Elijah’s Fire and Jesus’ Bread – 8,20,06

Elijah was in a difficult line of work.  His job description read something like this:  1.  applicant will frequently confront most powerful person of the nation with news that will make him want to kill you  2. must be willing to sit alone by a river for several years in a row getting fed by birds  3. must be willing to live with strangers who have hardly any food.  Advised to pray that food doesn’t out  4.  must be able win duals with other prophets when outnumbered 450 to 1 5. must be able to receive revolutionary insights from God and communicate these clearly and concisely to a nation that doesn’t care.

Your average prophet lived with high stress and horrible pay.  This is probably why people became prophets by appointment and not choice.  This was not a job little Israelite kids dreamed of having when they grew up. 

In today’s reading, we meet up with Elijah at the low point of his career.  After several years of working miracles, touring the nation, and sticking it to the king, this was the point where he was supposed to take a year off, go on a retreat, and write a book about how to be a successful prophet in today’s changing world.  Instead, we find Elijah taking a retreat into the desert, or rather, retreating into the desert, flopped under the only tree in sight.  And he doesn’t just want to quit his job, he wants to die.  He’s saying to God, ‘kill me now.’  ‘Take me out of this whole game.’  ‘I’m worthless, no better than my ancestors.’  ‘I’m going to lay down and go to sleep for the last time.’

You know, one of the things I like about the Scriptures is that there is so little attempt to gloss over the ugliness and difficultness of life.  If you’re trying to build the confidence of people the prevailing theory goes that you show your leaders to be strong, solid as a rock, completely confident in themselves and their ideas.  But if you’re looking for that kind of hero in the Bible you’re going to be disappointed.  Faithful Abraham and Sara were full of fear and doubt.  The patriarch Jacob and his mom Rebecca were liars.  The great law giver Moses was a murderer.  King David was an adulterer and murderer.  The prophet Jonah was a rebel who couldn’t learn a lesson about God’s compassion.  The mighty prophet Elijah was, it appears, given to depression and suicidal thoughts.  Everybody is a mixed bag, all stumbling around through life, sometimes faithful, sometimes being a real jerk, sometimes just wanting to check out and call it quits.

450 versus 1.  What are the odds?  Who would even go into a contest with this kind of competition?  After years of drought Elijah had actually initiated a showdown between the prophets of the rain god Baal and himself, the prophet of the Lord.  And he had won.  They were dancing around on their altar trying to make fire come down from heaven, but nothing had happened.  But when Elijah prayed fire fell down from heaven and consumed everything on the altar.  That was the test to see whose God was more powerful.  Not only did Elijah win, but he slaughtered the other team.  Yeah, he actually slaughtered them.  Killed all 450 of them.  A public victory for Elijah and his powerful God.  Nothing like a little fire from heaven to convince the masses which God they should follow.

Jesus said “I am the bread of life that came down from heaven.”  Don’t go after food that rots.  Your real life is in the Source of the bread, the One I’m calling my Father in heaven.  I’m showing you what you need, what you’re pursuing.  That bread is God’s very self offered to you and I have become that bread for you. 

The people who were listening complained because he said he was bread come down from heaven.  How can he say he has come down from heaven? 

Elijah’s great victory happened right before Elijah sauntered off into the desert wanting to die.  And here’s what happened right after:  He was up on a high mountain, and he heard a voice telling him, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”  I’m reading right out of 1 Kings 19:11.  “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence, a still small voice.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”  The Lord was not in the fire.  

I thought the Lord just came as fire.  I thought the great victory of Elijah over the evil prophets was a display of God’s power.  I thought the fire from heaven was from heaven; the fire of the Lord.  That devouring fire that destroys God’s enemies and proves God’s supremacy.  But Elijah discovered, the Lord was not in the fire.

Through Elijah, we are witnessing one of the important discoveries of the scriptures.  Before, it was perceived that God was in the fire.  Now, Elijah learns that God was not in the fire.  So, according to this, What is it that comes down from heaven?  The answer seems to be Not Fire.

 It is a crucial insight, and doesn’t get worked out completely for centuries, still hasn’t really gotten worked out.  People are still attributing earthquakes and windstorms and fires to the hand of God.  Elijah’s insight is that God was not in the fire and we’re left with a kind of void of where God is.  If God isn’t in the fire that destroyed our enemies, then where is God?  If the zeal behind those slaughterings of the rain god prophets wasn’t the zeal of the Lord, then what are we left with? 

Jesus said “I am the bread of life that came down from heaven.”  Don’t go after food that rots.  Your real life is in the Source of the bread, the One I’m calling my Father in heaven.  I’m showing you what you need, what you’re pursuing.  That bread is God’s very self offered to you and I have become that bread for you. 

The people who were listening complained because he said he was bread come down from heaven.  How can he say he has come down from heaven? 

Elijah in the desert who wants to die is the Elijah in between fire from heaven and not fire from heaven; and it is a dark place under that lonely tree.  He just defeated the prophets of Baal, but he has not yet had his revelation of the God who lives in the silence.  He was the rock star, his show complete with charisma and pyrotechnics.  The champion of the masses who believe he is the greatest; the undisputed leader of the good guys.  But a few hours after the show, it all starts to fall apart in his mind.  Now he huddles in isolation away from the stage and wishes to die; He says, “It is enough.  Now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  Something rings hollow in this public victory.  It was booking itself as the new show in town, the greatest spectacle for everyone to see, proof of the greatness of the Lord of Israel, but in his own mind Elijah knew different.  This was just a rerun, the same old show his ancestors had always been putting on.  The same old show of brute force and vengeance on enemies.  Elijah had won the magic show and then killed all his opponents.  Surely that should be in the job description of a prophet of the Lord.  That had always been the script.  Elijah wants to die because he knows he is no better than his ancestors.  Somewhere he knew that the real job description of a prophet of the Lord is one who reveals the truth about the justice and steadfast love of the God of Israel who is the Lord of all nations. 

He discovered who God was not, and he discovered that his failures made him no different than anyone else.  It was good for Elijah to be learning these things, but when all you thought you knew gets stripped away and you’re left with pretty much nothing, it looks for a short time like there’s nothing left to do except go to sleep.  There’s simply nothing left of the life you thought you knew.  And there’s no longer any way to control God or your own life.

What is it that comes down from heaven?  We know this is a contested question.  All sorts of actions get attributed to God, including very harmful things like deaths, sicknesses, tragedies, wars…windstorm, earthquake, and fire.  From the mouths of  friends, family members, politicians, OK, and preachers – everybody has certain things they believe are coming down out of heaven.  Given the options, sometimes we might be tempted to think that if this is where all this God talk is leading us, maybe we should just drop it altogether.  Does anything really come to us from heaven anyway?  For Elijah at this time in his journey, he only knows what doesn’t come from the God of heaven.  Not windstorm, not earthquake, and Not fire.

This is the point where the words of Jesus are most pertinent to us. 

  Jesus said, I am the bread of life, come down from heaven, to do the will of the One who sent me.  What comes down from heaven is like bread, bread of life, and it looks a whole lot like a human being who does the will of God.  And Jesus is saying I am that bread.  This is hard for the people to hear, because, well, there is a person saying they are coming down from heaven.  This sounds a bit like another rock star scenario complete with smoke and mirrors, this time with the hero dropping out of the sky onto the stage.  But Jesus points the people somewhere else.  He says “It 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.”  You shall all be taught by God.  This bread thing from heaven is universally available to you all.  That’s the whole point.  Its not meant to be possessed by a special elite.  The prophets say it themselves.  You all have access to the Source of Bread.  Jesus is making this available.  In his body, the prophet who speaks and the bread that strengthens have become one.  This bread is for the life of the world.  Its not death and destruction that come out of heaven.  It’s the bread of justice, the bread of healing, the bread of reconciliation, the bread of life that leads to more life.  And the one who does the will of God is the one who comes to know this.  And the will of God is that the whole world have abundant life.

            The broad movement of these texts moves us between two poles.  On the one side is the place of isolation in the wilderness, the place where we wish for death, the place where we feel nothing but failure and self-loathing, that place where God looks more like a void than a presence. 

The other side is Jesus’ statement that “they shall all be taught by God.”  The ever present availability of the life-giving presence of the Father and Mother of all.  Bread given for the life of the whole world.  Jesus, bridging heaven and earth, offering himself out to us as the gift of God to a hungry world. 

            We live in between those two poles.  Ready to lay down and fall asleep forever, and ready to embrace the whole world with God’s zeal for life.  There is space here for us to be at whatever point between them.  And Jesus is always there with us, offering bread from God.   

The hymn we have been singing says “All who hunger, sing together, Jesus Christ is living bread.  Come from loneliness and longing.  Here in peace we have been led.  Blest are those who from this table live their days in gratitude.  Taste and see the grace eternal.  Taste and see that God is good.”

In the desert, Elijah asked that he may die.  But instead of death, he was given bread.  Its just bread, but its just what he needs to go on, to go on to the next phase of his journey.  Jesus is the bread of life who comes from heaven to us.  May we receive the bread of life, God’s very self, the source of all life.

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One thought on “Elijah’s Fire and Jesus’ Bread – 8,20,06

  1. i went to the source..
    that is the first sermons
    which aint that easy on a slow computer
    but okay someway i got here
    on the page with your first sermons…

    i did not want them to feel neglected
    by my comments u know…

    ah rock stars is it

    puts me in mind of another rock story
    with moses
    what he did i think
    so as he couldnt enter the promised land
    he got carried away with display
    when he added flair to god’s way
    of bring water out of the rock….

    i didnt see yet ifn
    u all
    after all you are down below the linquistic
    divide twixt northern and southern that some put along mains street
    columbus ohio i believe:)

    so u r kinda in the deep south:)

    but back to
    now what was i talking bout
    gotta scroll ..hold on

    ah yes bread of life and fire
    so bread is biblically connected to the flesh right….

    and the hip bone to
    oops that is another matter

    and spirit old testament wise is in the flesh…
    interesting methinks

    and where is the soul old testament wise
    the blood of course
    symbol wise ..the wine
    i would think

    now then i came across
    something stated such that it stood out
    more than when i might have come across it before
    about spirit being in the flesh
    in all human flesh
    it is a rebellious spirit
    without any cure
    well pretty much anyways
    i might be willing to make some
    qualifications there…
    namely that no other person but jesus
    could share thru his being fully human
    in the flesh but the spirit in his flesh
    was without any rebelliousness to it…
    now the bible tells us some
    why that might be
    and some aspects people miss
    but methinks it is in the bible nevertheless
    most wanna call it a type or something
    not that it was jesus
    who was joshua in zechariah
    who had all his sins removed
    and told he could come back later
    as the messiah………
    but that is just a bit
    of the fascinating aspects of the messiah
    that most think as terribly misguided….
    oh well,

    buts me in mind of when jesus read from the scroll of isaiah at the synagogue in nazareth
    and told them it was not the acceptable year of the lord
    which they thought would be the time of realized jews….
    but when jesus proceeded to tell them of their prophets who went to others at times before the jews….
    they escorted him to the brow of a hill
    …….

    but i digress perhaps…

    and how the life of jesus in the flesh
    that maintained his consciousness
    of that of one with no rebelliousness of spirit
    as the rest of flesh tho
    their flesh is tainted by sin
    and rebellious spirit….
    and by what he suffered as spoken in hebrews
    he was enabled by god to offer universal salvation to all who were convicted of their sinfulness in the flesh and who properly repented and accepted the holy spirit…
    some remaining on the milk
    others moving on to the levels
    spoken of perhaps in hebrews….

    which could get into things related
    to the unforgivable sin…..
    which i have my suspicions
    as to what the resolve of that might be…

    well now bread of life
    spirit
    oh fire
    and the heat of fire
    becomes much hotter
    it is said by some
    when sin needs to be consumed
    but when one is peaceful within
    one does not need necessarily to stoke its fires
    to overcome sin with a gentle warmth
    of that
    as of freshly baked bread 🙂

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