Bread from Heaven, II:
The Story of ‘And’

Bread from Heaven, II:
The Story of ‘And’
August 11, 2019

Bread from Heaven, II:
The Story of ‘And’

Passage: I Kings 17:1–16

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For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.  —I Kings 17:14

 

Holy God, you have spoken to our ancestors through the words of the prophets and laws and to us through your presence in Jesus. Silence in us any voice but yours that your Holy Spirit may move through us and startle us with a truth. May we listen and respond with faithful lives. Amen. 

Last week we began our Bread from Heaven sermon series with the Israelite’s receiving daily provisions of man hu, bread from heaven, during their forty years of wandering in the desert.  They learned to notice and trust in God each and every day.

Today’s story of bread draws us further into relationship with God and one another.

A bit of context:
The scripture we hear today is not recorded history in the traditional sense. Describing the time after the reign of King David and his son, Solomon, 1 Kings is an extended theological essay of passionately held beliefs.  Composed during the exile, these writers were convinced the Israeli kings brought about their collective downfall by worshiping false gods and promoting self-serving policies that enriched themselves at the expense of the people.[1]

At this point in history, King Ahab is in power and Elijah prophesies a drought will occur to punish the kingdom for Ahab’s devotion to the pagan god, Baal.

As with last week’s reading, I will rely upon the new translation of the Hebrew Scriptures by Robert Alter.  Again, you will hear a litany of the word “and,” pulling us forward as God continues to bring about life.

Listen for God’s word as I read portions of 1 Kings 17:

And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, whom I have served, there shall be no rain or dew except by my word.”

And the word of the Lord came to Elijah saying, “Go from here and turn you eastward and hide in the Wadi of Cherith, which goes into the Jordan. And it shall be, that from the Wadi you shall drink, and the ravens have I charged to sustain you there.”

And Elijah went and did according to the word of the Lord.... And the ravens would bring him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and from the Wadi he would drink.

And it happened after a time that the Wadi dried up, for there was no rain in the land. And the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Rise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there. Look, I have charged a widow-woman there to sustain you.

And he rose and went to Zarephath and came to the entrance of the town, and, look, a widow-woman was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Fetch me, pray, a bit of water in a vessel that I may drink.” And she went to fetch and he called to her and said, “Fetch me, pray, a crust of bread in your hand.”

And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have no loaf but only a handful of flour in the jar and a bit of oil in the cruse and I am about to gather a couple of sticks, and I shall make for me and for my son…and we shall eat it and die.”

And Elijah said to her, “Fear not. Come, do as you have spoken, only first make me from there a little loaf and bring it out to me, and for you and your son make afterward.

For thus the Lord God of Israel has said, “The jar of flour will not go empty nor will the cruse of oil be drained until the day the Lord sends rain over the land.’” And she went and did according to Elijah’s word, and she ate, and she and he and her household many days.

The jar of flour did not go empty nor was the cruse of oil drained, according to the word of the Lord.

One of the first games actors will learn in improvisational theater is called “yes, and.” It is a simple, non-threatening interaction that builds their skills to work together. Here is a sample dialogue:

Character 1: Today is a cloudless summer day.
Character 2: Yes, and I have the afternoon open, let’s go to the beach.
Character 1: Yeah, so I will bring the sunscreen.
Character 2: Good idea, and let’s ask Katie to join us.

The exercise demands listening and staying in the flow by saying “yes” to the other, implying, “I am with you,” followed by “and” to move the action forward. They are working without a script, and creating something out of nothing.

Failure occurs when someone stops the action with “no,” or loses focus by not listening, or by not being willing to work together. They do not control the story.

Listen. Focus. Trust.

In improv comedy, the fun begins when the characters are thrown off by a sudden turn or inclusion of a non sequitur, leading them together to hilarity. Improvisation is not always comedic, since the skills can be applied throughout life. Real life does not have a scripted future.

