Tag Archive: Elijah


“Get Up and Eat!”

Sunday’s Sermon from Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA.

With all these readings about bread, I’ve been thinking about Holy Communion an awful lot.  In 2004, during my year abroad in Germany, I attended a tiny Lutheran church.  That first day I was there, they had Communion, but I didn’t go forward because I didn’t know the rules.  After the service, I asked the pastor in my slow German, struggling to pull together the right church words in another language, if I could receive communion.  “I wasn’t baptized Lutheran,” I’d told him.  I just remember the smile on his face as he said, “as long as you believe Christ is present there, you may receive.”  I felt so relieved to be welcomed at that table, able to be fed with the others gathered for worship.

When I returned home in 2005, I didn’t go to church since I was nervous because I’d had a difficult experience at a church when I was in high school.  But by 2007, I found myself really missing the community of faith.  I was hungry and thirsty for God, and I knew the only way I could grow in my faith was to try going to church again.  I needed Holy Communion – I needed to hear those words, “the body of Christ, given for you” and “the blood of Christ, shed for you.”  So I found a church, was welcomed again at the table, and I continued to heal from my past experiences with the church.

In 2012, during seminary, I studied for three months in Munich, Germany, living in a wonderful ecumenical community.  One night we gathered for worship in the small chapel, coming together from all different countries and denominations, singing, praying, listening to God’s word and sharing Holy Communion.  When the time came to distribute the bread and wine, the pastor gave to one person, and then that person distributed it to the next person, saying, in German: “Nimm und iss. Christi Leib, für dich gegeben” (“Take and eat.  Body of Christ, given for you.”).  I think the non-native German speakers were a little worried because no one wants to mess up speaking God’s promises to another person.  I know sometimes people get nervous speaking these words in English because they’re such important words of grace.

But then I saw the kingdom break in in a wondrous way.  When the bread reached a man from Brazil, he closed his eyes and spoke in Portuguese to his neighbor.  He spoke these words in the language that was close to his heart and said them the best way he knew how – authentically in his mother tongue.  As we went around the circle, others spoke in their native language.  But even with the variations in the words, you could tell that the words people used were the words that meant something to them.  It was wonderful to hear these powerful words in different languages and voices.  The variety brought such a richness to the experience and made me think about the feast to come – that colorful heavenly banquet, where people will be gathered from every corner of the world, from all different backgrounds and times, all speaking one language – the language of praise.

Running throughout my life, like a beautiful and life-giving thread, throughout various faith communities and around the world, Holy Communion has been there.  It has been a meal of welcome, of healing and forgiveness, a sign of the kingdom, a foretaste of the feast to come, and a challenge.  I would not have been able to make my journey without it and I hear that echoed in Elijah’s episode in the wilderness.  Elijah has just had an epic duel with the prophets of the Canaanite god Baal to see whose god is truly God.  Elijah and the Lord of Israel win the contest, and in a difficult bit of Scripture, Elijah has the prophets of Baal killed by the sword.  Queen Jezebel is outraged and threatens to kill Elijah, so he flees into the wilderness.

There, under a lone tree, he’s scared, exhausted, overwhelmed, perhaps feeling like a failure, and wondering what the future is going to hold for him.  Struggling with his situation and wishing for his own death, he lays down, tired of fighting, to get some rest.  It’s then that an angel of the Lord wakes him up, saying, “Get up and eat.”  He does, and then promptly lays back down for a nap after his holy snack.  But the angel of the Lord returns and tells him, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”

Now, if I were Elijah, and I was exhausted and hungry, that angel would have to be awfully careful approaching me and telling me that I had a journey to get ready for! But he eats, and he’s sustained for 40 days and nights until he reaches Mt. Horeb where he will encounter God in silence and be called to go back into the fray.  He’s fed to go back out to do God’s work in the world.  He’s challenged not just to sit and be fed, but to use that sustenance and strength to be a part of God’s changing work.

Sometimes we find ourselves feeling wiped out, tired of all the rigmarole, and we don’t know how we’re going to make it.  We face illnesses, aging parents, difficulties with raising children, stress at work, struggles with our finances, problems at school… Sometimes all we want to do is curl up in a ball and stay under the covers.  And those first followers of Jesus felt the same way.  Those who followed, experienced his healings, listened to his teachings, and were fed by him, were a people who were tired of oppression under foreign rulers, tired of struggling to eke out a living, and wondering when their circumstances would change.  They knew all too well about poverty, discouragement, and hardship.

