Sermon for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
November 11, 2018
1 Kings 17:8-16
Life Given by the Word
Ahab assumed his father’s throne during the thirty-eighth year of Asa’s rule in Judah. He ruled over Israel twenty-two years and he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who went before him. He took as his wife, the Sidonian king’s daughter. As her father is named after Baal, it is little wonder that Ahab soon began worshiping this false god and even erected an altar to it in a freshly built temple. For all this, God sent a drought upon the land. At the command of Elijah, neither rain nor dew would touch the land for years because of the wickedness of Ahab.
But God provided for Elijah. God sent him eastward into the wilderness that he might hide along a brook named Cherith. There Elijah had water to drink and God commanded the ravens to bring him meat and bread in the morning and in the evening. There Elijah stayed until the brook ran dry because there was no rain in the land.
This bring us to our present reading from Kings and God sending His word once again to Elijah to send him to Zarephath for there was a widow there that God had appointed to feed Elijah. This is where the back story is important for Zarephath belongs to Sidon. It is the land from which Ahab’s wife and her false beliefs had come. Was there nobody in all of Israel to feed Elijah that God must send him to Sidon? Or perhaps it is to show that Yahweh is God not only in Jerusalem but God over all Israel and over Sidon. Yes, God is God even in Sidon and the residents there serve his will just as those in Israel.
Recall Joseph and his coat of many colors. It was divine plan, but a roundabout way that he eventually became second only to Pharaoh, but in the end, it was through the abundance of supplies that were stored up in Egypt that God saved Jacob and his sons. God provided for the years of famine in a natural way. Today’s reading is different. God appointed a widow with hardly enough for one small meal for two to be the one to feed Elijah. God is not caring for Elijah through the abundant storehouses of a powerful nation but rather from the empty canisters resting on the counter of a woman without means.
God provides in a way that even Elijah couldn’t have predicted. When all the expected ways are exhausted and unlikely, God uses the unexpected. Even if he could not have predicted the method or means by which God would provide, he knew that God would provide for him as long as God desired. And so it is for you and me. God does provide.
There are some, well, at least, one who says that our economic vitality in America is unprecedented. It is true that things seem to be humming. Wages are increasing as demand for workers increases. Consumer spending is high. Stocks, while volatile, are on an upswing. Yet, eleven of us spent several hours this past week serving lunch to a number of people that such economic optimism hasn’t reached. They may not have been looking for God to provide but He did it anyway.
Every one of us has needs. It may be food and water at times or clothing or heat or some other physical need. It may be an illness or injury for which we need care and healing. It might be an emotional need for which we don’t know where to turn. It might be a troubled relationship, a difficult coworker, or an out of control neighbor. We probably have no idea how God will provide in any of these cases, but provide He does and provide He will. We may hope for abundant storehouses of grain but God’s plan might be that a destitute widow in a foreign land would be the means of our rescue.
After all, it was a working class Jewish man living under Roman occupation that God appointed as the one to meet your greatest need. While few recognized Him and most denied His divine attributes, it is He that lived a God pleasing life for you. It is He that died the death of the sinner for you. It is by His resurrection that you can be assured of your eternal place in the presence of God. Jesus is the One appointed by God to supply you with your greatest need. It is through His blood, perhaps unlikely but absolutely necessary, that you are granted forgiveness of all your sins.
God provided for Elijah in his time of need and He provides for you. It was from a tiny brook for Elijah and a tiny font for you. It was by the beaks of ravens for Elijah and by the hands of pastor and deacon for you. It was as the Word of God came to Elijah and it is as the Word of God comes to you. The manner may seem unlikely and the mode unpredicted, but the God who does not conform to the will of man was confined to the body of a man that these means would be true means of provision for your salvation and mine.
With such a strong focus on Elijah, he widow and her son in this account are easily overlooked. As we noted, she lived in the land of Sidon. It was a territory of Canaanites and Baal worshipers. But even there, in a land of unbelief, God’s Word is not thwarted and where His Word is proclaimed His plans are not hindered. The Word comes to her by the mouth of Elijah and we see that she does not hesitate to obey. She fetches him water and bakes him a cake before she cares for herself and her son.
We see in her a woman destitute. She does not depend upon her own capabilities or her own works to save her. She knows that both she and her son are at the end of their lives. There is nothing more for them in this life but one small meal. She is broken and completely humbled. She dare not think about tomorrow for tomorrow holds no future for her. She is completely incapable of changing her inevitable outcome. The only way things will be different is if something happens to her from outside herself and from outside her home. I would say that she has even realized that the god of her land has been humbled as well. Baal could not provide and could not save.
So, she hears and she obeys. There is no testimony of her faith recorded for us except the prompt response to the word spoken by the prophet. There are no alleluia choruses but there was the water in the vessel that she gave to Elijah and there was the morsel of bread that she baked first for the prophet as he had bid her to do. She had only his word that the flour and the oil would not run out. She had only this verbal promise from the prophet of Yahweh that she would be provided for in her time of need, that she and her son were saved from the drought even while it still existed. And she believed that God was not a respecter of borders. His Word of promise is for all who believe whether Jew or Sidonian.
You are here today because you are like the widow of Zarephath. You know that even in your abundance, you cannot save yourself from your sins. You time is short and you have not the means to extend your life by even a second. Your sins are ever before you and you do not possess the means to expunge them. You are here because this is where you hear the Word of God spoken to you and over you, where that Word from outside you is given to you and forgives you. As God declared that the widow’s vessels shall not run out, so you trust that God’s grace and mercy spoken and distributed will not be spent until that day when drought shall cease and your resurrection is fully realized.
Do not fear, your sins are forgiven. In the name of Jesus. Amen.