Tag Archive: Journey


This is the first sermon (September 13) in our sermon series, “The Way of the Cross: Our Journey with Jesus,” at Community Lutheran.

 

Today is a huge day! We’re kicking off the Program Year with Rally Day, we’re giving blood, and we’re even training Sunday School and Confirmation teachers.  It’s also the day we’re kicking off our sermon series, “The Way of the Cross: Our Journey with Jesus.”  Over the next six weeks, we’ll be exploring more what it means to be a disciple of Christ by taking a closer look at Jesus’ encounters with others in the Gospel of Mark.

This discussion in today’s text between Jesus and the disciples, and especially Peter, is a great way to start off our series.  Jesus and the disciples are traveling through Caesarea Philippi, an ancient town, with a strong cult to the Greek deity, Pan.  As part of worshiping Pan, there were frequent sacrifices made.  It’s in this area that Jesus asks his disciples, “who do people say that I am?”  They tell him what they’ve heard – that he’s John the Baptist come back from the dead, or the prophet Elijah returned to earth, or maybe one of the other rock star prophets of Israel’s past.

The Ruins of Caesarea Philippi (Banias/Panias) - January 2014

The Ruins of Caesarea Philippi (Banias/Panias); The cave for sacrifice can be easily seen even from a distance – January 2014

I can see Jesus nodding thoughtfully, taking it all in.  And then I see him looking at them and asking, “But who do you say that I am? Thanks for reporting what you’ve heard – that’s well and good, but I want to hear who you say that I am.”  Silence falls over the disciples as they wonder what’s going on.  Slowly, Peter clears his throat and says, “You are the Messiah.”  Jesus tells them to keep quiet about his identity and they continue walking.

I always imagine Peter smiling, truly pleased with himself for coming up with the right answer and thinking, “I’m in good cause I’m with the Messiah.”  Maybe he was even thinking “YES! I AM AWESOME!” Or whatever the Aramaic equivalent of that is.  But, of course, the story doesn’t end there! Nope, unfortunately for Peter’s ego, they keep walking.  Mark’s Gospel tells us, “Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  He said all this quite openly.”

In this area where people sacrificed animals to satisfy a half-man, half-goat god, fully human and fully divine Jesus reveals that he will suffer and die.  He reveals openly that he will offer himself as a sacrifice, bridging the gap between God and humanity once and for all.  This is too much for Peter.  It messes with his image of who a god should be and what a god should do.  It’s not at all what he thought the Messiah should be about.  Jesus’ teachings about a suffering Messiah are completely the opposite of God who is glorious, mighty and worthy of praise, aren’t they?

Peter can’t take it and so he speaks up, being the bold and the brash fellow that he is.  Maybe he was thinking he’d get two right answers in a row.  No such luck, because Jesus tells him “get behind me, Satan.”  Zing! From all-star disciple to major failure in a few verses.  That’s why I love Peter! We all have those moments where we feel like we’ve got it and we’re moving in a great direction and then … BAM! We realize we don’t have it at all.  It’s like a scene in the 1980s comedy, “The Three Amigos.”  Steve Martin’s character is chained in the enemy’s prison, but he realizes he can move the chains by pulling his arms and legs forward toward the chain release lever.  He slowly creeps forward, saying, “gonna make it.  Gonna make it. Gonna make it.  Gonna make it.”  He reaches the release lever, and shouts, “I made it!” Then is slammed back against the wall with an “Ow.”

This exchange between Peter and Jesus is just like that – Peter thinks he’s figured it out and Jesus clarifies pretty strongly that he hasn’t.

I find Jesus’ words interesting and not just because he just told Peter that he’s acting like Satan, the accuser and tempter.  I find his words interesting because if I had an enemy, the last place I would want the enemy or the adversary or the accuser to be was at my back – I can’t see him, I don’t know what’s going on.  These words are a form of rebuke for sure because they also appear in the Old Testament, but I think it’s also saying something to Peter.

If you’re behind someone, most likely you’re following them.  Jesus tells Peter to get in line – “get behind me.”  Stop setting your mind on human things – the things everyone in this world thinks are important.  It’s like Jesus is saying, “Peter, don’t you see? Those aren’t the things that God cares about.  God has something else in mind – something that involves dying and rising, sacrifice and new life.”  So Jesus tells Peter “get behind me” and to all who are gathered, “take up your cross and follow me.”  It’s a lot harder to follow someone else, the ways of the world, or our own evil hearts, if we have our eyes firmly set on Christ and we are carrying our crosses.

