1 Kings 17:8-24

We live in a time where, in the midst of abundance, we hear a lot about scarcity. We are experiencing a multi year drought, and some people wonder if we are going to have enough water for our needs. And so we hear about water wars, with people arguing about whom the water belongs to, or who has rights to the water. Listen to the news, and it won’t be long before you hear about some people who say we can’t let refugees into our country, because we don’t have enough jobs and resources for them. We don’t know who they are, and we are afraid. We aren’t sure we want to share what we have with people we don’t know. We worry about whether we can make enough money to put our kids through school, or to last us through our old age, or to just get through the month.

Well these kinds of worries are nothing new. In our reading for today, we hear about a widow in the town of Zarephath, who is preparing to die. You see, there had been a drought going on for three years in that area. And in those days, there were no pipes to bring water from other places, there was not a sophisticated system of dams that could store and then release water. There was no grocery store to go to where you could buy bottles of water. You had your well, and you had lakes and streams, and if your lake dried up like ours did last year, if your well ran dry, you were really in trouble. When the rains didn’t come, the crops didn’t grow. Food and drink were very scarce.

Now at least one man knew about this drought. We talked last week about Elijah, the prophet who was sent to King Ahab to tell him that there was going to be a drought. Ahab did not take this pronouncement well. Ahab, the Bible says, “did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.” He was married to Jezebel, one of the scariest people in the Bible. She was mean and vindictive, and apt to take whatever she wanted, no matter what it cost others. She worshiped Baal as her god, and she had convinced Ahab to do the same. Baal was supposed to be in charge of the rain, so by announcing that God had told him there was going to be a drought, Elijah was essentially denying that the god of the King and Queen was really the one in charge.

So after delivering this news, God told Elijah to go and live by the Wadi Cherith, where ravens would bring him food both morning and night. A wadi is a ravine that is dry, except in the rainy season. But that drought caused problems for all of the people, not just the ones that were doing wrong. Pretty soon the Wadi dried up, so God had another plan for Elijah. God told him to “go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there, for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” This could not have sounded like good news to Elijah. Zaraphath belongs to Sidon, and Sidon is the home of Jezebel. It is the land of Baal worshippers. That’s bad enough, but Elijah is told to rely on a widow, who in those days was likely to be the poorest of the poor. How is this going to work?

But Elijah trusts in God, and so he goes. And he finds the widow there, gathering sticks. Remember, he is a stranger to her. He is not of her people. He has been hiding out in a Wadi for some time, and probably looks a little wild. There is a drought going on, and the first words he speaks to her are “Bring me a little water…” She actually starts off to get this total stranger some of her most precious liquid resource, when he asks for something more. “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” This stops her. Even though Elijah was told that God had commanded her to feed him, it doesn’t sound like she got the message. Or if she did, she disagrees with what God told her to do. She responds, “As the Lord your God lives (she can tell that Elijah is not a Baal worshipper) I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”

I wish we could hear her tone of voice, or read the thought bubble in her head. Is she shocked and outraged that this stranger would be so bold as to request these things from her? Is she tired and beaten down and resigned to her fate, so she is merely telling him the facts? He reassures her that the Lord the God of Israel will be with them. She will not run out of meal or oil until the rains comes again, at the Lord’s command. So she did what Elijah said. Why? Would you, in those same circumstances? Did she still have enough hope left in her to think that there was a chance that Elijah was right? Or was she so resigned to her fate that she realized it didn’t really matter if there was much there for her last meal with her son? These two people are having to decide if they can trust one another. How does he know that she won’t turn him in to Jezebel and Ahab? And why would she want to share her last bit of sustenance with a complete stranger, even one who is promising hope of new life?

Well Elijah was correct. They did not run out of food. And she did not turn him in. And I would imagine that trust grew, in each other, and in the word of the Lord. But trust in God does not mean that nothing bad will ever happen to you. And soon something really bad happened. The widow’s son became very ill, “so that there was no breath left in him.” It doesn’t necessarily mean he died, but it might mean that he was dying. And all that trust suddenly flew away. That’s how it often works in a crisis, isn’t it? We blame ourselves, or we blame someone else for the misfortunes in our lives that don’t seem fair. When all else fails, we blame God. And she did all three. She asks Elijah if, as a man of God, he has come to call up some sin of hers that is punishable by the death of her son. Elijah grabs the boy and runs upstairs, laying the child on Elijah’s own bed. And then he betrays a bit of lack of trust in God, some anger at God too. He asks God if God has brought this calamity on the widow who has been so helpful to him. And then he prays. The child is revived, and restored to his mother, who says that now she knows that Elijah is a man of God, and that “the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” Trust has been restored.

It’s interesting to think about how different people respond to tragedy. Elijah rails at God, but prays anyway. Many hundreds of years later, Jesus will be in a garden, so stressed that he is sweating blood, and asking for God to remove “this cup” from him. He doesn’t want to die, and it seems certain that it is about to happen. He doesn’t rail at God though. He tells God he would like not to do this, but then turns it over to God. His faith and trust in God is so unshakeable, that even when he can only see tragedy ahead, he will rest in faith that God can always bring good out of bad. And God does.

Elijah is not quite there, but he is close enough to it to let God know what he fears, even if it means that he fears God is somewhat of a monster – capable of intentionally killing the son of such a good woman. And still Elijah prays. And this time a prayer like this is granted. For Jesus, it was not. Think about that for a minute. Sometimes our desperate prayers are granted in the way we want them to be, and sometimes, even for Jesus, they aren’t. But that doesn’t mean that God is done with us, or that the story is over.

So what can we learn from this story? It’s always important to pray, and to listen to God. We shouldn’t let our fear get in the way of doing the things God is calling us to do. Elijah and the woman didn’t let their differences get in the way. They didn’t let their fear and mistrust cause them to reject each other, when they had so much help to give to one another. They worked at trusting one another and trusting in God, and in spite of some very difficult times, they were able, with God’s help, to pull each other through. In a world where fear and mistrust of those who are not like us runs rampant, we have a lot to learn from this story about a prophet, a widow, and the Lord our God. May God bless our hearing of the Word. Amen

Who’s In Charge?

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