A Message From An Angel: “Get Up and Eat.”
I love this passage from 1 Kings because it has to be the most endearingly prosaic theophany in the Bible.
Many times in scripture, people’s encounters with God or God’s messengers are grand and stirring.
There are flashing lights, wheels in the sky, chariots of fire, angels walking around inside fiery furnaces, or a multitude of the heavenly host in the skies proclaiming the glory of God.
Not for Elijah.
His angel functions something like a cross between a rude alarm clock and a nagging parent.
No “Greetings, highly favored one,” like Mary got, or, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts,” like Isaiah heard.
Elijah’s angel says, “Get up and eat.”
That’s the entirety of the message.
Elijah, worn out, downtrodden, and ready to give up, lies down to die. To be fair, he is being slightly melodramatic.
But the angel of the Lord is having none of it. “Suddenly an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’”
Part of why I love this text is that neither Elijah nor we want God to communicate with us like this. We want the lights and the fireworks, or at least something poetic and beautiful.
Give us a gorgeous sunset and the words of the 23rd psalm at least.
Give us an overwhelming sense of eternal love and “Behold, I am with you to the end of the age.”
“Get up and eat?”
That’s hardly reassuring, or even encouraging. It’s so…normal. So basic.
God might as well remind us to quit losing our car keys and take out the trash while God’s at it.
It reminds me of a parishioner who once told me she wished God would quit hinting that she mop her floors more often.
This text we have this morning comes right before a much more famous text in 1 Kings 19: the still small voice.
Just a few verses later, we read, “‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”
Then Elijah tells God about how hard things have been, how everyone is out to kill him, and God tells him his next steps, that he is to go and anoint several people as leaders.
This is the story we know, and this is the story we like.
It is beautiful and grand, and challenges us just enough.
We are asked to remember that God’s voice is not heard in the crashing chaos of grandiose spiritual expectations, but instead in a disciplined listening in prayer beneath the noise of our frantic minds and hectic everyday lives.
But what’s fascinating is that Elijah was not ready for the mountaintop encounter at first.
He was a hot mess. He was hungry and tired and not taking care of himself.
He was lost in the wilderness, both the literal wilderness of the countryside and the inner wilderness of dying vocation.
He was ready to give up.
He couldn’t have withstood the earthquake and fire and wind, and he certainly was in no shape to hear God in the silence.
And so an angel had to show up and get him back on track. Back to basics.
“Get up and eat.” It may not seem very inspiring, but it may be just the message we need to hear.
Jesus is essentially saying the same thing in much more poetic language in our gospel lesson.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Jesus is saying, “Get up and eat,” but adding to that, “Get up and eat of me.”
We need sustenance before we can even hear our call to ministry, much less respond to it.
And hearing and responding to our call to ministry is very relevant to us in this congregation right now.
Next week is Welcoming Sunday. You have received our wonderful Ministry Guide that compiles all the opportunities to serve at St. Francis In-The-Fields in one booklet.
And your job this week, if you haven’t already started, is to discern your call for your work this year in our congregation.
Notice that I don’t say you are to discern if or whether you are called to serve.
I’m saying from this pulpit that if you are over the age of 5, you are 100% called to serve in this spiritual community.
It may be in a way that you’ve already served for years, on Altar Guild or Acolytes or Building and; Grounds, or it may be in a completely new way, as a Sunday School teacher or EYC leader or outreach project coordinator.
Your call will correspond to your gifts and abilities. If you are at an age where you do not drive after dark, you are not called to a ministry that will require that.
If you love the outdoors and hate numbers and math, there is a better chance you are called to garden ministry than to the finance committee.
Listen to your life and let it speak God’s call to you.
Find the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger intersect, as Frederick Buechner says—that is your call.
But if all that sounds a bit intimidating—discerning your Vocation with a capital V—start with the angel’s advice.
Get up and eat.
God knows I need to hear this advice and follow it more often.
Take care of yourself.
Have you thought of self-care as a key ingredient to discernment?
As you’re trying to understand how God is calling you to ministry, have you paid any attention to how well you’re looking after the basic necessities of physical and spiritual life?
What does it mean for us to “get up and eat”? Well, let’s take it down to brass tacks.
Eat good, healthful food. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Drink enough water; don’t drink too much alcohol. There are your physical basics.
Read your Bible. Spend some set aside time in prayer every day—more than just quick memos to God with requests tossed off on the run. Come to worship.
Find some way to express love for another person every day. Talk with someone else and listen to someone else about something deeper than football or the weather.
Those are the spiritual basics. That’s what the angel means when he says, “Get up and eat.”
Pay attention this week to how you’re doing with those basics.
And if there’s an area you need some work on, put in the time and effort to do it.
Then see if the channels of spiritual communication between you and God start to get a bit clearer.
If you care for yourself well, you’ll feel better. And if you feel better, new and deeper ministry seems more possible, more sustainable, even exciting.
If you’re ready to lie down and die when you think about ministry, like Elijah, you need an angel of the Lord to tap you on the shoulder and say, “Get up and eat.” Consider this sermon that wake-up call.
If you’re going to answer the call of the still small voice, the call to commit to new and exciting ministry at St. Francis, first you have to answer the call to get up and eat.
You have to equip your body, mind, and heart to receive God’s guidance.
And you can answer the command to get up and eat right here in this worship service.
In just a few moments, you will be literally invited to get up and eat. The communion table will be spread, and the living bread of heaven, Jesus, our sustenance and life, will be given to you in Holy Communion.
The stakes are high. The world around us needs us to serve with courage and generosity.
The angel, the second time he wakes Elijah up, says, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
The journey of ministry can be challenging, and we have to walk into that with our eyes open.
But Jesus promises us that if we do get up and eat, if we do receive his grace and love every day in the most humble and practical of ways, we will be filled and sustained with the Holy Spirit.
“I am the bread of life,” he says, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Today, here, together, let us hear the call to get up and eat.
Then tomorrow we will be able to feed the world.
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