And when Jesus, a man whose family they know, says that he’s the bread of life – the one who will give life, not only now but eternally – well, that’s just too much for them! When he says – “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – that must have sounded downright crazy to his listeners! They must have been thinking, “teachings are helpful.  Healings, feedings, and miracles, we love! But this is going too far. How on earth can we accept this?”

I think as much as we may try to avoid talking about it, we, too, have these feelings.  We hunger for God.  We long to believe in God’s promises.  We ache to know that things are changing and the kingdom is coming.  But sometimes we feel like Elijah and those first followers: tired, weak and broken down by all of the pain of our lives and the world.  And the thought of heading back out there is wearisome.  We come to this place and we desire to be fed.  We come to Communion and we wonder if a wafer and a sip of wine can change our lives.  We ask, “Can such a simple meal change me? Will Jesus really meet me there in such simple food?”

Yes. Yes, he will.  And this simple meal does change our lives.  You see, the God we worship doesn’t work the way we think or expect God to work.  God works through plain old water and every day, ordinary bread and wine.  God’s voice is heard through normal people reading from a book, through fellow bumbling disciples called to preach, and through every one of us ministering to others.  God’s presence and power are felt in praying for others, in unglamorously serving together in the community, in small acts of kindness and hospitality.  The glory of God worked through frail human flesh, vulnerable and weak, to redeem the entire cosmos.  Yes, Christ will meet us in bread and wine.  It’s just the sort of surprising, outrageous and laughable thing that God would do.

It’s easy to get caught up in life.  To be overwhelmed, even during summer vacation season.  To find ourselves running every which way and dealing with all sorts of things we never anticipated.  To find we have far too much on our plates, but realize we’re, ironically, not really being fed spiritually.  So how do we slow down, stop, and eat? How do we make time to receive and participate in that which is life-giving and life-sustaining?  How do we remember that when we open our hands, we’re not just going through the motions, but saying, “Jesus, I need you.  I can’t do it on my own.  Thank you for welcoming me.  Forgive me for the things I’ve done or failed to do.  Help me to follow you and strengthen me so I can serve you in the world.”

We are called to get up and eat – to receive the God who comes to us, the God who is continually drawing us to himself.  We may, like those following Jesus so long ago, have a hard time swallowing that Jesus can and will sustain us throughout the bumpy journey of life with all it’s twists and turns, peaks and valleys.  But the One who dwelt with us and experienced the hardships of life as we do, has conquered this world once and for all through the cross and resurrection.  We have nothing to fear.  He has promised to be with us and to meet us in broken bread and wine outpoured.  While it may seem that a morsel of bread and a sip of wine cannot possibly keep us going, time and time again, they give us forgiveness, hope and strength.  And as this food with God’s promise sustains us, slowly, but surely, Christ transforms us one little bit at a time.

God knows that it seems impossible.  That it seems too good to be true.  So we’re invited again and again to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste that the Lord is good.  To keep meeting God at this holy table to that we can remember that Jesus is the Bread of Life – the one who nourishes us so we can go out and live.  Because God knows we need this grace, we are invited over and over again to join the feast – young and old, rich and poor, no matter where we’ve come from.  God draws us and calls us to come and be refreshed – to get up and eat so that our life’s journey will not be too much for us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

My sermon from Transfiguration of Our Lord Sunday, preached at Community Lutheran Church

I love mountains.  You could probably even say it’s in my blood since my maiden name is actually Peake!  On my dad’s side are Scots and English folk who settled in the mountains of western North Carolina, probably because it reminded them a bit of the old country.  Almost every year growing up, we’d travel to western North Carolina to visit the land grandparents and great-grandparents called home.  It’s on the side of Roan Mountain where there’s a wonderful Rhododendron festival every year.  I love that land.  I love hiking around it.  And I love the connection to the past I feel there.

It also holds a special place in my heart because it’s where my Grandpa is buried.  And it was at his funeral that I first really heard the Gospel and tried to mumble along as best I could with the words of the Lord’s Prayer.  On a sunny day, on a mountainside in North Carolina, I encountered Christ and had my own mountaintop moment.

