Sunday, August 9, 2015

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 19:1-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:17-5:2
John 6:35-51

And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.

The life of a prophet is not easy; Elijah's life was no exception. He had to do hard things. He had to face evil and destroy it. He had to go against the rulers of the day, to speak God's truth to a time when the people were following false gods and accepting false religion. The people of Israel, including King Ahab, were worshipping Baal. They, like so many before and after, thought it best to cover all their bases. They worshipped both God and Baal. Elijah called together the prophets and the people. He asked them how long they would divide their loyalties. See, we can't worship both God and the false gods. We have to choose.

Elijah suggested that they hold a competition. There were four hundred and fifty prophets for the false gods and Elijah was the only one for the One true God. Surely so many prophets could make a miracle happen, right? The prophets of Baal made their sacrifice first, but when they called on their gods there was no response. Elijah prepared his bull, placed on the altar, and surrounded the altar with wood, as expected. He then covered the wood with so much water that it would be impossible to burn. He called on God who sent a fire from heaven that not only roasted the bull, but burned everything from the wood to the rocks and soil and every drop of water. When the prophets of Baal sacrificed a bull and called on their gods, there was no response. It was obvious to the people which God was real.

It wasn't so obvious to Jezebel, Ahab's wife. Well, it probably was, but it didn't matter to her. She was willing to follow false worship because it suited her. Those prophets served her needs and desires, while Elijah did not. To her, the one speaking the truth was wrong because he wasn't willing to cater to her. She became extremely angry with Elijah because after the competition, Elijah ordered the people to kill the false prophets. This caused Jezebel to threaten Elijah. He ran away in fear.

Despite the positive response from the people, Elijah knew that their hearts were fickle. They might believe that the LORD is God, but how long would it last, particularly if Jezebel succeeded? Despite the failure of the prophets of Baal, it would not be long before they people were turning away from God. Elijah thought he failed. He thought he was no better than all the other prophets of God. He just wanted to die.

We lift up Elijah as a great prophet of God, and we should because he was. However, this story is a good reminder for us. We aren't much different. We are willing to do God's will, but we also get frightened by the threats of our enemies. We think we have failed. We run and hide. We forget that God is faithful and that we are called to trust Him. That's what is so great about this story. God didn't give up on Elijah.

I don't know about you, but I'm not a very patient person. If I ask someone to do something and they don't do it, I don't give them much of a chance to redeem themselves. I do it myself and then I use it against the person I originally asked. "Clean your room," I said to my children over and over again during their childhood. It never took very long for me to go in there myself and start picking up. "See how much better it is if you just hang up that pair of pants?" It isn't just children that frustrate me; I've done the same thing with people at work or on committees. Sometimes it is just better to deal with these things on my own rather than wait for them to get around to it.

God does more than give us second chances, however, when we are afraid or think we failed or run and hide. He has patience with us, encourages us, and gives us all we need to do the work He is calling us to do. He knew what Elijah was feeling; He doesn't ignore our fears or doubts. He doesn't assume (as I have done with my kids and their rooms) that we are lazy or rebellious. He takes us by the hand and patiently leads us to the place He wants us to go. It would be much easier for Him to abandon us, to get someone else to do the work or to simply do it Himself. He doesn't. He helps us to be faithful to our calling.

One of my favorite scripture passages is the story that follows today's verses. Elijah went to where God commanded him to go and there met God on the mountain. In that story we learn that God does not always scream and shout, but that He comes to us as a whisper. Today's passage is equally important because we see that He gives us all we need as we journey through this world on our way to do His Work. Elijah wanted to die, but God still had work for him to do, so God provided the strength and then whispered His grace into Elijah's life. Elijah went on to do God's Work in this world. God gave Elijah food for the journey and rest. He does so for us, too.

That's where Jesus has been leading us over the past few Sundays in the Gospel lessons. First Jesus gave the people food to eat as a sign of His authority, then He told them that the work of God is to believe in Him. They asked for a sign, refusing to accept the one He had already given. They pointed to Moses, but Jesus reminded them that the manna that they ate was not given to the by Moses, but by God Himself, and that they ate that bread and died anyway. He told them to eat the real bread from heaven. When they asked for it always, He said, "I am the Bread of Life." If we eat this bread we will never die.

