A Sermon based on 1 Kings 19:3-8
Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you!
I will be filling in as guest preacher this weekend. Here’s my sermon:
Maybe you’ve been there before; lonely, desperate, down and out, depressed, feeling the weight of sin, or just plain feeling blue for any host of reasons that are important to you. It can be brought on by the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, sickness, etc. To some extent, I think we’ve all been there at one point or another in our lives. King David certainly has been there, but he turned his troubles into worship. We all know this in examples such as Psalm 51 which is one of the greatest penitential Psalms and in fact is used extensively in our liturgies.
But today we see Elijah at the end of his rope. Elijah is on a journey; a journey that has led him to a confrontation with the priests of Baal, who happen to be the god of Jezebel, who’s the wife of King Ahab. As a matter of fact, it had gotten so ugly that Jezebel wanted Elijah dead and so he flees from the city of Jezreel to Beersheba and then he goes out into the wilderness, about a day’s walk we are told, and arrives at a solitary broom tree in the middle of the wilderness. It’s there that he sits underneath its shade and he asks God to take his life. There it is, a mighty prophet of God asking for the end of his life.
For Elijah, this is desperation, the bottom of the pit. It’s hard for us to put ourselves in his shoes. Isn’t it? What caused such desperation in his life to contemplate death?
- being a solitary voice?
- extreme burnout?
- the threat of being under attack from those who were once his neighbors?
- the loneliness and fear of being the odd person out?
- sheer frustration?
- doing what was right only to find that all who have stood with him have now turned away?
- the thought that perhaps he was no better than those who have gone before him?
These are all possible and likely contributors, but in addition to these reasons, its possible that Elijah has given into the fact that Jezebel is going to succeed in killing him and so he has concluded that it would be better for God to take his life, and hopefully while he is sleeping. And so, Elijah prays that he might die:
I have had enough, LORD. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.
And then he lies down under the broom tree and falls asleep. It’s the sleep of exhaustion, the sleep of stress so high, and the energy to go on fighting so low, that it completely consumes him. It is perhaps a sleep of utter frustration.
But during his sleep time – something wonderful happens. It’s an answer to his prayer. Maybe not what he had asked for; but God’s Will, that is, God’s answer to his request. An angel comes and touches him, wakens him, and tells him to “get up and eat”. And miraculously there is food; a Cake of Bread upon a hot stone, and drink; a jar of water set near him. God knows, he needs strength and sustenance for his journey and that it’s not time to take him just yet.
So he eats and then he lies down again, perhaps more restful this time, but some time later the angel returns and touches him once more, and says:
“Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”
So again he rises, and he eats and he drinks and then, according to the scriptures, he went forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God, and there he comes to a cave and spends the night. Think about that for a moment. This bread and water gave Elijah enough strength to go forty days in the desert alone. That’s some meal! There’s got to be more to it than what first appears.
Other interesting things happen to Elijah while he is at this “Mountain of God.” At the end of this journey through the wilderness he is granted a vision of God, and given a message of hope for his own life and for the nation. He is also given a disciple; one who will keep him company and help him on his journey, and to ultimately take his place as prophet over Israel when he grows old. This young man’s name is Elisha.
But this morning, I’d like to focus on those words of the angel to Elijah; “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”
Let’s personalize this. I asked earlier, “Have you been there?”, and I’m talking desperation. Jesus has; remember his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane? David had been in his shameful dealings with Bathseeba and Urriah. Paul was once blind so that on the road to Damascus he had to be led on his way by others, and also when he was shipwrecked, imprisoned, jailed and tortured. Life can take us through some pretty dangerous terrain.
What do we need to survive on our journey, to have the strength to go through the barren places of life, to persist while under duress and to move forward while avoiding burnout?
We need a strength that we can only get by knowing that God loves us each so very much that His one and only son, Jesus himself, God in the flesh, died a horrible, excruciating, and humiliating death on our behalf. It’s a strength that we get every Sunday as we sit here and listen to God’s word in its truth and purity as expressed in a sermon. It’s a strength that we get as we sing songs of praise to Him that contain beautiful biblical lyrics and truths. It’s a strength that we get as we join with one another in fellowship as we sing hymns, pray, confess, recite creeds, give our offerings and partake of the Lord’s Supper together. It’s a strength that we get when we see God’s promises at work as one of our children gets Baptized. There is power and strength here because two or more have gathered in His name. Last week, as I watched and listened to the children’s sermon, I found myself contemplating the blessings of how these children have been drenched in the word of God from birth and I pray will remain so for life. In fact, it says in Proverbs 22:6 “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” What a blessing and what spiritual food. This is the real spiritual food that I’m talking about. This is nourishment and sustenance. You see God’s Word and His promises expressed in scripture are the spiritual food that we need. Yes God gave Elijah bread and water, but it was “miraculous bread and water” because with it came both immediate nourishment and the notion that God will care for and provide. He is with Elijah here in the dessert.