Ok, but what on earth does it mean to deny ourselves and take up our crosses to follow Christ?  Does it mean saying of annoyances we experience, “I suppose this is my cross to bear.”  No.  It means turning away from the things that would lead us away from God and seeking to live out our lives in a Christ-like way.  Carrying our crosses is a constant reminder of whose we are and what he has done.  It is a reminder of God’s sacrifice on our behalf – a sacrifice made out of sheer love.  Who do you say that Jesus is? And what would it look like to live formed by Christ’s sacrificial love, so that we might share that same sacrificial love with those around us?

It might mean spending time working with the hungry children in our area, getting to know them, hearing their stories, and ensuring that they have food.  It might mean welcoming refugees, offering up your resources and maybe even your home so that someone might have a warm, safe place to stay.  It might mean journeying with someone as a Stephen Minister and providing a listening ear and a loving heart.  It might mean sitting with a friend who has lost a job and being there for them.  It might mean spending time tending the gardens of the church so that it looks welcoming for those coming inside.  The possibilities are endless.

The crucifixion, and indeed all of Jesus’ human life, took place in the midst of a period of oppression, poverty, suffering, despair and difficulty.  And the fact that we are called to take up the cross as well means that we are called not to run from the difficulties, the ugliness, or the pain of the world, but that we are called to journey with those who suffer.  Anglican N.T. Wright even described prayer in this way: “Prayer stands cruciform at the place where the world is in pain to hold together Jew and Greek and slave and free. To hold together male and female, to hold together a battered and bleeding world and say, ‘No, there is a different way to be human.’”

Yes, there is a different way to be human.  And ironically, it looks like letting go of the things society upholds in favor of the cross.  It means that in order to pick up our crosses and follow Christ, we sometimes have to say, “get behind me, Satan.  I want nothing to do with you” to the things that tempt us to despair, to give up, to fear, or to forget God’s love for the entire cosmos. So to what do you need to say, “get behind me?” Is it the rat race? Is it to taking on more work in order to seek some kind of esteem? Is it spending money on things you don’t really need? Is it that dread feeling of hopelessness when you look at the world? Is it the voice of scarcity that would tell you to safeguard everything you have and not share it with others because there might not be enough? Is it that nagging voice that says God cannot or will not forgive?

Today, I want to invite us to say to those things what we need to say – to put them in their right place in our lives.  Behind Christ.  Not before Christ.  To say, “get behind me.  I follow Christ.”  As Jesus says in the reading, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” The way of the cross is hard.  It’s arduous and often times it’s not as glamorous as the life of those we see on TV or in movies.  But ultimately it is the way of true life – of life that is lived for something bigger than itself.  For the sake of God and for the sake of others.

Peter may have thought he won the prize with his first answer about Jesus being the Messiah.  And he was right.  But it was actually his mistake that led to the life-giving lesson.  Jesus is the Messiah, but it’s the kind of Messiah he is, and the people we are called to be as a result, that is truly life-giving.  God chooses to work through the weak, the imperfect, the foolhardy and often confused disciples, the brutal cross, and ultimately, the surprising, in order to being about abundant life for all people.  As followers of Christ, we are not perfect, but God has seen fit to work in and through us for the good of the world.  It may not be what we were expecting when we set out on this journey to follow Christ, but it is good indeed.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Advertisements

Journeying with the Magi

This was yesterday’s sermon for the Eve of the Epiphany, preached at Community Lutheran Church.  The text was Matthew 2:1-12:

2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah* was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

One of the things I loved most about growing up in the country was being able to look up at the clear night sky.  And I didn’t realize that until I moved to Rockville and I couldn’t really see the sky because of all the electric lights.  When I was younger, I remember going snow tubing once in Pennsylvania and leaning back on my snow tube, gazing up at the starry sky.  I just thought it was perfect – the crisp, cold, clean winter air and the stars twinkling above me.  And I remember feeling like there was something holy about that time – something that filled me with a spirit of worship and praise.

