Otherwise the Journey from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
1 Kings 19:4-8
4But [Elijah] himself 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.” 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He 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. 7The 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.” 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and nights to Horeb the mount of God.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
John 6:35, 41-51
35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
Elijah is running scared. He's just won a great victory over the prophets of Baal, and has killed many of them. Jezebel, the queen, has sworn to kill Elijah for his resistance to her rule. So Elijah is running scared.
Then, out in the wilderness, beneath the shelter of a solitary broom tree, Elijah's shame catches up to him.
Elijah is the prophet of the LORD, he has seen God do amazing things, and is charged with speaking on God's behalf to a people who have a tendency to wander. He knows that the LORD is God, and that there are no other gods before him. Elijah knows that God will protect him. And yet, faced with the threats of wicked rulers, Elijah is running scared.
The people of Capernaum are grumbling. They have seen Jesus do amazing things. He had fed thousands of people with a few loaves and a couple fish. Now he is telling them that they completely missed the point of the miracle of the bread. So the people of Capernaum are grumbling.
Then, in a marketplace near Galilee, gathered around Jesus, the people of Capernaum hear Jesus speak.
The people of Capernaum have followed Jesus. They have seen him do amazing things, healing people, restoring them to themselves, and teaching them so much about God. They know that the LORD is God, and that something is special about this Jesus. The people of Capernaum know that God is working among them. Yet faced with a challenging teaching from Jesus, the people of Capernaum are grumbling.
"He asked that he might die. 'It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.'"
"They were saying, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’”
But God's not done working through Elijah just yet. And the people of Capernaum haven't yet seen all that Jesus is giving them. In the face of shamefully running away, in the face of grumbling about teachings they don't understand, God reaches out to them and provides.
Jesus reaches out to the people of Capernaum without compromising his message. They’re struggling with his divine origins, after all, they grew up with him. "It is precisely the news of what God is giving them, and how radically this contradicts what they themselves are making of Jesus's arrival, that provokes the insiders at Capernaum.” The people of Capernaum are complaining because God is not meeting their expectations. So Jesus pushes them a little harder, challenging to look for God’s presence making his home among them.
The people of Capernaum have sought Jesus out to see his deeds of power, and to hear him teach. In the midst of their grumbling, Jesus offers them hope that God has called them to follow Christ, and that they do not need to be bound by their fear of death any longer. “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.”
Jesus provides assurance to the crowd. Indeed his words carry the same assurance to all who have read and hear his words of hope throughout the centuries of church history. When we come to Christ, it’s because God has been at work in our lives even before we could respond. We have the assurance that our future is provided for.
But embedded in that message of providential hope is a challenge. Christ draws us into a closer relationship with him, and a fuller discipleship of God. In true Gospel-Of-John style, he does it with metaphor and imagery that leaves the people of Capernaum scratching their heads. "The gospel of John does not explain, but only challenges its hearers to be those who do learn and do come.” Jesus, in the Gospel of John, gives us both assurance and a challenge. When we meet Christ, we come away with both providence and a mission.
We have been called by God. We are learning from Jesus. We are fed by the bread of life. What then, will we do with the nourishment we have found in Christ?
We meet Elijah under a solitary broom tree. He is dropped down into shame and despair. “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” He is running in fear, and prays to God to end his journey.
God answer his prayer with a firm “No.”
“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.” Where Elijah had asked for death, God instead provided him with food and water. Our prayers matter to God, but they don’t control God. God has plans for us, to show God’s greatness by working through us, even those of us who, like Elijah, run away in fear. Because we too are no better than our ancestors. The God of our ancestors, however, continues to work through us, and will not let us stay under a solitary broom tree out in the wilderness somewhere.
When Elijah doesn’t quite get it, and lies back down again, God prods him a little harder. “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.’” The providence is there, a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water, but Elijah is also reminded that he is on a journey, even if he doesn’t know the destination yet. God’s providence provides a challenge, and that challenge give Elijah a new direction, so that he’s no longer running away in fear, he is following God’s call.
As we wrestled with our 1 Kings text at lunch bunch earlier this week, one of the folks there observed that God provides, and if we ignore what God provides, the journey will be too much for us. A journey of fear leaves us empty, but if we take in the fullness of what God has given us, we can follow in Elijah’s footsteps and go “in the strength of that food forty days and nights to Horeb the mount of God.”
Horeb is another name for Sinai, where the people of God encamped and received the law, which gave them an identity as the people of God, who would be a light to the nations. Horeb is the place where Elijah’s imperfect ancestors were taught by Moses, who was taught by God.
Centuries later in Capernaum, Jesus reminds the crowd of the prophet who wrote that “they shall all be taught by God.” Jesus knows that God is all about breaking down some barriers. Jesus is, himself, the fullest expression of the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven into the world. “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” Just as the ancient Israelites gathered at Sinai, and as Elijah journeyed to Horeb, the mount of God, so too the people of Capernaum gather around Jesus, to see him work wonders, to hear him teach and interpret the scripture.
Jesus challenges us to put down the forbidden fruit and to take up the bread of life, that we may replace our self-righteous knowledge of good and evil with the wholeness of "they shall all be taught by God.” The law that was given is fulfilled by Jesus Christ, the prophets who spoke pointed to the Jesus Christ, and the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ leads to the cross and the empty tomb so that we might believe Jesus when he tells us that “I am the bread of life.”
God has provided something beyond our wildest imagination: The Word made flesh. God who is with us. It’s beyond even the miracles that our ancestors had seen. “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” But this time is different. This is not a temporary portion, a cake baked on hot stones or a jar of water. “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” Just as Elijah found a new purpose out of God’s providence, So we too find our true identity in Jesus Christ. "For the reason why we obtain life by faith is, that we know that all the parts of our life are contained in Christ.” All the parts of our life are contained in Christ, our challenge then, is to answer God’s call on our lives to grow in faith.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
God’s work in the world has changed everything. In Christ, we are given the freedom to follow God, to be taught by God, to live as servants of the Holy One. The living bread is set before us so that we may be nourished, body and spirit, but God’s presence among us. Otherwise the journey would have been too much for us.
So, taught by God, fed by Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, how will we respond to the challenge?
Let’s find out. Amen.