“Strengthened for the Journey” (1 Kings 19:1-8)

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 8, 2021

“Strengthened for the Journey” (1 Kings 19:1-8)

I haven’t been following the Olympics, but I understand that this weekend was one of the main events, namely, the marathon. If you’re not familiar with the marathon, it’s a long-distance race in which the competitors run a total of 26.2 miles! 26.2 miles! Imagine that! What a grueling test of training and endurance that must be! The runners have to be in tip-top shape in order to compete, much less complete the race. And their training has to go on for months beforehand. Long preparation is required in order to run that long of a race. The runners have to watch what they eat and drink, if they expect to have the strength to finish the course. Otherwise, they might have a good first half, but in the second half of the race they’ll burn out, and the marathon will be too much for them. They need to be strengthened for the race.

Friends, that’s like how it is for us. The Christian life is like a marathon. This is no hundred-yard dash. Instead, it’s a long journey. And on our own, the journey would be too much for us. We would not make it the whole way. We need strength from outside of ourselves in order to complete the course. We need to be “Strengthened for the Journey.”

In our Old Testament lesson for today, we read about a man who had had a great first half of the race, but then he was running out of gas in the second half. He needed strength from outside himself in order to complete the course, or else he would not make it. That man was the great Old Testament prophet Elijah. As I say, he had had a great first half. Elijah had bravely stood up to the evil King Ahab.

King Ahab, the Bible tells us, did evil in the sight of the Lord. He had taken a foreign wife, Jezebel, and they had promoted the worship of the pagan god, Baal, in the land of Israel. “Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”

So the prophet Elijah confronted King Ahab over his sins. Ahab called Elijah “you troubler of Israel.” But Elijah shot back, “I have not troubled Israel but you have. You have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals.” That took a lot of courage on Elijah’s part. It’s risky to speak truth to a powerful king.

Then Elijah set up a showdown on Mount Carmel, challenging the prophets of Baal to a contest. “Let’s see whose god can send down fire from the sky. If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The prophets of Baal pleaded and prayed to their god all day long: “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no answer.

Then Elijah took his turn, and prayed to the God of Israel. And, lo and behold, the Lord God did answer and sent down fire from heaven. And the people saw it and proclaimed, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.”

Well, so far, Elijah is doing great. He had stood up to Ahab. He had cut down the prophets of Baal. If this were the Olympics, if this were the marathon, we’d be halfway through the race, and it would look like Elijah is about to take the gold medal on the victor’s stand.

But the race is not finished. What happens next? King Ahab goes back to his palace and reports what happened to Queen Jezebel. This makes Jezebel mad, to say the least. She takes an oath that she’s going to kill that nasty Elijah. But now the previously courageous Elijah is afraid. He runs as far as he can to get away from Jezebel, who wants to kill him.

Elijah is depressed. He’s discouraged. He has run out of strength. So he sits down under a broom tree, and he’s ready to die. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lies down and falls asleep under that broom tree. From such a great start, Elijah now is bowing out of the race. He’s run out of gas. It’s too much for him.

Friends, do you ever feel like that? Like the race, the journey, the living of the Christian life, is too much for you? Do you ever feel like you’d just like to lie down under a broom tree and go to sleep? Well, then welcome to the club. We are the Team of Tired Runners, you and I, and Elijah is our captain.

But the Lord had mercy on Elijah, just like he will have mercy on us. An angel of the Lord awakens Elijah and bids him to rise and eat. And behold, there is a meal set before Elijah. “Arise and eat,” the angel says, “for the journey is too great for you.”

Brothers and sisters, the journey would be too great for us, if the Lord would not give us the strength we need to carry on. The journey would be too much. Think of it: What would keep you from completing the course? Well, you’ve got several obstacles working against you, namely, the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh.

The devil, Satan, is your great adversary. Jezebel may be out to get you, but the devil is stronger still. “With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected.” “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And you look mighty tasty to him. The journey is too great for you.

Then you’ve got the world wanting to stop you from running the race. I read yesterday that someone has organized an online event for this Thursday called “Global Middle Finger to End Christianity.” And the cover photo is of a bunch of young atheists giving the middle finger to us Christians. And that’s just one small example of the outright hostility towards Christians these days. Besides that, the allurements of the world would try to pull you away from Christ. So, from either angle the world is out to stop you from being a Christian. The journey is too great for you.

And if these outside forces were not enough, you’ve even got a battle within. Your own sinful flesh, your selfish desires that do not want to do God’s will, your innate sinful nature, would also keep you from running the race. So put these high hurdles in front of you, and it’s no wonder you would not reach the finish line in the marathon that is the Christian life.

So, what to do? Like the angel says, “Arise and eat.” Yes, the Lord has set a meal before you here. Come, eat and drink the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in this Sacrament. Jesus gave his holy body into death for you. He shed his precious blood on the cross for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. He rose from the dead to give you eternal life with him. You need what he gives you. The journey is too much for you otherwise.

Jesus says to you today, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” The Son of God came down from heaven to save you, to give you eternal life. Come to him, and he will not cast you away. And he will raise you up on the last day, body and soul perfectly restored and made whole. And you will live with him forever.

Here is strength for your journey. When Elijah arose and ate and drank the meal the Lord provided for him, he went in the strength of that food and reached his destination. So it is for you. Jesus will raise you up from your weariness and strengthen your weak knees, so that you will complete the course set before you.

And when you reach sight of the finish line, you will be able to say with Elijah and with St. Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge will award to me on that Day.” Truly so, for the Lord has promised, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Friends, by the grace of God, Elijah got his gold medal, and so will you.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today the Lord is saying to us, his Team of Tired Runners: “Arise and eat. And you will be strengthened for the journey.”

Published in: on August 7, 2021 at 8:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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