My family's land in North Carolina

My family’s land in North Carolina

The festival of the Transfiguration of Our Lord comes at the end of the season of Epiphany.  It comes at the end of the season of light as we’ve been hearing about the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry to Jews and Gentiles alike.  The season where Jesus has been revealed through not only his words, but in his actions.  And now, we find ourselves on a high mountain with Jesus, Peter, James and John.

They’re just hanging out and all of a sudden, Jesus is transformed before their eyes, shining in dazzling white clothing – clothes so white, no one on earth could bleach them that white.  This is not only an Oxyclean moment, rather the Gospel is getting at the fact that Jesus was divinely transformed, what we call the Transfiguration.  He’s shining brilliantly in glory and not only that, but Moses and Elijah, two figures who represent the law and the prophets are chatting with him.  Looking at Moses and Elijah, people thought to come before the Messiah, the disciples are terrified.  And poor Peter, in his shock and terror, stammers out, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  He’s trying to be productive and helpful, but he’s missing the point.  Jesus is revealed in divine light and radiance and Peter wants to start a construction project.

Then, suddenly, a cloud overshadows them and a voice says, “This is my Son, the Beloved listen to him!”  And before they know it, Peter, James and John are alone again with Jesus on a high mountain.  They’re confused and wondering about what they’ve just experienced when Jesus tells them not to say a word about this until he’s risen from the dead.  Well, that should help clarify things! If we keep reading, we’d find that the next verse says, “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.”  These poor guys have just seen something crazy and wonderful and now they’re baffled about what rising from the dead means.

In Mark’s Gospel, there are three major events that occur: Jesus’ baptism, his transfiguration and the crucifixion.  At each of these moments, Jesus is identified as the Son of God.  In between, Jesus keeps telling people and unclean spirits to be quiet about his identity.  However, at the Transfiguration, Jesus is transformed so that the disciples can catch even a fleeting glimpse of him in glory – a preview of the resurrected and victorious Christ.  They don’t understand what it means at the moment, but after the resurrection, they will.

Maybe you’ve had a moment when you’ve encountered a glimpse of the glory of God.  Maybe it was very clear that it was God at work.  Or maybe it was baffling and confusing and you found yourself questioning what happened.  Maybe you wanted to share it, but didn’t know how.  Maybe you can’t think of a time when you’ve had such an encounter.

Whatever the case may be, mountaintop experiences can be beautiful, terrifying, inspiring and confusing.  But we are doing ourselves a grave disservice if we live searching for these experiences.  The reading for today shows that as quickly as this amazing event happened, it was over, and it was time to go back down into the valleys and wildernesses of everyday life.

I know that I have had some mountaintop encounters in my life and I long to experience those things again.  But as wonderful as those moments are, I know that the more important question is how do I live in the every day? The struggle is, how do I continue to be faithful in the meantime when things aren’t so clear? The Transfiguration shows us that Jesus walks with us in the valleys of our lives, too, and not just on the mountaintops.  Jesus does not abandon the disciples for glory or to keep chatting with Moses and Elijah, but comes down off of the mountain to live with them in the difficulties of the world.  He descends in order to go all the way to the cross – the place where the love of God and the brutality of the world collide.  While glory is alluring, the way of God is a downward path – it’s not the climb up the mountain, but the one down to which we should pay attention.  In the words of one of my favorite hymns, “When I was sinking down, Beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul.”  Christ lays aside his crown, comes down off of the mountain, and walks with us.

Peter says, “it is good for us to be here.”   And it is good for us to be here in worship and in the church, but how do we come down from the worship high of Sunday morning and go back to living in the mundane and weary world?  The disciples hear the voice of God speaking from within the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved listen to him!”  This command to listen has the sense of, “keep on listening” or “continue listening.”  It’s as if God is saying, as you go down into the valleys, away from the brilliant glory you’ve experienced on this mountaintop, keep on listening for Jesus’ voice.  Don’t stop listening.  Remember what you’ve experienced and keep on listening.

