2021-08-08 11th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!
“Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m going to the garden to eat worms.” Ever remember singing that song with the kids? Or maybe you sang it to yourself. We all have at one time or another. It’s a song about being depressed and feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s a wallowing in self loathing. We secretly hope that others will feel pity for us by association, and then if they do, we’re mad that they pity us because we’re so pitiable. It’s a vicious cycle. A downward spiral. Whining and complaining usually come along for free ride too. Last Sunday we heard about it as the Israelites were whinging and carrying on about having no bread in the wilderness. They were hungry and despite living in slavery in Egypt, the longed to be back there under the Egyptian oppression as long as it meant they had food and meat-pots aplenty. And now this week, it’s the prophet Elijah. What’s his problem? He’s so depressed that he’s ready to keel over and die!
The context for our reading is this. It was a rather rocky time for God’s people, a low spot on the roller coaster. Turns out that the pagan god Baal was becoming rather popular. So much so that God’s people started to abandon our One true God in favor of this false schmuck. We can relate. It happens all the time. We have a cornucopia of false gods in our day from materialism and money to the cult of busyness to all manner of new-age madness! People have abandoned Christianity and church attendance to steep in their chakras and commune at Costco! For God’s people back in Elijah’s day, it was that they were actually worshipping this false god known as Baal. And by doing so, they cut themselves off from their Savior, the true God who blessed them and took care of them and led them out of slavery.
So Elijah, the prophet of the One true God, goes to the people and tries to call them back to the Lord, back to repentance for their sin of idolatry. But he runs into opposition. There arose a horribly wretched King named Ahab and his now infamous wife Jezebel. They outright denied the One true God and setup full blown idol worship to Baal. The long story short is, Elijah the prophet takes the gloves off and challenges the 450 prophets of Baal to a dual. Each takes a bull for sacrifice, prepares the wood and everything but they don’t light it on fire. Instead, the God who rains down fire from heaven in a glorious display of power to burn the sacrifice, that is the real God the people should worship. The Baal prophets agree to the terms. Then the shenanigans begin.
“Hear us, O Baal, hear us.” But there was no voice, no response from the pagan god. Hours pass by. Still nothing. Elijah taunts them a bit, saying that certainly Baal should hear them, if he is almighty! Maybe he’s off meditating or sleeping or just busy. The false prophets call and yell all the more, this time even cutting themselves with swords so much so that their own blood poured out everywhere. Still nothing. Hours pass and evening comes, and the time is up. Elijah steps in and prepares his altar for sacrifice. He gets 12 stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel to make his altar. He prepared the sacrifice and the wood. Everything was ready. But then, he had 4 large pots of water poured out on the whole works not once, not twice but three times, again with the number 12 representing God’s power. The wood, the bull, the altar, everything was completely and utterly soaked. And then, he looked towards heaven and cried out: “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (1 Kings 18:36-37).
At once, fire fell from heaven at God’s hand and burned up the whole offering, the firewood and all the water that surrounded the altar. Even the 12 stones that Elijah made into the altar were scorched into oblivion! The real God had won the competition and everyone around stared in wide eyed wonderment! They said “Truly, the Lord is God; He is God.” Then the prophets of Baal were put to death, one by one at the hand of Elijah the prophet.
Now if there ever was a moment where you were at the top of the roller coaster emotionally, this would have been it! It would be like winning Gold in the Olympics in every single event you entered! And yet, from this incredible display of power and might, Elijah quickly descends. The roller coaster comes to a grinding halt. Turns out King Ahab and Jezebel didn’t take too kindly to Elijah killing all their prophets. They gave the order to seize and kill Elijah as quickly as possible. And so, off into hiding he goes. Out into the wilderness, in the middle of nowhere, away from his enemies and nary a friend to be seen. He goes out in the wilderness to eat worms. And no, this isn’t some kind of John the Baptist Ketogenic Diet Plan! Elijah is completely depressed and feels utterly defeated, so much so he just wishes the Lord would end his life.
He felt like a failure at his job, as the majority of people were seeking after a false god. He was a wanted criminal awaiting a death sentence. He thought he was the only prophet left in the kingdom. He was sitting out in a slim sliver of shade in the desert with no food or water. Elijah was convinced that he was completely alone and that nobody cared if he lived or died. Can we relate to this? Maybe not to the death sentence part, but certainly the feelings of being alone and abandoned. The darkness of depression sets in. We’re confident that no good thing can come from our circumstances and that we are better off dead. You know that slogan, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”? It’s one of those “keep a stiff upper lip” sayings to spur us on in tough times. But what if the tank is empty? What fuel are you going to burn? What strength do you have when there is none? Some say we just need to dig down deep inside ourselves. But even in the deepest darkest mine of the human will, there can be nothing left. There can be rock bottom. And all too often there is just that. Emptiness.
Certainly, inside our human hearts is nothing but sin and death. That is until God replaces them by His grace and fills us with His divine power and strength. And this is what we rely on when the going gets tough in life – we don’t rely on our sinful selves, we rely on God and His powerful arm to carry us through. The darkness of depression is a thick cloud to be sure. However, the light of God’s grace shines brighter. It illuminates our hearts and minds and reminds us that we are never alone. No matter how bad we think things have become, God has never and will never abandon us. Elijah’s cardinal sin in all of his trials was forgetting this. But it’s so easy to do. We’ve all been where Elijah was at one point or another. What we need is not “tough talk” advice. Rather, we need to remember that God is faithful to us, even in the worst of times. And God will bless us with reminders. For Elijah, it was being touched by an angel. He wakes up from his sleep to a miraculous meal of hot bread and water beside him – another reminder that God had not abandoned him in his time of need. In the thick of things, God was faithful to Elijah and He is to us too.
Don’t eat worms, Elijah, eat bread instead! It’s the same thing God tells us. Come to the Lord’s Table and eat this bread and drink the cup. For our Lord is indeed the very bread of life come down for us. He is the bread of heaven that is forgiveness, life and salvation for us. God speaks to us all today. He is saying “I AM here for you in My Word and Sacraments.” He invites us to be strengthened for the long journey of life, with all of its ups and downs. His heavenly food which lasts and endures is freely given for all who believe His promise. Thanks be to God now and forever more! Amen!