Eating Worms, 1 Kings 19:9b-21, Third Sunday after Pentecost, (Proper 8), June 30, 2019
Pastor James woke up Sunday morning bright and early, as he normally did. He showered, dressed, and headed toward the church. When he arrived he proceeded to prepare for the church service, as he always did. However, as the hour for worship approached, he grew concerned: no one else was there! Not even the ushers or the organist! A lot of people were accustomed to arriving at the last minute, but this was ridiculous!
As the hour for worship struck, Pastor James sat in the last pew in utter despair. Not one person had come to church. He had never felt so depressed, so alone. As a pastor he concluded that he was a failure. He began to think unkind thoughts about the elders and officers. He imagined them all out at the beach or at brunch. Why had God called him to a congregation that cared so little for the Lord?
Then the church door opened. In walked the organist nonchalantly. Pastor James glared. “What’s the matter, Pastor?” Debbie asked. Before Pastor James could answer, Debbie noted the clock in the sanctuary. “Oh, look, nobody’s turned back that clock yet. Wouldn’t want people to be an hour off, would we, Pastor?” Pastor James sprang to his feet to change the clock, trying in vain to conceal his flushed face. “No, we certainly wouldn’t want that.”
Our Old Testament reading occurs during the ministry of the prophet Elijah. It was without doubt the “worst of times.” Samaria was being ruled by King Ahab and Jezebel. It was a time of violence, moral depravity, and flagrant idolatry. To avoid being killed by Ahab, Elijah escaped to Judah and was hiding in a cave, where he was brokenhearted over the unfaithfulness of the people, not to mention just plain lonely.
His situation was a perfect example of what Jesus, in our Gospel reading, was describing to those in Samaria who were considering following Him. The Lord sent an angel to comfort Elijah, then sent Elijah to anoint Elisha. Later on, Elisha asks Elijah for permission to return home to kiss his father and mother. Elijah granted the request, and then Elisha kills his oxen for a going-away feast. By slaughtering his oxen, he indicated his commitment to follow the Lord in the prophetic office.
“Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. Think I’ll go eat worms. Long, slim, slimy ones. Short, fat, juicy ones. Itsy, bitsy, fuzzy, wuzzy worms. Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. Think I’ll go eat worms.” The words of this silly children’s song could have been the words of Elijah as he sat sulking and feeling sorry for himself.
You can sense the despair as Elijah complained “Enough, Lord! I’ve had enough! Take my life if you want it, but just let me be!”
Elijah’s problem was that he felt God had abandoned him. Elijah certainly wasn’t the only one of God’s chosen prophets to complain about that. Moses protested that leading Israel was too much to do alone. Jonah felt God had left him twisting in the wind when God let Nineveh off the hook. Jeremiah complained bitterly about having no say in his career choice, once God called him to be a prophet, there was no escape.
From Elijah’s perspective, things just weren’t fair. He’d been an eyewitness to God’s faithfulness and power. God cared for him during the three-year drought. God demonstrated His power through him, by defeating the prophets of Baal, on the top of Mount Carmel. God sent rain at Elijah’s request. But at the first angry words from Israel’s pagan Queen Jezebel, Elijah turns tail and runs away.
At least twice, Elijah will whine to God. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (19:10; 14).
Elijah’s real problem was that he was so turned in on himself because of sin that he shut God out of his life and fell into deep despair. Martin Luther describes this as one of the effects of sin. Sin separates us from God and turns our attention from Him to ourselves. When we look to ourselves, we discover our own weaknesses, our inability to provide for ourselves or protect ourselves, our inability to save ourselves, and we quickly fall into despair. It’s like we’re curled up into a little ball, and we lose sight of all that God is, and all that God does for us.
Now, I am no Elijah! I’ve not experienced the kind of miraculous providence that sustained him through three years of drought. God has not chosen me to be His instrument in a demonstration of power such as Elijah was on Mount Carmel.