The Rev. Dr. Sam Wells, distinguished theologian and the vicar of St Martin in the Fields, sees consistent parallels between the disciplines of improv and leading a rich life in Christian faith.

Working without a script by saying “yes, and” to be a part of God’s plan, is to move into the future without fear.

For many it may appear as though “yes, and” implies too much risk. You don’t know where you are going in the act—whether imagined on stage or performed in real life. Agreed.

In our Christian life, we have a safety net. A life of faith relies upon solid grounding in Christian ethics, practicing our faith story so it is embedded into our very being. This is why we teach our children the Ten Best Ways or Ten Commandments. As adults, we continue to rehearse the obtuse parables with modern interpretations to discern how to live a good life. Each year, consistently, we remember in song and word and liturgy the incarnation of God in human life and praise God for the grace of forgiveness in Easter’s resurrection.

We can say “yes, and” with confidence when we are devoted to God above all, have learned the ways of discipleship as Jesus taught, and have experienced in the church the long arc of faith and love and grace.

Ethics is not about being clever in any crisis but forming such a character that when a crisis occurs or decision demand to be made, we know the differences between right and wrong, however subtle they might be. It is about being in the habit of trusting in God.

Improvisation is not about being witty in the moment, but about trusting ourselves to do and say the obvious, because we are listening.  Improv is concerned with discernment.  It is about hearing God speak through practiced listening. It is learning to say “yes” to the newness of life’s unfolding in so many unknown ways and saying “and” in ways that keep us engaged with one another and God.[2]

We need to be willing to improvise and we need reflexively discipleship.

Elijah, whose name literally means, “the Lord is my God,” was the essence of his message. Elijah became a prophetic legend.

In the Jewish tradition he is revered and welcomed at each Passover Seder table.

In the Christian tradition, the gospel writers modeled miraculous stories of wilderness survival after him. Jesus’ early followers could only comprehend a messiah based upon their knowledge of Elijah’s divine power and intimacy with God. And, Elijah had announced God’s promise of the messiah.

Over the years, Elijah learned to live in God’s covenant. He had heard the stories and followed the commands and laws to love God and neighbor. He could not imagine life in any other way than being attentive to God’s word and responding in faith.

This way of life gave him the courage to speak against the corrupt King Ahab. Unfortunately, Ahab is part of a long line of kings who do not care for the people in his charge.

This way of life also allowed Elijah to be vulnerable and risk doing what God asked, even when it demanded leaving what was known and secure. He knew God is always faithful. Courage and vulnerability are two sides of the same coin, forged in years of attentive devotion.

When God commands him to leave Israel, Elijah says, “yes” by going. Entering the wilderness, God ensures ravens feed him, morning and evening. This constancy of care, morning and evening, echoes the story of God’s creation, and God’s care for the Israelites fleeing Egypt that Elijah knew by heart.

When the prophesied drought becomes a reality, drying the waters of the Wadi, God tells him to go to Zarephath. This is where the journey becomes even more life threatening. Zarephath is nestled in the pagan country that worships Baal.

Telling Elijah to trust a poor widow in hostile country is like telling an orthodox Jew to satisfy his hunger in an Islamic refugee settlement.  It would be like telling someone wearing a MAGA hat to expect a warm welcome in a neighborhood filled with Black Lives Matters signs. Or expecting an NRA supporter to seek shelter in a home promoting Mothers Demand Action.

In this liminal place Elijah meets a widow, who although not an Israelite, hears God, and she too is obedient.  If Elijah took a chance, the widow’s risk was even greater by trusting a God she had not worshiped and giving her last morsel of flour to a stranger before her own son.

Bread is again the focal point of God’s miracle. And the miracle is more than just starvation-sized rations becoming sufficient for a prolonged drought, the miracle is two people who should have been enemies trust God and trust one another to eat together, to share a life, and to find a way forward when there was nothing they could individually see but death.

