Sermon for November 7, 2021, 24th Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 17:8-16 (Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 27—Series B)

“Uncertain Life with Our Certain God”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 7, 2021

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament Reading from 1 Kings 17:

8And the word of Yahweh came to [Elijah] saying, 9Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a woman there, a widow, to provide for you.” 10And he arose and went to Zarephath. And he came to the gate of the city, and behold, a woman, a widow, was there gathering firewood. And he called to her and said, “Fetch me, please, a little water in a jar that I may drink.” 11So she went to get it, and he called to her and said, “Bring me, please, a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12And she said, “As Yahweh your God lives, I have no baked bread, only a handful of flour in the jar and a little oil in the jug, and behold, I am gathering a couple pieces of firewood, and I will go and make it for me and my son, and we will eat it; then we will die.” 13And Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid. Go, do according to your word. Only make for me from there a little cake first and bring it out to me; and for yourself and for you son make something afterward. 14For thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour will not run out and the jug of oil will not be empty until the day Yahweh gives rain upon the face of the ground.’” 15And she went and did according to the word of Elijah. And she ate, she and he and her household, for some time. 16And the jar of flour did not run out, and the jug of oil did not become empty according to the word of Yahweh which He spoke through Elijah.

          Perhaps Benjamin Franklin was right when he said, “Two things in life are certain, death and taxes.” There doesn’t seem to be too much that we can bank on in this life. Everything is changing. Everything has been changing. Nothing is truly sure and certain from one day to the next in this earthly existence that we call “life.” A man gets a clean bill of health from the doctor. In a month’s time, he suffers a stroke and becomes disabled. She went home from the office on Thursday evening. Walking through the office door on Friday morning, she’s handed a memo that says she’s been let go due to downsizing. They drive the same road day after day, the same routine, uneventful trip. An impaired driver runs the stop light and hits them. The couple is fine, but the car . . . not so much.

          Nothing seems to be sure and certain in this life. Individuals and families are asking themselves, “How much gas can I afford to put into the car this week? Do I have enough to cover the ever-increasing price of groceries and to afford the heating bill this winter? What’s going on in the international scene? Are we safe in our country from attack?” Let’s face it, not one of us knows what tomorrow will hold. That’s nerve wracking. The uncertainties of life create anxious hearts and minds. And fear.

          In 1 Kings 17, we meet for the first time the Lord’s prophet, Elijah. His first service in ministry was to go to King Ahab who reigned over the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Samaria. That doesn’t sound like too bad of a job, going to the king and speaking God’s Word to him. But listen as the writer of 1 Kings tells us about Ahab, “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him.. . . he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him.He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria.     . . . Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:30–33 ESV). And Elijah’s God-given message to Ahab wasn’t particularly pleasant, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1 ESV).

          You can imagine how well this went over. In fact, there was no rain for 3½ years. For safety and for sustenance, God sent Elijah out of the Kingdom of Israel to live by the brook Cherith, east of the Jordan River. Ravens supplied bread and meat in the evening for Elijah. He drank water from the brook. But after a while, the brook dried up because there was no rain.

          An uncertain life. Now what? The water is dried up. Will God continue to send ravens with food? But where do I drink? In the uncertainty, God speaks, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a woman there, a widow, to provide for you.” So, Elijah up and went to Zarephath and he met this widow-woman near the gate of the city. She was gathering firewood. No doubt thirsty, Elijah asked her for a little water in a jar. She had some; there is still water in Zarephath. As she was going to get water for this man of God, Elijah called out to her that she might bring him a little food, a small cake of baked bread. The widow stopped dead in her tracks. “I don’t have any bread baked. In fact, I’m gathering this firewood so that I can go home, mix what little amount of flour still is in the jar with the tiny bit of oil left in the jug, bake it, eat it, and wait to starve to death.” The drought is severe. There is no more gain, no more flour, no more olive oil.

          An uncertain life. God sends Elijah to a widow that’s at the end of her rope. She has a young son to care for. She might even have an older daughter or two at home. There’s seemingly no way she can be the instrument of God’s provision for Elijah, herself, and her household. She fully expects to use up what remained in the pantry and then wait to die from starvation. Her uncertain life will end up in her certain death.

