Monday, November 12, 2012

Proper 27 of Series B (1 Kings 17:8-16)

“And Elijah said to her, ‘Do not fear…’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the seventeenth chapter of the book of First Kings. Dear friends in Christ, do you trust the Lord? His Word has declared that He will provide for your bodily needs, that He will care for you, but do you believe it? Or do you fear and worry, do you chase after the things of this world, working yourself to the bone to gain for yourself what God has promised to provide? Do you trust the Lord? His Word has declared that He holds all history in His hands, that He orders all things for your good, but do you believe it? Or do you fear the outcome of things in this world, from the affairs of governments and nations to the challenges that you meet in your day-to-day life? Do you trust the Lord? His Word calls on you to challenge Him in your giving, that when you place your hard-earned money in the offering plate He will provide, but do you believe it? Or do you fear, and through fear for your own needs hold back your bounty from the work of the Church? Do you trust the Lord? His Word declares that here in this place, through a man whom He has sent to you, your sins are forgiven, but do you believe it? Or do you fear and worry, clinging to your sins and doubting the absolution? You have great needs, of body and soul, and do you trust the Lord to provide, or do you really trust only yourself?

Elijah had great needs. When he appears on the scene, God’s Word declares through His mouth that a devastating famine would strike the land, punishment for the sins of wicked king Ahab. Such a messenger of judgment isn’t welcome in the king’s presence or anywhere else, and he becomes an outcast in Israel. He has no home, no shelter, no place to call his own. Elijah is truly and surely alone. And he is hungry. The prophet who declares a famine finds himself impoverished. He cannot escape the consequences of Ahab’s sin. His body needs sustenance, and there is no friendly house in Israel. Without some source of provision, without someone to take him in, he will soon die.

“Then the Word of the Lord came to him, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Siodon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’” God’s Word promises that the Lord will provide for Elijah. The prophet is sent outside of the borders of Israel, to a region of unbelievers; Elijah must depend upon the generosity of a foreign widow. The Lord calls on Elijah to trust His promises without seeing. That is what faith is: believing what God has told you, even if you don’t see it, even if you cannot comprehend how He will do it. Faith means entrusting the future to the One who holds all things in His hands. He promises to provide, He promises to give, even if He uses strange and unlikely means. This woman wasn’t so much commanded to feed Elijah as chosen to do so—she had no idea that the Lord had appointed to her this task! This is how God works; He promises to provide for our needs through people we don’t even know, using others to bring us His great provision. Do you trust the Lord? Elijah does. He doesn’t argue, he doesn’t hesitate, if there is any inner conflict he doesn’t express it; instead, he believes and he goes. “So he arose and went to Zarephath.”

Elijah doesn’t escape the famine in Zarephath. In fact, when he meets the widow who is to provide for him, it seems that God hasn’t just made an unlikely choice, He has made a bad one. “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.’ And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ And she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, and 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.’” Do you trust the Lord? Do you trust him when you can’t tell what He’s doing, when His plans to provide for you seem to be falling apart? The woman who is to provide for Elijah can’t provide for herself. She and her family are under the threat of death. Do you trust the Lord? Do you trust Him when you can’t see a way out, when you hit rock bottom, when you are at the end of your rope, like the widow preparing a meal “so that we may eat it and die”? This woman is living in despair; she has lost all hope, there is nothing left for her but to accept death.

In the midst of her despair, her poverty, her need, the Word of the Lord speaks through Elijah His prophet: “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 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.’” The promise of the Lord appoints unlikely means to provide for this widow; the jar and the jug will not cease to provide for the needs of her body. God calls on her to trust without seeing, to not fear even though she cannot see the end of her fear. Elijah calls on her to use the last of her flour and oil to make his cake. She has to clean out those jars, look in on their emptiness, and believe that when she returns they will be full again, that God will keep His Word. She is called upon to trust without seeing. Do you trust the Lord? Do you commend yourself into His hands when threatened with disease or with death, or do you live in fear? Do you really believe that He can provide, that He will provide? Would you bake a cake for prophet in faith, or make a cake for yourself in fear, “that we may eat it and die”? Do you trust the Lord?
The widow of Zarephath did, as did the widow in our Gospel lesson. These two women, with literally nothing to their name, trusted in the Lord to provide. Jesus watched as the widow in Jerusalem placed into the treasury two small copper coins. She trusted the Lord, that He would provide according to His promise. She gave in faith, not fear. And Jesus praises her, saying, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” She gave up everything and commended her life into the Lord’s hands. The widow of Zarephath did the same; she trusted the Word and promise of the Lord through the mouth of His prophet: “And she went and did as Elijah said.”

The Lord’s Word remained true; His promise came to pass. Elijah said, “Do not fear,” because there was no reason to fear—God promised to provide, and He would provide. “And she and her household ate for many days. 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.” God’s Word doesn’t lie; it has power to do what it says. Through His Word, the Lord appointed a widow to feed His prophet, a woman who had literally nothing in a strange and foreign land. Elijah believed, the widow believed, they trusted that it would happen, and it did. The Lord provided for the woman, for her family, and for His prophet until the days of famine were over. They trusted without seeing, and they saw the Lord fulfill His Word. Do you trust the Lord?

The answer, of course, is “no.” You don’t trust the Lord. I don’t trust the Lord. We may say that we do, but in reality we worry, we fret, we despair, we fail to commend ourselves, our bodies and souls, and all that we have into the Lord’s hand. Our actions are motivated by fear. Elijah speaks to you and to me what he spoke to the widow: “Do not fear!” Repent of your fear, of your worry; there is no reason to fear. God is faithful to His Word, He is faithful to His promises. Elijah’s words are pure grace—do not fear! God sent His Son Jesus Christ to deliver and forgive those who struggle to trust. Do not fear! Jesus gave up everything for you, as our Epistle lesson declares: “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” Both the widow of Zarephath and the widow in Jerusalem gave up everything they had to serve the Lord, trusting that He would provide for them. Jesus follows their pattern, He sacrificed Himself, all that He had, for your salvation. He died for you and me who sin by our failure to trust, He died for our greatest needs: forgiveness, life, and salvation. He gave up everything, trusting that God would provide; and He did, according to the power of His Word, raising up His Son on the third day.

Do not fear! Jesus holds your eternal salvation in His loving hands, and you can commend to Him all else, trusting that He will provide. Do not fear! Jesus provides everything that you need for this body and life; He has provided throughout your life, and He will provide, even through unexpected means. Do not fear! Jesus promises that you will receive all things through His death and resurrection: forgiveness of all your sins, freedom from the captivity of Satan, and an eternity in the new heavens and the new earth. Jesus doesn’t promise earthly riches, He delivers heavenly riches. The widow in our text wasn’t blessed because she now had a full belly, she was blessed because she was a believer in the true God, and she has eternal salvation through the redemption of Christ. Do not fear! Jesus promises that all things in this life, both blessings and sufferings, are ordered to your ultimate good. The cross proves it; it’s the eternal declaration that God loves you. Do not fear! The One who holds your life in His loving hands is the One who died for your sins. He has promised to never leave you nor forsake you; He has promised that He will provide. He is faithful, His Word is true—do not fear! In the Name of Jesus, who became earthly poor that we would become eternally rich, Amen.

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