In this morning’s reading we hear about the magi having their own night sky experience – encountering the star of all stars.  These magi show up in Jerusalem asking about the child who is to be born king of the Jews.  And they don’t just ask around town, they ask Herod, who is, by title, the appointed king of the Jews.  Awkward!

Needless to say, Herod is caught by surprise, and he calls together his top advisers – the chief priests, those who are in charge of the Temple, and the scribes, those who interpret the law of God – to see what they have to say about all this.  They tell him the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, just 5 miles south of Jerusalem.  This revelation makes Herod shake in his sandals, as well as all of Jerusalem, because a new king not appointed by Rome is not only a threat to Herod, but a threat to the Roman Empire.

So Herod, not exactly rejoicing over this news, secretly calls the magi to go and search for the child and to let him know when they find him.   He says he wants to know so he can go and pay this new child king homage, but as we heard last week, he’s really out to eliminate this potential threat.

So off the magi go, following the star they had been following from the East.  Eventually, it stops over the house where the child Jesus is living.  When they see him with Mary, the magi kneel down and pay him homage, acknowledging him as king, and bestowing gold, frankincense and myrrh on him.

It’s a familiar story – a great story!  There are songs about it and there’s even a tradition of going around and blessing houses on Epiphany, marking them with the year and the initials of the wise men’s names: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.  But, there’s a couple interesting things about all this.  The Bible never tells us how many magi there were.  We only think there were three because there are three gifts.  The Bible also doesn’t give us any names – these were added on later in Christian tradition.  And, finally, while it’s really fun to sing “We Three Kings,” these people probably weren’t kings at all.  Instead, they were probably astrologers and magicians from the East – maybe even Persia.

So we’ve got an undisclosed number of people from the East following a star to a king.  And they must have had some doubts about following a star to get to their destination because they pull over in Jerusalem for directions! It’s only after Herod tells them to keep searching that they follow the star again.  It’s like verifying your GPS isn’t lying to you by asking a local.

Still, you have to admire them.  They set out from their homes, not knowing where they were going or what they might encounter along the journey, or even what they might find at their destination – and, still, onward they went.  They went, following a star, knowing that stars were associated with kings.  And they went to worship the king of a foreign country.

It’s made me think a lot about journeying and traveling.  I have always loved learning about different countries, cultures and history – so much so, in fact, that I thought I might end up going into anthropology in college.  And when I was sixteen, the travel bug bit me… hard.  In my previous, pre-seminary and pre-pastor life, I worked at a travel company.  Working there, I was able to learn a bit about different countries and was fortunate to be able to travel to a couple different places.

I still love traveling, and Jeff and I are blessed to be able to be headed to the Holy Land with Gettysburg Seminary tomorrow… and, yes, I still have to pack!  Now, this is going to be a religious trip, focused on the land and history of Scripture.  But one thing I’ve realized throughout my journeys is how all my travels have played a role in my faith.  They’ve helped me to understand church history better, but they’ve also helped me to see people in a new way. I’ve realized that it hasn’t been the places so much as the people and experiences that have shaped my faith.

Speaking with Muslims in Egypt during the month of Ramadan – their month of fasting – helped me to reflect on my own Lenten practices.  Realizing how far a laugh or a smile can go to break the ice and transcend language barriers has helped me think about people as the children of God in concrete ways.  And I’ve been moved to prayer taking in gorgeous landscapes and spectacular feats of engineering.  Having time away from the hustle and bustle of regular life and experiencing a new place has given me the opportunity to tune in to God in new, fresh ways.

That’s been my experience traveling, and perhaps you’ve experienced similar things in your travels, but I firmly believe that you don’t have to travel in order to be on a journey.  We can journey even while we’re at home and encounter Christ on our way.  I have seen God in the faces of people with whom I’ve worshiped.  And I’ve seen God in conversations and laughter with family and friends.  Maybe you’ve seen God through cooking or through creating things.  Maybe it’s been through your interactions with others.  Or maybe it’s been through being transported by reading fantastic books.  What has God used to move you worship like the wise men?

