A sermon preached at the
Readings: 1 Kings 19:3-8, John 6:41-51
Left: An Angel Awakens The Prophet Elijah by Juan Antonio Escalant 1667
and eat, otherwise the journey
will be too much for you” (1 Kings 19:7)
OT lesson takes us back to the story of Elijah.
Maybe we need to recall the story so far.
In 1 K 18,
the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel.
He has a contest with them to prove whose God is stronger –
a contest between Elijah and 450 prophets of Baal.
Each side is to ask their God to set fire to an altar and sacrifice.
The prophets of Baal cannot do it – Elijah can.
Elijah wins the contest
and then orders the killing of the prophets of Baal.
All 450 of them are slaughtered by the riverside.
Now Elijah has seriously annoyed King Ahab and Queen
who immediately deploy the very extensive forces
of their violent and powerful state apparatus to capture Elijah.
will come back in a minute to what Elijah does next
and what God says to him at that stage,
but first we might reflect on the story so far -
There are problems here are there not?
Compare the story of
Elijah on Carmel
with contemporary political events.
Basically Elijah confronts those
whose theology and ideology he disagrees with –
the prophets of Baal – 450 of them –
enough to fill a jumbo jet –
and he has them killed because of their beliefs,
to prove his God more powerful than theirs.
As one commentator puts it with masterly understatement,
“Evidently [Elijah] was not an advocate of interfaith dialogue.”
of course Elijah’s strategy seems alarmingly like that
of modern day religious extremists and terrorists.
Yesterday Kim Howells of the Foreign Office
was again saying it is OK to disagree with governments,
but not go around killing people because you disagreed with them.
Kim Howells obviously wasn’t talking about Elijah –
but its worth remembering
that Elijah didn’t agree theologically with the prophets of Baal
so he killed them all….
recognize that drawing parallels
between biblical and contemporary events
can be a dangerous business and all analogies can be taken too far –
but if you were looking for a passing contemporary reference
to Jezebel’s army chasing Elijah after he has murdered the prophets of Baal,
you might at least reflect on George Bush hunting down Al Qaeda terrorists.
get us into a huge debate
about how to read the OT .
One of the big problems
in dealing with these sorts of stories
is that we – rightly and properly -
read OT stories from the perspective
of Christ and the Cross and the Gospel.
That is how you read the OT.
And sometimes that means that you don’t
understand or interpret things
in the same way the original writer did.
For the writer of 1 Kings, Elijah did a good thing
when he slaughtered the prophets of Baal –
this was the power of God at work.
And the Book of Kings does not stop to tell us
about the children of the Prophets of Baal
or how they coped after Elijah had ordered the slaughter.
That is frankly not his concern.
But we have been given the revelation of God on the Cross,
a God who told his followers to put up their swords
because his was a different kind of Kingdom,
a God who said true power is found not in the sword
but in sacrificial love, suffering and service.
All of which means there is much of God in these stories –
much to learn –
but we need to sit at the foot of the cross as we read them,
and discern the word of God
amidst the still developing understandings of the OT writers.
There is much to learn
even if what we learn is not quite the same as the message
the writer of 1 Kings was trying to convey.
But let’s follow Elijah after the slaughter –
Here we have a man in crisis.
A man who
has sought to follow God’s call
but has got in over his head
He has, we would say, made some bad choices
He runs away –
away from Jezebel, away from his people, away from his vocation –
if he could he would run away from life itself –
He sits under a juniper tree and wishes he was dead.
Here the story speaks powerfully across the ages –
all fleeing from war and violence,
but it of their own making or others
all caught up for whatever reason
in the conflicts and hatreds resulting from sincerely held
but ultimately destructive ideological disagreements
all who feel lost and confused,
who feel they have taken the wrong turning in life
and are now in a blind alley with the enemy closing in behind
all who feel they have failed,
they have either lost their vocation
or somehow not fulfilled the potential or the dream
which they felt so secure in when God first called…
If any of
that speaks to your condition,
well sit with Elijah beneath his Juniper Tree.
doesn’t give up on Elijah –
God never gives up on anyone!!
Rather God says two things to Elijah
1. I have a journey for you
2. I have food for the journey.
It is not
a complex message –
but it is the message for everyone
whose life has gone sour or whose direction has been lost
or who has given up on God –
He has not given up on you,
he still has a job for you to do,
and he will still give you Manna in the Wilderness,
a cake on a hot rock ready for Elijah’s journey to Horeb,
the Bread of Life.
And that food comes in many forms –
is the Word of God in Scripture –
break thou the bread of life O Lord for me
is in 1001 encounters through which God speaks
and if we will be hear we can find new strength fro the journey.
is the bread of Communion,
symbolic of our sharing in the Bread of Life itself,
giving us strength for our journey onwards
Where will our journey take us?
· Maybe to the Mountain top, maybe to the valley
· Maybe to the earthquake maybe to the still quiet voice
· Maybe to life, maybe to death….
All our journeys are different –
every one of us, like Elijah,
God says “Wake up and eat –
leave behind the compromises and the fear and the heartache of your past –
I have a new journey for you -
here is food to give you strength to walk my way!
God’s journey is not just an earthly journey –
as Elijah ultimately ascended to heaven,
and as the Israelites ultimately crossed Jordan,
and so our journey is not only through this world but beyond it.
And no Jezebel, no Pharaoh, no Caesar, need cause us fear –
for our destination is nothing less than our heavenly home.
Ancient Classical and Norse religions sent people off
with provisions for their journey beyond death –
coins on their eyes to pay the ferryman
or food and clothes for the journey.
In the Roman Catholic tradition,
the final communion before someone dies is known as the viaticum –
from via (way or path) and te cum (with you) –
it is the spiritual food for the last great journey
to the last great mountain top.
despair – God will be alongside us
even to the end of time and beyond,
with food even for that last great journey..
So let me finish with a prayer by Janet Cawley -
God of the way,
you are the road we travel,
and the sign we follow;
you are bread for the journey,
and the wine of arrival.
Guide us as we follow in your way,
holding on to each other,
reaching out to your beloved world.
And when we stray,
seek us out and find us,
set our feet on the path again,
and lead us safely home.