We have heard your stories of bread at the communion table and a strawberry sandwich…all instances of viscerally experiencing the gift of connecting with another human through simple bread.  It is part of ordinary life if only we become willing participants.

In recent times, Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction has been awarded to such luminaries as former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, conductor Zubin Mehta, and Judith Feld Carr, a Canadian-Jewish musician and human rights activist who helped smuggle thousands of Jews out of Syria. The award honors a person’s contributions to humanity.

In 2012 Nadav Ben Yehuda was 24 at the time he learned that he would stand in such a distinguished line of recipients.

The prior year, just 1,000 feet from the top of the world, Ben Yehuda noticed a 64-year old Turkish man, Aydin Irmak, lying in the snow with no gloves, no oxygen and no shelter as other climbers passed him on their way to the summit of Mt. Everest. To reach the 29,000-foot top-of-the-world goal, takes you through what is known as the “death zone” where oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life for any period of time. Acute mountain sickness, hypothermia, and death are likely in this thin place.

This year, the traffic jams of people lining up to reach the summit resulted in eleven people dying in this “death zone.”

Seeing the desperate man, Ben Yehuda relinquished his dream to become the youngest Israeli to reach the summit and instead became Irmak’s rescuer. Nine hours later, they were both safely at base camp. Ben Yehuda risked losing some of his fingers because he removed his gloves to get a better grip carrying Irmak.

Scaling Mt. Everest requires exhaustive training and significant financial commitment. Ben Yehuda valued human life more than personal gain. In our world of tribes, averse to foreigners and suspicious of adversaries, one would not expect an Israeli to care about the welfare of a Turk.

When asked why he gave up his dream, Ben Yehuda answered simply, “Because we had shared a meal together.” [3]

We know that listening to others, noticing what is needed, trusting our common humanity, and doing what is right brings about life. This week think about the opportunities you have to break bread with someone you do not know.

We all know that there are those who would prefer to say “no.” Maybe someone does not say “no” all the time, but in the context of looking into the future or attempting to resolve a problem, “no” feels safer. Saying “no” retreats. Saying “no” privileges a status quo. Those who prefer to say “no” tend to perceive saying, “yes” as impossible, improper, or dangerous.

And those people who prefer to say “yes” are rewarded by the adventures they have as life unfolds with strangers becoming acquaintances or even friends.[4] Saying “yes” is born of a devotion to God and the gift of human life.

We are at a time in our lives in which prophesies of droughts and climate change are credibly supported with facts. Yet the King Ahabs and his wanna-be’s are ignoring the welfare of nations by saying “no.” Their devotion is not in the future nor in people.

We are living in dangerous times as lives are cut short in senseless gun violence. Rather than prioritize life, too many King Ahabs claim any action to reduce gun violence is either not in their best interest or possible. These “no’s” are becoming fatal to common people like you and me.

We are in a grand story with each other in God’s realm. We can say “yes, and” to live a faith that loves God above all else and asks us to love our neighbor. It is up to us to choose life.

To do so requires recognizing this story does not belong to us. It belongs to God. Our history affirms God’s sovereignty and that the story will keep going whether we choose to be a part or not. In God’s story, if I stumble and fall, I can get back in the game. We never have the last word. God has the last word—and it will always be “grace.”

Closing prayer from Soreen Kierkegaard:  For all that has been, “thank you.”  For all that will be “yes.”

Click here to view the wonder of bread in our life stories submitted by members.


[1] Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, ed., The Jewish Study Bible, (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2004), 669.

[2] Samuel Wells, Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Brazos Press, 2004), 12.

[3] “Heroic Israeli Climber to Receive Presidential Medal of Honor,” Times of Israel, May 29, 2012, https://www.timesofisrael.com/heroic-israeli-climber-to-receive-presidential-medal-of-honor/ and Lisa Hickman, “When ‘Enemies’ Meet,” Patheos, September 27, 2012, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/onscripture/2012/09/eating-with-the-enemy-esthers-story/

[4] Wells, 103.