The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
Proper 14, August 12, 2018, Year B, Elijah, Mt. Horeb or Sinai, Jesus is the Bread of Life
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen
Poor Elijah, this wonderful prophet of Yahweh, of remarkable strength and energy, appears to be at the end of his rope. Jezebel, wife of the current ruler of the northern kingdom, Ahab is his name, is after Elijah. Why are they after Elijah? Because she is a follower of Baal, given free rein by her husband to worship Baal. Elijah is a fierce Yahwist prophet. They are on opposite sides of the religion wars.
To knock some sense into Ahab’s head, Elijah told Ahab there would be a severe drought and so there was. The Lord sent Elijah to Cherith to a Wadi where he would have water and food. But that didn’t last so the Lord sent him to Zarephath where a widow would care for him.
He has been through a lot. Jezebel is out to get him. Ahab is out to get him. The prophets of Baal are out to get him. His trial with the prophets of Baal and the fire that consumed his sacrifice but not the sacrifice of the prophets of Baal has happened. When this happened, Jezebel threatened Elijah saying: “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them (meaning the Baal prophets that had been killed) by this time tomorrow.”
So, Elijah needed some R and R and he went into the wilderness and sat down under a broom tree. Now we have broom shrubs around here, they are generally called Scotch Broom and they bloom in the spring and they are very pretty. As a gardener I wondered if these Brooms were the same plant as the broom in our reading. It might be the same and it might be what Elijah is sitting under. In Scripture a Broom tree is thought to be a Juniper but according to experts in Biblical flora, it is not a Juniper. It is a dense, erect bush 3’ to 12’ tall, has fragrant white flowers and it is about the only shade in the desert (Godasagardener.com). It is a “symbol of renewal and with renewal comes a restoration of vigor and a new freshness” (Ibid). It is more like our Scotch Broom and it sounds like just what Elijah needed.
This is a good Old Testament story about one of the mightiest of God’s prophets.
Ultimately what does it mean to us? It means as God takes care of his prophet Elijah, so he takes care of us.
What does God expect of us? When we are really discouraged God challenges us to prepare for what comes next and He provides bread and water to get us through the dark night into the daylight of a new dawn and to prepare us for the next challenge.
God is always there and ready to help us, comfort us, guide us and direct us. He never leaves us.
I have some idea about how Elijah feels. Oh, not because 450 prophets of Baal are trying to kill me but because on occasion I have reached the end of my rope and I have had little to no hope left. Have you ever been there? It’s a terrible place to be. The difficulty we have is that we forget God’s promises to us that he will always provide for our needs. Why do we do this? Because we are human. Our Psalm for today tells us “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror” (34:4). Verse 6 “I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me and saved me from all my troubles” and Verses 7 and 8 “The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him, and he will deliver them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him!”
Sometime at coffee hour let’s trade stories about those terrible places we have been and how God has rescued us – which is what happened to Elijah. The Lord knows about R and R and he provided food, water and sleep for Elijah and Elijah slept again and God woke him again and told him he had a long journey ahead of him, so the story goes on. He went on a hundred-mile journey on the strength of the food with which God fed him. And we can we do the same.
William is being baptized today, what a joy it is to baptize this sweet boy into the Kingdom of God. What might this reading mean to him in his life? What can Mom and Dad teach him from I Kings that will ensure he knows he can always depend of God’s help? The certainty of God’s presence in our lives and his help in times of trouble are two important lessons from Scripture.
Our Gospel echoes the theme of bread, being fed, trusting God to protect us, and it goes much further as Jesus explains to us that the bread is His Body. There’s a lot here for William that we hope he will understand as he grows up and knows the Eucharistic bread as the body of Christ and spiritual nourishment for the soul.
Jesus tells us as God fed Elijah bread in the desert, so Jesus promises to feed us His bread throughout our lives; the bread of his body which sustains us. Jesus says: “Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. I am the bread of life” (The Message).
Bread has an interesting history in Scripture. When Moses and the Israelites were escaping from the Egyptians and traveling across the desert looking for the promised land, they complained about the food. So, God provided manna, manna from heaven (Neh. 9:15) bread of the angels (Ps. 78:25).
In the OT, Loaves of bread were placed in the sanctuary on a golden table, before Yahweh. “Bread in the presence of God is the presence of God and therefore holy. The bread of the Presence symbolizes the eternal covenant between God and Israel. Its location in the sanctuary just in front of the holy of holies indicates the holy status of the bread” (Dictionary of the Bible. ed. Freedman P.199).
Jesus fed thousands with 5 loaves of bread and 6 fishes (or was it 6 loaves and 5 fishes?) The Jews had, and some still have the habit, of giving thanks for the bread and breaking it into pieces and passing it out to everyone present, especially on Friday nights at the beginning of the Sabbath. Christians sing songs of “Let us break bread together on our knees.” Bread in the Eucharist represents or becomes the whole body of Christ, depending on your belief system. The wafer contains the whole body, even the blood of Christ, thus if you can not take the wine you still have it in the bread which is the whole body.
“Jesus said: I am the Bread of life…Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. I am the Bread – living Bread-who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live – and forever! (The Message).
 I Kings 19: 4-8
John 6:35, 41-51