1 Kings 17:8-16 (24th Sunday after Pentecost—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
November 11, 2012
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Our text is the Old Testament lesson for today, from 1 Kings 17:
Then the word of the LORD came to [Elijah], 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 And she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” 13 And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.'” 15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.
How would you describe the reality of being in need? Unsettling? Frightening? Traumatic? There are folks still suffering without power, without gasoline, with little water and little food as a result of last week’s storm. There are those without homes and clothing. Add to that the thousands right here in our own town that daily need food, clothing, or shelter. So many people are still without gainful employment. So many people are underemployed. Unless we are going through it for ourselves, I don’t know how we can possibly understand the reality of being in such need. It is certainly my prayer that we don’t have to go through times of want and need. But, if we do, the Lord promises to provide. And that is a message that we can also share with those who are in the depths today. God the Lord can be trusted to provide.
In the days of Elijah the prophet there was a drought. It lasted 3 years and 6 months (Luke 4). Do you think the people living through that drought knew what it was to be in need? Without rain, crops can’t grow. Without rain, rivers dry up. Without rain, wells run dry. Without rain, people starve and die. So what is a prophet of God supposed to do when the brook he is living by dries up? When the ravens the Lord provided stop bringing him bread and meat every morning and every evening because there is no food left? Go and find a widow outside of the land of Israel who will feed him.
Yes, that was God’s command to Elijah. “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” Does the Lord realize that there is a severe drought going on? Widows are not known for massive incomes and lavish lifestyles in good times, much less in a time such as this. It could not have been easy for Elijah to trust that God would provide for his needs in this way. Yet, trust he did, and he went. When he got to the gate of the city there was the widow gathering sticks. So he asked her, “Bring me a little water in a jar, that I may drink.” And she went to get it, a sign of great hospitality in such a time! But as she was going, Elijah called to her, asking her to bring him a morsel of bread in her hand. And that’s when the widow loses it. She swears an oath, “As Yahweh your God lives, I don’t have any bread, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug.” Then she tells Elijah her intentions, for she has reached the breaking point of desperation, “Now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”
The need could not have been greater. The last of the flour and oil are in the jar and jug. After she makes what miniscule cake of bread she could, her and her son would take maybe a bite or two each, and that would be the end. There would be no more food. She and her son would simply wait for death to come as their life was slowly starved away. And this is the widow who is supposed to feed Elijah as well? She has nothing left for herself and her son that will sustain them much less anything for this prophet of the Lord.
But as difficult as it might have been for Elijah to trust in God’s plan, what the Lord asks the widow to do makes trusting a near impossibility. Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty until the day that Yahweh sends rain upon the earth.’”
I wonder if this widow ran the possibilities through her head. Scenario 1: The widow makes the small cake for Elijah. She and her son then have nothing to eat. They starve to death slightly sooner than Elijah, who ate the small cake.
Scenario 2: The widow refuses to make a small cake for Elijah. She and her son eat it and wait to die from starvation. Elijah starves to death slightly sooner than the widow and her son.
Scenario 3: The widow makes the small cake for Elijah. The word of the Lord spoken by the prophet happens—the jar of flour is not spent and the jug of oil does not go empty—and they all eat and live.
To follow the word of the Lord here requires trust. Real life experience says that either scenario 1 or 2 is the likely outcome. They’re all going to starve to death either way, ‘cause reality says the little jar of flour and jug of oil won’t last beyond one puny cake. Yet the only way to know for sure if God will do what He says is to try Him, to put His word to the test and trust. That’s what this widow does. Against all human reason and the way things normally work, she and her son and Elijah ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent. The jug of oil did not run out. It was just as God said it would be.
