Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
Stories From the Bible
These days, I don’t follow the lectionary. The lectionary is what the world churches use. It is a system of the collection of the scripture passages to preach every Sunday. They just give scripture passages. For the last 23 years at this church, I followed the lectionary, but from July this year, I have decided not to follow the lectionary. The reason was that I wanted to experience the moment where the world we live in meets the word of God, the scripture. I want to capture that moment where what I experienced in life, meets what I experience in the scripture, I want to capture that moment. The scripture that God gave to me this week was the story of an angel who took care of the Prophet Elijah. Just before this story, Elijah fought with Baal Prophets, the false prophets on mountain camel, he fought off 450 false prophets all by himself.
The Prophet Elijah
Elijah was a powerful figure in Israel’s history. When you talk about prophets, it is Elijah. He was a representative person of the prophets. He even brought down fire from heaven, but after this, the King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel was very angry because she was the one who brought all these false prophets to Israel, and she was angry that Elijah killed them all. She was wicked and she wanted to kill Elijah, and that’s what it’s captured in first two verses of scripture that we read today. Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel both sent a messenger to Elijah saying, 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 time tomorrow. Elijah was a strong man, very strong man, but strangely, this threat caused great fear in Elijah.
He was filled with fear. He was terrified with fear. He got all kinds of challenges all his life and he was fine to deal with them and overcame all these challenges, but this time, this threat really paralyzed him and made him so tremble with fear. The writer of First Kthe ings recorded in this way. Then he was afraid, he got up and fled for his life, but 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’m no better than my ancestors. He’s saying, enough is enough. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take my mission anymore. I can’t take my work anymore. I’m done. Just kill me here, I can’t go on. I realized that is the true face of us human beings, we human beings are weak. We think we’re strong, but we are very weak. We can pretend that we are strong. We can pretend that nothing affects me, but when we really come down to the bottom of it, we are very vulnerable, fragile, and weak. That’s why St Paul described us as earthen vessel, that can be easily shattered and broken.
The Touch of the Angel
You know, at times we feel like we can do almost anything. I can deal with all kinds of things. I have so much confidence that I can do all things. But when we fail, sometimes we feel like we can do nothing. I just don’t have any confidence to do anything properly and effectively. We lose all our confidence and say we’re completely surrounded by worries and anxiety. Even about life we feel that way. Can I go on with my life? You know, that’s who we are. Elijah was not an exception, but Jesus was like that too. He, during his ministry, he talked about his suffering and death all the time. He always said that I’ll be delivered into the hands of the leaders and then they will kill me. He just spoke about his suffering, spoke about his death as a matter of fact. But the night before he died, all of a sudden he didn’t have that confidence.
That’s why he asked God, can you take this cup away from me if you can, if you will? I can not take it. Even Jesus said that. I think that showed the true nature of us human beings. To Elijah, who was paralyzed with fear, an angel appeared twice. The first time, the angel touched him and said to him to get up and eat. You know, touch is a very affectionate word. I don’t know whether an English word will capture that as clearly, but in Korean, there is the word 어루만짐. 어루만짐 means touching with affection. So the angel came and touched him, and when he got up, there was a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. He ate it, but he could not get up. So he lied down again and slept. The angel appeared to him again a second time. That’s what God does. When we cannot get up the first time, God will send another angel, twice, three times, four times. Until we get up, God will send another angel for us to get up. The angel told him, get up and eat, and the next phrase is very important: “otherwise the journey will be too much for you”.
You are not Alone
You have roads to walk! You have dreams to fulfill! You have work to do! If you don’t get up now, you won’t be able to finish your journey. You will give up in the middle of it. You’ll sit on it! Elijah got up and for 40 days and 40 nights, he went to Horeb, the mountain of God. As we take our journey, sometimes we feel like giving up.
We have a spiritual journey to take. A beautiful journey to take. Sometimes when life becomes so hard and too difficult and challenges are beyond our ability to handle, sometimes we just say, God, enough is enough. I can’t handle it anymore. I’ll just sit here and whatever. Sometimes we feel like that. That’s when God sends us angels, not necessarily angels with wings and the white robe. The angels come in very ordinary people. They don’t even know that they are angels to us. They give us strength and courage to continue our journey. When we are tired and drained, they give us what we need. What Elijah needed was not truly the bread or water. That’s not what he needed. What did he need? What Elijah needed was to not be alone. Bread and water are just signs, but by sending water and a bread, God showed Elijah that you are not alone.
I’m with you. You’re not alone. I’m with you. God simply assured Elijah that he was not alone in that journey. Later, Elijah was complaining that I’m the only prophet that is left and I just don’t know what to do, and this is what God said. We didn’t read it, at the end of chapter 19, this is what God said: yet, I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed, and every mouth that has not kissed him. By saying it, he told you that he was not alone. There are 7,000 more people who are like you, and also I am with you.
