I've Had Enough!
A sermon based on 1 Kings 19:3-8
Sunday, August 19, 2012 – Pentecost 12B
Have you ever had just one of those days? You know the kind, where nothing goes right. The test you thought you aced, comes back with an F. The car you just bought left you stranded. The promotion at work was given to the boss's inept son instead of to you. You burned dinner to a crisp, the kids won't go to bed, and your stocks plummeted.
We all have days when we're down in the dumps. We get depressed. We don't always like the way things are going. Life is not always a load of fun and sometimes we've just had enough. And so, I think we can all understand how Elijah felt in this morning's sermon text.
This somewhat unfamiliar account is sandwiched between two famous Elijah stories. It precedes the account of God coming to Elijah in the wind, the earthquake, the fire, and finally a gentle whisper. And it follows right on the heels of the famous Mt. Carmel Challenge, where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal and Asherah to a contest to prove who was the real God. Elijah won decisively when God sent a fire to consume not only Elijah's sacrifice, but the trench full of water that he had poured over it as well.
But soon after this event, Elijah burned out. He was disappointed, discouraged, and depressed. He was ready to give up—ready to die. He'd had enough of life.
Sometimes, we feel like Elijah—like we've just had enough—maybe even enough of life? But God keeps us around for a reason, just as he kept Elijah around: He has work for us to do. And when we do feel like we've had enough of life, God gives us the strength we need. He gives us enough to eat to do the work he's given us to do. Listen now to Elijah's despair and God's comfort in 1 Kings 19:3-8…
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." 5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." 6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." 8 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.
I. …Enough of Life!
Do you wonder how Elijah could possibly be feeling down after such a great victory on Carmel? But put yourself in Elijah's shoes. What would you expect the outcome of that decisive victory to be?
Picture it. While Elijah taunted them, "Maybe Baal's asleep! Maybe he's on vacation! Maybe he's losing his hearing! Shout louder!" the prophets of Baal and Asherah slashed their arms, bleeding all over, to get their god's attention. But nothing happened. Then it was Elijah's turn. He prayed to the true God and immediately God sent a fire from heaven to consume the soaking wet sacrifice on the altar as well as the moat around it! Elijah won hands down! And at first, the results seemed favorable! All the people shouted, "The Lord is God!" and at Elijah's command they killed all 850 false prophets on the mountain!
Elijah must have been elated! Finally, after a long struggle, his time under the cross was at an end! With such a decisive victory for Elijah, surely all of Israel would return to the worship of the true God and would trust in Elijah as his representative. He'd be a hero. Now was the time for glory!
But that's not at all what happened. Instead, Queen Jezebel, undeterred by Mt. Carmel, threatened to make Elijah as dead as those 850 prophets of hers while her husband, King Ahab, did nothing to stop her. And Elijah's dreams collapsed. The man of courage found himself terrified. Thinking his cause to be a lost one, he ran for his life.
After running from Jezreel to Beersheba, a trek of 100 miles, he went a day further into the middle of the desert and finally collapsed under a lone broom tree and poured out his heart to God. "[He] prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors."
Why did Elijah run from Jezebel trying to save his life only to pray that God end his life now? What prompted such a change? Perhaps it was disappointment in the results of his labor. Perhaps disappointment with God for not blessing his efforts more. Perhaps he was ashamed of his cowardice. Perhaps he knew he had failed to oppose such godlessness. Perhaps an overwhelming sense of his own sin and inadequacy. So he rightly admitted, "I am no better than my ancestors."
In a weakness of faith, Elijah despaired and asked God to take his life. He who just told a widow woman ready to eat her last meal with her son and die, "Don't be afraid," now ran in terror. He who had just boldly confronted 850 false prophets now ran from one woman. He who usually put his trust in God to care for him, forgot that God could protect him from Jezebel, wondering to himself, "Why would God let this happen?"
But Elijah wasn't the last to be persecuted for listening to God. All but one of the apostles were killed for following God, and many in horrible, painful ways. Luther was excommunicated from the church and threatened with execution by the emperor for standing up to the false prophets of his day. And we too face threats for speaking the truth…
When tasked to write an essay on witnessing, I once sent out a survey asking, "What are your greatest fears and concerns about sharing your faith?" And the answers I received sounded a lot like Elijah. And I suspect they sound like you and lime me at times. "I might face persecution and lose a friend," one person wrote. "No one ever listens anyway," said another. "I'd share my faith more if someone came to church with me just once when I did!" added a third. "We plan these big events and then no one comes! What's the use?" said another.
