Sunday, August 8, 2021
Lectionary 19, Year B
Prayer of the Day
Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven to be the true bread that gives life to the world. Give us this bread always, that he may live in us and we in him, and that, strengthened by this food, we may live as his body in the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
1 Kings 19:4-8 Elijah given bread for his journey
Ephesians 4:25–5:2 Put away evil, live in love
John 6:35, 41-51 Christ, the bread of life
Title: Big Lies and Tired Truths
Queen Jezebel was promoting a big lie. She was the wife of King Ahab of Israel, the northern Hebrew kingdom. And in that kingdom, she was a foreigner, but worse, she worshipped Baal. And even worse, she convinced her husband, to forsake the God of Abraham, the God of David, the God of all Ahab’s ancestors, and join her in her devotion to Baal, the Canaanite fertility god. And her big lie was spreading and converting a good portion of the Jewish population of Ahab’s kingdom. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, she was killing off the prophets who remained loyal to the God of the Hebrews. Even though Jezebel is not mentioned in our first reading, it is important to know this when looking at this rather short passage from a long story that pits Jezebel and Ahab against God’s prophet Elijah. Without the backstory, we can’t understand just how hangry Elijah is. Yes, there is that word again. Hangry, from last week, hungry and angry joined together to make one hangry. And Elijah is clearly a hold over from the hangry folks that we spent time with last week.
A quick synopsis of the events that have brought Elijah to this solitary tree. The prophet starts his ministry by telling Ahab the bad news that God is so unhappy with him, his queen, the big lie, and the way he is ruling…(I should mention that not only did he marry this foreign idolator and convert to her religion, he also practiced human sacrifice killing his own two sons as foundation sacrifices when he rebuilt the city of Jericho.)…okay, so enough said, God is really unhappy with Ahab. So God tells Elijah to proclaim the news that there will be a drought. It goes on for three years. (Talk to the people in the west of our country, they understand such hardships.) Elijah spends the three years hiding with the widow of Sidon whose son he raises from the dead. Finally, Elijah is told to go back to Ahab and challenge the prophets of Baal to a contest, a dual if you will. Maybe you’ve heard this part of the story. 450 of them meet Elijah on Mount Carmel, the challenge is to see whose god will send the fire to consume the respective sacrifices of a bull laid out on an altar. No surprise, nothing comes from Baal, but fire does come down from heaven and consumes Elijah’s sacrifice that, just to prove his point, he had drenched with water, a lot of water. And just to prove what a poor winner he is, Elijah orders all the prophets of Baal to be killed. The good news though is that the draught ends and a soaking rain pours down. When Jezebel hears what happened on the mountain top, she is so angry she puts out an APB on Elijah and orders him to be killed on sight. So, Elijah runs to the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah, to be at a safe distance from the evil Queen and her big lie that continues on even though the proof was in the fire and the rain. (Thank you, James Taylor.)
And so, we find Elijah this morning, so weary, so disheartened, so defeated (even though he scored that sensational fiery victory), that he just wants to die. He has learned from the first days of his career as a prophet, that telling the truth, holding on to the truth, living the truth, in midst of a big lie is not easy…it’s exhausting…it’s demoralizing. But that is his sacred call. And he is not abandoned by the God of truth whose word he is carrying, delivering, and centering his life on. He is fed by God. He is nourished by God. He is cared for by God. He is sustained by God. And his journey continues in God. We don’t have time for the rest of the story, but truth be told, his troubles aren’t over. There will be more big lies to confront with the truth. But, and because of those lies, his journey does indeed continue. God continues to be present through it all. And as we see this morning, Elijah is nourished by God’s presence for wherever the journey may lead.
Speaking of long stories, today is the third Sunday that our gospel reading is following this sermonized saga on bread, this extemporaneous epic on eating, that is going on between Jesus and the people. Another quick review: Part one, a multitude was fed to full by just five loaves and two fish. Part two, they wanted more. To which Jesus said, “You’re looking at him. It. The bread of life. I’m your forever food.” And now today, part three. We get the people responding to this God-sent, mysterious, beyond understanding offering of spirit-filled, sustaining grace and mercy found only in Jesus the Christ. And their response to all this richness? Laughter and disbelief. “You?” they question. “Oh, come on. Not you. We know you. You’re Joseph’s kid. The carpenter of Nazareth produces good furniture but producing heaven-sent bread? No, can’t see it. And we know Mary, your mother, and though some will want to see her as sinless in the future, we know her better.” (Stay tuned for more on Mary, next Sunday we will observe her feast day.)
With eyes fixed only on the world they knew, on the limitations of the humanity that they saw both in Jesus’ family and in him himself, with vision clouded by a history bound up in literalism and with no room for new understandings and new revelations; the people to whom Jesus was telling the truth, were missing the feast of life that was laid before them. How frustrating it must have been? Maybe in our own days of refused, rejected, and ignored truths, we can understand Jesus in this situation a little bit more. But Jesus does not give up. He does not get angry. He does not post disparaging remarks about them on Facebook. He just keeps telling the truth, hoping that they will take it as their truth and live.
Where are you in our own days of big lies and exhausted truths? Are you there with Elijah, exhausted by the big lie, wishing you could just run away from it, plopping down under a solitary tree in a wilderness, ready to resign?
I’m guessing that an angel delivering complete nourishment in the form of freshly made heavenly bread would certainly be helpful and reassuring. But we’re probably better off using GrubHub or UberEats rather than waiting for that to happen.
Or are you feeling a bit closer to Jesus’ experience with the crowd? Frustrated that the truth that you know, and that you know can save lives, is so easily ignored. It’s hard to just turn away and say “tough on you,” isn’t it. Jesus surely does not. (This is not a “what would Jesus do” moment. That’s not my way of telling the truth. I point out that this is not what Jesus does, knowing that there are times in all of our lives when we do not see the truth that Jesus is laying before us, and we miss it, we doubt it, we are confused by it. This story with the people is just another reassuring and comforting example of the patience and understanding that Jesus shows to all of us. It’s more of a heartening WDJD – what did Jesus do.)
Now, whether you are having the Elijah experience or the Jesus experience, the more important question is: in these, or any challenging days, where are you finding your nourishment? The truth that we all can cling to today and every day, is that the true nourishment is abundant and fulfilling in the ways of love and mercy of God our creator, in the God of truth who graciously satisfies our deepest hunger with the gift of Jesus the Christ, feeding us not only at this table but also with the words he spoke, the healing he brings, and life he lived and offered, and we are continuously sustained in this new life by God’s spirit that flows in and around us, renewing the truth that is our rock and our foundation with new insights and nourished growth.
Yes, God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit is the source of all true nourishment. And it comes in such a vast array of ways. We are wise to learn from the crowd with Jesus not to limit our reception of God’s gift because of our own limited understanding. Perhaps you are sustained by something that appears to have nothing to do with God’s presence. Allow yourself to be surprised by God’s delivery of substance in the same way Elijah was surprised by that angel. Could be a brought by a friend, a stranger, an event, an activity or hobby, a group, an image, or ________. Afterall, we call out to the God of all creation. ALL creation. In last week’s reading from Ephesians there was a little parenthetic phrase that said Christ ascended so that he might be in all things. All things.
Perhaps we will find ourselves less hungry, sustained in the truth, if we see that God feds and sustains us with abundance in an abundance of ways. So, 8Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who take refuge in God! (Ps. 34)
The Rev. Mark Erson,