So how do we listen in the middle of our overflowing days and weeks? One way of listening for God is keeping Sabbath or finding ways “live Sabbathly” throughout the day.  Our Lenten series this year will look at what it means to observe and keep the Sabbath, especially in the middle of our jam-packed lives.  What does it mean to slow down and to spend time simply delighting in God? Peter, rather than taking in the glory of God and rejoicing in the moment, tried to capture it – to spend time building dwellings.  Part of living Sabbathly is not trying to commoditize everything, but to appreciate work and play, rest and delight in the goodness of God.

Another way to keep listening is to be mindful of the ways that God’s light is shining around us, even in the most difficult of situations.  I will be the first to admit that it’s sometimes really hard to see God’s light while navigating crowded roadways with crazy drivers, or dealing with bureaucracy, or in difficult relationships.  But I am often surprised and amazed at where and how I encounter Christ.  In a child reaching out for bread at Communion.  In my dog as she reminds me to slow down and take in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood.  In laughter and teasing over a family meal.  And, often, in pain and suffering.

In moments when I’ve felt most isolated and troubled in my own life, I have experienced more clearly Christ’s comfort and love.  And I’ve encountered this in others as well.  Once, I saw it in the beautiful way a man in hospice looked at his death and trusted heaven to be the most incredible and unimaginable surprise.  Lately, I’ve been reading about Christ present in the lives of every day Rwandans who, after the horrific genocide, practiced unfathomable forgiveness and reconciliation.

And this week, I see Christ’s light shining through the life of twenty-six year-old Kayla Mueller, captured by ISIS while trying to assist refugees escaping the war in Syria.  While it is still unclear how she died, it is clear that even in captivity, in the valley of the shadow of death, she reflected the light of Christ.  In a letter to her family, she wrote, “And by God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.  I have been shown in darkness, light and have learned that even in prison, one can be free.  I am grateful.”  In another letter, she wrote, “I find God in suffering.  I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.”  She also explained how she was even trying to teach the guards how to make origami peace cranes.

We may have wonderful mountaintop experiences that move us, confuse us, and cause us to reflect.  But our Gospel reading reminds us that we always come down from the mountain, and more importantly, that Christ comes with us.  We are never left to fend for ourselves in the difficult, messy and sticky parts of our lives.  No, Christ is always there.  And along the way, we catch glimpses of his glory in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  We are recipients of Christ’s glorious light as it shines through others, but we are also called to reflect and shine God’s resplendent light in our lives.  And in this process, we, too, are transformed and transfigured.  As we go out into the world, may we continue listening for God in our lives and paying attention to the way we encounter Christ, not only on the mountaintops, but in the highways, valleys and wildernesses of our lives.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Last Sunday’s sermon on 1 Kings 19:9-18 and Matthew 14:22-33 preached at Community Lutheran Church.

If you come by my office during the week, and I invite you all to swing by at any time, you will probably hear music coming from my computer. I might even be humming or singing along with something. Or, if you’re particularly lucky, you might be like poor Bob who caught me dancing and rocking out at my desk this past week to a particularly jazzy and soul-filled version of “My Life Flows On In Endless Song!” I’m sorry you had to see that, Bob!

Music is so important in my life. It gives me a means of expressing myself, and helps connect thoughts and ideas. It has moved me to tears and inspired worship, and it’s a way I find joy and peace. As an extrovert, I also find meaning and joy in conversation and socializing with others. And I admit, as a Millennial, I do use social media – in other words, I’m connected with others in real space and cyber space.

Even so, throughout my life I have found myself being drawn to silence, contemplation, and stillness, time and time again.   And as much as I love rocking out in my car or hanging out with people, I crave silence and contemplation.

Finding time to spend time with God and to listen to or for God is a theme in this week’s lessons. Even last week, as Pr. Joe pointed out, Jesus tried to take time to pray to his Father, but was interrupted by the crowds upon whom he had compassion. This morning, we hear about the prophet Elijah’s need for rest, for Jesus’ time of prayer, and for the psalmist’s desire to “listen to what the Lord God is saying.”

And yet, in these readings, particularly the Old Testament and Gospel, the followers and servants of God… well, they miss the boat. Elijah, God’s feisty prophet, has just had his incredible showdown with the 450 prophets of Baal in order to prove that the God of Israel is the Lord of all. God showed up in a big way, and following the debate, Elijah killed the prophets of Baal, which did not sit well with Ahab and Jezebel. Since they were so upset, they tried to kill Elijah and he fled into the wilderness, so worn out and distraught, he wanted to die. After being sustained for 40 days and nights by God’s angels in the wilderness, Elijah finds himself at Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai.

