Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lectionary 19
1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: yea and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.

We have made God fit into a box of our own creation. In other words, we have decided what God likes and what God doesnít like, what God means when He says what He says. We have made Him into our image. I donít just mean you and me; I mean all human beings. We have always defined God according to our own biases and cultural preferences. We think God loves the things that we love. We think God hates the things we hate. We are certain that God is fighting all our battles for us, and that God is on our side of every debate.

We do not realize how we spin the words to mean what we want them to mean. We donít realize that God has a wider view of the world than we do and so we expect that He will do what He does from our point of view. The box in which we have captured God might be beautiful. It might be good. It might be right. It might be biblical. But the box in which otherís have put their version of the God of heaven and earth might just be beautiful, good, right, and biblical. How can this be, we wonder? Can it really be both ways? We wonít fully understand the God who has been our Creator, our Provider and our Redeemer. We cannot fully comprehend the love God has not only for us and those like us, but also for the others, even our enemies.

Our Old Testament lesson tells the story of Elijah, a very brief moment in his life. He was a prophet of God, one whose story is filled with miraculous signs and wonders. In the previous chapter, Elijah held a contest with the prophets of Baal. The goal was to see whether God or Baal could set an offering on fire by the prayers of the prophets. Four hundred prophets of Baal tried, but did not succeed. Elijah set the altar and then made it impossible for the altar to build, covering it with so much water that a spark would never work. When he prayed, God set the entire altar, offering and water on fire, thus proving that He is God. The prophets of Baal were ordered killed as false prophets and this upset the people. It especially upset Jezebel who threatened Elijah's life. In the end, though God proved to be God, they did not believe.

So Elijah ran away. He went out into the desert to die. He even prayed to God to take his life. He had failed. He was no better than his ancestors. He did not accomplish any more than they. I suppose he was much like we are today. We all begin a task with the idea that we will be able to do better than those who come before. We think that we are the ones that will make a people turn around and walk rightly. We think we are the ones that will find the solution to the problem. We think we are the ones who are truly chosen by God to accomplish the task. And then we fail. And then we feel sorry for ourselves. I know exactly how Elijah was feeling.

We can easily convince ourselves to experience things that arenít real. Paranoia is a thought process characterized by fear or anxiety and is not always based on the reality of the world. Hypochondria is a mental state that believes the body is ill when it really is not. The victim hears the symptoms of a disease and then begins to experience those same symptoms, convinced that they must be suffering from it. Our eyes can see shadows just outside our line of vision which are not actually shadows but are really created by our minds. Our minds can play tricks on us, causing us to see things that arenít there. We often hear things and think we are hearing one thing, but those sounds might actually have a completely different explanation. I believe some of the experiences are very real, but I do question some of the feelings. The human imagination is too creative and since we do not completely understand our brains, we can often mistake our feelings for reality.

Elijah was afraid. He might have had very good reason to be afraid, but his fear affected his judgment. He ran away, wishing for God to end his life (take his life-breath) so that he would not die at the hand of Jezebel. He let his feelings take over and he stopped trusting in Godís protection and provision. He went to the desert to die. But God would not let him die. God fed him, and sent him on a journey that would remind him about Godís goodness. At the end of the journey, Elijah would be ready to see his circumstances from Godís reality rather than through his paranoia.

How many times has this happened to you? You sit down at the computer, click on a link or open up a game and an hour later you realize that youíve been sitting in front of the computer and you havenít really accomplished anything. I clicked a link on a friendís Facebook page this morning and ended up surfing through a dozen other sites. Nothing was wrong with the sites; as a matter of fact they were informational and inspirational. However, I lost a half hour of time without even realizing time was passing. When I look at the clock, Iím shocked to see that another evening has passed and the dinner dishes are still sitting in the sink.

The world is not going to end because Iíve waited until the morning to do the dishes. No one has been victimized by my enjoyment of a game and someone might just benefit from the information I find while surfing the Internet. But what has been lost? Iíd planned to accomplish many things that have been put off another day because I was busy playing on the computer. It just takes one click of a button and we lose track of time. Thatís my temptation. Thatís the thing that I canít seem to control. Your temptation might be different. Can you eat just one M&M or potato chip? Can you enjoy just one drink? Do you get caught up in shopping and lose track of how much money youíve put on your credit card?