We too grow discouraged and burnt out. Peer pressure works on the young and old alike. The pressure at work, or the fear of being without work, the mockery, the condescension, the accusations of narrow-mindedness all take their toll. We become disappointed with our audience for their lack of response and disappointed with God for letting it be this way.
And we too are tempted to throw in the towel when we've had enough of life. And then, we too may be pressed with guilt for feeling this way and feel ashamed and depressed for our cowardice in the face of opposition, discouraged by our own failures, feeling an overwhelming sense of our own sin and inadequacy. And we too confess our sin before God acknowledging that we are no better than our ancestors.
But like Elijah, the reality of our sin and human weakness is no reason to give up! God still has work for us to do! In fact, it's precisely when we realize that we are failures and inadequate that we can receive God's power and strength. Then he gives us enough to eat…
II. …Enough to Eat!
After Elijah prayed for God to end his life, he fell asleep under that broom tree. And there God sent an angel to assure him that neither his failures, nor fears, nor any of his sins had put him outside the sphere of God's love. Nor had it nullified his call as a prophet. God still had work for him to do. So God filled him up and refreshed him…
All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." 6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." 8 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.
Nourished by this miraculous bread and water brought by an angel of God, Elijah traveled for 40 days and nights—continuously—without needing to eat again! He went another 200 miles through that mostly inhospitable desert where previously God had miraculously sustained his people with manna and quail for 40 years. What comfort for Elijah—to know that God still had a use for him! That God was with him miraculously preserving him! What strength God gave his prophet!
And there on Mt. Horeb (another name for Mt. Sinai) God gave Elijah work to do again: to anoint two kings and Elisha, his own successor. And by God's grace, feeding him with bread and water from heaven, and with the Word of that gentle whisper, Elijah's defeatist attitude was gone and he was ready to go to work again.
And dear friends, God graciously sustains us as well. When we are frustrated and depressed, reminded of our failures and our sins, God reminds us that we aren't disqualified from service to him. We're not outside of his grace. And when we don't look to ourselves when we're feeling low, but to him, he gives us the same strength he gave Elijah.
Though at times our help may not be as spectacular as it was in the case of Elijah, with miraculous food from an angel, that help is real nonetheless. God still gives us shelter. He still grants us sleep. He still gives us food. And often much more than shelter under a bush, sleep on the ground, and bread and water. He sustains our lives every day giving us strength.
But much more than the physical strength he gives, he provides for us in more spectacular ways than Elijah. The bread he gives us keeps us alive for more than forty days. The bread he gives us is himself. Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever." When, by the Holy Spirit working faith in our hearts, we believe in Jesus and in his death on the cross in our place, our every sin is forgiven! We are sinless saints who will not die forever in hell, but will live forever with Jesus! What amazing bread we have!
And what's more he gives us better bread and water than Elijah ever had—bread and water that continue to nourish and sustain us spiritually, especially when we feel down because of our guilt, our failures, and our sins. He gives us the bread of his very body which we're about to eat in the Lord's Supper—bread which is given "for you" for the very personal assurance of the forgiveness of your sins. He gives you water too—not water to drink, but the water of Baptism, that cleanses you of every sin! Water that assures you that you are indeed dearly loved children of God!
What comfort for us—to know that in spite of our sin, our weakness, our inadequacies, God still has a use for us! That God is with us constantly preserving us! What strength God still gives his people!
And just as Elijah's heavenly food invigorated him to be rid of his defeatist attitude and to get to work for the Lord, so too our heavenly food fills us with gratitude to our Savior who "gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." It rejuvenates us so we're recharged and ready to continue the work God's given us to do.
Now, refreshed by the Bread of Life, you can continue the work God's called you to do—not just resting in God's Grace, but boldly reaching out to others with the Gospel, regardless of how they respond! We can eagerly support the work of the church and do the work of the church. We can all put our past failures, our disappointments and our fears aside and confidently share our faith, making the most of every opportunity. We can all imitate God and tirelessly serve each other in love.
It's been said that "When God lets you stumble, he does so that you might fall into his arms." So the next time you're feeling depressed, discouraged, and overwhelmed, the next time you feel like throwing in the towel because you've had enough of life, turn to God. Confess your inadequacies, your failures, and your sins to him. And be filled up again with the nourishment he has to give and have enough to eat. For the Bread of Life has taken away your every failure, your every sin. And he gives you the energy you need to get to work for him again! Amen.