1 Kings 19:4-8 Journeys (for a service at which William was Baptised)
If I had a pound for every time someone said “I’ve done my bit in the Church,
or I’m too old to do anything now, or the Church is boring, or the Church isn’t for me I don’t get much out of it” – I’d be a very rich woman.
Since when did the Christian faith become about us and what we want?
Isn’t it about God, and our service to Him, isn’t that what He wants – for us to serve Him? Part of that service is being a regular worshipper in the gathered community of believers together (the Church) but it is also about a real commitment to stay together, helping each other, listening to each other and using the gifts we have been given to fully serve God and to bring others to Him throughout our lives.
If we are true believers, it’s not something we can just dip in and out of,
to suit our lifestyles. It is a journey – a life-long journey. When we make a commitment to faith, it is a life-long commitment, not a 5-minute wander,
and the journey is only complete when we reach life’s end and become reunited with God. We begin that journey when we are baptised into new life with Christ, just as William will be today, as he begins his own journey with Jesus. Some of us will have begun that journey a long time ago, while for others they are at the beginning, but when we choose to journey with Christ we find peace, wholeness and completeness. He doesn’t promise us an easy journey, in fact when you become a Christian it is anything but that,
but God does promise He will journey with us and when we find the journey tough His love, peace and encouragement will sustain us throughout whatever difficulties we face.
Throughout the Bible we are presented with people and situations which are difficult, like Hagar in the wilderness with her young child, Jonah under his tree in Nineveh, and today in the reading from Kings we see Elijah who is deflated, despondent, depressed and discouraged – he is suffering burn-out from his ministerial duties, feels he has done all he needs to do and doesn’t have the strength to continue when others are baying for his life.
He understands that this life is one of service, service to God, but now he has had enough and prays for an end to it. What more can he do? God can use someone else to do His work because he’s done his bit.
But God has other plans and challenges him. The journey is not complete.
This story highlights the fact that the journey in following God’s way and a life for Christ, is not easy. There will always be bumps in the road but Scripture focuses on the way to God.
1 Kings:19 clearly demonstrates Elijah’s fears and worries bringing him to a standstill. Life has become so tough he prays for death – how could things go so badly wrong? It’s hard to understand, but it is part of Elijah’s story,
just as difficulties and struggles are part of our story, our life journey, too.
We can often find ourselves at risk when we are feeling most invulnerable. Just when you are about to give yourself a pat on the back for doing something well, it comes crashing down and you find yourself having to be humble again in a state of vulnerability. Things can change so quickly and we find ourselves wallowing in our own self-pity as if the world is against us, asking ‘Just what did I do wrong?’
I wonder if any of you remember the old nursery song about worms – I remember some of the lyrics but it was fascinating looking them up on the internet and finding how they have changed over time. The new modern version is far more refined, but I will give you the version I grew up with: “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, they say I eat worms. Long slim slimy ones, short fat stubby ones, big thin juicy ones, see how they wiggle and squirm. Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, think I’ll go eat worms.” I’ll spare you the rest, as for vegetarians like Jane, and for animal lovers it’s a bit gory.
It is a song of self-pity (why we learnt it as kids I have no idea!) but they could very well have been the words of Elijah as he sat under the broom tree, sulking and feeling sorry for himself. You can sense the despair as he complained “Enough, Lord! I’ve had enough! Take my life: I am no better off than my fathers.” Then he rolled over and fell asleep as if to say “Lord just let . . . me . . . be!” There is a total sense of abandonment. But God has called him and there is no escape.
From Elijah’s perspective, things just weren’t fair. He’d been an eyewitness to God’s faithfulness and power. During his ministry in Israel God manifested His power. God cared for him during the three-year drought. God demonstrated his power through him, by defeating the prophets of Baal on the top of Mount Carmel. By the hand and power of the Lord Elijah stood in victory. How quickly things change. At the first angry words from Israel’s pagan Queen, Jezebel, Elijah turns around and runs away, and we find him cowering under the broom tree, suffering defeat at the moment of victory.
But what is his real problem?
