Some thoughts on lectionary readings for Aug 9, 2009… (what direction might I take if I were preaching on this)
In 1 Kings 19:4-8, Elijah is fleeing for his life from Queen Jezebel. Although he asks to die, God instead provides food and water to strengthen him for his next journey. Two things we might see in this short story… 1) God’s plan for us isn’t necessarily what we want. Even when we think we’re done, God might have other things in mind. We need to listen for God’s plan in our life. 2) Elijah wanted deliverance from his problem but this isn’t what God provides. Instead, God strengthens him so he can continue on his path. Likewise, we shouldn’t necessarily expect a miracle that allows us to avoid whatever problems we may be facing. We cannot always avoid our problems, but God will always be there with us to provide the strength to face them.
And, where does Elijah’s journey take him? Through 40 days and nights, similar to Noah’s 40 days of flooding, Moses’ 40 years of leading, and Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, to “Horeb, the mount of God.” To find new life, the promised land, the place where God is, seems to always require a period of trials. But we know that God has strengthened us for the journey. This is not a one time trip where God is only at the end… this is a cycle… God always strengthens us for the next step which in turn brings us closer to God and readies us for the step after that.
As Christians, we find God through Jesus. The reading of John 6:35, 41-51 calls Jesus the bread of life. Through Jesus, new life can be found. This reading also uses some terms that merit some discussion.
Jesus is said to have come down from heaven. Does this mean some heaven in the sky like children are taught to think of it? I don’t think this talk of heaven says anything about a place or an afterlife, but more probably indicates Jesus comes from an ideal state of complete harmony with God, the source of being.
The word “believe” is also important, especially for John where we find it more than twice the number of times it appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke combined. One of the meanings of believe is to “accept as true,” but John often talks about believing in the name of Jesus. It doesn’t seem likely that John is asking us to believe his name is really Jesus. But, the dictionary also defines believe as “trust in.” This, I think, is what John is saying we should do. We don’t need to believe in doctrines and dogmas that otherwise seem unbelievable, but we do need to trust in the story and teachings of Jesus and how they can positively affect our lives.
Other questions deserve additional thought as well. What does it mean to say that those who trust in Jesus will have eternal life? Obviously, as humans we die so this isn’t meant in a literal sense. What then does it mean? Is it a promise of life after death? Or does it refer to a spiritual eternal-ness or transcendence here in this life, perhaps a life filled with the love and hope of God, lived in harmony with God?
Likewise, when Jesus says he will give his flesh as the bread is he referring to his death, birth, or his life and ministry? What does it mean to eat of his flesh? Is this a call to trust in Jesus? To live like Jesus? What does it mean to be raised up “at the last day?” Is this talk of an after-life? Or might we understand it as part of the process of being “born again”? To die away from our old life (a last day) and begin a new life in harmony with God’s love…