Statue of Elijah killing the Prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (From: http://tomorrowsreflection.com/wp-content/uploads/Elijah-at-Mt.-Carmel1.jpg)

Statue of Elijah killing the Prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (From: http://tomorrowsreflection.com/wp-content/uploads/Elijah-at-Mt.-Carmel1.jpg)

Sitting in a cave, Elijah hears God’s voice, which asks him “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And he responds with a mini-rant, basically saying, “I have been super awesome and gung ho for you, God. Your people are not following your ways; they’re destroying your altars and killing all my fellow prophets. Now I’m all by myself and they’re even trying to kill me!”

Now, Elijah is blowing things out of proportion – there are other prophets and there are at least 7,000 faithful people left in Israel. And I find it interesting that God doesn’t respond directly with a speech, but tells Elijah to go and to watch because God is going to show up. There’s a great wind, and a crazy earthquake, and a blazing fire, and then, sheer silence. And it’s not just the absence of sound, it’s a stillness that’s full of anticipation and is humming with potential. And when Elijah hears that, he wraps his robe around his face and steps out of the cave. Again God asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

And rather than responding with awe and wonder, humility and obedience to what has just happened, Elijah repeats his previous rant word for word. Face Palm I can just imagine God’s head shaking and God saying “what do I have to do to get through to you?!”

Jump forward a few centuries. Jesus and the disciples have fed the multitudes, and Jesus puts the disciples in a boat telling them to go on ahead. He dismisses the crowds and then he goes up the mountain by himself to pray. He’s praying at night, by himself, on a mountain and during the fourth watch of the night, between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m., he sets off across the waves that are aggressively pounding the disciples’ boat.

As he approaches, the disciples are seized by fear thinking Jesus is a ghost or an apparition. He speaks to them, telling them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” and his words echo God’s words to Moses when he heard God say, “I AM.” Jesus is saying, “take heart, I am God; don’t be afraid.”

This answer is sufficient for the other disciples, but Peter tests his Lord by saying, “if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” So often, we praise Peter for his faith in getting out of the boat, but it’s important to realize that the other figures who ask Jesus “if it is you…” include Satan, the high priest at his trial, and those who mock him on the cross. That’s some terrible company to be in! This is not one of Peter’s shining moments. He does walk on water, but becomes frightened when he sees the strong winds and begins to sink like a rock. With lightening quick reflexes Jesus reaches out and grabs him, asking him why he began to doubt. They get back into the boat, the winds cease, and the disciples worship him as the Son of God.

 

What’s amazing is that Jesus has already calmed a terrifying storm for the disciples. He’s cured people, done miracles, fed the multitudes only hours earlier, and they still doubt who he is and what he can do. Once again, God spoke and showed up in incredible ways and the disciples missed it.

What is God trying to say to you? Are you listening? Are you making time to hear?

I don’t know about you, but I am awfully good at telling God how I think things ought to be! Sadly, I’m not always so eager to listen. I’m great at running around attempting to complete that never-ending to do list, all the while forgetting to carve out that crucial time for silence and solitude in my life. And sometimes, when God is speaking, whether in the silence of my heart, through Scripture, or through trusted mentors, colleagues, family or friends, I have a hard time listening then, too.   It’s then that I feel like Elijah, so hung up on my own stuff that I completely ignore that God has just shown up all around me and I persist in my own stubbornness. Sound familiar?

Or maybe we are blinded by our fear, failing to step back and see what God is doing and how God is trying to come through the storms and chaos to reach us. Maybe it’s just what God is up to or calling us to do that scares us, like the disciples who couldn’t believe it was really their leader on the water. Or, God reaches us and we, like Peter, don’t take heart and believe Jesus’ words that he is God and Lord of all, but rather put him to the test.

Yes, there’s a lot of fear in these readings as well. Elijah runs from Jezebel and, really, from his calling as a prophet of God. The disciples let fearful superstitions rule them instead of seeing Jesus as the God capable of taming the chaotic waters underfoot. The people of God are afraid of listening to and believing God. They let what was going on around them and inside of them dictate their interactions with God. Don’t we, too, let fear, noise, distractions, troubles, and our own insecurities sidetrack us from encountering God and God’s work in and around us?

