“I’ve Had Enough, Lord!” (I Kings 19:3-8)
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (August 12, 2018)
One of the unique features of the Bible is its realism, especially as it describes the lives and times of God’s people. We are presented with great men and women of faith, and yet, The Bible lays out all of their weaknesses and worst qualities for the whole world to see. To borrow Bill O’Reily’s slogan, The Bible is truly the No Spin Zone. Nothing is hidden to make God’s saints look somehow saintlier.
Take for example Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs’ of God’s chosen people. Their faith in God’s promise is clearly manifest in their many trials. And yet, account after account relays in living color their many lies and deceptions. In the very opening material covering the life of Moses, the great deliverer of Israel, the reader is already shown his murderous assault of an Egyptian. Then there is King David, God’s beloved. Accounts of his faithful exploits are many. Yet, we are also told in intimate detail about his shameful adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of her husband. God does not want to hide the truth, no matter how ugly or shocking it might prove to be. He prefers to show everything, warts and all, so that He can teach, correct and, yes, even encourage us.
Such is the case of Elijah in the text before us today. He was without a doubt one of God’s premiere prophets. Through Elijah God proclaimed His Word to Kings and peasants alike. At the hands of Elijah, God also accomplished some pretty outstanding and wonderful victories. With Elijah’s presence in the home of the woman at Zarephath, her supply of flour and oil never ran out. Elijah also raised her son from the dead. Just prior to our text Elijah confronted 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the female goddess Asherah on Mt Carmel and defeated them, putting them all to the sword. Also on account of Elijah’s prayer God brought an end to the curse of the drought that had besieged all of Israel.
Yet, despite all these feats of faith, here in our text we are shown a totally different side of this prominent prophet. We hear a bitterly discouraged and depressed Elijah lament, “I have had enough, LORD. Take my life!”
Sounds pretty drastic, doesn’t it! What would make such a powerful prophet of God so disparaging of life that He would actually plead with God to end it all? Where was his faith? Where was his memory of all the victories God had granted him? Why such self pity? Why couldn’t he see how wonderfully God had used him in the lives of other people and for the preservation of all of Israel?
We can’t be totally sure about everything that might have been going through Elijah’s mind nor of every factor that might have been warring against his spirit. But the Bible does tell us that Elijah’s ministry was an extremely difficult one. For starters, He was sent to carry out his whole ministry in the regions of the Northern Kingdom, which had for the most part abandoned the true God. Idol worship was the norm. His preaching of the true God was met with constant opposition.
Chief among Elijah’s opponents was one of the most wicked and godless kings Israel ever had; Ahab. Encouraging and coaxing Ahab in his treachery against Elijah was Ahab’s totally evil and conniving wife, Jezebel. She was the one who was having all of God’s prophets systematically murdered. And yes, the prophets of the Ashereth that Elijah put tot he sword were Jezebel’s personal preachers and spiritual advisors. Ahab and Jezebel’s hatred of Elijah ran deep. They had placed a death warrant out for him. Imagine, if you had angered the premiere rulers in the land, where could you hide or feel safe? Elijah was literally running out of places to hide. He was feeling as though he was the only true believer left. Who wouldn’t be discouraged!
Elijah certainly was a real person. In fact, in the Epistle of James we are told, “Elijah was a man just like us.” Elijah himself admitted in his lament, “I am no better than my ancestors.”
Whether this was a confession of sin and failure or an utter acknowledgment of his deep seated fear and weariness over all the trials and opposition that sought to do him in, it is certainly a cry that we can relate to. Even faithful Christians are sometimes utterly disheartened when they look around and it seems that no matter how hard they try to live a Christian life in this godless world all their efforts seem for naught. Whether it be at work... at school...or even in our own homes, we all can become weary of doing our best only to have our efforts criticized or put down by others. It’s extremely wearying to be kind and loving like Christ only to be mistreated at every turn. It’s so discouraging to stand up for God’s truth only to be criticized as a troublemaker or labeled a prude. Those of us who are married to someone who does not share our enthusiasm for the Lord or our love of hearing God’s Word can easily become despondent by our spouse’s lack of commitment. Christian parents grow heavyhearted over wayward children who seem to have room in their hearts for everything except Christ and the knowledge of salvation. Pastors are very susceptible to becoming discouraged when all their preaching and teaching of the Gospel is seeming to fall on deaf ears. Those who experience a severe loss, whether that be a loved one to death or a home to a fire or even their life savings to a volatile stock market, can easily succumb to self pity and the feeling that God has abandoned them and gone back on all His promises to them. None of us are immune to this Elijah Complex!
Even Martin Luther, like Elijah, disparaged of life itself in the face of the lack of progress the true Gospel was seeming to have during the Reformation years. He wrote once, “I have lived long enough. God grant me in mercy my end. For all things grow worse, and the Devil reigns on earth. I do not wish to live any longer” (Thomas Manteufel, Concordia Journal, July, 2000, p. 245).
It has even been reported that Luther’s melancholy mood became so pronounced at one point that his wife, Katie, began to don black mourning clothes all the time. When Martin confronted her about it, she replied, “Well, you were so doom and gloom all the time, I thought perhaps God had died!”