Each of us is on a faith journey.  They all take different shapes and forms, but there is one unifying factor – God is seeking us out.  God led foreign astrologers and practitioners of another religion by a star to meet Jesus.  Now, that’s some creative communication if you ask me! It shows that God pulls out all the stops to reach out to people and draw them from afar to be near to God.  Listening to people’s stories, God’s creativity in communicating with us never ceases to amaze me, but we’ve got to have eyes to see it.

The question when it comes to our journeys is what are we seeking?  Are we seeking Christ or something else?  In our world, success, wealth and fame are highly prized and highly sought after rather than the radical way of Christ. Instead of listening for God’s leading in our lives, it’s often much easier to listen to what society tells us is meaningful – power, prestige, money and independence.  So are we looking for Christ as we travel through life?  And where do we meet him, see him and worship him in our lives?

When the wise men saw that the star had stopped, the gospel says that they were overwhelmed with joy.  In the Greek, it almost seems as if the writer is falling over himself trying to describe how excited and bubbling over with joy the magi were.  It says, very roughly, “and seeing the star, they rejoiced with great joy very much!”  It’s a wooden translation, but you get the point – these were happy people, overflowing with joy that they had finally found the one for whom they were searching!

It reminded me of one of my family’s favorite movies: Hook.  In it, Robin Williams is a grown-up version of Peter Pan who has lost the magic and become a workaholic lawyer, driven by success and blind to his family.  That is, until Captain Hook, played by Dustin Hoffman, captures Peter Pan’s kids and makes him return to Neverland to get them.  It is there that he begins to remember his past and reconnect with magic of life again.

The other lost boys have a difficult time seeing past the fact that their beloved leader is now grown up.  But one of them takes a good hard look at Peter’s face, smoothing away the wrinkles and peering into his eyes.  He then says, “Oh, there you are Peter!”  He is filled with joy at this discovery of his long lost friend.  And his joy causes the other boys to take a closer look and realize that their leader just needs a little help and memory jogging to get back into shape.

I’ve seen this movie a thousand times.  And when I have those moments when I encounter Christ in the unexpected, or I witness God in conversations and interactions, a little voice in my head says, “Oh, there you are God!”  It’s always a moment of surprise, wonder, delight and joy.  I think it’s this type of response that the magi had when they knelt before Jesus and paid him homage.  It’s the kind of attitude and response, we too, should cultivate in worship and in our daily lives.

Imagine if we came to receive communion that way.  Following God’s call to come to the table and outstretching our hands in wonder and joy that Christ meets us there.  Imagine if we entered into conversations with others, looking for God to be present there.  Imagine if we remained open to God’s leading and let ourselves be moved to prayer and worship in this midst of everyday life.

As we continue our journeys, we can remember the journey of the magi.  How they came from afar, trusting in a star and God’s leading, and being open to worship Jesus and be filled with joy.  We can keep our eyes open for encountering Jesus in the people and places, situations and experiences of our lives.  And we can remember that God never stops seeking us out or trying to reach out in creative ways to get our attention.

I’ll end with one of my favorite prayers: “O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Soak it up”

Sponge!

A very wise professor told me before I came to München to “soak it up”  – to take it all in and to simply soak everything up.  In the hustle and bustle of school and internship, these were grace-filled words for me to hear.  He didn’t say “you have to do this, this, this, and this while you’re there.”  He just said “soak it up.”  And with that, I was free to get into anything and everything! (There are, of course, still some requirements for studying!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “soak it up.”  About what I want to learn here, about what I want to return home knowing.  About what it means to absorb life to the fullest.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp.  A dear friend gave this to me as a gift before I left and I’ve been slowly reading and chewing on Voskamp’s poetic and insightful words ever since.  The book is about the author’s journey towards living a life of eucharisteo (“to express gratitude for benefits or blessings – ‘to thank, thanksgiving, thankfulness.'” – where the word “Eucharist” comes from!).  Her journey is about learning to give thanks for the little as well as the big things in life.  To give thanks for the good things, as well as learning how to live a life of thankfulness in the awful, difficult things.  At the urging of her friend, she begins writing a list of one thousand things she experiences as gifts.