If our Lord and Savior needed prayer time alone on a mountain to rejuvenate, what makes us think we don’t need to spend time in prayer and solitude as well? Perhaps it’s because we think it’s “unproductive.” Or maybe it’s because we are afraid of listening to or for God – afraid of hearing something we don’t want to hear. But in order to grow in our faith, we must face our fears.

On Thursday, we heard the results of the Church Assessment Tool. And one of our areas for growth is that people want to grow in their spiritual vitality. I am thrilled about this because it means that we as a community are interested in being transformed by God – that the Holy Spirit is at work here and calling us to greater discipleship. At the same time, this type of growth means that we are called to engage more deeply in prayer, study, worship, service and generosity. All of these activities are training so that we are better able to recognize God, whether on a mountain in silence, or in the midst of a storm. We spend time in prayer and solitude, but we come together in worship and community to support, encourage and challenge one another as fellow disciples. Elijah made the mistake of thinking he was the only one left who cared for God and he was plunged into despair. He missed the chance to be in community with God’s other faithful servants.

Jesus never stops coming to us in our boats when we’re quivering with fear. He never stops reaching out to us when we begin to sink because the winds are too fierce and are howling too loudly. Time and time again, he calls out, “take heart, I am God, don’t be afraid.” May we listen to God’s voice, giving us courage to face our fears in the midst of every storm. Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Get up and eat!”

This is the sermon I preached this morning at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC.

The Texts:
1 Kings 19:4-8

4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

John 6:35, 41-51
35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Elijah is having a really rough time.  He’s just had this epic face-off with 450 prophets of the god Baal.  He alone stood up for and served the LORD, while everyone else was worshiping Baal.  In his face-off with the prophets of Baal, they had dueling sacrifices to see who was the real God – Baal or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.  The God of Israel shows God’s power and the hearts of the people return to God once more.  Then, in a difficult to swallow maneuver, Elijah rounds up the prophets of Baal and kills them by the sword according to the law in Deuteronomy saying that false prophets should be killed.  That should be the end of the story, right?  Well, it’s not.  Jezebel, the king’s wife, is none too pleased with this and threatens to kill Elijah just like he killed the prophets of Baal.  It’s not looking good for our hero!  This is where we find ourselves with today’s reading from 1 Kings.

Fearing for his life, Elijah journeys out into the wilderness, just out of Jezebel’s reach, plops down under a solitary shrub, and laments his situation.  “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  Elijah is burnt out.  He’s overwhelmed by everything that’s occurred in his life.  He’s wondering if he can take any more of this prophetic calling.  He just wants to throw in the towel.  He wants it to be over.

Well, as the saying goes, “things always look better in the morning,” so Elijah lays down under the tree in exhaustion and falls asleep.  While he’s sleeping, an angel appears and touches him, telling him to “get up and eat.”  Now, initially, I thought this seemed like an odd response to someone who is feeling utterly wiped out.  However, this spring I learned a word that might help us to understand a bit of what Elijah was feeling.  The word is “hangry.”  Hangry is when you are angry because you’re hungry.  It’s when you start to get a bit cranky and snippy and on edge because you haven’t eaten in a while.  It’s when the world starts to get a bit overwhelming because you haven’t been fed recently.  Has anyone experienced this?  So maybe being a bit hungry contributed to Elijah’s feelings of being severely overwhelmed.

In any case, Elijah was definitely dealing with some big problems.  Interestingly enough, it seems that God’s recipe for turning things around is taking care of the prophet’s basic needs first: a nap and a snack.  So Elijah eats the bread-cake and drinks the water the angel provides, then he falls back asleep.  But then the angel wakes him again, this time saying, “get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”  Now, if I were Elijah, I would appreciate this heavenly snack, but I’d probably be thinking “ummmm, journey, what journey?!  I just want to curl up in a ball and sleep, ok?”

But there must have been something about that food that gave Elijah the energy to continue on with his calling.  Something that renewed his strength, turned his attitude around, and gave him hope.