To become so depressed that one even forgets where his true help comes; that is, from God, is to be truly in the pits. Elijah seemed to be there. Luther appears to have been there at times. So when you and I find ourselves there, we could say we are in good company and that might bring us some sense of comfort. But to be in the company of other depressed persons, even if it helps to soothe our conscience and pacify our guilt over being depressed, does not afford us any help or provide us any cure. Fill a room with depressed people and what will you have? A morgue!
Dear friends, here is where we see the real solace and comfort of our text. In His mercy and grace God did not leave Elijah to languish away in His despair. But He sent His angel, that is His messenger, to bring life back to His servant.
The worst thing you and I can do for anyone who is severely depressed is to leave them alone. They will not “snap out of it” on their own. Think about it, what would a depressed person say to encourage himself? In his depressed state he can not recall anything that is encouraging, or positive or hopeful. Such things must come from someone else who cares about him.
The One Who always cares about us is our Heavenly Father. He proved it by gifting to us a Savior in the person of Jesus Christ. We have no need to disparage over our sin and great guilt, we have Jesus to assure us that He has come to atone for all sin, even our big ones and that God forgives us for His sake. We have no need to become depressed in the face of the death of a loved one or even the prospect of our own, God has given us Jesus to comfort us with the Good News that He is the Resurrection and the Life and that everyone who believes in Him will live even if he dies (John 11). We have no need to become disheartened in our service to the Lord, whether that is as a mother, father, husband, wife, employee, employer, or worker at church, Jesus reminds us: “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have over come the world” (John 16:33). And He has overcome it for you and me!
Elijah just like Luther was no novice to the faith. He had spoken and heard God speak to him many times. He had personally witnessed God’s power at work through His preaching. Yet, in his depressed state, it was like he forgot. The Devil was removing all that good seed of the Word of God from his mind and heart. Accordingly, God sent his angel to minister to him.
Even if God does not send to us one of His heavenly messengers, He has provided to send to us His earthly messengers to minister to us in our hours of need. He has provided pastors, fellow church members, even family members to bring life to our melancholy spirit.
To our aid, God does not send His messengers empty-handed either. He sends with them His spirit- nourishing food. The angel said to Elijah, “Get up and eat.” There before Elijah was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. Twice the angel brought this food to Elijah and told him to eat of it. Elijah did and he received enough strength from that food to travel 40 days and forty nights!
Talk about some wonder bread? How would you like to receive such powerful food! By God’s grace you can!
God does not abandon you His people but gives you ongoing sustenance and strength through His messengers. He sent an angel to Elijah to touch him and bring him a supernatural supply of strength through miraculous bread and water. And you thought to be touched by and angel was only a modern Hollywood phenomenon! God and His angels have used such touching in dealing with people and bringing about marvelous things in their lives from the very beginning. In fact, The Lord instituted the Office of the Public Ministry just for this very purpose; to be His messenger to touch people’s lives with God’s true spiritual food and drink offered in the Word of the Gospel and the Holy Sacraments.
The miraculous bread God brings through His messengers to revive the sagging spirits of His people is described in our Gospel lesson once again today. Jesus said, “Your fathers ate Manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Christ is the true life-giving bread that is set before you by God’s servants. He brings you full redemption from the curse of sin, death, and hell in that food. He removes all that seeks to depress you; your guilt, your fears, your failures, as well as your loses, by bearing them all for you in His body on the cross. He allowed Himself to be torn down to build you up. By His stripes you are provided healing. He was abandoned by God that you might never be! He brings you the nourishing fruits of His sacrifice and victorious resurrection; the forgiveness of sins, life-everlasting, and the strength to carry forward in hope, through His Means of Grace: Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the Holy Gospel.
Through them you can get up and eat in faith the true life-giving bread, Jesus Christ your Savior, Himself!
So here you have it: having been made a child of God and an heir of eternal salvation in Holy Baptism, you have no need to languish in self-pity that somehow you are all alone and that no one cares about you. Having heard through the Gospel that Jesus died to redeem you from God’s wrath against our sin, you do not need to continue to live in worry and fear of what God might do to you poor sinful beings. Having personally received the very body and blood of Christ given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins, you have no need to fret and stew that God’s forgiveness is meant for others but could not possibly be meant for you.
Dear friends in Christ, it is true that we are shown the great Elijah at his weakest. But it is also true that here we are shown God’s saving mercy for the weak and discouraged. Shinning through this No Spin Zone is the good news that there is no reason to suffer from depression... to feel you are worthless... to feel that you’ve had all that you can take and you’re ready to cash in your chips...to feel you’re all alone and everyone and everything is out to get you... or to feel even disappointed in God.
God in His grace and mercy has provided you with the cure. By His grace you are encouraged to get up and eat continuously what God’s messengers offer you in the Gospel and Sacraments of the LORD. Through these Means of Grace, God sets before you the Living Bread, Jesus Christ, who nourishes you for the long and sometimes arduous journeys of faith. “Get up and Eat to your health, dear friends! Amen.