1 Kings 19:3-8
Today is a great day for so many reasons. Great to be back in front of you sharing God’s Word. Good to be back home away from the allergies that got me in Wisconsin. Bible study is back. Sunday school has started again. Wonderful things. Of course, can you smell it? Fellowship meals are back too. I have to admit summer Sundays have become tough for me. I leave worship, get home, and then have to decide what to have for lunch. Then again at suppertime. But Sundays from now till Memorial Day, I know each week lunch will already be figured out.
Please don’t worry about me though. Summer doesn’t bring a defeatist attitude. I don’t sulk and frown and tap my feet waiting for summer to pass and the food to return. Any defeatism I might feel about other things that would make me sulk, frown, or tap my feet with anxiety can’t be defeated with food. And food won’t defeat any of your defeatism either. Elijah’s defeatist attitude in the first lesson where he’s running afraid, that can’t be defeated with food either. At least not food alone. Bread and water for him, enchiladas and dessert for us today, might make us feel a little better. But it does nothing for the defeatist attitude that infects us because of sin and the things about life that get us down.
Where was Elijah coming from? It’s critical to understand what came before to understand why he was in the middle of nowhere afraid. Elijah was a prophet of God, called to challenge the idol worship so prevalent at his time. From the king and queen on down, people struggled with worshiping false gods. Through Elijah God was going to confront the matter, settle this business of who was the real God. On Mount Carmel, there was a worshiping contest. The false prophets of Baal would build an altar to their god, and Elijah would build an altar to his God. Whichever god burned up the sacrifice would be declared the true God. Of course, the only true God proved to be the only true God.
Everything was going Elijah’s way. The people had all sworn an oath to worship only the true God. The prophets of Baal were destroyed or run off. The rain fell in Israel again as it had previously been stopped by God in answer to Elijah’s prayer. His biggest hurdles seemed behind him. Jezebel, the queen, wasn’t going to allow that to happen. She threatened Elijah with death. Suddenly in full defeatist mode, Elijah ran. “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.” He didn’t just run to the next town. Fear carried him far from Israel. He ended up alone in the desert under one single solitary tree.
There he poured out his heart to God. “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Elijah wanted to die. After a long anxious fearful trip, he would have been physically spent. He was running for his life and far from home. He was afraid and alone. And looking back over his life he saw failure. Never mind his people were back following God. Never mind the evil prophets of the false god were dead. Never mind he should have been feeling great about things. He had failed. The people would fall again into idolatry. Jezebel was threatening his life. Life wasn’t going to be easier. He was done physically and he was done spiritually too. He had done all he could and still it wasn’t enough. He was a failure and he was finished. All his efforts in vain. There was no victory to savor. He was still hated, his God was still hated. What difference did any of it make?
When was the last time we were under that broom tree with Elijah? I know it probably can’t be more than a couple of days, maybe a week or month. Or maybe it isn’t even that long. It may have been just this week, like it was for me, that we got to that point where we couldn’t be comfortable anymore. Thinking about all the people that depend on us. Too many need us constantly, for support, for physical needs to be met. There’s a lot riding on having a job and keeping it. Where we choose to live, how we can provide for those who look to us. The weight of people’s expectations can take it out of us. It bears down so that physically we reach the breaking point. Can’t they just let us be for one moment? Must they always need something? Can’t we get a break with some relief?
We’re trying our best. Doing what we can. But the overwhelming pressure and temptation at our fingertips is a lot. Maybe it’s images or websites we can’t escape. We’ve told ourselves a hundred times we’d stop. And maybe for a time we did. Sheer will power. But we caved. Fell again. We looked, hid the evidence. The guilt of failing anything after telling ourselves we’d stop feels twice as bad. Eventually, we avoid feeling the guilt anymore. We remove what makes us feel guilty, like removing contact with the church or other believers. We explain it away and keep doing it. We tried, but this world is just too hard of a place to avoid everything that’s bad for us. We helped ourselves as much as we could. It all seems in vain anyway. This world is stacked against us. Why stay with God when all God does is make us feel bad ourselves?
God defeats defeatism like that with food. So far and fast had Elijah run that he forgot a staple. He needed food. “All at once an angel touched him and said, get up and eat.” At his lowest point, there wasn’t judgment from heaven or a voice shouting at him or God coming to him in a dream. There was only the personal touch, the intimacy of God close by. The angel of God pointed out how God had worked. Food had been prepared for Elijah, right there, by his head, while he slept, in the middle of the desert. God personally came to Elijah. It wasn’t about Elijah. Not how well Elijah worked to defeat the prophets of Baal. Not about whether he got rid of idol worship or stood up to Jezebel when she threatened him. God doesn’t help those who help themselves. No, no. God wasn’t coming to Elijah to say, “Good, I see you gave it all you had. Now I can help you because you tried hard.” God doesn’t help those who help themselves. God helps those who cannot help themselves.
Your sins and past failures mean you can’t help yourselves. Surely you’ve seen that. Experienced it. The more you try the worse things got. You’ve been down. Felt like a failure. Reached despair and ultimately defeatism. Asked what’s it all worth? God defeats that defeatism with food. He touches you. Personally, intimately he comes to you with the food of his Word. Feeds you with that food that can pick you up. It isn’t about you, it’s all about God.
Remember Jesus hit his low points too. What bigger failure can be experienced than dying in humility when everyone was counting on victory? Everyone and everything seemed aligned against Jesus on the cross. No support from government or religious leaders. They turned on him years before. Even his close followers fled when the struggle became real. Under constant threat Jesus had every reason to be afraid. But before defeatism came food. The food of God’s Word which said this was all coming. Death wasn’t coming because of his enemies. He wasn’t being forced to the cross. His life aimed at this point. The moment Jesus could take every failure of yours, every mistake, and every sin and credit you with his perfection. Instead of defeatism, Jesus won victory. He defeated defeatism.
Now Jesus is the food God uses to defeat defeatism in you. “I am the bread of life…I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Jesus nourishes you physically with what he provides each day. It’s not your struggle, not your hard work, not you doing it at all. It’s God doing it for you and through you. Your abilities and skills are from Jesus. And Jesus nourishes you spiritually. He feeds your soul on himself, the very thing that saves you. Leads you to the Word where your faith is kept strong, and gets stronger each day. He gives you the sacraments where you come into contact with his grace. Grace in the water of baptism. Grace in bread and wine, body and blood. A closer connection to him. Personal. A touch from God.
Elijah was able to go for days and weeks in the miraculous food of God. “So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.” Don’t become so amazed by the miracle you miss the destination. The mountain of God was where God had met with his people before. He had shared with them promises of his protection and prosperity. Promises of what the future would hold. Promises of a Savior. The food turned Elijah back to the promises. You face grueling days. Potential for defeatism all the time. But in light of the promises of your Savior, you face each day with confidence. He strengthens you with food to work to his glory. He forgives your sins. He directs you to the promises for comfort and peace. Christ did not fail. Any remaining defeatism evaporates in the victory of Christ.
So stop trying your best and focus on the best of Jesus. God defeats defeatism with food. Jesus is that food. He’s the spiritual food you receive. Strengthening to survive in this world. And strengthening you need to make it to the world to come.