8th August 2021, Proper 14: 1 Kings 19:4-8, Psalm 34:1-8, Ephesians 4:25-5:2John 6:35, 41-51
I feel a lot of sympathy for Elijah. Prior to where we meet Elijah in today’s reading he has been extremely busy. Elijah lived during the reign of King Arab who is described as the king who did more evil than all the other kings before him. He was a king who definitely did not walk in their ways of God! God has seen all that has happened and tells Elijah that, as a consequence, no rain nor even dew shall fall on the land. The land will be afflicted by a drought that will last for years.
Pausing a moment it is worth reflecting that for decades, if not more, we residents of planet earth have increasingly mistreated and plundered the earth damaging both its climate, its ecosystems and and its most vulnerable creatures. We have not followed the ways of God. And now we are increasingly aware that our folly is causing problems that affect us directly – floods, heat waves, wars, covid etc.
Back to Elijah. He follows God’s instructions as to how and where he will find sustenance, and sees at first hand the effect the delight has on the land and in its inhabitants. After three years of drought God sends Elijah to speak with Ahab (who is finally feeling the effects of the drought. Those who are rich and/or powerful usually find ways of minimising the inconveniences that cause others to suffer) and to reprimand him for all that he has done wrong. Like many business leaders and investors today, Ahab still believes that his model of life – worshipping the Baals and sacrificing children – is the only right one. So Elijah sets up a competition, challenging the priests of Baal to prove the efficacy of their gods.
This must have taken great determination on Elijah’s part. He was just the one lone voice speaking out against the falseness of the Baals and their rule of life. God was certainly with him and strikes the winning shot – a fire bolt from heaven – on Elijah’s behalf, but yet it still must have been stressful to the point of exhaustion for Elijah. The single handed, Elijah destroys all the false prophets. And once again he challenges Ahab to repent. Ahab instead seeks guidance from his equally wicked wife, Jezebel, and somehow it is her cursing of Elijah, that breaks the camel’s back. Elijah fears for his life and flees into the wilderness.
So we come to today’s episode. Elijah is ready to give up and die. Have you ever felt yourself to be at that point of exhaustion, of despair, of self doubt? Elijah curls up under a broom tree – an evergreen bush which because of its deep roots and narrow leaves can survive in arid environments and provides a welcome place of shade for travellers. Having spoken out-loud his grievance, his desperation, he is finally able to sleep. Owning up to ourselves and to God about what troubles us is a good starting point. After he slept, God wakes Elijah and provides him with food and water. He eats and drinks and once more sleeps. God waits and then wakes him a second time, prompting him to eat and drink, so as to be ready for the next stage of his journey – his life. One rabbi has noted the similarity between ‘rothem’ the Hebrew for broom and ‘rachem’ Hebrew for compassion. God has compassion on Elijah. God knows that what he needs is sleep and food and only when those needs have been satisfied does God suggest to Elijah that he journeys to God’s holy mountain of Horeb where the two will engage in a much deeper spiritual experience.
So I think it can be for us. Being open and honest about how we feel, understanding when we need rest, accepting support especially physical comfort even when we feel spiritually drained. God is concerned for our total wellbeing, physical and spiritual, and often we have to satisfy the first before we can address the second.
Today’s Psalm aptly describes Elijah’s experiences. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ both physically and spiritually.
The passage from Ephesians is entitled in NRSV Rules for the New Life. Rules for a new life were certainly what Ahab and his people needed. I think they are also what we need for living a new climate friendly, all-inclusive people friendly, sustainable life. The passage reminds us that we are interconnected, and that the way we each act has repercussions for everyone, and further more affects our relationship with God.
The reading from John’s gospel continues to explore the idea of Jesus as the bread of life. Believing in and following his ways, have both physical and spiritual benefits. Jesus feeds and heals people physically and spiritually. Jesus by his very nature is a two way conduit between earth and heaven, between God and human kind, between the present day and eternity. This is something the Jews, the hearers of Jesus’s message find hard to understand and accept. For them, he is just a local boy – a local who has become a popular crowd puller but nevertheless surely still just someone like them? Is there something about needing to be ready, to be open, to seeing God at work in our everyday environment? Perhaps of finding the spiritual in the physical and the physical in the spiritual?
Feed us Lord God
with what we need,