          You can feel the hopelessness, can’t you? For days, this widow has been wondering, “Will there be water enough for the day? Will there be flour and olive oil to bake a little something?” Nerves frayed to the end. Anxiety for her only son who has to go through this horrible drought barely eating or drinking. This is not the life she had planned. Her husband had died. She was left without him and his provision for the family. And now this, the uncertainty of simply surviving.

          But what she did not yet know was that in the middle of her very uncertain life, she had a sure and certain God. Oh, she knew Him, but as Elijah’s God—as Yahweh your God lives—she said to Elijah. And this certain God showed His faithfulness to this Gentile non-believer. Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid.” Those are Gospel words, aren’t they? I think packed into the phrase is something like this: “Dear woman, I know what it’s like to be afraid in uncertain times. Believe me, I’m living it! But even with such an uncertain life that we both have, we don’t have to be afraid because the one true God, Yahweh, who lives and reigns on high, is sure and certain. And I’ll prove His certainty to you. You go back and do what you said you were going to do. Make a little cake but make it for me first and bring it to me. Afterward, then you make a cake of bread of you and your son. Yahweh has made a promise. The jar of flour won’t run out. The jug of oil will never be empty. You’ll see. There will be enough to make a little loaf for me and you.” And just listen to the certainty and the surety of verses 15 and 16, “And she went and did according to the word of Elijah. And she ate, she and he and her household, for some time. And the jar of flour did not run out, and the jug of oil did not become empty according to the word of Yahweh which He spoke through Elijah.”

          Yahweh our God calls us to this kind of faith and trust in Him during our life in this very uncertain world. Where there is so much to be afraid of, His Gospel Word speaks comfort and peace to our troubled hearts, souls, and minds, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid because God the Son has taken a place in the uncertain world. He assumed human flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary. He took to Himself a true human body and soul and He faced hunger and thirst. He had to rely on others to provide for His needs day in and day out. From Luke 8, “Soon afterward [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him,and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:1–3 ESV). As Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9 ESV).

          Christ Jesus emptied Himself and became man so that He might give you the certainty of His presence in an uncertain world. He is able to perfectly sympathize with our weakness and concerns. He faced them, all the uncertainties. Indeed, He was tempted in every way that we are, but without sin (Heb. 4:5). Jesus truly understands all your worries and fears about the uncertainties of life. He knows the temptation to stop trusting in God. The devil tempted Him to do that during the forty days in the wilderness. “And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’

But he answered, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:3–4 ESV).

          When you and I are tempted to look to ourselves to get through the changes and chances of this life, when we are tested to look away from the Lord, Christ speaks His Word in the Scriptures, “Do not be afraid. For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6 ESV). Uncertain life does not get the upper hand on you because you are in Christ. Jesus is the High Priest who sacrificed Himself on the altar of the cross winning the forgiveness of sins and purchasing for you eternal life with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the High Priest who continues to intercede for you with the Father. Jesus covers you in His blood and righteousness that takes away God’s wrath and anger. You are at peace with God. God is on your side in this ever changing and uncertain life.

          What this means is that you live an uncertain life with a very sure and certain God. This is the God who promises you through the voice of His Son in Holy Scripture, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5 ESV). “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20 ESV). “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27 ESV).

          Your assurance in this uncertain life is that you have a certain God with you always. As the writer to the Hebrews exclaims, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever!” (Heb. 13:8 ESV). The same Jesus who died for your sins and rose again for your justification is the same Jesus who is with you through the power and grace of His Holy Spirit. He is present in His Gospel Word and in His Holy Supper to comfort, strengthen, forgive, restore, renew, and equip you for life in His service in this uncertain world.

As the widow’s jar of flour and jug of oil were never lacking, so it is with your most holy faith. It is daily strengthened by Christ’s Gospel and Sacrament so that you can live in the assurance of faith that as Yahweh your God lives, you do not need to be afraid. The Lord is with you for your blessing and comfort. He is your sure and certain God and Savior. Amen.

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