After reading the book, I’ve been inspired to take up such a practice and it’s made me sit up and pay attention.  Each day, heading to my German course, I have a ten minute walk to the bus, a ten minute ride on the bus, a five minute wait for the U-Bahn, a fifteen minute ride to one station where I change trains and then ride another ten minutes to the stop for my class.  Finally, it’s a three to five minute walk to the building where the class is.  I say this not to point out that it’s a complicated commute, but to show that that’s a lot of time and many different places in which to see the gifts of God.  Thinking about gifts, giving thanks, and soaking up life, I’ve been keeping my eyes open to see what God is up to.  And it’s not just about seeing either – I’ve been paying more attention to sounds, to the feel and texture of things, the taste of delicious food, and even to different smells!  It’s been working on my heart, too – keeping it open to the possibilities, the unexpected, the things that I normally miss.  My heart has been more open to seeing things in a different light – maybe even in God’s light…

Back to this idea of “soak it up…”  Sponges soak things up.  The German word for “sponge” is Schwamm.  It’s a pretty fun word.  But as I think about it, it seems to be connected to the word for “swim” (schwimmen, schwamm, schwomm, geschwommen).  Ok, sponges come from the ocean – that much should be clear.  But more than that, sponges seem to passively absorb things.  Swimming, on the other hand,…that’s active.  That means diving in, moving through the water, swimming to the bottom and coming back up for air to see where you are and what’s going on.  Swimming is actively engaging in an environment.

And there’s another connection I’m seeing with this soaking up life idea, giving thanks, being fully present and engaged, and swimming.  Any guesses?!  It’s baptism! In baptism, we were washed clean and freed through Christ’s death and resurrection to engage fully in the world.  To really live – to engage in the world.  To soak it all up.

So that’s what I’m trying to do while I’m here – to try out as much as I can, to embrace the opportunities life presents, to live fully present and in deep gratitude and appreciation of all that I’ve been given – of all that we’ve been given.  In Christ, we all have been freed to dive in and experience life as it’s happening.  I can dive in and accept the invitation to drink Korean tea with my housemates or have wonderful spontaneous conversations with people from all over the world.  I can dive in and join fellow theology students for translation sessions.  I can spend a few moments in a busy day looking at gorgeous red flowers peeking out of window boxes.  I can smile at a child’s laughter on the train or a tired dog sleeping at the sun.  I can soak up München.  I can soak up Frederick.  I can soak up life.

There’s a blessing I have loved ever since I read it in Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals:

“May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.”

To me, this speaks not only of bringing me home to America rejoicing at what I’ve seen here in Germany, but also to one day (when the time comes!) bringing me home to God.  A journey home that involves rejoicing and giving thanks each and every day of my life.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Bitten

I was bitten…bad.  It happened 11 years ago and I knew I’d been bitten when it happened, but I didn’t know that there would be lasting effects.  More than that even – it had permanent effects.  The travel bug chomped down and refused to release me.  It happened in July of 2001 when I traveled to Germany and Austria with my high school German club.  I was bitten.  Infected.  And I haven’t been the same since.

And in less than a week, I will set off, driven by this same bug bite and an insatiable curiosity for the wonders of the world.  I will journey once more to Munich, my first international destination in 2001, to live in an ecumenical community and to study at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen (the University of Munich).  I go not knowing what to expect, but only with the hope and expectation that I will learn and grow through my experiences.

I will miss my husband, family and friends tremendously, but I know that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I feel that grabbing such opportunities when they arise is so important to discovering who we are, challenging ourselves to go outside of our comfort zones, and growing.

My previous travels have always been so important in my faith journey.  It seems that seeing a new place, meeting new people and being filled with awe at each new sight or landscape helps me to reflect on my life and experiences.  Traveling invites me to reflect on the imaginative and artistic God who created the world and inspired humans to create.  Being in and exploring a new place helps to shed light on the places I have already been, or the places where I usually am.

And so as I prepare to travel, I pray that God will keep my heart and mind open to new things.  That this time will be one of learning in the university classroom, but also in the classroom of life.  I pray that this time will be one in which I grow in faith – a time of continuing to discover who I am in Christ.  I look forward to worshiping with my brothers and sisters from different denominations and various countries.  And I look forward to hearing how God has been at work in their lives.  I pray that God will be at work, transforming me through this trip (and always!) for a life of continued discipleship.

I hope to post more about my travel adventures and what I’m learning and discovering here on this blog.  Keep in touch!

© 2012. 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.

%d bloggers like this: