Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - August 13, 2006

  Does anyone know what the last verses of the Old Testament are about?   Everyone knows the first verses of the Old Testament…from Genesis…having to do with creation…”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  But what about the last verses?  They are from the book of Malachi, and they have to do with the prophet Elijah:  “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.  He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.”

You probably didn’t know that.  I didn’t know it, but when you think about it, it makes sense that the Old Testament would end with something about Elijah.  Within Judaism there is and always has been the expectation of the return of a prophet like Elijah.  That’s why when John the Baptist arrived on the scene some assumed that he must be Elijah.  When Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” that was one of the first answers; some say Elijah.  To this day, when Jews gather to celebrate the Passover meal, an extra chair is set just in case Elijah should return. 

So Elijah is a central figure, one of the big names of the Bible, but I always feel like as Christians we are not real familiar with him or not as familiar as we should be anyway.  We know the name but not the significance because in Judaism Elijah is the prophet par excellance, the one by whom all the other prophets are measured. 

One way to think about Elijah is as an interruption; probably you could think of all prophets that way as they tend to interrupt and pose challenges to accepted and settled ways of life.  Even in the written text of the Bible though, Elijah is an interruption.  If you read the two chapters prior to 1 Kings 17, they are pretty much formulaic recitations about the kings who succeeded King Solomon; they lived, they ruled, they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger until they die and sleep with their ancestors; one after another.

But in chapter 17 stories of Elijah interrupt this recital.  Even the style of writing changes to more narrative storytelling which further highlights the interruption Elijah is to this string of kings who fail to properly honor the Lord.  Elijah kind of bursts on the scene from out of nowhere, or at least from outside normal channels as he comes from Gilead which is east of the Jordan and far from any centers of power.  So in this changed narrative of 1 Kings 17 you get spirited stories about Elijah and his confrontation with the god Baal and his followers and advocates. 

Baal is kind of the resident challenger to the Lord, Yahweh and following Baal seemed to be a consistent temptation to the kings and the people of Israel.  I always wondered why the attraction, but I found there is a good, practical reason.  Baal was thought to have particular influence over rain which was a crucial necessity in what could be a very dry part of the world. 

Elijah came along at the time of King Ahab who was playing ball with Baal as it were.  Ahab married Jezebel, a worshiper of Baal and he established Baal worship, setting up altars and shrines, even persecuting followers of Yahweh. 1 Kings 16: 33, “Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings who were before him.”  However, the kingdom was at peace and was prospering.  Most would have said that Ahab and Jezebel were on the right track, that they had made the correct religious choices.  That’s the situation that Elijah interrupts.

Chapters 17 and 18 of 1 Kings highlight Elijah’s confrontation with this situation and he is quite successful.  He started by announcing a drought that only he could end, and it happened.  You would think that would give him and the Lord some credibility but even as the drought went on for several years Ahab and Jezebel were not convinced.  These two chapters culminate with Elijah staging a contest to determine whose god was really God.  He winds up summoning the power of the Lord and he humiliates Baal and his prophets, and then he has them executed, all 450 of them. Seems like pretty conclusive evidence of whose god is God.   To top it off, Elijah then announced the end of the drought and the rains began.

What should be Elijah’s moment of triumph became a moment of despair though, as all this did was to make his picture even bigger on the post office wall.  He was Ahab and Jezebel’s most wanted.  He was on the run and he was tired, so tired that he just wanted to curl up and die.  That’s today’s lesson.   Elijah, this heroic figure, this prophet par excellance was wracked with questioning…of himself, of his calling, of God.  Elijah, who was himself an interruption, was in need of an interruption.

That interruption came in the form of an angel of the Lord.  Elijah just wanted to sleep, even the sleep of death but the angel kept interrupting that sleep, telling him to get up and eat. And he did…the necessary food was provided so Elijah could eat and continue because there was more for him to do and experience.  He was still tired and discouraged, unsure of himself and unsure about God, but the divine interruptions would continue, not always giving Elijah what he wanted, but what he needed in order to carry on. 

This part of the Elijah story is paired with the Bread of Life gospel text because of the bread that is provided for Elijah which enables him to live.  It’s a logical connection, and I’ll come back to it, but I think Elijah as interruption and Jesus as interruption is another connection.  Jesus definitely represented an interruption to the Jewish leaders.  He posed a challenge to their way of thinking in a number of ways and a big part of it was what comes out in today’s gospel.  They could only see him as fully human, the son of Joseph the carpenter.  All those other things that Jesus said and did and seemed to represent just did not fit with who they knew Jesus to be. 

Jesus continues to be that kind of interruption.  Most everyone, Christian, non-Christian, atheist, whatever, can see the fully human part of Jesus.  But many can’t see him as an interruption who challenges how we think about God.  For those who can though, Jesus becomes the divine interruption that we need.  He is the bread of life!  He is the bread of life that sustains us and gives us strength in our Elijah moments.

We all have those moments, maybe not as bad as Elijah wanting to curl up under the broom tree and die, or maybe it is that bad.  At least we all know what is like to be tired and discouraged, depressed or sad, unsure if we can make it, unsure if we even want to make it.  We know those moments, moments which can be brought on by a host of things.  Faced with those moments, some do pull an Elijah and withdraw.  But others, others who know Jesus as a divine interruption know that he is the bread of life.  They know that in him, new life and sustenance is found, especially when life is most difficult.  

Probably one of the reasons you come back to church week after week is because you know this.  You know the strength that is found in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the real presence of Christ.  You know that there is more going on here than a tasteless little wafer and a sip of wine because you’ve experienced it.  You come back each week because you know you need the divine interruption of the Bread of Life which is offered here.  You may not be able to put into words exactly what it does for you, but you don’t have to.  You know it’s real, and that’s what matters.

And let’s not forget those who in their Elijah moments do withdraw and curl up under the broom tree as it were.  You know such people and they’re in need of a divine interruption too; and you may be the angel of the Lord that brings it to them in the form of an invitation to church or a reminder that they’re missed.  And it may take more than one invitation and more than one person.  Even Elijah, the heroic prophet, didn’t respond right away.  The first time the angel woke him up he ate and drank but then went right back to sleep.  He still wasn’t sure.  But new life was waiting for him.  The interruptions weren’t over and the bread from heaven, the bread of life was still there.  It always is.

    

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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