Sunday, September 20, 2020

God's Way


1 Kings 17:8-16
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for 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, ‘Please get me a little water in a jar, that I may drink." And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, "Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand."
But she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die."
Then Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first, and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make for yourself and for your son. For thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain on the face of the earth.'"
So she went and did according to the word of Elijah, and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke through Elijah.

Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity                                     9/20/20

God's Way

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The story is told about a man who stopped by the side of the road in the country to ask a fellow who was walking down the road for directions to a nearby business establishment. First, he asked if the man was a local, and familiar with the area, and the man said, "Yes." Then he admitted being lost and asked for directions to the place. The fellow who had been walking down the road began to describe the route from this point to that. "God down to the second crossroad," he said. "And take a right, then go two miles to the dirt road on your left and turn there and go up . . .", then he realized that the road he was leading the man to was blocked. So he said, "No. Wait. Forget that. Just go left at the next corner and go up a mile and . . . No that won't work either." After making several more attempts to describe how to get from point A to point B, the fellow finally said, "Forget it. You can't get there from here."

It's a cute story, and I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't based on a real event, but I mention it to bring up the idea of different ways to get to this point or that. As I read the text, I had to ask myself what this account of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath has to do with anything in our lives. Now the obvious thought is about God providing - which He does, and which is a good thought for us to keep in mind, but He doesn't often provide in such blatantly miraculous fashion. What struck me about this text was everything around the miracle - how God prepares us, and how God delivers His providence to us, and how God works in the lives of His people. God probably will not work this same miracle for you as your checking account goes flat or your cupboards are bare, but God always cares for us, and I would like to look at that element of this text and see, in the words of our theme, this morning, God's Way.

Elijah had been commanded by God to proclaim to the evil king, Ahab, that there was going to be a severe drought - a drought which would not pass until Elijah said so. Then God commanded Elijah to go to a certain place and stay there while He would send ravens with food for Elijah in the morning and in the evening, and Elijah would drink from the stream near the place. This is how God provided for His prophet.

Now, we know that the drought lasted three years and six months. During that time, the stream dried up, and Elijah needed new provisions. That is where our text picks up. God now instructs Elijah to go to Zarephath, a city in the region of Sidon (You remember Tyre and Sidon - an area in ancient Phoenicia and modern-day Lebanon), and, God said, "I have commanded a widow there to provide for you." So Elijah went to Zarephath.

When he arrives, it becomes plain that God did not communicate this command to the woman. I don't know how Elijah picked her out and knew that it was the right woman - but he did, and God helped him, although the Bible does not tell us how. Elijah identifies the woman, and asks her to bring him a drink of water, and while she is at it, could she also bring him a cake of bread to eat. In today's society, that would seem to be pretty gutsy - but it was not out of order back then. Besides, she very quickly sized Elijah up as one of those prophet-guys.

She explains to Elijah that she would like to, but she is just now gathering a couple of pieces of wood to build a small fire, to use the last bit of her flour and oil to make the final, pitiful meal for herself and her son to eat, and then they will simply starve to death, undoubtedly due to the drought. Elijah responds by telling her to make his meal first, and then cook for herself and her son, and if she does, she will find that the flour will not be exhausted nor will her oil run out. To her credit, she believes the word of Elijah and makes his meal, and then her own, and * * to her delight and blessing * * the supplies do not run out, and she and her son - and Elijah - eat for many days - literally a long time.

The miracle is cool – but it is not likely to be repeated in ways that you will recognize as "just like Elijah and the widow". God will always provide, however. The thing is, He will usually do it in ways and through means that you do not necessarily expect. God's way is not our way, nor will we always be able to see how God can do it or how He accomplishes it when He does it. We might not even want God to do it the way He is going to do it.

Look at Elijah's case. He thought he had it made by the brook called "Cherith" which was on the east side of the Jordan River. He had water. He had bread and meat delivered to him twice a day - and that was all he needed, and pretty much all anyone in that time in history expected or hoped for - food and water - and some sort of shelter which was either a cave nearby, or Elijah built something- the Bible doesn't address that issue either. He was set for the duration and had no need, and probably no expectation, that he would be on the move again during the drought. Surely, if God could send ravens with the food Elijah needed in their mouths to feed him (and He could and did), He could keep the brook flowing.