But I sure can relate to Elijah because I easily find myself forgetting all the wonderful things God has done for me. I easily find myself curving in on myself because of my sin. I easily find myself looking inside myself for hope, for power, for strength, for goodness, for value. And I’m disappointed because I don’t see what I’m looking for. I feel cut off from God, and when I’m cut off from God by my sin, I’m cut off from everyone else as well.
So I find myself a little cave to hide in and I begin to whine, “Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me. Think I’ll go eat worms. God, why don’t you just leave me alone? Why don’t you just take my life and be done with it?”
How about you? Have you ever felt like Elijah too? Do you sometimes feel as if you’ve worked so hard, given so much, and nobody notices, especially God! Our sin blinds us from seeing how God has been at work, and we end up wallowing in self-pity. Have you ever felt like Elijah?
Sin, when allowed to run rampant, tightens us up into such a tight ball that we can even lose sight of the fact of who God is, and that He here with us! Robert Frost wrote: “I turned to speak to God about the world’s despair; but to make bad matters worse, I found God wasn’t there”.
So we head for the cave. Some of us hide in whining and complaining. Some hide by turning into a workaholic, thinking we can pull ourselves out of despair by our own bootstraps. Some try to find solace in a bottle or in illicit drugs or in sex. Some search for deliverance in power trips and control. But we are all doing our searching in the wrong places.
If, at any time, you ever feel disposed again to say, “It is enough,” and that you can’t bear of the burden of life any longer, do as Elijah did, flee into the silence of solitude, and sit in a quiet place, and reflect upon the incarnate Son of God, who provides for you and has made a place for you.
God’s solution is to get our attention, and to give us food and strength for the journey of our lives. God wouldn’t let Elijah “go and eat worms”. God sent an angel to bring Elijah food and drink to sustain him for his journey. God told the prophet that he was not alone, that God has reserved for himself seven thousand Israelites who had not worshiped Baal. God had not abandoned Elijah.
Elijah was weary, he did not think his work was achieving anything, he was discouraged. God still had hope for him. There was success he could not see, there was help he did not look for. There was still a purpose and journey to take. God was not done with him, nor was God angry with Elijah despite Elijah’s apparent frustration with God and the foolish accusations he hurled heavenward. God patiently and lovingly deals with His servant here. He turned Elijah out from himself, and back toward Him.
God will not leave us turned inward on ourselves. He turns us out toward Him. He does that by proving just how focused He is on us. God hasn’t abandoned us at all. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to hang on the tree in our place. God did not abandon us; He abandoned His own Son in our place. This is made painfully obvious in Jesus’ terrible cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).
In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, sin’s power over us was destroyed. We’re free; we’re victorious; we’re powerful. We’re protected; we’re safe; we have reason to live!
By letting us know this, God uncurls us from our sinful condition. He is present; He is our power; He loves us. Hearing this we can’t help but draw our eyes to Him, away from ourselves.
Not only that, God has placed us, His chosen ones, into a community of believers so that we can build one another up in the faith. He provides brothers and sisters in the faith to whom we can turn to hear about His love and comfort when we feel weak, discouraged, or despairing. He opens our eyes to see Him at work through our brothers and sisters.
We are fed and nourished for our journey as well. Christ is the very Bread of Life, the Word of God. He gives us His own body and blood as food and drink, given and shed for our forgiveness, offering us the gifts of life and salvation. God turns us outward from ourselves toward Him.
God does not always come to us where we expect Him, like in an earthquake, fire, or in a wind that comes and goes. God does not always come in the overt demonstration of power. Rather, He is found in a manger, in a carpenter’s shop, on the paths of rural Galilee, and hanging on a cross. He is found in a splash of water, a taste of bread and wine, in a preacher’s voice, in a friend’s embrace, and so, so much more.
You can take up the task God gives us at home, at work, and in the church, because He is faithful and His promise is sure. When you are discouraged, when you despair, when sin assails you, your hope rests in Jesus, who comes to you with a gentle whisper that His love will preserve you to life everlasting. Amen.