9th Sunday after Pentecost—Year A—Aug 10, 2014
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
After last week’s story of the feeding of the 5,000, it is ironic that this week move on to the prophet Elijah…whose Biblical fame includes a lot examples of extra-ordinary feeding.
Elijah “the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead” appears in the narrative out of the blue in chapter 17 of 1st Kings and immediately goes to the king of Israel and says it will not rain until Elijah says so…this is the punishment for Ahab worshipping Baal instead of God alone.
It is throughout this drought that God feeds Elijah in miraculous ways. First God sends ravens with bread and meat twice a day to Elijah as he hides at the Wadi Cherith. Ravens…bread…twice a day…morning and evening. But then the Wadi dries up…due to the lack of rain of course…so Elijah has to move on.
When this happens, God tells Elijah to go to Zarephath. There, God provides for Elijah a widow to feed him through the remainder of the drought. The widow, upon Elijah asking for something to eat and drink, informs him that she and her son only have a handful of meal and a little oil. It is enough for one last cake, which will be followed by their deaths. Of course, because God is involved, the meal and oil last much longer than she expected, and Elijah (and the widow and her son) are fed.
But Elijah’s story is not one only of miraculous feedings. When it is time for the drought to end, Elijah invites Ahab to assemble 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (another false god) at Mount Carmel. As a public display, they set up two sacrificial altars—one for the prophets of Baal and one for Elijah. Each altar has pieces of a bull laid on top, but no fire is put to it. The fire must come from the followed god—the 450 prophets’ from Baal and Elijah’s from God. Whichever god makes fire first, proves they are the true god. The prophets called for Baal to answer from morning till noon, but no fire came. They continued on, with Elijah mocking them that they should be louder as Baal might be meditating or maybe is away for an afternoon stroll. Still no fire came.
Then Elijah built an altar to the one God, prepared the bull, but instead of calling for fire, he had the on-lookers pour 4 jugs of water on the altar…not once…not twice…but three times…12 jugs of water in all. With the wood, altar, and bull sopping wet, he called out the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and fire “fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.”
Rain follows and ends the drought, but not without Elijah first having the 450 prophets of Baal killed. When this news makes it to Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, who was the one who had Ahab start worshipping Baal in the first place, she is not happy, and so pledges that the same will happen to Elijah by the next day. Upon hearing this, Elijah runs for his life!
A little ways into his journey, he rests under a solitary broom tree and starts to feel sorry for himself and wants to give up. He asks that he might die. But instead of granting his request, God feeds him miraculously once again. The two meals give him enough energy for the 40-day journey to Mt. Horeb, where the book of Deuteronomy tells us Moses received from God the 10 Commandments. It is there we encounter Elijah today…at the cave on Mt. Horeb.
Elijah is at the holy Mountain of God, but regardless of all the times God has shown power and sustained him, he still is feeling sorry for himself…a little self-righteous you even might say…he repeats twice his speech about how good he is and how bad everyone else is.
Elijah is stressed, running for his life, exhausted, and in a place where he cannot hear anything but his own inner dialogue. So God gets his attention…first with a great wind…then an earthquake…then a fire…then a sound of sheer silence. And once God has Elijah’s attention, he is assured that he is not alone—there are 7000 in Israel who have not worshipped Baal—and gives him instructions to anoint a new king over Aram, a new king over Israel, and a new prophet in his place. They will take care of the rest of the Baal worshippers.
Just like Peter is rescued by Jesus in the midst of stormy waters he was sent out on, God sustained Elijah throughout his ministry. The life of a disciples is not an easy one; it is likely to be full of challenges, hurdles, hard times, and doubts, but we are sent out with the promise that there is no reason to fear, for Jesus is with us to the end. He doesn’t smooth out the path perfectly, but simply partners us through what we encounter.
We see examples, in both Elijah and Peter, that doubt usually comes when things get tough, but ultimately it is in those tough times that we tend to God the clearest too. God is with us always, listening to our prayers, encouraging us in our ministry, and inspiring us with the Word.
I hope that you never encounter life circumstances as dire as Peter’s drowning or Elijah’s scuffle with Jezebel…that you can just use their examples. However, when you do find yourself in the darkest of valleys, the worst of circumstances, the bottom of the well…know that God is with you, your predicament does not mean that God loves you, listens to you, lives in you any less. For our god is the one and only God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of feeding and healing. The God is called “I AM who I AM”/“I will be who I will be.” The one who knows no end and never forgets you and always forgives you. Amen.
 1 Kings 18:38, NRSV.