The Rev. John Ohmer
Rector, St. James’ Episcopal Church
Elijah went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you." He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:4-8)
This morning’s lessons – the Gospel but especially the Old Testament lesson – pick up on a recurring them in the Bible: God’s miraculous provision in our time of need.
You know from Adult Forum that whenever a word or phrase is repeated in Scripture, it’s for a reason…someone’s trying to get our attention.
When a word or phrase or concept is repeated three times or even more often, it’s a giant neon orange pointed sign from God saying “HEY I’M TRYING TO GET YOUR ATTENTION HERE.”
And so – whether it is the story of the manna in the wilderness being given to the ancient Israelites in the desert, or Jesus’ feeding of the 5000, or Jesus feeding us with himself – there’s a recurring theme,
and that is the way that God meets us and feeds us when, and where, we need it the most.
Context of the Old Testament story*
The story about Elijah the Tishbite told in the first and second book of Kings.
- Elijah = the great prophet of Israel.
- He’s on the run.
- In the chapter(s) just before this, he’s won a huge symbolic victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, challenging their claims to power verses the power of God.
- Except it was more than a symbolic victory: it was a stunning victory that annihilated their prophets, who had been strong supporters of the king and queen.
- The king and queen are furious with Elijah, and declare him a criminal and enemy of the state.
- So he flees South, out of that territory, to Beersheeba.
- He’s a entire days’ journey in the wilderness desert, a hunted man.
- He’s looking for safe haven but not finding it.
- Wilderness= dangerous and dry; no signs of life.
- He’s distressed, exhausted, isolated, at the end of his rope.
- He sits down under a “solitary broom tree” – the Hebrew makes a point to say just one tree, not some oasis of shade but just one solitary tree providing very little shade probably.
- He’s so down, so frustrated, so exhausted, so worn out, he asks he might die. “it’s enough, I’m no good.”
- He lies down and goes to sleep. But God meets us and feeds us when and where we need it the most.
- An angel of the Lord touches him and provides him with food: warm bread and water.
- In the middle of despair, nothing, God brings food and drink.
- (Interesting that the angel of God is bringing for him, Elijah, exactly what he had brought or provided for a widow in need a few chapters earlier.)
- He eats and drinks and lies down again.
- We’re not told for how long. I read this passage many times, and always assumed he just laid down again and the angel was standing there the whole time and taps him right away…
- ...but because sleep is one of the ways God cares for us, I like to think he rested, slept, the whole night…8, maybe 10 hours of sleep…got some deep rest, some good restorative sleep.
- After he sleeps, the angel comes again, touches him again, and says, “get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
- So he gets up, eats and drinks again, and goes on in that strength.
The first point is that sometimes we are the one who needs that angel.
We get tired, exhausted, isolated…we start despairing.
When we are that person, in that place, we can be confident in God: God sees, God notices, God comes down.
It is God’s nature to provide.
This truth plays itself out each Sunday when we approach the altar…we walk up with open hands, empty hands…and in our open/empty/yearning hands bread…living bread and a chalice of wine and water that quenches our thirst, is placed…
All we need to do is ask, open our hands, receive. God provides.
My second very simple point: sometimes we are the angels, God’s messengers, the ones God is working through to bring encouragement and company and nourishment to others.
In order to make that point, I want to tell two stories:
One is told by the author Brene Brown: She was getting a manicure, and two women across from her talked on their phones the entire time they were getting their nails done. They employed head nods, eyebrow raises and finger-pointing to instruct the manicurists on things like nail length and polish choices.
“I really couldn't believe it,” she says: “I've had my nails done by the same two women for 10 years. I know their names (their real Vietnamese names), their children's names and many of their stories. They know my name, my children's names, and many of my stories. When I finally made a comment about the women on their cell phones, they both quickly averted their eyes. Finally, in a whisper, the manicurist said, “They don't know. Most of them don't think of us as people.”
On the way home, she stops at Barnes & Noble to pick up a magazine. The woman ahead of her in line bought two books, applied for a new “reader card” and asked to get one book gift wrapped without getting off of her cell phone. She plowed through the entire exchange without making eye contact or directly speaking to the young woman working at the counter. She never acknowledged the presence of the human being across from her.
After leaving Barnes & Noble, she goes to a drive-through to get a Diet Dr. Pepper. Right as she pulls up to the window, her cell phone rings!
She wasn't quite sure, but thinks it might be her son’s school calling, so she answers it. It wasn't the school — it was someone calling to confirm another appointment. She gets off the phone as quickly as she can. But in the short time it took her to say, “Yes, I'll be at my appointment,” the woman in the window and her had finished their soda-for-money transaction.
She apologizes to her the second she gets off of the phone. She said, “I'm so sorry. The phone rang right when I was pulling up and I thought it was my son's school.”
“I must have surprised her because she got huge tears in her eyes and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much. You have no idea how humiliating it is sometimes. They don't even see us.”
Each time there is a baptism, one of the promises we make is to “respect the dignity of every human being.”
One very simple but powerful way to do that – to be God’s messengers, the ones God is working through to bring encouragement and company and nourishment to others – is to know when it’s time to get off the cell phone.
Second example: As many of you know, we had another successful week of literacy camp this summer, where we bring in children – second and third graders -- who are falling behind in grade level reading for a week of reading and enrichment.
One of our volunteers, a teenager, noticed that several of the kids she was working with seemed to be hungry all the time, so after camp was over, she sent an email to me and our outreach co-chairs to see if there was some way we could help her make a special delivery of some school supplies as a way of saying “you did a great job at camp this summer” and then include in the delivery some extra food.
I had some extra Giant gift cards for exactly this kind of purpose and so I made those available and they went shopping.
They made the deliveries last Saturday. And they looped back with me late last week and said,
“You remember last Saturday was very hot. All those children were non air-conditioned situations. BUT, when we showed up, they broke out in huge smiles. We filled cardboard boxes with mac and cheese, fruit snacks, pencils, notebooks, some children’s reading books, juice boxes, and a couple of toys."
And she went on to say, “when I was those kids ages, I was swimming or dancing or doing some activity. These kids were all home, on a Saturday, SWELTERING in their apartment. When we showed up, they were so excited you’d thought [it was the best thing to happen to them all summer.]
There you have it: God’s messengers, the ones God is working through to bring encouragement and company and nourishment to others.
Then and now, God’s miraculous provision in time of need.
Then and now, God meets us and feeds us – and God uses us to meet and feed others – when needed the most.
Thanks be to God, amen.
*Indebted to "Feasting on the Word" Year B Vol 3