Little Cakes

Rev. Sarah Buteux
June 23, 2013
1 Kings 19:1-18


“…funny how rare it is that all is lost” – Scott Barton

The year was 869. The kingdom of Israel had long since been split in two, and Ahab, (not be confused with a certain whale-obsessed captain), was King in the North (not to be confused with Rob Stark for those of you obsessed with Game of Thrones. Anyone? Anyone else obsessed with Game of Thrones? I’m probably the only one here who wants to go to the Mutton and Meade festival this afternoon too, right? Yeah. OK then, back to the Bible).

Ahab, son of Omri, (for those of you who don’t know) followed a long list of ancient Israelite kings who had done evil in the sight of the Lord, but – at least according to the author of 1 Kings, Ahab “did evil in the sight of the Lord (even) more than all who were before him,” (which is really saying something) in large part because Ahab was married to one queen Jezebel. 

Now you might not know what it was that made Queen Jezebel so bad, but you know she was bad, don’t you? Yes, you do. It’s telling that even with the resurgence of good old-fashioned Biblical names amongst parents these days, that I’ve met an Amos, an Obed, and a Zadok, but I’ve never met a little Jezebel at the park. No I have not. That name is what you might call “tainted,” and for good reason.

You see when the kingdom of Israel divided after the death of Solomon, the southern kingdom of Judah continued to worship the Lord in the temple in Jerusalem the way they always had. But when the North broke off, the northern kings didn’t want their subjects going all the way down to Jerusalem anymore, so they established new altars and a new priesthood; which technically they were not allowed to do. They created idols to represent the Lord – golden calves and the like (never a good idea), and they gradually allowed the worship of other gods to creep in as well. All of which is to say, that when the kingdom of Israel split in two, it was a mess of apostasy, impiety, and idolatry up in the North right from the very beginning.

However, it was none other than Jezebel who brought the priests of Baal with her when she married Ahab, and Jezebel, we are led to assume, who turned Ahab’s heart to worship her god instead of his. Ahab may have been the King, but it is pretty clear right from the get go that Jezebel wore the crown. Her very name means “The Lord Baal exists” and Jezebel took a no prisoners approach to advancing her god’s cause amongst the people of Israel. In fact, she appears to have made it her personal mission to kill off as many of the prophets of YHWH as she could and Elijah, (whose name, incidentally, means, “my God is YHWH,”) was no exception.

It is Jezebel and Elijah who are the two major players in this story. They are worthy adversaries and at each other from the very beginning, so much so that if 1st Kings were a romantic comedy these two would totally end up together. Just so you know, 1 Kings, not a romantic comedy. No, not at all.

Well, anyway, when Elijah first appears on the scene, he comes to pronounce judgment in the form of a drought.  He confronts Ahab and says: “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives…there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” And then Elijah high tails it right out of there, off into the wilderness, where God feeds him and keeps him safe. The poor people of Israel, meanwhile, are left to struggle for the next few years to survive.

Now the fact that Elijah would turn up and pronounce a drought is significant because you see Jezebel’s god was a storm god, a god of wind and rain, who ensured the fertility of the land.  The drought was YHWH’s way of proving that YHWH, not Baal, was the one true God - not just real, but in control. 

Well, after 3 years and some adventure you can look up on your own time, Elijah returned, and presented himself to Ahab. Ahab, as you might imagine, wasn’t exactly pleased to see him. “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” he asks.

And Elijah answers, “(Who me?) I have not troubled Israel; you have… because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.” And then Elijah comes up with an idea. He challenges the prophets of Baal and Asherah, all 850 of them, to a face off on Mount Carmel. In front of all the people of Israel, he commands that two bulls be brought forth to be sacrificed along with wood for burning them. Elijah then turns to the other prophets and says you prepare your bull but put no fire to it and I’ll prepare mine but put no fire to it.  Then we’ll each call on our own gods and whoever’s god lights the pyre will be the winner.

Elijah, being an Israelite, claimed the home team advantage, so the prophets of Baal had to go first. They cut up their bull, laid it on the wood, and then they prayed and they prayed and they prayed.  They danced, they cut themselves, they cried out to the heavens for hours and hours. Meanwhile, Elijah stood there and made fun of them the whole time, because nothing happened; not so much as a spark.

And then Elijah stepped forward.  He repaired the altar of the Lord that had fallen down up there on Mt Carmel. He piled 12 stones upon it to represent the 12 tribes of Israel, built a trench around the altar, laid out the bull, and then called for…wait for it… water, yes, water. He had the people bring jugs and jugs of water to pour over the bull, so much water that the trench was full and the altar thoroughly soaked. 

And then, before all the people of Israel, Elijah prayed. Immediately God sent down fire from heaven, so much fire that the offering, the wood, and all the stones were completely consumed. Even the water in the trench was “licked up,” by the flames.

At which point the people of Israel - quite prudently in my humble opinion - turned their hearts back to YHWH. Just like that. Go figure. They helped Elijah round up all the false prophets and then our hero, in a fit of righteous zeal, put every last one to the sword.

To everyone’s great relief, the drought ended that very afternoon, but –and this is right where our reading for today picks up - when Ahab got home and told Jezebel all that had happened, she wasn’t happy. On no, she wasn’t happy at all.