We all have something that we know we should avoid but we think we can keep it under control. We click that button or eat that potato chip certain that this time we can stop before we go overboard. But as soon as we open the door, we find ourselves lost in the very things we vow to avoid. In the end, weíve probably not hurt anyone by wasting our time or eating a few too many chips, but we have succumbed to temptation and next time it will be harder to resist.

Paul writes that we should not give place to the devil. Now, surfing the Internet and eating potato chips are not necessarily tools of the devil. They arenít evil, after all. But Paul shows us how one thing can build into something much worse. Sometimes anger is justified; it spurs us to action when things are not just and right. After all, Jesus got angry. But Paul reminds us not to let the sun go down on our anger. By doing so, we open the door to allow the devil into our anger which will take us to something worse, even violence. The Ephesians, as so many other Christians in that time, were dealing with the divisions between the Jewish and pagan believers. They could not overcome their differences and become reconciled as the body of Christ is meant to be. Despite their differences, our passage from last week reminds us that we are one: sharing one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

In this weekís passage, Paul seems to be making a list of things we have to do. At the very least, it is a list of things we should not do. We should not lie, but we should tell the truth. If we are angry, we should not sin or we will give the devil a foothold. We should not steal, but should work hard for our living. We should not speak with a wicked tongue, but should speak in a way that will edify and build up the body of Christ. Yet, this is not a passage about works. It is a passage about our response to the work of Christ. ďÖeven as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell.Ē

Paulís call to the Christian is not about doing good works, but rather to live the life that God has called you to live. ďBe imitators of God and walk in love.Ē This is eternal life in this world, living in the presence of God. David writes, ďThey looked unto him, and were radiant; and their faces shall never be confounded.Ē

We canít say the same about those who were following Jesus during todayís Gospel lesson. After all, they were seeking Jesusí mercy and grace, but about things of the flesh rather than the Spirit. He called Himself the bread of life, and the people wanted bread that would keep them alive forever, but they werenít ready to accept Jesus as the type of Messiah that He was sent to be. They wanted Him to be the type of Messiah they had decided He should be. They wanted to make Him fit into their tidy little box, as a king and provider.

The bottom line is this: we arenít any different than those who have passed through this world from the beginning of time. We arenít any different than Elijah who wanted to control the end of his life because he did not know how to deal with those who threatened his ministry and his life. We are just like the Ephesians who let disagreements disrupt the Christian unity of the fellowship of believers. The Jews in this weekís Gospel lesson wanted to make Jesus king, to make Him an earthly ruler without any spiritual consequences. They were not willing to hear the things that Jesus had to say to them. They were shocked by His teaching. This was fine when He was willing to give them everything they wanted, but they could not accept shocking and radical as the idea that Jesus is the bread of life. After all, He was asking them to eat the bread, and then He told them He was the bread. We react to His words in much the same way. We want to make Him what we want Him to be and interpret His words to say what we want Him to say.

In many ways, David is just like us, too. He failed at times, sinned against God and man. But David kept His eyes on His God. Scholars suggest that todayís psalm refers to the story found in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. In this story, David was being pursued by Saul, so he ran to the king of Gath. When the king realized that this was David, the one who was ten times greater than Saul, he became concerned about his own safety and that of his nation. He knew that David was extremely popular among the Israelites. David saw that he was in a dangerous situation so he pretended to be insane. The king of Gath was annoyed that his servants would bring him a madman and he sent David away. While we might see this story as one about a man doing whatever is necessary to get away from his enemy, David recognized that his salvation came from God. He praised God and called others to join him in song.

We fail. We see God as we want to see Him, not as He is. But Jesus tells us, ďI am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: yea and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.Ē It is about faith, believing in the One God sent. We will fail because we only see the world through our own eyes and experiences and biases. But as see God as He is meant to be seen, recognizing that our salvation and everything else comes from God including the true bread from heaven that gives us life, we will join in Davidís song of praise. ďOh taste and see that Jehovah is good: Blessed is the man that taketh refuge in him.Ē

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