ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AUGUST 12, 2018
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
EATING FOR ENERGY
1 Kings 19: 1 – 8; Psalm 34: 1 – 8; John 4: 31 – 35
A boy ran past a man at a bus stop. Five minutes later the boy rushed by again. The third time the man asked, “What’s the rush?” The boy replied, “I’m running away from home!” “But,” said the man, “you’ve gone around this same block three times.” “I know!” the boy shouted over his shoulder, “My mom won’t let me cross the street.” Running away can be a tricky business. Parents are usually not supportive although some of them can be quite helpful. Have you ever wanted to run away? From home or from a job or from yourself.
Today’s first scripture begins with a man running away – for good reason. Elijah was the last prophet in Israel who was faithful to God. King Ahab, a Jew, had married a Phoenician princess named Jezebel. Under Jezebel’s influence the Israelites began to worship Jezebel’s “gods”, particularly Baal. You may remember Elijah’s challenge to the 450 prophets of Baal. They built an altar to sacrifice an ox and each group was to call upon their deity to ignite a fire. Baal’s prophets had no luck. Then Elijah poured buckets of water over the altar and called upon Yahweh to ignite the fire. The altar burst into flames. Wanting to put an end to the influence of these false teachers, Elijah had them rounded up and killed. When Jezebel discovered this, she was livid and swore to hunt down and murder Elijah. Since there were no “safe houses” in those days, Elijah took off for Beersheba. Once there, he left his servant and ventured into the wilderness. With searing temperatures, poisonous animals and no water the desert wasn’t much of a refuge. Elijah kept running until he found a tree and collapsed in its shade. Caught between the brutal Jezebel and the brutal desert, Elijah resigned himself to death. In fact, he prayed for it. Then he fell into an exhausted sleep. Next thing he knew he was awakened by an angel. In front of Elijah was a campfire with freshly baked bread and water. The angel told him to eat. Elijah did, then he fell back to sleep. The angel repeated the sequence again, only this time he added, “you’ve got a long journey ahead of you” (1Kings 19: 7). After that Elijah got up and walked for “forty days and nights” – which is Bible language for “a really long time” to Mount Horeb. That’s like walking from here to Chatham; according to Google maps it’s about 90 hours on foot – perhaps more in a desert landscape with mountains. Mt Horeb is also called Mt. Sinai; the place where Moses encountered God in the burning bush and where he received the 10 Commandments. A holy place. There Elijah crawled into a cave and slept.
We all have times when we come to the end of our own resources. There is conflict; life becomes meaningless; someone we love dies; life becomes limited; fun evaporates; God lets us down; we’re exhausted, ill or stressed. Rarely is there someone wanting to kill us, but in different ways, there may be people who deaden our souls or are a constant challenge to our faith or values. People who abuse us. People who drain us by never giving back. At times like this our impulse is to run away – to escape the problems and to protect ourselves. Depression may set in, especially if we feel powerless. Where do we find the energy to continue on?
In times of disquiet, we need self care. Like Elijah, we need to protect ourselves; to eat and sleep. We need to give ourselves the space to grasp the breadth of our situation and how it impacts our life and our health. We need to feel our feelings and to recognize the truth of our lives. What are the events we’ve lived through? What is unresolved? Try as we might we can never run away from ourselves – wherever we go, there we are. Our issues come with us no matter how far we run or how firmly we push them away. Caring for ourselves means we stop running and unpack our baggage. This is exhausting work. We may need the care of others.
Not many of us are woken up by an actual angel, but we do find “angels” in community. God works through people. It’s ironic that when we feel like we want to isolate ourselves is when we most need the support of others. At some time, all of us need some TLC. We need one another. Coach Carter is the true story of Ken Carter who became the head basketball coach for a high school in a poor area of Richmond, California. Carter set out to change the players’ attitudes and performance. He imposed a strict regime that included respectful behavior, a dress code, and good grades as a prerequisite of participation. One player, Timo Cruz, initially refused to accept the coach’s demands and quit the team. Later when he changed his mind, he was told that to be re-instated he must complete 2,500 push-ups and 1,000 intensive sprinting drills in a short time — a task even Carter called “impossible.” By the deadline, Timo was short of both goals. Coach Carter, asked him to leave the gym. Suddenly, one of Timo’s teammates, Jason, came forward saying, “I’ll do push-ups for him. You said we’re a team. One person struggles, we all struggle. One player triumphs, we all triumph. Right?” As Coach Carter stood speechless, Jason dropped to the floor doing push-ups. One by one the entire team joined in to help Timo reach his goal. The Church is intended to be that kind of support system. As Christians we’re called to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). As a person in pain we need to be honest about what we’re going through. Hiding our need is unhelpful. We need to invite others in to carry it with us. If someone wants to bake you bread or show you kindness be receptive. As the people offering support, we need to let the struggling individual set the agenda and the pace. It’s unhelpful to tell a grieving person to “perk up” or a wounded person to “get over it.” They need someone who has the stamina to be with them for as long as it takes. That doesn’t mean we need to be glued to their side, we just need to listen to what their needs are and help them reach their goals.
