Read 1 Kings 19:1-8
Elijah leads perhaps one of the most difficult lives of a prophet. He is persecuted, must stand up before King Ahab by himself most of the time, and to top it all off, he must live off of very few provisions. In chapter 17, he stays with a widow who only has handful of flower and a little oil in a jug; which the Lord causes to provide food for many days, but still is hardly encouraging.
Now in chapter 19, Elijah is fleeing Ahab and Jezebel, who are once again trying to kill him; and he comes and rests under a broom tree and asks that God would take His life. And yet, instead of granting his request, the Lord twice provides bread and water for Elijah to eat; and we then read that Elijah went 40 days and nights on the strength of that food.
Just a little bit of bread and water, hardly a wedding feast in its own right, gave Elijah strength to keep going, to keep advocating for the Word of the Lord in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation in Israel for 40 days and nights.
I believe that there is an interesting parallel that can be drawn here. God provided Elijah what many others would take for granted, and that some would even scoff at, and yet it gave Elijah the strength to continue on for 40 days and nights.
Think about that for a moment, Elijah wanted to die, and yet by eating and drinking what the Lord provided, he now had the strength to go without any food or water for 40 days and nights.
At the beginning of November, I attended a conference in Iowa that dealt with congregations in rural and small towns. One of the things that came through in the conference was how in a small, rural congregation, there might only be one baptism a year, or a confirmation every other year, or several years between weddings. Larger congregations might take it for granted that these things will occur on a regular basis; and some, pastors and lay people, might even dread these things because they cramp schedules or are more of a headache then they are seemingly worth.
Yet in rural and small town congregations where these things do not occur as frequently, they are a big deal, not just to the immediate family, but to every member of the congregation. Why? Because these things just do not come around all that often.
What does come around in rural and small congregations more often than not, are again what larger congregations might not even notice, and that is funerals, transfers out, and releases. Because of the smaller nature of the community, the departure, either to heaven or to another community, is noticed by all. The drop in attendance can be felt in real time, as opposed to elsewhere where the departure of one is easily offset by the welcoming of another.
So for rural and small congregations who read of Elijah in 1 Kings 19, the idea of wanting to die and then getting a little shot in the arm, and then thriving off that shot in the arm for a sustained period of time, is all to real.
That one baptism a year, that is the one occasion for everyone to come out and celebrate, because it is participating in the welcoming of a new member to the body of Christ. The confirmation of 2 or 3 youth is a time to celebrate, that the congregation is serving the Church at large by training members in the Christian faith. That one wedding that occurs every five years or so, that is a time for all to celebrate the fulfillment of the promise of the two becoming one.
These events are just as valid in large congregations as they are in smaller ones; the difference being that in a larger congregation, there is always another baptism or confirmation or wedding around the corner; whereas for the smaller ones, it might be a while before the baptismal banner is set out again, or before there is a potluck to celebrate a confirmation.
In rural and small town congregations, that one baptism or confirmation may be what gives the members strength to make it through the rest of the year of praying, praising and giving thanks to God. For it looks small and insignificant to others, but for those who survive off the joy and thanksgiving, it is more than enough to continue on in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to the people in their midst.