1 Kings 19:4-8
4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
This week we continue our 5-week series on the bread of the Lord. We started with the great miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000 people with a mere 5 loaves and 2 fish. From so little, God was able to not only feed such a large crowd of people but also to provide an abundance as illustrated by the 12 baskets of food leftover. God provides abundantly for our needs! God is not a God of scarcity…God is a God of abundance. Then we explored how God’s food is not like our regular food. God’s food has no shelf life and lasts indefinitely. God’s food serves to feed our eternal souls, not just our temporary bodies, and to do that it needs to last. Our readings for this focus on a different aspect of God’s food. Rather than describing attributes of the food itself, we dwell instead in God’s act of giving it to us.
In this reading from 1st Kings, we encounter the prophet Elijah being blessed with food and water from God as he fled from Jezebel’s wrath. Recall that Elijah had set up a contest between God and the prophets of Baal. God wins the contest and Elijah has the prophets of Baal killed for their sacrilege. Queen Jezebel was a Baal worshiper herself and was outraged that her prophets were killed over the contest. She vowed to avenge their deaths by killing Elijah and he quickly fled into the wilderness. Our reading picks up with Elijah utterly exhausted from being in the wilderness. He had no food, no water, and he was roaming aimlessly in fear. In complete despair, Elijah begs God to take his life so that he didn’t have to keep wandering hungry and thirsty. God doesn’t answer Elijah’s plea. Instead, He sends and angel to provide food and water as encouragement to keep wandering. The angel said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” This was certainly not what Elijah wanted to hear, let alone be blessed with! But he eats and drinks and is able to make it another 40 days and 40 nights to the mount of God.
Many of us have experienced similar times of despair when all we want from God is to take away our lives. We cry out, “Just end the misery already!” Sometimes God gives us death. More often God gives us encouragement and the food we need to keep going. Is God rewarding our complaints? Is God torturing us by enabling us to keep going? God’s ways are not our ways and He has reasons for everything, reasons can’t know and probably don’t want to know. What’s more important to recognize about God providing for Elijah was that it came when Elijah was totally defeated. You see, God provides in times of joy and in times of despair. God welcomes our complaints, God hears our complaints, but God isn’t rewarding our complaints. God is simply providing an abundance of goodness, whenever and however He wants. If anything, complaints help us to see how much we need God’s food. Complaints reflect how little control we have in our lives and allow us to recognize how much God provides for us in both joyous and despairing times.
1I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
3O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.
4I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
5Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
6This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.
7The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
The prophet Elijah wasn’t the only one known for complaining to God. King David often found himself in times of utter despair as well. He was not a perfect man by any means. He made some pretty awful mistakes that got him into plenty of desperate situations. Did he ever try and blame his bad decisions on other people? Sure, he tried to cover them up but he didn’t deny them. No matter how bad the situation he found himself in, David recognized that it was his own decisions that got him there. David wasn’t deceitful…David was simply human and made mistakes like the rest of us.
When David found himself in fearful situations, he often begged and pleaded for God’s help. At times, he even complained to God for not seeming to hear his pleas as he cried out in Psalm 64, “Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from the dread enemy.” David claimed his mistakes, pleaded for God’s help in bad situations, and complained when God appeared to be nowhere around. Did God reward David for his complaints? No, God simply kept on providing as He always provides. By complaining, David was revealing how much he needed God’s food. By complaining, David was revealing both his foolishness and his futility.
In our psalm for this week, we hear David lifting up a song of praise to God for all that He provides. He sang, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” God answered David’s complaints out of the abundance of His grace and mercy. God heard David’s complaints and gave him the encouragement he needed to make it through his bad situation. We are like David. We, too, can find ourselves in despairing situations. Complaints don’t necessarily persuade God to provide for us as much as they help us to realize how much God already provides for us. Complaints help us to realize how much we need God and His food. God provided for Elijah, God provided for David, and God provides for each of us as we journey through our lives. It’s ironic how when God appears to not be providing we complain and then God appears to provide again. Wasn’t God providing all along? Yes, and complaining helps us to realize this and how much we need God.
25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
5 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Complaining helps us to realize both how much God provides for us but also how much we need what God provides. God provides for us out of an abundance of grace and mercy, not because of our complaints. God hears our complaints but doesn’t reward us for them. Our complaints help us more than they persuade God. Our complaining eventually brings us into right relationship with God. Likewise, complaints can bring us into right relationship with each other. It is true, nobody likes to hear complaining. But complaints serve a very useful purpose of bringing us into right relationship with each other. People complain in relationships and situations when they’re needs aren’t being met. Because they serve to get needs met, complaints are rarely lies. No, complaints are, by their very nature, statements of truth. Needs weren’t met and a complaint tries to meet them. Complaints might temporarily distance us from each other but their meant to bring us closer together once the unmet needs are met.
When Paul wrote to the congregation at Ephesus, he was addressing a group of people who was in deep conflict and had great distance between each other. They were lying to each other, angry with each other, stealing from each other, talking slander again each other, and bitter with each other. Paul advised them to reclaim their relationships: speak the truth, be angry but do not sin, give up stealing, labor and work honestly, share, choose non-slanderous words, build each other up, be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving towards each other. All of Paul’s advice to the congregation relied on their speaking truth to each other. Without truth, the evils are inevitable in relationships. Without truth, we live in disharmony. Some truths are difficult to hear. Some truths separate us from each other. But ultimately it is the truths that hold us together. Lies and deceit don’t hold us together. Truth is the bond that holds all relationships together.
What better way is there to encourage truth than through complaints? Complaining brings out truth and strengthens our relationships with each other. Complaints don’t persuade people; truth persuades people. God wants us to live in harmony with each other and provide for each other as He provides for us.
John 6:35, 41-51
35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I 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.”
Again, we hear more complaining, this time coming from the suspicious Jews: “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus had indeed spoken truth. He had come down from heaven and he is the bread of life. There is no non-truth in what Jesus had spoken to them. But the Jews didn’t know the whole truth. The Jews only knew the truth of the Torah. They raised a complaint because they couldn’t see how the bread of life could come in the form of a mere man. The bread of life, God’s bread of life, feeds our eternal souls. How can a mere man feed our eternal souls?
It can be hard to recognize the bread of life coming in the form of a man. At times, we don’t want to recognize Jesus’ humanity. We want to only focus on his divinity so we, too, find ourselves complaining about his humanity. If he’s a human, he can’t be any better than you or me, right? Well, he is better than you and me; he’s fully human and fully divine. We are simply fully human. Because he is fully divine, he is able to feed us food of the divine, eternal food, food for our souls. How does he do it? By giving us his fully human body to eat! Oh, the irony! He’s saying our immortal souls are fed by his mortal body. How our immortality is fed by his mortality is a mystery but a powerful one indeed. The church has tried to understand the mystery for 2,000 years and may never understand it. But the church has no problem with mystery–it is built entirely on faith! There is nothing but mystery in faith!
It is right for Jews to complain about the mystery of Jesus. It is right for us to complain about the mystery of Jesus. It is in complaining that we reveal how much we are in need of his bread of life. We need God to provide not only food for our bodies but food for our souls as well. Let us not shy away from offering our complaints to God. God hears them and encourages us in our times of despair. God provides abundantly, whether we complain or not!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.