Our Hebrew Scripture this morning tells us of the time that the prophet Elijah was threatened by the queen, Jezebel, after he killed all the prophets of Baal. Acting on his love of God, and in this case, being the only prophet for the Creator God, against 450 prophets of Baal, Elijah broke the law, and greatly angered the king and the queen. His life was in danger.
Escaping into the wilderness, Elijah went about a day before he stopped under a broom tree to rest. There, exhausted, scared, and besieged with guilt, he acknowledged that he was ready to die. After asking God to take him, he fell asleep under the tree. But then, and angel woke him with a touch, telling him to get up and eat.
He ate the bread and the water that had been laid there, and went back to sleep. Again, an angel came and woke him, telling him to get up and eat, or else the journey would be too much for him. He ate the bread, and drank the water, and was strengthened for the journey ahead. Bread for the journey.
Every year, 3 of my friends from high school and I rent a cottage on Owasco Lake. There, we reconnect, recharge, and often remember the days of our youth. We have a lot of fun, and enjoy each other’s company now just as much as we did when we were teenagers. We’ve been doing this for over 10 years now.
Each year is slightly different: we visit museums, wineries, AAA baseball games, rent a boat, try a new restaurant. Somehow, last year, as we were planning our trip, one of my friends mentioned that he had been riding his bike a lot, and wondered if some of us might want to try riding around Owasco Lake as one of our activities.
I had not been riding as much as I would have liked, but I was up for the challenge. Once around Owasco Lake is 34 miles. Most of my bike rides are in the 15 to 24 mile range, but I figured if I could do 24 miles, I should be able to do 34 miles, right?
It was late July, and we got up early to get a start on the day, before it became too hot to ride. We each brought two bottles of water, and joked that if it got too difficult, we’d call one of the other two friends to come and get us. As was my custom, I didn’t eat any breakfast that morning, preferring to eat upon my return. We estimated that it would take us just a little bit over 3 hours to make the trip.
Would anybody care to guess what happened to my 59 year old body, 2 hours and 30 minutes into the trip, at the bottom of the biggest hill of the day? I ran out of gas. Not even fumes. I watched my friend pull ahead on the hill in front of me like he had one of those fancy electric motors in his bike, and I had to climb that hill one revolution at a time in the lowest gear, vowing not to walk, or even stop. I didn’t stop, but I was absolutely exhausted when I got back to the cottage. Why? I didn’t take any bread for the journey.
Bread for the journey: if I had just brought a snack, a granola bar, some peanut butter on some bread, if I had had some bread for the journey, I wouldn’t have run out of gas. Lesson learned.
Elijah was on a journey, running for his life. It was an angel that brought him bread and water that told him to eat, twice, or else the journey would be too much. That day on Owasco Lake, left behind on a huge hill, I almost quit. Because I didn’t have any bread for the journey.
Each of us, every one of us, is on a journey. God has us journeying here, or there, different metaphorical places, for different reasons. But there is one important truth we each need to remember, and that is that if we don’t take some bread for the journey, the journey will be too much. And in this day and age, we can’t expect an angel to just leave us some bread and water by our heads as we sleep. No, we will need to take stories like this one from 1st Kings, and take responsibility for our own bread for our own journey.
The human body can only journey so far without fuel. The human spirit can only journey so far without fuel. So what does bread for the journey look like? Well, just as each of our journeys is unique to us, so, too, is the bread we need for those journeys.
Of course, there is the literal understanding of needing to eat in order to function. But we all know that there are also some really important things we do in our lives that help fuel our journey.
Prayer. Meditation. (Which, by the way, are two different things). Relationships. Reading. Singing. Playing an instrument. Laughing. See, the bread for our journeys will be different for each of us, but each of us needs to discern what will work best for our unique circumstances.
Elijah understood how dire his circumstances were. He was ready to let God take him. He confessed several times of his sins. Confession was also part of the bread for his journey. And when he ate of that bread, and drank of that water, he was strengthened for a journey that led him to a very close encounter with God.
This morning’s Epistle lesson from Paul’s letter to the Galatians reminds us that in faith, in our love of Jesus, that in Christ, we are all one. The things that make us unique, or different, don’t matter in Christ. The unique journeys that we are all on don’t matter, only that we are on the sacred journey of life in Christ.
I’m pretty sure none of us is running for our lives, thank God, but the metaphor is still a good one: you and I need bread for the journey, or else the journey will be too much.
Discerning just what kind of bread we need is sacred work. Discerning what our journey is like is sacred work. Following the angel’s instructions and remembering to get up and eat to prepare for our journey is sacred work.
As we continue to journey together as one, worshiping community, we can discern together what kind of bread we need for the journey. For me, it probably includes Sue Britt’s cookies! But the journey that is set before us as a worshiping community will require us to get up and eat, to fuel up, to take responsibility for making sure we are strong enough for what God calls us to do.
But some of that work needs to be done alone, in private, in prayer. Contemplative prayer, where we open our hearts to God to see what God has put there, is different than asking God for healing, or deliverance, or forgiveness. We can only journey so far on an empty stomach. And if we don’t get up and eat, we’ll find that we won’t have enough in the tank at the end of the journey, on the biggest hill of the journey.
As we look ahead to the week to come, and the months to come, and the years to come, we would do well to remember that in our journey in Christ, we are all one. And Christ, in many ways, is our bread for the journey. Even as the path has us following him, he offers us bread and juice in a sacred supper, he offers us refreshing water in our baptisms, he offers us ways to live and love that are consistent with what our Creator God hopes and prays for us.
For Elijah, confession was part of this sacred meal. Perhaps it is for us, too. We know worshiping together must be a part of it, even if there are parts of the worship that do not feed us. That’s ok.
Loving our neighbors enough to share of our hard-earned resources is part of our sacred meal, giving us bread for the journey.
Forgiving those who have caused us harm can be bread for the journey.
Allowing others to fully be and express who God has created them to be can be bread for our journey.
Adding our voices to the joyful noises of worship can be bread for our journey.
My example of riding around Owasco Lake happens to be just one way that I ran out of fuel while on a journey. I’ve done that too many times to count! Each of you may have countless examples of what it feels like to run out of fuel in the middle of a journey. And it’s important to reflect on those times, because this morning, the angel is telling us to get up and eat, or else the journey will be too much.
As much as we hear from the pundits and the prophets of the day that the point is the journey, doesn’t it feel good to arrive at your destination? To have completed a particular journey, and arrived safe and sound? Again, a metaphor for sure, but an important one. Whether it’s the journey of life that we are on, arriving at the end to meet our creator, or a shorter, side journey of life to learn a lesson, or grow in faith, or to teach a lesson to others, if we remember to take some bread and water before we leave, no journey will be too much. We’ll always have enough fuel to make it to our literal or our metaphorical destination. Let’s get up, and eat. We have a journey ahead of us. Amen.