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Bible Study: Proper 14 (B) – 2012

August 12, 2012

1 Kings 19:4-8

Elijah is terrified and running for his life in this passage. Jezebel has vowed to take revenge on him for having killed the prophets of Baal, so he is justly afraid and flees into the wilderness. The prophet is clearly overwhelmed by his circumstances and at the end of his rope. He runs away to escape sure and certain death, yet we find him sitting under a tree and crying out for God to bring his life to an end. Elijah doesn’t want to die at the hands of Jezebel, but at the same time he’s not sure that he can go on living. “It is enough … take away my life,” he says to God. Remember, this is the same Elijah who, in just the chapter before this, displays his awesome faith in the Almighty by calling down fire on Mount Carmel and vanquishing the false prophets of Baal. How could he go from such amazing, faith-filled triumph to such pathetic defeat and despair? Perhaps simply for this reason: he may be a prophet, but he remains a man and therefore weak, fearful and inconstant. Indeed, Elijah’s sheer humanity is made obvious by the means procured by an angel to give him the strength to continue on in his journey, a cake and some water. Notice that God didn’t give him any grand exhortations on why he needed to pull himself together and just have more faith. Instead, he sent him the basic necessities of life – food, water and a bit of companionship to keep him going.

  • Have you ever felt like you’ve been at the end of your rope, without the motivation to continue on? What has kept you going in such circumstances? Do you think that God was with you during those times, and if so, how did God provide for you?

Psalm 34:1-8

This selection from Psalm 34 goes well with the previous reading from 1 Kings. Like Elijah, the psalmist has faced terror and affliction at the hands of his enemies. The difference between the two passages is that, unlike the portion from 1 Kings, in this part of the psalm the one under adversity has been delivered from hardship and so we find him rejoicing in God’s goodness. The psalmist writes that God hears the cries of the faithful and rescues them from all their troubles. Of course, we know that scripture also records times when God does not deliver people who are facing hardships, at least not right away. Elijah’s story shows us this reality, as do various other portions of the Psalter (for example, Ps. 22, the Book of Job, etc.).

  • How should we respond during such circumstances, when God doesn’t seem to be present or active in life’s struggles? Do we, like Elijah, say that we’ve had enough and give up hope that things will get better? Or do we, like the psalmist here, call out to God and try to taste and see that the Lord is good? Even in the darkness, let us look to God and be radiant.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

The author of Ephesians seems to be asking us to do the impossible when he writes, “be imitators of God” in 5:1. After all, how can we finite and fallen creatures ever presume to try to be like God, who is utterly above and beyond us mortals in every way? Do we dare think that we can be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect (see Matthew 5:48)?

Well, we may not achieve perfect holiness in this world, but this passage from Ephesians gives us some practical hints on how we can begin trying to imitate God. First of all, we’re told to choose truth over falsehood, keeping in mind that relationships that are healthy and holy must be founded on honesty and trust. Second, we’re given permission to be angry, as long as we learn to release our anger in healthy ways, before too much time passes. After this, more instructions follow: do not steal; do honest work and share with the needy; do not speak evil; be kind and forgiving. In all these ways and more, we can truly be like God. As we seek to do so, let us place all our hope in Christ, who has made it possible for us to do the impossible, by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8).

John 6:35, 41-51

Jesus is making some very strong claims in this passage. He promises that anyone who comes to Him shall never be hungry or thirsty. He declares that anyone who has been drawn to Him will be raised on the last day. He asserts that whoever eats of His flesh, the living bread of heaven, will live forever. These are all very striking words and it is no wonder that his fellow Jews, and even the disciples, are scandalized by Jesus’ teaching (see verses 41 and 60f).

Obviously, this text requires a great deal of careful reflection. Salvation looks like bread, which is the Body of Christ broken for us; and wine, which is His Blood shed for us. Through these inestimable gifts, offered to us in the Eucharist, we are made partakers of the divine nature and assured of God’s favor and goodness toward us, now and forever.

An old hymn by Johann Franck, “Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,” written in 1649, beautifully captures this great reality of Christ given to us in the Sacrament. Here are some of the hymn’s final lines: “From this supper let me measure, / Lord, how vast and deep love’s treasure. / Through the gifts Thou here dost give me / As Thy guest in heaven receive me.”

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Christopher Sikkema


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