It’s interesting because God has programmed us to need food and drink about three times a day. We grow tired and weary if we deviate from this routine. But God, in his wisdom, changed this “program”, or “schedule” in this instance with Elijah. Why? Because Elijah has important work ahead of Him, God knows that, and He strengthens Elijah through this simple gift of bread and water. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but God doesn’t need earth shaking miracles; although he certainly has this power if he chooses to use it. Most times, He just uses the natural means that He has already given to us. He uses food and rest to strengthen us. He also uses the skills he gives to some to develop medicines and medical techniques that take on and conquer our diseases. He uses the wisdom he gives our parents and superiors to keep us from following a course that will harm us and to give us valuable advice on how to proceed through life and to put things into perspective. But sometimes he does take on our needs with “supernatural power.” Such was the case with the meal he would provide this day.
What was Elijah’s important work? He needed to spread some truths about God; and guess what, so do you and I. There’s a lesson for us in here and it’s pretty simple. Here it is: God will provide. He will provide, through the Holy Spirit, heavenly power in our dealings and he will provide the earthly means we need, as well, as he sees fit.
We need to cry out to God when we are in need, when we are in despair, and then focus on Him to hear His answers as He gives them to us in His word. We need to do this personally and corporately and don’t be afraid to use your own words and involve God in what’s troubling you, because He does care. We are here to grow in our relationship with Him. So talk to Him and rely on Him.
So how did a cake of bread and a cup of water, barely what we would call “prison food”, turn Elijah around from the point of wanting death to providing the sustenance that he needed for forty days in the desert? I think you all know by now that it wasn’t the physical bread and water as we know it. It was sustenance from God. It contained a promise to be present and a promise to protect.
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus states:
I am the bread that came down from heaven. (And then he says it a little differently):
I am the bread of life. (And then again, but with emphasis):
I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
That’s ultimately where we get our spiritual food today; it’s in God’s Word. Jesus is the bread of life! Jesus is God come to earth, to be one of us, someone that at one point in time could be physically touched and heard. He’s not some distant ruler up in the sky. He is personable. He is the God of billions of people, and yet, He knows each one of you by name. He knew you even before you took that first breath of air. You are here this morning being fed and nourished because of Him. He drew you here, to himself. It is He that will give you the strength to go another week.
God is here right now. He is here in His Word. He is in your hearts. He is here in the truths that we proclaim. He is here in the bread and wine that we partake of regularly in the Lord’s Supper. He is here in the ordinary things, the daily events that so many of us take for granted and even in the miracles of life. Things like the rising and setting of the sun, and the moon and the stars, and the ever changing mountains and the rhythm of the seasons. He’s in our every breath and He’ll be there when you one day take your final breath. That’s one of His promises; “never will I leave you or forsake you.”
God is with us in Christ Jesus, the very man who fed 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish and had plenty left over.
Friends; that’s where we get our nourishment, that’s where we take our troubles to, and that’s where we see our prayers being answered. This gives us a fuller understanding of the phrase: “give us this day our daily bread” doesn’t it? Because we need this nourishment daily, and not just on Sundays. And that’s why we need to glorify God in everything that we say and do and that’s also why we need to involve Him in our life, and to talk with Him.
Solid food is available my friends, food that will sustain us on our spiritual journey. So take and eat that you may be strong in Him and to reach the place that He is calling you to.
Earlier, I mentioned Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. You think about that encounter for a moment. His Father handed him a cup of suffering so sour, so vile, so unthinkable, that Jesus would have preferred to find another way, if possible. “My Father,” he prayed, “if it is possible may this cup be taken from me? Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). Even Jesus was given a portion that His weak human flesh found hard to swallow. But you know what? With God’s help, He did it. And with God’s help, you can as well. We are not prophets in this room, like Elijah was, but we still share a critical calling and we need strength to accomplish this calling. We are not alone in this any more than Elijah was. Sometimes we forget that, and we forget that God is there to provide what is needed like Elijah forgot, but in reality God is always right there. Especially take the help He has to give from the source that the Bread of Life so often gives – his Word. Listen to those words that He spoke to Elijah “Get up and eat for the journey is too much for you!” It’s too much for you by yourself. God is your friend and helper and provider and redeemer and savior.