This is a sermon preached at United Presbyterian Church of Fort Morgan on Sunday 7/27/14
Pick up your cross and follow me – Jesus doesn’t set a low bar for his disciples, and I have done my best as a preacher in this church to keep that bar up at its full height. United Presbyterian Church has everything it needs to live out the mission of God in the world. You don’t need me or anyone else to tell you to go and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, house the homeless, stand with the oppressed, work for justice, sell your goods and give the money away to the poor, love your neighbor, even more than that, love your enemy, and forgive anyone who does you wrong.
But knowing what needs doing and trusting that you have the capacity to do it are not the same thing. Jesus invites you to come and die to yourself for the sake of others, but dying is hungry work. Along the way it is important that you take time to be nourished.
There’s a reason that the last thing Jesus did with his disciples is have supper. There’s a reason we have more stories about Jesus eating supper in the homes of Pharisees and scribes and centurions and tax collectors and gentiles and robbers, with prostitutes, with lepers, with sinners, with fishermen, with hypocrites, with people who would eventually plot to murder him. Dying is hungry work and even Jesus needed to be fed to be able to continue his mission.
Dying is hungry work so when God brought Israel out of Egypt into the desert where they would die to their old identity as slaves, and rise to their new identity as God’s covenant people, God made sure to feed them daily. The story of Manna, as the story of the water from the rock that Moses struck, and the story of the quail is a story about God feeding the ones God has commissioned to do the work of love and justice in the world.
The Israelites had specific instructions about the Manna – they were to collect enough to eat for only that day. In other words, they were to trust God to continue to feed them every day. This is important. We want guarantees. We want security. If you or I were going to set out on a journey through the desert there is no way we would depart until we had saved up enough food and money for the entire journey – probably with a cushion of extra just in case things don’t go quite according to plan. God requires Israel to set out on a journey that would ultimately take 40 years with only enough food for one day. Be fed right now, God says, and let me worry about tomorrow.
But the flipside of God demanding Israel’s trust is God’s steadfastness. Israel eats Manna every day. Every day God provides. Every day Israel has to be nourished so they have strength for the journey.
When it comes to being fed by God every day is a mantra repeated often in scripture. In the book of Acts it says while the disciples were waiting for the Holy Spirit they were together every day breaking bread, reading scriptures, singing, and worshipping in the temple. Every day. In the Lord’s Prayer which Jesus taught to his disciples we say “give us this day our daily bread.” Daily bread. Not monthly bread. Not weekly bread. Daily. Every Day. When Jesus instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion in that last supper he had to eat because dying is hungry work, he said to his disciples “As often as you break bread, do this remembering me”. We break bread at least a two to three times Every Day. Every Day we ought to be remembering Jesus. Every Day God is feeding us. Every Day.
The reason so many of the laws in the Torah have to do with food is not because God is a fussy accountant who wanted to make the lives of Israel complicated and rule-heavy. The reason is because Israel needed ways to remind herself every single day, several times a day, about God’s provision. The very mundane, necessary act of ingesting nutrients and calories to have the energy necessary to go on living was, for Israel to be a sacrament of God’s presence in her midst. When Jesus broke those rules he did so for the same reason – the rules, which had been intended to remind Israel of God’s love, had become an obstacle. Jesus broke the rules to eat with sinners and the unclean precisely so that eating could once again become a symbol of God’s love for the world.
Dying is hungry work. If this church is going to have the courage and the energy to embrace the cross, to live into the mission of Jesus you’re going to need nourishment – and once a month isn’t going to cut it. My entire tenure here in this congregation I have been encouraging you to move to celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion in every service. I know that some of you are still skeptical about this, and now that I am leaving even those of you who like frequent communion may think it will be necessary to go back to a less frequent pattern. Allow me the privilege of this one last time encouraging you not to go back, but instead to dive further into this powerful ritual of the universal church.
The rules of our book of order do not require that a teaching elder be the one to personally administer the sacrament, despite what many of you have been accustomed to. Our rules require that a teaching elder, or duly commissioned ruling elder be present to oversee the administration of the sacrament. This is the distinction: any one who the session authorized could stand up here at the table where I am standing and lead the liturgy and say the words of institution, and break the bread and pour the wine and so on, so long as there was a teaching elder present in the congregation. Therefore, if you were to invite teaching elders as pulpit supply, or to request Rev. George Kyncl to be present, or another minister from a tradition with which we are in full communion, then you would be in order to celebrate the sacrament. I will leave clear instructions for the session about this so that you understand.
This means, if you so choose, you could continue to sing the music, the liturgy that we have grown accustomed to. You could also change the liturgy or use different music. You could serve it in the round as we have been doing, or serve it with the trays while people are seated, or via intinction or any other method you choose. You do not need me or another minister to do it for you. You are empowered to share the body and blood of Christ in any service of public worship you want.
In the text we read this morning the prophet Elijah has given up. He has just confronted the prophets of Baal, and won the confrontation, but he knows therefore that the agents of Jezebel and Ahab will be hunting him and his life is in great peril. He is afraid, and tired, and without hope, and the path that God has set out for him seems impossible. So he lays down in the wilderness and decides to die. An angel comes to him and says “Get up and Eat!” Food is sitting there for him on a rock. In the icons this food is depicted as having been carried by Ravens. The birds of the air, the wilderness itself bringing him food. Elijah resists this command, but the Angel persists “Get up and Eat!” Otherwise, the journey will be too much for him. Unless Elijah accepts God’s provision the mission will in fact be too hard, just as Elijah fears.
Unless you get up and eat, the mission that God has given this church will be too much for you. It is impossible. You will fail. Or even worse, you’ll give up without even trying because you’ll know you just don’t have the strength. Dying is hungry work. Without the bread of life and the cup of salvation you will turn away from the cross.
But if you DO get up and eat… Elijah was carried across the desert on wings like eagles. He was sheltered in the home of a widow. He went on to perform many miracles, and to lead Israel out of idolatry and back to faithful worship. He was reckoned by Israel as one of her two greatest prophets alongside Moses.
Get up and eat and you will have the strength and the courage to take up the cross because this bread and this wine are the proof to you that love conquers death. Christ has been there before you. He has offered his own body and blood up on your behalf. God nourished him for the journey and God lifted him out of the grave. God will do no less for you.
Get up and eat… because there are hungry people who need to be fed and you who have been called to feed them will be too weak for the task if you haven’t been nourished by God.
Get up and eat… because there are naked who need clothing and you who have been called to clothe them will be too timid for the task if you haven’t been strengthened by the bread of life.
Get up and eat… because there are people experiencing homelessness who need to be housed and you who have been called to shelter them won’t have the fortitude you need unless you’ve drank from the cup of salvation.
Get up and eat… because there are people who are sick and in prison who need you to visit them and you won’t have the energy unless you have met your risen Lord at this table.
Get up and eat… because there are people being oppressed who need your solidarity, people in poverty who need your advocacy, people in mourning who need your presence and you won’t have the courage, nor the will, nor the patience for these tasks unless you have regularly joined in the joyful feast of the people of God.
Get. Up. And. Eat.