Elijah’s real problem is that he has lost his focus. He has turned in on himself. That is why he later says, “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
He focuses on himself and we all know when we look to ourselves,
we discover our own weaknesses, our inability to provide for ourselves or protect ourselves, our inability to save ourselves, and we quickly fall into despair. It’s like we’re curled up into a little ball, and we lose sight of all that
God is and all that God does for us – we’re no longer any use. But remember – faith and commitment to God is a life-long journey. You’re never finished!
We can all be like Elijah, easily forgetting in times of trouble all the wonderful things God has done for us, looking inside ourselves for hope, for power,
for strength, for goodness, for value. And we’re disappointed because we don’t see what we’re looking for. When we don’t, we feel cut off from God, and when we’re cut off from God, we begin to be cut off from everyone else as well. .” So we head for the broom tree. Some of us hide in whining and complaining, “Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me.” Some hide in turning into a workaholic, thinking they can pull themselves out of despair by their own means and efforts. Some search for deliverance in power trips. But we are all doing our searching under the wrong “broom tree”- suffering defeat in the moment of victory, like Elijah.
But there is another tree we can go to – the tree where God’s Son suffered and died – the cross. where the grace of God reigned down upon the whole earth. Jesus did not just heal the sick or feed the five thousand. His Word declared forgiveness. When we look up at the tree of the cross we may be inclined to see a man in defeat, bloodied and bruised, pierced for our transgressions. A man in defeat, no, at the cross we see Jesus who suffers victory in a moment that looks like defeat. Through His victory God gives us everything that we need. Believing in Jesus Christ as our Saviour we are sure that we are forgiven and that God is with us no matter what happens in this life. Because of Him we know that our lives matter and that God is using us, even at this very moment, to further His kingdom on earth and to bring to all completeness and wholeness. Our quest for peace begins by receiving God’s peace in the waters of baptism. This is what baptism is all about – a sign and symbol of that peace, completeness and wholeness which only God can give. God in His infinite love reaches out to us, draws us to Himself, embraces and reconciles us. In the waters of baptism we allow the Spirit of the Living God to bring us home, from the darkness of this world into the light of His Kingdom. As I said in my last sermon – it is Good News to us all, the good news of peace through Jesus Christ – the peace William will today receive as he begins his journey following Christ.
And God will sustain us on our way.
God gives us food and strength for the journey of our lives. God wouldn’t let Elijah “go and eat worms.” God sends unexpected help to him during his time of great vulnerability. Elijah is able to overcome his great sadness through the care of the angels and the nourishment of their food.
This story invites us to see how the Lord has been present to us in difficult moments. It also invites us to view our problems through a lens, able to see
God’s divine presence in the world. Just as God is clearly present to Elijah in order to help him overcome his troubles, we must have the same confidence that God is present and will be present in our lives.
We know the whole of the Elijah story and can see this as just a blip in the story. We must also have the awareness that our struggles are far from the whole of our story. Just as God has been present in our past, we must persevere in the hope that God will be present in our future.
God told the prophet Elijah that he was not alone.
When Elijah reached the end of his tether, God was there for him just like he is there for us when we want to give up. God sustained Elijah with bread, meat and water, just like the bread and wine we consume during Holy Communion help to sustain us spiritually.
We do not have to give in when we face discouragement, when we think we’ve done enough, because there is always more work to do for God. God’s grace and provision helped Elijah, and it still helps us today.
Elijah had to learn to trust God, and we also have to learn to trust God.
Just because we don’t hear from him doesn’t mean he is silent. He is still at work in our lives.
This reading challenges us to see how God is present to us in the boring parts of our journey. Elijah teaches us to bring all our emotions to God.
God will be present to us in different ways on different parts of the journey and our reading assures us that God makes the entire journey with us and speaks to us.
So next time you say ‘I’ve done enough, I’ve had enough, I can’t do any more for you in your Church, God “listen to His voice which tells you “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” And strengthened by the food that God provides, be prepared to continue your journey (a journey which began with your baptism) for God’s glory. Even though it appears that the things of this life are threatening us and getting us down we know that even though it looks like we have been defeated, we are victorious, through Jesus Christ our Lord.