9th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B - LCMS Revised Readings)
Thursday, August 7, and Sunday, August 10, 2003
Well, I can’t go away on vacation without coming back with one good story. At the end of July, Susan and I participated in an organized bike ride across Iowa. 460 miles, 7 days, camping overnight in small Iowa towns with 8000 other people. This is the nation’s largest organized bicycle ride. Each day, as far as you can see on the route, there are people on bikes. It’s quite amazing to see.
This was the 31st year of the ride, and there are many traditions. One of those traditions are the food vendors that are somewhere out on the route each day. There’s Mama Rapahel’s Breakfast Burritos and Chris Cakes and Mr. Pancake and Tender Tom’s Turkey and Mr. Pork Chop who find a farmhouse somewhere, set up their grills, and serve food to the weary bikers. Many people ride over tough hills and through the heat, they ride knowing that it is only 3 more miles to Mr. Pork Chop.
Well, of all of those vendors, the one that I always looked for, the one that kept me going towards the end of each day, is the Root Beer Man. The Root Beer Man parks his truck about 5-10 miles from the end town for the day, and the Root Beer Man serves 1919 Root Beer, cold, straight from the tap. I keep a list of the top root beers, and 1919 is probably #2, if not #1 in my book.
So as the hills grew longer, as my legs grew tired, each day I’d look for the Root Beer Man. His last name is Paige, and along the way, he was nicknamed Satchell, Satchell Page after the baseball player. For me, seeing Satchell, asking him for a 1919 root beer, for me, that like the angel saying to Elijah, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” It’s like Satch was saying, “Here, have a root beer, for the bike ride is too much for you.” And that 1919 Root Beer, well, it was a great energy drink, helping me to pedal into the last town for the day.
Of course, the difference between Satchell and the angel is that the angel’s food kept Elijah going for 40 days.
But why is Elijah running? We read today about Elijah, running, and getting strength from the food angels gave him. There’s a connection between the Root Beer Man and the angels, but first, why is Elijah running?
Well, the answer is there in verse 2: Jezebel has put a death threat on Elijah. Jezebel was the wife of the king of Judah, King Ahab, but Jezebel served Baal, a false god. And God had just shown that Baal was a false god. Elijah served the true God, who has true power. And then Elijah had the priests of Baal, the ones who had led people astray, he had them put to death. So Jezebel was upset. And Jezebel said she’d kill Elijah.
Even so, why was Elijah running, trying to hide? I mean, Elijah had just seen God’s power, how God’s power was real. Elijah was a servant of the true God; Jezebel wasn’t. Why was Elijah running?
Some people think that Elijah was depressed or scared to lose his life or that he lost his faith in God or that he was worn out/burnt out. Emotions can do that to a person, take you from confidence and faith and bring you right down to fear and sadness. Elijah had hit a spiritual high seeing God’s real power, but then he hit rock bottom, got scared, depressed, ran for his life. Emotions have a way of robbing you of the confidence you had just a moment ago.
For instance, I’ll probably hit a spiritual low after this week. This week is a spiritual high, seeing God’s Word being taught every day, almost 150 people here each day helping to teach and learn about Jesus, but then next week, the place will be empty and quiet and it will be hard to remember if we’re doing God’s mission.
The students, your children, may hit a spiritual low after this week. This week they’ve been spending each day learning about God, but then next week, they’re on their own, they’re less connected, God might be a little less clear.
Families, you may hit a spiritual low after this week. This week you could see your family learning about God, being a part of the church, being connected, but then next week, it’s back to the routine of things, and it’s hard again to make church a priority.
Teachers, you go from teaching and being connected to God’s Word each day to regular life where you might be less aware of serving God.
And this congregation goes from its busiest week, the week when probably the most people are in and out of our doors, to a very quiet week, and emotions can trick us at that moment, emotions can get us feeling really low after we had this spiritual high.
But when we hit that spiritual low, then there’s the Root Beer Man. There’s Satchell at the side of the road, ringing his bell, yelling, “Root Beer.”
Then there’s God sending his angel to Elijah, giving Elijah food and rest to help him be ready for his journey.
And when you hit a spiritual low, then there’s God ready to give you strength for your journey, giving you what you need to keep going down the road of faith.
