Friday, September 23, 2016

Trinity 15 (1 Kings 17:8-16)

Martin Luther writes: “It is the nature of God to make something out of nothing. Therefore out of him who is not yet nothing God cannot make anything… So then God receives only the abandoned; He makes well only the sick; He makes seeing only the blind; He makes alive only the dead; He makes godly only the sinners; He makes wise only the foolish. In short, He has pity only on the miserable, and gives grace only to those who are without grace.” A man of God is sent to you, sent from the glories of heaven itself into the famine of this world, sent from prosperity to want, from the garden to the wilderness, from abundance to scarcity. All around you there is not wealth but poverty; the people are starving, their stomachs empty and their mouths dry. There is need everywhere, and no one knows where provision will come from, no one knows when hunger will end. The famine rages, and at its worst the man of God comes to you. He comes to you where you dwell, in the midst of an unclean land, surrounded by worshippers of idols, the last place one would expect a man of God to go. This is far from the land set aside as holy, this is far from the sacred places where one would expect God to be. This bone-dry, idolatrous and wicked land is far from God, it is far from anything that is godly. Here idols dwell; here children are sacrificed to false gods; here the temple prostitutes ply their trade. But it is not to the city of Jerusalem that the man of God is sent; He is sent to the land of the Gentiles, the land of sin and death; He is sent to you.

He is sent to you because God has appointed you to serve Him. You didn’t know it, you were never asked, you never signed your name on the dotted line. There were no notaries or lawyers involved here; God simply appointed you, He chose you to welcome His sent one, to receive Him into your home. That is why this man of God comes to you, to receive all that you have to give, to eat and to drink out of your abundance, to share your table. To the man of God you are to render the service that is owed to God Himself: a life lived in obedient service to your Creator, following His laws and constructing a home of holiness, filling a storehouse to the brim with righteousness, constructing barns stacked with good works. That is the food that God requires, that is the drink He demands. You are appointed to care for this man of God, to provide for Him from your abundance, to set His table richly, whether He says, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink,” or “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” Food, water, shelter, this man of God has come to be served by you.

But that’s ridiculous; you have nothing to give. You are in poverty yourself, you are starving, abandoned by all, surrounded by wickedness: how can you give the man of God anything? You have nothing to give, nothing that He needs, nothing that He can use. You are a beggar, you are nothing, you have nothing except empty hands. You do not have any house of holiness, just a shack of sin. Your storehouses are not full of righteousness but iniquity. Your barn of good works? It’s a shed built with sticks, and every good work in there is moldy with sin. You are starving; you have not the food that the man of God is seeking, that God has demanded that you render to Him.

You are at the point of death; the famine is about to take you, to claim you for its own. All you have is a poor meal that cannot save from death, and may even speed up the process. That is what your idols have given to you, that is what your coveting has delivered: a cake of bread, that you may eat of it and die. That is the abundance that your neighbors encourage you to chase: wealth, power, influence, glory. A little oil in a jug and a handful of flour in a jar. You eat of it, and you are hungrier than before. This food cannot satisfy, it cannot fill; in fact, this food doesn’t fill the pit in your stomach, it expands it. The world, along with your idols, continues to hand you everything on the shelf to toss in there: money, influence, work, sex, alcohol, drugs, sports, but nothing satisfies, nothing fills that hole. Such food simply makes you hungrier, emptier, and the more you pour into that hole, the bigger it gets

This is a meal of death, a meal that can only deliver death. You have nothing for this man of God but your sin, and you say to Him, “Now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and for my son, that we may eat it and die.” For that is all that this scarce meal can give you—death. Some of this fare may bring death quicker than others, but none of it can deliver from death. Nothing this world can offer or deliver lasts beyond the grave. So God seems to be mocking you. Just what is He after, sending this man of God to you, asking you to provide for Him? He knows you are starving, He knows your cries of anguish in the night, begging for deliverance, begging for some food that might last. And now the man of God comes to you so that you can provide for Him? No, you would rather eat your meal and die.

