Broom Trees and Bread

a sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14)

When Elijah was driven out of the court of King Ahab, he fled into the desert.  Tired, hungry and discouraged, he laid down under a broom tree and waited to die.  But God had other plans.

Note:  The original version of this sermon was written by my dear friend and colleague, Pastor Pam Smith, of First Lutheran, Nashville

Many years ago, when Rindy and I lived in Orlando with our two daughters, it became clear that it was time for us to sell our house and move back to Columbia. So we found a realtor who came in and began to tell us how to get our house ready to put up on the market. She pointed out some obvious things that needed to be taken care of – paint and a little fixer ups – and she told us we needed to “declutter” the house to make sure it was tidy whenever it was shown. We did all that and we waited. And we waited. And we waited some more. Then one day the realtor came back and said, “maybe you should bake some bread, because folks love the smell of bread when they visit a house… and drop the price $15,000.” After a couple weeks, she brought us an offer on the house and said, “See, it must have been the bread!”

Bread is the most common food on the planet. Every culture we know of has some form of it, whether it be based on wheat, barley, rye, or lentils, rice, or soybeans. To make basic bread all you do is take grain, pulverize it into flour, add water, and bake. Add a little yeast and you get fluffy bread. Add some butter and milk and you get a richer bread.

My mother makes the most amazing bread called arras. When I was a boy, it was made only for the holidays, Easter and Christmas. My grandmother taught her five daughters how to make it from flour, milk, lots of butter and it is spiced with anise and ground cherry pits. Nowadays, she makes it much more frequently, and she’s even taught me to make it. But every time I smell it, it reminds me of home and the holidays.

Bread is extremely important in the Jewish tradition as well. Their most sacred religious celebration, the Passover, recalls the time when they had to leave Egypt at a moment’s notice. They took bread that did not have time to rise and fled from slavery.

Last week, we heard the story of Moses and the Israelites, starving in the wilderness. And God provided them bread – manna – that rained down from the skies. God’s miracle saved them from starvation.

And a few weeks ago, we heard the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. He took some bread, gave thanks, and gave it too them all to eat. And there was more than enough to feed them today and also tomorrow.

Today we heard two more stories about bread. The first was the story of Elijah, the greatest prophet in Israel’s history, is also wandering in the wilderness. Elijah’s job was to tell the King, King Ahab, that he was going to hell in a hand basket and that all of the king’s false prophets were going with him because they weren’t following God’s law for God’s people. Queen Jezebel was a little torqued over this message and sent word to Elijah that he would die because of this. So Elijah did what any great prophet would do – what any of us would probably do – he ran away.

elijahbreadElijah fled into the desert wilderness where his only shelter was a broom tree. A broom tree! It gave about as much shelter as, well, as a broom. But Elijah was tired, hungry and discouraged, he felt like failure. And so he gave up. He laid down under that broom tree and waited to die.

But even in the wilderness, God remained faithful to Elijah. First God sent a messenger, an angel, to woke Elijah up rather suddenly. And he awoke to a loaf of warm bread and cool water – refreshment in the wilderness. Elijah ate and then, hunger satisfied and thirst quenched, he fell asleep again. Then the LORD woke him up a second time. There was more bread and more cool water, and he said,

Eat and drink because otherwise the journey ahead of you will be too hard.

All of us are on a journey and, at one time or another, all of us lose our way. Sometimes, we lose our sense of calling, our livelihood. Sometimes we’re starving or can’t make ends meet. Sometimes we are so overcome with sadness and depression that we simply can’t get out of bed in the morning, or so overcome with fear that we simply can’t take another step alone. At one time or another, we lose our way, unsure of the path we’re on, or who we are, or who we are called to be.

So what do we do when we reach that place in our journey where we become so tired, so discouraged, so afraid that we simply can’t go on? We need to find the nearest shelter, even if it’s just a broom tree, and wait for the voice of God.

Eat and drink, because otherwise the journey ahead of you will be too hard.

During his last meal with his friends, Jesus reminded the disciples about this story of Elijah when he said these words, which we repeat every week:

Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you… and
Drink this, all of you, this is my blood given for you…

Jesus Christ is the bread of life. And if Jesus is the bread of life then perhaps he was thinking of Elijah when he said those words to his disciples, words to the effect of, “I will be with you always. I will be your companion along the way.” After all, what is a companion but one who shares his bread, one who accompanies us on our journey.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus said. “The bread that came down from heaven. The bread that leads to eternal life. And the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

This is why we eat the bread and drink the cup – to be fortified, like Elijah, for the journey of life, to have strength for the journey. Because no matter how wonderful our lives may be, there will be times of struggle and pain. And no matter how hard life might become, God walks with us, through Christ, our companion along the Way.

Thanks be to God.

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