She sends a message to Elijah, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this timetomorrow." And Elijah, who I imagine was feeling pretty diesel right up until that moment, turns tail and runs. Elijah, who only moments before was so cocky and sure of himself, that he had gallons of water poured over the altar he was hoping would spontaneously combust, runs away. Elijah, the great prophet, who had all of Israel chanting, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!,” hears that one person is angry, one woman is upset, and he runs for the hills.

Granted that one woman was Jezebel, but still, it’s her displeasure that undoes him, so much so that he runs and he runs and he runs all the way to Beersheba –meaning that he runs as far south as you could possibly run and still be in Israel. There in the last town on the edge of nowhere, he drops off his servant, and then keeps going, out into the wilderness, all by himself.

He drops down under a broom tree and the man who was running for his life only moments before, now begs God to die.  He has had enough. He has risked his all. He has done his best. He has given God precisely what he thought God wanted and all it’s gotten him is trouble.

Friends, our hero is ready to give up. Our Elijah, wants out; and really, after all that’s happened, can you blame him?  I mean we’ve all been there, haven’t we… sort of? Alright, maybe we haven’t all been there exactly, what with all the supernatural pyrotechnics, sectarian slaughter, and death threats of Elijah’s previous day, but I don’t think there is a person here who can’t relate, at least on some level, to what our prophet was feeling out there in the wilderness underneath that solitary broom tree.

I think we all know something of what it is to work hard and get nothing but grief in return. I think we all know how frustrating it can be to feel like we’re the only one: the only one who gets it, the only one who cares, the only one left who can make it happen. I think we all know how demoralizing the criticism of one person can be even when everyone else is happy with our work, sometimes especially when everyone else is happy.

No matter how much we love or excel or believe in what we do, we all have times of profound discouragement, times when it feels like the one thing we’ve been living for is very thing that’s killing us, times when all we really want to do is run away.

Just this past weekend I was talking to the Parkers as we walked around the track at the Relay for Life and Ken – Ken Parker of all people - told me there was a point this past Spring where he and Judy wondered if they really wanted to head up the Rambling Roosters…again. They’ve done it nine years running after all, and I have to tell you that as great as that event is, I understood him when he said that. I know how much effort it takes to pull a team together, and frankly they weren’t sure if the interest would be there or if the money would come.

This past Spring Ken and Judy had what you might call a broom tree moment, just like Elijah, but then something happened. I don’t know what it was that got them over the hump and back on the horse and truth be told it may have been so small that they themselves don’t even remember, but thank God they chose to go ahead, because look at all the good we accomplished as a church; accomplished because of them. Over seventy people walked on our team. That’s more people then we had in church last Sunday. Close to $10,000 was raised for the American Cancer Society, (way more than was given at church last Sunday, but hey whose counting… besides Pam. Thanks Pam). $10,000 was raised, all because of their willingness to keep going when going on was the last thing they wanted to do.

Friends, I know it’s hard to keep on keeping on, no matter how important our work, whether we’re parents or pastors or fall festival coordinators. I mean every year we come up to these events in the church calendar: the stewardship campaign, the Spring supper, annual meeting, and we all wonder, do I really want to put myself out there and commit myself to all of that all over again? 

I’m sure there are times when every teacher goes through a similar crisis of faith, every artist, every doctor, every nurse. And I also know that in moments like that, precisely because our work is so important, how desperately we want God to show up in a big way and affirm our calling. I know how great it would be if God would show up and clear the way for us to do the work he has called us to do or at least let us know, in no uncertain terms, that we get a pass this time around, that it’s ok to say, “no.” Just like Elijah out there in the wilderness, we want the signs to be big and we want the signs to be bold.

And yet here’s the thing, the good news at the heart of this story and one of the central truths at the heart of our faith: God does show up. God always shows up… just not always in the big ways we might want.  More often then not, God isn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, those big neon moments we crave, but is present instead in ways so small and subtle you might not even realize they are God.

God sends us angels, just as God sent one to Elijah, angels that often look a lot like you and a lot like me. God sends us angels who sustain us with their little cakes, those little cakes of encouragement that convey the truths we so desperately need to here right when we most need to hear them: the truth that God does see us, the truth that God does care. The truth that God is with us and holding out to us exactly what we need to take the very next step forward, even if we don’t know how we’ll ever take the step after that. Little cakes of mercy through which God speaks and says: fear not my child for I am with you and I will provide all you need for the journey ahead.  Little cakes that remind people like you and me, that our work does matter, that we do need to keep going, that come what may…. we are not alone.

I know a number of you have made those little cakes for me these past few months. Thank you. And I hope you know what an honor it is for me every time I make one of those little cakes for you.

We are all blessed, so very blessed, to have one another here in this church precisely because we all have a calling. Our calling might not be as big as that of the great prophet Elijah, but it is still important. Our calling might not be as powerful as his, nor, Lord have mercy, will our trials be quite so severe, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be times when we too, find ourselves beneath our own broom trees of despair wondering how or if we will find a way to go on. Thanks be to God, then, that there are angels among us. Thanks be to God for the ones he sends to sustain us. Thanks be to God, this day and always, for little cakes and the angels who make them, angels like you. Amen.