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1 Kings 19:4-13
John 6:24-27, 3-35
After the racist, white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Elijah felt shocked and scared and confused. He went a day’s journey into the wilderness and collapsed under a tree, saying, “Engaging the evils of the world is just too hard. I think I’ll stay here from now on.”
After hearing the latest reports on climate change, Jane felt discouraged and overwhelmed. She went a day’s journey into the woods and wrapped her arms around a tree, saying, “I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to make a difference. I think I’ll just hide here.”
After riding the non-stop roller coaster of tweets and actions from the White House, Andrew was exhausted. He stopped listening to NPR and reading the newspapers; he went a day’s journey into oblivion, found a cave, went inside and closed his eyes and covered his ears, saying, “Whatever happens next, I don’t want to know.”
After Border Patrol agents started tearing immigrant children from the arms of their asylum-seeking parents and holding them in lonely cages and freezing detention centers for months on end, Chris was overcome with grief and anger. They went a day’s journey to the nearest rally, listening to speaker after speaker and holding a large banner. After several hours, they said, “I don’t feel any better, and I don’t know what to do.”
After almost 10 months of creating and sustaining sanctuary for Lucio Perez and his family, some volunteers sat down in the church basement, and said, “This is so important. And this is so hard. We wonder how long can we keep it going.” And then they decided to take a nap.
After trying and failing to defuse yet another argument with her daughter, Martha retreated into her bedroom and shut the door, saying, “I can’t see a way out of this and back into good relationship. I feel like giving up.”
After getting over a cold and then coming down with the flu and then falling and breaking a hip, Harold went to bed, saying, “I might as well stay here. I don’t feel like myself anymore. What’s the point of getting up?”
With every act of evil and oppression, abuse and manipulation, God’s heart broke a little more. For each moment of suffering endured by every person, God wept. In response to each person’s retreat, God held her breath, wondering what would come next. Then, when she heard the sigh of resignation and the words of surrender, she exhaled.
And that is when the singing would start. That is when the gates of heaven and earth would echo with the angels’ “hallelujahs.” For now they had something to work with. Now—when prophets and parents, activists and volunteers, dreamers and healers, the ill and infirm—had all but given up on their own wisdom and strength and were feeling tempted to give up on life, that is when their hearts’ doors to the divine swung open wide and the path to holy help, Spirit power, and new life was laid bare.
Elijah was at the edge of a deep, despairing sleep when he felt tap on his shoulder.
“Get up and eat,” the angel said.
Elijah rubbed his eyes and looked around and there, on the stone beside his head, was a jar of water and a little cake. Angel-food cake.
“Get up and eat,” the angel said again. “Otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
So Elijah got up. He ate the cake and drank the water and, so the story goes, in the strength of that food he went forty days and forty nights— that’s Bible-speak for “a really long time”—all the way to the very mountain of God.
There were other angelic encounters, too. They happen all the time, you know.
As Jane was hiding under that tree in the woods, she looked up and saw a sunbeam filtering through the maple leaves. Sunbeams always made her think of God, and the maple leaves reminded her of the granola bar in her backpack. As the food revived her weary body, she asked God to restore her hope.
There is no telling how long Andrew might have stayed in his news-free cave if he hadn’t started hearing things. Away from his smartphone and other screens, away from so much distracting noise, the silence of the cave helped him get in touch with his feelings. The sheer silence allowed him to hear the voice of God. Suddenly he remembered that he was not alone in his struggles, that he had access to a Love stronger than death and a power greater than empire.
Chris, meanwhile, left the protest rally feeling dissatisfied and alone. In their hunger for relevance and their thirst for compassion, they cried, “Oh God, what can I do?” From that honest lament, their feelings just poured out, as if in prayer. And they began to feel grounded again.
As for the sanctuary volunteers, their little gathering broke up and individuals started to go their separate ways. But then they ran into Lucio, and the volunteer for the next accompaniment shift showed up, bringing some homemade cookies with her. They all sat down again and had a bite while Lucio told them a Bible story, and in the strength of that story and the depth of their love for one another, they carried on.
Scientists tell us that we are what we eat. If we eat nothing but junk food and drink gallons of sugary soda, chances are we will alternate between short bursts of energy and longer periods of lethargy. If we ingest high amounts of red and processed meats, our hearts will pay a price. If we drink coffee all day, we may be a little jittery and have trouble sleeping. If we take in nothing but work and duty and even well-intentioned activism, we will burn out.
We are what we eat, and we consume all kinds of things: bad news, racial hatred, movie and television violence as well as news of real violence, the latest fashion, constant activity, the hateful yelling that passes for news, the constant input from our phones and other screens, stuff and more stuff, worry, the fear of not having enough, the fear of what will happen, the fear of what is happening.
We are what we eat.
We live in a fast-food, grab-a-bite world but our souls long for a delicious gourmet meal lovingly prepared, eaten over hours at a beautiful table with the chef and our dearest friends and family. We live in a all-you-can-eat world where the buffet is filled with passing fads, desperate actions, and the latest self-help craze, but our hearts are hungry for meaning, for hope, for love, for community—for healthy food that nourishes and satisfies.
Jesus had fed 5,000 people with what appeared to be nothing more than five loaves and two fish. Everyone ate as much as they wanted, and when they were done the leftovers filled up 12 baskets. As you can imagine, the people wanted more of that. They wanted to make Jesus king, president for life—so when he slipped away, they went looking for him.
“Of course,” Jesus said when they found him. “I understand your desire, your need, for food. I understand your fear, your despair, your exhaustion. I know the empire does not share your values. I see how it uses you and uses you up. I see how you run around doing good, thinking it is all up to you.
“But there are things you need even more than food,” he said. “There is life you need even more than rest.”
“Then, give it to us!” the people demanded.
So lovingly Jesus looked at them, with such compassion he beheld their anxious faces and weary bodies.
“I am the bread of life,” he told them. “Whoever follows my way of self-giving love will never be hungry. Whoever trusts my way of loving God and neighbor will never be thirsty. Whoever takes in God’s extravagant love and tender mercy will never grow weary. Whoever is part of the body of Christ will never be alone.”
“Sir,” the people replied, “give us this bread always.”
And so he did.
“Get up and eat—of me,” he said. “Otherwise, the journey will be too much for you.”
Take and eat,” he said, “in remembrance of me.”