The Angels All Around You
When you’re heavily burdened, when you’re surrounded by darkness, and problems are too big to handle. When you’re tired and drained, when you feel helpless and hopeless with life, God sends an angel every time. He never fails it. As I look back, I’m sure there were many, many angels who helped me. You are where you are because of these angels in your life. These angels helped you, encouraged you, supported you, empowered you sometimes and helped you. Not necessarily, they gave us big help, big money or big things, maybe very small things. They may be even strangers that you never saw again, or the people who are always with you and are always with an encouraging smile, encouraging words of encouragement. They may be your friends or maybe your parents, they may be your church members. God sends these angels to tell us that life is not just darkness. Life is not just misery. Life is not just cruel. They show that life is beautiful, that life is worth living, and through these angels we realized that life is worth living and life is beautiful. This week, that’s what I realized. I realized that there had been many angels in my life. They get nothing from me, but they helped me, encouraged me, and they were very kind to me. Who am I, that they are so good to me?
Acts of Kindness
Just this week I got an email from somebody that I haven’t met for 25 years or so. You know, I don’t even go into Facebook. I don’t use Facebook. It’s there, and my face is there. That’s why it’s Facebook. And this woman sent me an email and then she said, oh you’re a reverend and oh, do you remember and all that. And this is an old lady’s daughter. And then she was telling me that her mother is still praying for me. The mother went through the cancer and she survived and she’s still praying for me after 25 years. She made beautiful 냉면 for me when she was here. And then the daughter lives in New Jersey and the other one lives in Maryland and they sent me just to say hi, but she still prays for me! Why? Last Thursday, in the morning, you know, one of those days when you wake up gloomy, you wake up sad, you wake up kind of like “Oh gee”. Thursday was one of those days. I woke up and I went to the dry cleaning to pick up my dry cleaning, whole full load of clothes in. And then as I enter into the dry cleaning, a woman went “Hi!”. She was so glad to see me. “Hi!”, with a bright smile. So we were talking and it was so great just to chat and talk.
And when I tried to pay, she said, let me take care of this. This is my gift for you today. Why? She doesn’t even know me. And why did she do that? Why do human beings do that? Why is she so kind? And then, I was thinking about all the angels in my life. And that’s how the motive of this sermon theme came. All the angels in my life. And on that same day, in the evening, my wife went to Ghana to attend a conference. So I dropped her off at the airport and came back to church and work a little bit, and then I got to cook so on the way I went to the Korean grocery store. I was in the lineup and this woman in front of me looked behind and said “Hi!”. So I said “Hi!” back. I mean, I don’t know her very well. I mean, I met her a few times before doing some activities. She’s not a member of our church and I don’t really know her. And then she said, let me take care of your groceries, and then she paid for me. The same day, twice! Wow! What a treat! But why? Why do people do that? When we look around, there are many angels. Really. There are many angels.
Helping Those in Need
Of course, the world is not like that all the time. The world can be a quite cruel place. We all feel sympathetic for the Syrian refugees. In Germany, people came out with a big sign, “Welcome to Frankfurt”. When I saw that, there were tears in my eyes. Why are people so kind to those who can just be a bother to them? Who can even be dangerous? But on the other hand, there is also a reporter like the one who kicked the young refugees, and the same woman tripped the father who was running away with his son. The reporter was fired and the man who was tripped and fell and he got help from a nice guy in Spain. The guy was the president of private soccer school and then he heard the interview of this man who was tripped and then realized that he was a soccer coach in Syria, so he wanted to help out. So he called a Spanish newspaper he wanted to find out his whereabouts and he found it. He was in Munich. So he chose one student from his school who can speak the Arabic language and sent him to Munich with all the money and then he took him to Paris and to Barcelona and Madrid, and he paid for all the travel, living expenses until he got a job. What a nice guy. Do you know what his name is? Miguel Ángel! When I read that the article, wow, it was perfect for my sermon! It is true that this world is full of violence, cruelty, coldness, and problems, but among them, there are angels, as we met so many angels in our lives, let us be angels to each other.
As we look around with intention, we will have many opportunities to be angels. As we are conscious of angels around us, our life becomes brighter. On Thursday, after that experience, when strangers come or when people come, is it another angel? Or you know, my life becomes brighter. But when I see them as enemies, we become hostile. As we see angels in each other, our life changes, but as you see enemies in each other, your life become hostile. See angels in each other and be angels. Sometimes don’t you wonder because I’m sad, because I’m unhappy, because I’m miserable, I make other people also sad, unhappy and miserable? That’s not what we Christians are supposed to do. And I saw some people doing that. For what are you doing that? God calls us to be angels to each other. Let us live our lives. Probably they are angels in your life. Let us thank God for them and also let us also be angels to the people around us.