we might find the strength to continue on and the guidance to encounter whatever happens next on our journey.
So my friends, hear the voice of Jesus speaking to you this morning.
Tenderly calling to you who are tired, you who weary, you who have journeyed so far to make it to this place.
Get up, beloved, and eat the bread of life that only God can provide.
Get up and eat, for we still have a journey ahead of us and we know the road will not be easy and otherwise it will be too much for us.
Get up and eat, so we can carry on and listen for God’s still small voice speaking to us.
Get up and eat, so we can experience the full and abundant life that Jesus has in store for us so we can follow him together.
Get up and eat Christ’s body and blood given for us, wine to restore us and bread for the journey.