In today's passage Jesus points to their unbelief. "I have told you all this but you don't believe. I am who I say I am." We can even write that "I AM who I say I AM" because Jesus was clearly identifying Himself with God. This upset the Jews because they recognized the words and considered it blaspheme. The conversation didn't get any better, because Jesus tells them that He is the Bread that comes down from heaven and if they eat of it, they will live forever. The final words were so far out of their comfort zone that it turned many away from following Jesus. "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." Next week will be even worse.

See, our faith doesn't stand on pretty and popular things. It stands on the truth of God which is hard for us to accept. The idea of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ is, quite frankly, not very pleasant to consider. Yet this gift, this sacrament of Holy Communion is the bread God gives us to strengthen us for the journey. It is to this meal that we should run when we are feeling frightened and frustrated, when we think we have failed, when we simply want to die. It is through the body and blood of Christ that God helps us to be faithful to our calling.

This is too hard for the world to accept. The world does not want to experience God as He has revealed Himself, they would rather experience a god of their choosing. That's why we so easily turn to the false gods and believe the false prophets. Elijah had just done a most incredible thing. Through Him God revealed His power and defeated the prophets of Baal. Jezebel threatened revenge and Elijah was tired of it all. He ran away and asked God to let him die. He knew that the people would turn away eventually and thought he was a failure.

But God did not give Elijah what he wanted; He fed Elijah and then sent Him on a journey. He sent Elijah to a place where He revealed Himself more fully and through that encounter Elijah had the strength to continue God's work in this world. He does the same for us in the Eucharist and gives us the strength to continue to do His work in the world. It is hard to accept, but it is there where we need to put our faith and our trust most completely, because it is there that God assures us of His faithfulness. He will do what He has promised He will do, and we can know this each time we eat of the bread and drink from the cup that is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this strength we can live as God wants us to live.

That's what Paul is talking about in today's Epistle lesson. In this week's 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. ...even 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.

Paul's call to the Christian is not about doing good works, but rather to live the life that God has called us to live. "Be imitators of God and walk in love." This is eternal life in this world, living in the presence of God daily. We are called to become more than just a copy, but to be part of the kingdom of God that has extended over time and space. Our relationship with God is not some disconnected affiliation, but we are joined together by the living bread of heaven. Paul gives us some direction to help us live in our relationships with God and each other. These are not commands of how we should act to gain the kingdom; the Jews tried it that way and they never saw God.

Paul encourages us to share the bread of heaven by living as God would have us live: free from falsehood and anger, gaining good things in a right way and speaking encouraging words. We are to rid ourselves of negative feelings that grow into unhealthy action. Paul shows the difference, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you." In this way God perpetuates the bread of heaven, as He reveals Himself through our lives so that others might know Him and be saved.

Jesus Christ is the bread of life. By the power of the Holy Spirit we have faith unto belief. We believe and have eternal life. We have eternal life. It is not something that will come to us in the future, but is a present reality. Eternal life is living in the presence of God, basking in His glory, sharing His love.

Elijah had a meal of bread in the desert, a meal that gave him the strength to keep going. Jesus told the gathering crowds to eat the bread of heaven for eternal life. By faith we are made part of a Kingdom that is not limited to this world, but it is a kingdom that demands our faithfulness. Will we put God first, sacrificing the old ways for the new? Will we trust that even when the things of God seem so complicated, that God is forever faithful? And will we reject the ways the world tries to make our faith more palatable? Though it seems so strange, Jesus has invited us to receive His flesh and blood so that we will be a part of His body; it is there we truly find refuge.

"Oh taste and see that Jehovah is good." At the altar rail, as we receive the Eucharistic meal, we are as close to heaven as we will ever be in this life. As we kneel together, we are also kneeling with all Christians throughout time and space. It is there we are in the presence of God, receiving His gift of life together as one body. It is there we set aside our bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, railing and malice, receiving the forgiveness of Christ that we might be strengthened to give forgiveness to others. It is there we taste and see that the Lord is indeed good, and there we find our refuge in the one we can trust to help us along the way.

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