The nourishment Elijah received was not merely physical bread and water. Bread and water don’t give you bodily strength for days on end. You don’t walk 40 days and 40 nights “in the strength of that meal” (1 Kings 19: 8). We need spiritual nourishment. Our gospel reading was yet another discussion leading up to Jesus declaration “I am the bread of life” (John 6: 35). In times when God seems most remote, it’s important for us to seek out The Bread of Life. Prayer, scripture reading, and corporate worship are three spiritual food groups. Through them we encounter Jesus and feast by his Spirit. They cannot be neglected if we’re going to reach our destination. We also need to create room for the blessings of God – for the unexpected gifts that renew our energy. These may look like a change in our circumstances, the presence of a new friend, the discovery of a creative process we didn’t know we had, a vacation where we’re able to rest and refresh, an opportunity for a new beginning. In times of despair, we seek holy ground. We look for times, places and ways where we may encounter God. Sometimes we return to touchstones from our own past experiences. At other times, we do what others have done. Perhaps this means a pilgrimage to a meaningful spiritual place or engaging in spiritual practices like silence or journal writing, or reading a book by a favorite spiritual writer, or worshipping in a different way. In the gospel reading when the disciples encouraged Jesus to eat something, he responds, “I have food to eat that you do not know about… “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work” (John 4: 32 & 34) It’s important that we don’t lose sight of God’s will. This may mean clinging to a path which you know God has placed you upon or discerning the next steps for your life. Two stories illustrate this: Once while Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden, he was asked, “What would you do if you suddenly learned that you were to die at sunset?” He replied, “I would finish hoeing my garden.” That’s the response of someone who is certain of God’s will for them. This second story illustrates our periodical need for renewed discernment: Dwight Morrow was visiting England. After wandering through the streets, he realized he was lost. He stopped a boy and asked, “Could you tell us the way to the station?” The boy answered, “You turn to the right there by the grocer’s shop and then take the second street to the left. That will bring you to a place where four streets meet. And then, sir, you had better inquire again.” At times when we are lost, we need to revisit God’s directions. Sometimes God’s will can seem like a duty which drains us, that may be a sign that we’re on the wrong track or that we have the wrong attitude. Jesus said doing God’s will fed him. It gave him strength, not only to keep on but to “complete his work”. I’m sure the cross wasn’t a joy inducing thought, yet it was Jesus’ mission and God’s plan. Remembering whose we are, grounds us. Seeking and doing God’s will encourages us and can even be exciting as he opens new doors for us to pass through.
In Jesus’ dialogue with his disciples he makes a statement which is both simple and profound, “I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you” (John 4: 35). Even though they’re as obvious as the changing of the seasons, we often miss the signs right under our nose. We discount our inner turmoil. We ignore the immature behaviour of a boyfriend and plunge into marriage. We fail to see a friend’s betrayal for what it is. We stay in a job, even though the boss is abusive. We allow a person to influence us to do things against our value system. We “forgive” someone who repeatedly uses us. We continue creating an unhappy relationship. We cling to the memory of a loved one at the risk of our health and future. We chose death instead of life. The angel placed nourishment and hope in front of Elijah in the form of bread and water. It was a good thing he saw it. God places the Bread of Life in front of us – do we see Jesus? Native N. Am had an ancient rite of passage to transition their boys into manhood. On the night of the boy’s thirteenth birthday, he was left alone in a dense forest. Without light he couldn’t see three feet in front of himself. We can imagine the fear every time a twig snapped, or an animal howled or the wind blew. Without light, danger was magnified. After what seemed like an eternity, as the first rays of sunlight revealed the forest, the boy could see flowers, trees, and the outline of the path. Then, to his surprise, he saw a man standing a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow. It was the boy’s father. He’d been there all night long. In our times of darkness, we do not always see what is in front of us. But no matter how bleak it gets, when we open our eyes, Jesus is there, watching over us, offering us the renewal of our energy through the Bread of Life.