But He did not. That was not God's way in this instance. The brook dried up, and God sent Elijah to Zarephath.

Okay. Now, look at the widow's situation. She had no adult man to take care of her, so she was destitute. The drought always hit the poor hardest - just like they always say about rising gas prices or any other social problem. She had run through her resources, and could not buy more. Everyone was hoarding - you know, take care of number one first. She was down to her last few handfuls of flour - the Hebrew word means just the amount you can fit in the palm of your hand - not a generous handful, but a very sparse handful. Her oil was about to run out too, so there was going to be no more food, and she was about to starve, along with her adolescent son. No doubt, she had only made it to this point by eating short rations and was likely almost starved at this point in time. She could see no way that she and her son would survive.

But she did survive because God stepped in, and for the sake of His prophet He extended her supply and multiplied it daily so that her little bit did not run out, even though she fed the prophet, her son, and herself for many months. She discovered God's way was capable beyond anything she could imagine.

Why her? That, too, is God's way. Jesus mentioned it once, in Nazareth when He had announced who He was and what was prophesied of Him, and they began to question Him simply because they knew Him, way back when: "But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow." This irritated the people of Nazareth, of course, because they thought it meant something about the judgment of God against them - and because they were not willing to wait upon God or His ways."

Actually, it is like grace, God's choice for God's reasons. It stood also as a judgment of Israel – they did not call, were not faithful, did not trust God - and so they did not receive. But mostly, it indicated that God could and would deal favorably with whomever He chose. You didn't need to be one of the genetic family of Abraham to find God's mercy. And God doesn't need resources to accomplish His will. He is the resources.

We need to stop and consider this miracle. Why this woman? Because God chose her to use her to accomplish the blessing of His prophet. Was she better than others, or more religious, or more open to His will? Nope. She was not even from among the "Chosen People". She was simply the one God selected - commanded is the word the text used. She didn't hear the command, nor was she aware of it until the prophet asked her for food and promised her divine provision. Nevertheless, she did what God had commanded, and was part of the way in which God worked for the blessing of His prophet. God could have kept the stream flowing and the birds bringing the food, or He could have provided for Elijah in some other ordinary way. But He did not. He did it this way so you could see that He can provide - and will provide all things in accord with His will even when there is no way and we have no resources and everything and everyone seems to be - and really is - against us.

Look at the cross. We sinned. We deserved to die. We earned His wrath and judgment - - - and yet we live and He sent Jesus to live and die for us, and He has forgiven us and rescued us and promises us that the flour and oil will never run out - that we shall live forever with Him even after death seems to have the victory. He has paid the price and redeemed us. He has promised to raise our sorry bodies from their graves and outfit them for everlasting life - and He has shown us what it will look like by raising Jesus from the dead.

And He feeds us with a food more miraculous than the bread the widow made all those months. He feeds us with His body and gives us to drink of His blood and cleanses us from all our sins and comforts us in our fears and in our shame and guilt and in our pains, and says, I will never leave you nor forsake you. It is more certain and clear than when He told Elijah, "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you." He has commanded His Son to provide life and salvation, forgiveness, and peace to us – and Jesus has. Already. What we see happening around us is all part of His plan – or at least He has accounted for all of it, and we are safe, and He will accomplish in us and through us all that He has planned. And while this moment or that may not be entirely to our liking, or our understanding, as long as we are His children, and faithful, God's way is the right way, and He will accomplish all that He has planned and all that He has promised, and all that we need.

So rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything, because this is the will of God for you - and because God's way may not always be plain to us, but it is always right, and just exactly what we need. So don't look around and try to figure out how God will do what you need or want or what we need or want. Just know that He will guard and keep and bless you. Everything will be done as it was in our text - according to the last verse of our lesson - according to the word of the LORD. That, of course, is God's way.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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