In 1954, as Europe was continuing to rebuild after World War II, J.R.R. Tolkien published the first volume of what would become his most famous work: The Lord of the Rings.  In the three volumes of this fantasy book, the seemingly weak and insignificant forces of good battle the utterly overwhelming forces of evil.  Part of this battle includes taking the one ring into the heart of where evil resides in order to destroy it once and for all.  Those who will carry this burden are the most unlikely of all – simple creatures called hobbits who love good food and drink, pleasant company and the outdoors.  Taking the ring to be destroyed seems like an impossible task, but they are helped along their journey by others and by the gifts that their companions give them.

One gift is the gift of lembas bread or waybread made by elves.  In the book, Tolkien describes this bread as “very thin cakes, made of a meal that was baked a light brown on the outside, and inside was the colour of cream.”  When they run out of everything else, it is this simple bread that sustains the hobbits, Frodo and Sam, on their dangerous, lonely and nearly insurmountable journey.  As the author describes it later in the book: “The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die.  It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats.  And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods.  It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.”

Just like Elijah, the hobbits would have lain down to die without this food.  But just like Elijah, they were fed with bread that was far more than it looked to be at first sight.   The fact that this bread made by elves sounds like Communion is no accident.  J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of this wonderful book, was a devout Catholic, weaving Christian elements and symbolism into his fantasy story.  And as the book The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth explains, “…the elven-food called lembas [is]clearly reminiscent of the Eucharistic wafer: its airy lightness gives strength in direct disproportion to its weight.”

“Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”  Life is hard.  Life is journey full of twists, turns, bumps in the road, mountains and valleys, surprises, joys, sorrows, laughter, tears, pains and comforts.  That’s a lot to handle.  And sometimes, we feel like Elijah, like we’re the only ones on the perilous journey.  We have those days where we’re wiped out and we just want to find our own solitary broom tree that we can curl up underneath.  Some days, we just want to pull the covers up over our heads.

And God gets that.  Rather than telling Elijah he has to carry on or that he’s failing at being a prophet since he’s overwhelmed, God lets Elijah rest.  Then the angel of God wakes him and gives him food that sustains him for forty days and forty nights.  This food he is given is enough to get him to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God.  The simple bread and water is enough to sustain him on the journey until he reaches the place where he will once again encounter God.

And just as God fed and sustained Elijah for his journey and calling, God feeds and sustains us so that the journey of life will not be too much for us.  As we hear from Jesus in the Gospel, “”I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  Jesus feeds us with himself, being fully present in the bread and wine we have every week.  Jesus presents himself to us, promising to be with us on our journeys through this meal – through plain food and drink shared with the promises of God.

Communion Bread and Wine

Holy Communion became really important to me while I was studying abroad in Germany – while I was on a journey of my own.  While there, a large part of my diet consisted of bread and cheese, both of which Europeans do fabulously!  However, it wasn’t this bread alone that kept me going.  It was the bread I received at a tiny Lutheran church on Sunday mornings.  Coming up to the altar rail, receiving that bread in my folded hands, and hearing “the body of Christ given for you” was so incredibly powerful.  You see, I had only received Communion like that once before, so to hear those words and to know that this was a meal and promise given for me – and for everyone – was incredible.

When I returned home after living in Germany, I did not attend church because I had previously had a painful experience with a church here in the States.  But as time went on and work became more frustrating and overwhelming, I realized how much I missed Holy Communion.  I realized just how much I needed that little piece of bread and that sip of wine.  I needed the promise of God and the mysterious food that would sustain me in my everyday life.  I wanted and needed to be fed by simple bread and wine.  I wanted and needed to be fed by the promises and the word of God.  I wanted and needed to be fed and nourished in my faith.  I wanted and needed that bread of life that nourishes us to have abundant life with Christ in the here and now.

So I found a church, risking another bad experience in order that I might hear the promise: “the body of Christ given for you” and “the blood of Christ shed for you.”  I went back so that I might be fed.  And I was.

And like Elijah, I was fed so that I might continue on my journey – a journey that has led me here, to this place, to share in Holy Communion with all of you.

“Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”  God feeds us.  God gives us what we need to sustain us on our journeys through life.  God gives us food for our souls so that we can, like Elijah, carry out what God is calling us to do in life.  When we are in that place of feeling overwhelmed, of being stressed out, of feeling worn out to the point of giving up, God welcomes us to the table.  God tells us to eat so that we are satisfied.  We are welcomed over and over again to the feast so that we can “taste and see that the LORD is good!”  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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