Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa
Then the word of the Lord came to him, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 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.” 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, 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.” 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. 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.’ ” And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he 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.” (1 Kings 17:8–16, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It was an unhealthy time to be a prophet. First, I want you to know that being a prophet wasn't necessarily about predicting the future. Although that was sometimes the case. The prophets primary job is to proclaim God's Word to a lost and sinful world and a lost and sinful people. More often than not, in those days, they paid the price of being faithful with their very lives. Israel was ruled by a whole list of Kings whose epitaph may be written as; the King "did what was evil in the sight of the Lord." So the prophets who spoke to these evil Kings have a dangerous row to hoe. But not only that, but their instructions were very specific. Being faithful wasn't always an easy task. (One prophet who failed to follow God's commands was killed by a lion.) They were only given to speak God's word clearly in the face of sin. This is the difficult task that Elijah was given. And God's word was greatly needed. Just listen to what the writer of first Kings says about the King of Israel in those days:
And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, 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. And Ahab made an Asherah. 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)
Elijah's task was to proclaim God's Word to Ahab, that Ahab might repent and turn back to the Lord. The confrontation between Elijah and Ahab is legendary. Ahab's nickname for Elijah is "Troubler of Israel". It begins with Elijah telling Ahab that until he mended his ways there would be a famine in all the land. The famine was devastating. But God watched over Elijah by providing for him in a hidden place. No matter how bad things seem God always watches over his own. This is his promise of everlasting love. And that brings us to the widow and her son in our text for today. Yahweh tells Elijah to go to Zarephath and find a widow who would feed him. Zarephath is a small coastal town between Tyre and Sidon.
This is the same area where Jesus later meets the faithful Syrophoenician woman who would not take no for an answer. When she asked for her daughter to be healed Jesus says he has only come for the children of Israel. "It's not right to give the children's food to the dogs." Jesus compares her to a dog. She says she is happy to be a dog and receive even the scraps that fall from Jesus' table. She has great faith, her daughter is healed.
The widow and her son are highly affected by the famine. She expects to die. This is a severe famine. We do not understand starving to death. We think starving is the feeling we feel when we skip a meal. She and her son do not have enough food to live. And yet look at her small act of faithfulness. Elijah asks "Please make me a cake first." And as she acts so she is supplied. God once again provides for Elijah and the widow and her son through this simple act of faithfulness.
This is so much like the instance we find in the gospel lesson for today. Jesus points to a poor widow in the Temple who gave not just a portion of what she had. She gave everything. Jesus says she gave more than all the rest. It was a simple act of faithfulness. She trusts that even though she gives all she has, God is faithful he will provide. She believes this to be true even if she starves to death. And yet it is God who is truly faithful. He provides for Elijah and the widow and her son through her simple act. Her flower jar never empties, and the oil jug never runs out for the whole length of the famine. It seems such a small miracle. And yet for the widow, her son, and Elijah it is lifesaving.
It's a "small" miracle. When we look at the world that we live in we so much want God to do big things. We want him to solve problems through political or cultural change. We look at the world's hostility to Christianity, and even the growing hostility here in the United States and want God to put an end to it. We may even look back to the "glory days" of Christianity in the 50s and long for the days when the church was the center of cultural activity. We want God to act to make our church pews full to the brim again, our Sunday schools overflowing, and people to respect what the church says. We want "big" miracles. We want God to act like he did in the Old Testament. We want God to act like he did for Paul and Silas and Peter. We think that the miracles were all over the Old Testament. But the truth is most of them are concentrated in the life of Elijah. We think that miracles were all over the New Testament. But the truth is most of them were concentrated to the time when the Christian church was just beginning. God very seldom acts with "big" miracles. He most often acts through simple acts of faithfulness.
It is our sinful condition that brings these thoughts to mind. We would do it differently if we were in control. We think we know best, better than God. We think it would be so much better for us if we didn't live in a hostile environment. But history shows that the church is built on the blood of the saints. It is not beyond God's care to allow the church to be troubled so that she comes back to what is important. These days we see the church theologically everywhere. So much of the church has become human centered. It promotes abortion, homosexuality, your best life now, and so many other human centered, human created theologies. The strife in the church is bound to grow. If you don't think that's the case all you have to do is look at this week's election and see the broad division in our country and the issues that divide us. If you think the task we have as a church is simple and not fraught with danger, you not paying attention to what's going on in the world. If we are troubled is our own fault, for our own sin, because the church as a whole has lost its center in Jesus Christ, and his life death and resurrection for the sins of the whole world.
But even if God does allow persecution for the church to grow we should remember that he is always faithful. Remember that God provides even when we don't see the results. Even when we are unfaithful. We are not called to change the world, that is the work of God's Word. We are called to be faithful in the place and the time that God has placed us. God provided for Elijah and the widow and her son through a simple act of faithfulness. Even though this time that we live in may be "an unhealthy time to be a prophet", God is faithful. If your sinful nature causes you to doubt God's faithfulness, just as mine does, all you have to do is look to the cross. Jesus didn't die on the cross so that you could live a life of ease and comfort. He died on the cross for your sin. He died on the cross to save you from sin and death and hell. He died on the cross to make Satan powerless over you. He died on the cross so that your ultimate destiny his life forever with him. When we don't see the big miracles our faith can falter. This is a time to run to the cross, cling to the cross, and rely on the one who died on the cross. Ultimately God's salvation of the world does not come in works of great power. The comes in love, sacrifice, and servant hood. This is what Jesus does. In Jesus God becomes our servant. He walks the earth in the time and the place that he was given to serve. He preaches a Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation. He is faithful, even to death on the cross.
In light of Jesus faithfulness to us, he calls us to be faithful in what he has given us to do, in the place and time he has given us. We are to speak his Word plainly and clearly. We are to call sin, sin. And we are to proclaim him as the one who covers sin with his blood. And we are not to expect that the world will take this message kindly. Listen to what Jesus says:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18–19, ESV)
And so we are called to be faithful. Think of the widow's and their small acts of faithfulness. Look at your life; the time that God has given you; the place where God has placed you; the friends he's given you; the workplace where he has given you to serve; and the church he has given you as the means to keep you focused on your Savior on the cross. Serve by being faithful there with small acts of faithfulness for the sake of the one who lived died and rose again for the forgiveness of all of your sin. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.