But the man of God is undaunted. “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 for your son.” He is calling on you to believe, to trust without seeing; to give up all that the world gives you, that sparse meal in the midst of famine that has been the only fare you’ve ever known, trusting that God will provide. For the man of God adds this promise: “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 man of God has not come to you to demand holiness, for He knows you are unholy, He has not come to you to demand righteousness, for He knows you are unrighteous, He has not come to you to demand good works, for He knows you have none that are worth anything in God’s sight. He has instead come to take and to give: to take your sin and wretchedness, the last morsel from your jar, and to give in its place the overflowing bread of life until the famine is broken on the great Day of the Lord.

You are called upon to believe, to trust, to hand over your sin and iniquity to Him trusting that He will provide for you. “Do not fear,” He tells you. Do not fear, for God has never failed to keep a single one of His promises. Do not fear, for the man of God is not going to take anything that is worth keeping. Do not fear, for this is the deliverance you have prayed for. Unbelief clings to what is seen, what it knows, no matter how poor and miserable that sight is. Unbelief doesn’t want to let go of sin; it wants to treasure it, indulge it, wallow in it. Faith, on the other hand, is born of the promise, its strength comes only from the Word of God, and it clings to that Word with tenacity.

The man of God takes your morsel of sin, your meal of unrighteousness, and He consumes it. He fills His belly with your every iniquity, He takes into Himself your every transgression. Your uncleanness, your unrighteousness, your tainted good works, He takes them all into His own flesh. He consumes them all, and they kill Him, just as they were killing you, just as they were delivering you up to death. The man of God, Jesus Christ, takes your sin into Himself and dies the death that it was to give to you. He dies in your place, as your substitute, with that bitter food filling His belly. But He did not stay dead. This food would’ve killed you forever, but Jesus, the man of God, the innocent One, cannot be held by the grave. He rose, leaving behind your sin and iniquity, having borne in His own body the death you should’ve died, and winning for you a jar of flour that will not be spent and a jug of oil that will not become empty.

In place of the food of sin, the meals of iniquity, Jesus provides much richer fare, food that delivers life, food that actually fills that gaping, empty pit within you. From the jar of flour and the jug of oil comes the Bread of Life Himself, Jesus, giving to you the meal that brings immortality, the food that will last forever, the Word, the water, the bread and the wine which give eternal life. You still dwell in the midst of the famine; you still dwell in a foreign land, surrounded by idol-worshippers, but you have what no unbeliever has: a jar of flour and a jug of oil that will never run out, that feed and sustain you in the midst of a world filled with scarcity. That is God’s promise, fulfilled when you gather in this place, a promise founded on the power of His Word. “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the Word of the Lord.”

Only having received the miraculous food that He alone gives do you then serve Him by serving others, by extending the love that He first showed to you and producing the only works that are good, those done in faith, those made with the flour and the oil that He provides. This is the life of faith, dwelling with Jesus in our house, eating from His miraculous provision, and sharing those gifts with a starving world. As Saint Paul says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” The flour and the oil, eaten in this place and given into the world, is the guarantee that there is a Day that is coming when you will hear the thunder, and the sweet smell of rain will fill your nostrils. The famine will end, the wilderness of scarcity will become the garden of abundance; that is God’s promise, as sure as the jar of flour and the jug of oil, as sure as the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Though you were not worthy, this Jesus, the man of God, came to you; not to be served, even though the Law demanded that you serve Him, but to serve. When you were nothing, when you were a beggar, when you had nothing to give but your sin, that was what the man of God took from you, that is what Jesus took upon Himself. When you were nothing, when you were struck down by your sin and poverty, it was then that Christ came to you, for as Luther declares: “It is the nature of God to make something out of nothing. Therefore out of him who is not yet nothing God cannot make anything… So then God receives only the abandoned; He makes well only the sick; He makes seeing only the blind; He makes alive only the dead; He makes godly only the sinners; He makes wise only the foolish. In short, He has pity only on the miserable, and gives grace only to those who are without grace.” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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