God turned a worldly reality upside down and inside out and in so doing gives us a glimpse of divine reality. The world says that no one can be trusted. Satan tries to get us to doubt God’s Word by asking, “Did God really say that?” Our own sinful flesh tells us that we can only really trust ourselves and no one else, including God. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh tell us that Elijah shouldn’t have trusted God. The widow shouldn’t have trusted Elijah who spoke for God. But had they not trusted the Lord, what would their end have been? Death. The same holds true for us. Failing to trust in the Lord means that we too will suffer death.
Perhaps think of it this way. The world, the devil, and our sinful nature are like a drought. They work to keep us from the true food of forgiveness and everlasting life that God has stored up for us in His Son, Jesus Christ. When we are tempted to rely on ourselves for both our physical and spiritual needs, we suffer deep hunger pangs because we are starving for true food and true drink that we cannot find in ourselves, in each other, or in the things of this world. There isn’t anything that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature can offer us that will truly satisfy and fill us up in the long term. What sin offers us is of no lasting value. It will soon vanish and we will end up like the widow thought she would, dying of starvation, but a starvation of a far worse kind. We will be starved for God, cast out of His eternal presence forever into an endless death.
But like the widow, we need not starve. God has given us an invitation to come and be filled with good things. And God’s invitation begins with a cake of bread. Not a cake make of a little flour and a little oil from a widow’s jar and jug, but the very bread of God Himself. “For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (Jn. 6:33) Jesus Christ is the very bread of God. Whoever comes to Christ in faith, trusting that He is the only Savior from the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh will not hunger, and whoever believes thus in Christ will not thirst. The promise of Jesus in John 6 is sure and certain, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn. 6:51)
We eat of the bread of Christ by faith, by trusting that He did give up His life on the cross in order to win the forgiveness of our sins, including the sins of trusting in ourselves and doubting God and His Word. We eat of the bread of Christ by believing that He has given us eternal life through the forgiveness of sins received as a gift in the waters of Holy Baptism. We eat His very body given for us and drink His very blood shed for us when we believe that, just as He said, Jesus is truly present with His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and win in Holy Communion for our forgiveness, life, salvation, and strengthening of our faith.
If the Lord enables us to trust that He so blesses us with the greatest gifts of forgiveness, rescue from the power of death and the devil, and eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, will He not also give us the ability to trust Him in all times of need? Of course He will, and He does! He gives us the trust of faith like that of the widow in the days of Elijah, who used up the very last of her food, believing that God would keep His Word and not let her supply of flour and oil run out. The Lord gives us the trust of faith like that of the widow at the time of Jesus, who put in the offering box all that she had to live on, believing that God would continue to provide for her needs as well. It is the same trust of faith that assures us that the Lord will richly and daily provide all that we need to support this body and life.
And that is a message that not only we, but so many others need to hear, to know, and to believe. It is the message of God who loves people so much that He gave His only Son to die on a cross so that we might live forever with Him in eternity because our sins are forgiven. It is the message of God who loves people so much that He is constantly giving His blessings to meet people’s physical needs through the loving hearts and hands of His Church. Yes, the Lord uses you and me, His redeemed children, to supply the physical needs of our neighbors. He also uses you and me to share the Good News of Jesus, the Good News of sins forgiven and life eternal, thereby meeting the spiritual needs of our neighbors. You are vessels of the Lord’s love and compassion in Jesus’ name. Participate in the ministry and mission of His Church through your offerings for Lord’s work in this place and community, through your donations of food and personal care items to the Food Shelf. Through your giving of yourself to the agencies of the Church and community, you help share the Gospel of Jesus and provide for the needs of so many who are lacking.
Unless we are going through it for ourselves, I don’t know how we can possibly understand the reality of being in need. My prayer is that we don’t have to go through times of want and need. But, if we do, the Lord will provide. He has given us forgiveness of sins and life everlasting through faith and trust in Jesus. The Lord has met our greatest need and can be trusted to meet our other needs as well. And that is a message that we can share with those in the depths today to bring them the comfort of Christ and the Good News that God the Lord can be trusted to provide. Amen.