But notice how God doesn’t force Elijah out of his funk, but He also doesn’t let Elijah off the hook. God cares for Elijah in such a caring, tender way. Again, God is like the Root Beer Man. Satchell is a welcome sight, providing refreshment and conversation. Satchell knows that many of us by the time we get to him, many of us are tired of riding. He doesn’t tell us we’re wimps, and yell at us to keep going. He invites us to stop, drink that 1919 Root Beer, but he doesn’t have a tent up for shade, he doesn’t have chairs out. He’s not going to let us stop, give up riding. He’ll let us be tired, but he’s encouraging us to keep going. So, too, God gives you strength for your spiritual journey, not forcing you out of that low, not forcing you to be in church and participate and read the Bible, not forcing you, but then again, God is there, lovingly, gently guiding you to keep going.
But you know, I had to admit that I needed the Root Beer Man. I had to stop and get that tremendous refreshment. Same with Elijah. The angel brought him food, but Elijah had to admit that he needed to eat. Same with our spiritual lives. We have to admit that we need God’s encouragement on the road of life, on the journey of faith.
Many of you may think of pastors as the Root Beer Man, and that’s OK. We’re supposed to be providing God’s encouragement along the way, but even pastors need the Root Beer Man. I need the Root Beer Man in my spiritual life.
I’ll admit that I get like Elijah—depressed, discouraged, feeling like running away. And in those times, I need the Root Beer Man, I need God to encourage me in my spiritual life. And God does encourage me, and in fact, God uses many of you to encourage me. I hope those of you who have helped me, have encouraged me, I hope you realize that God has used you to encourage me to keep going.
Sometimes you need a Root Beer Man in your life; sometimes you are the Root Beer Man in someone else’s life.
But when you admit that you need God’s encouragement, when you admit this, what do you need? What do you need when you are a discouraged servant of God? How does God encourage you? He encourages you in so many ways.
God encourages you through His Word—through hearing about God’s love and God’s plan to save us from death and Jesus who died on the cross and rose again. God’s Word gives us strength for the journey.
God encourages you through worship with others, through seeing the faith of other people as they praise God and hear His Word and sing to Him.
God encourages you through seeing Christ work in someone else, work to bring someone else to faith, work to bring someone back to church. When you can see that God is doing great things in people’s lives, as many of us have seen this week, then that’s God’s encouragement to us.
God encourages you through service to others. The RYMS, our youth, have this motto: serving God by serving the world. When you realize that God uses you to share His love with others, you feel God’s strength for the task.
God encourages us through a community of believers. I had a discussion with one person this week about being an individual or being in a community, and I said being an individual is great, but we also need community, we need others, and God puts us here together in a community of believers to encourage one another.
God encourages us through volunteer vacations. Maybe we don’t emphasize this enough, but as you’re serving God in the church and in the community, there are times when you need to deliberately take time off, take a vacation from your volunteer commitments. Then God gives you rest, helps you be ready for your next time of service.
On the flip side, God also encourages you through leadership positions, getting involved. Taking part in doing the work of the church is a way that God helps you down the journey of faith.
Finally, God encourages you through the words of someone else. God uses other people, their kind words, their encouraging words, to help you know that you have gifts, you are being used by God.
God will give you strength for the journey, and He will send you on a journey. He does have a mission for your life.
I don’t know what the specifics of your mission, the specific things that God has in my mind for you to do, but I know the basics. Our Vacation Bible School students learned about the basics this week. First, God gives us faith in Jesus. We believe that Jesus died and rose again to give us life after death. God gives us this faith, and then sends us out, sends us out to live our lives in such a way so that others may know Christ. It is God’s mission to use you to help others know about Jesus, know about life after death.
That’s your mission. I don’t know how that will actually happen, but I know that God wants to use you for that mission. And as you go, you’ll hit spiritual highs, weeks like Vacation Bible School when you know you’re a part of teaching others about Jesus, but you’ll also hit spiritual lows, times when you’re depressed, discouraged, beaten down by this world, and you may feel like running away.
When you hit those spiritual lows, trust God. Beneath everything else you’re feeling, trust God, trust that He will provide strength for the journey. He’ll be alongside of the road, He’ll be the Root Beer Man. God will give you strength for your faith; He will lovingly, gently guide you in your spiritual journey.
And to help you remember that God gives you strength for your faith, pick up a root beer barrel from the cookie table tonight. In fact, take 2—but give the second one to someone who has encouraged you in your faith in Jesus. Give that person the root beer barrel, and thank them that they have helped you in your Christian faith.