Sunday, September 24, 2023

This, Therefore, That

 1 Kings 17:17-24

Now it came about after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became sick; and his sickness was so severe, that there was no breath left in him.  So she said to Elijah, "What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance, and to put my son to death!"  And he said to her, "Give me your son." Then he took him from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed.  And he called to the LORD and said, "O LORD my God, hast Thou also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?"  Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the LORD, and said, "O LORD my God, I pray Thee, let this child's life return to him."  And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.  And Elijah took the child, and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Elijah said, "See, your son is alive."  Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth."

Sermon for Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity                                      9/24/23

This, Therefore That

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Have you ever had one of those experiences?  You do your best and you give your all and you try to be faithful, and what happens?  You get trouble.  You have what is called "bad luck"?  Things go against you and you want to ask yourself what you bothered for?  Everyone has those times.  It seems to us like life should pay back the investment.  If I try, and if I am good, I expect to succeed and find rewards and just compensation.  Instead, I find pain and frustration and trouble.

That is the situation of this good woman of Zarephath.  She fed the prophet with the very last of her food.  She had just enough to make one more meal for herself and her son, and then, because the famine was so severe, she was going to sit down and wait for death.  But Elijah told her to feed him something first, and then she could go and fix that last meal.  So, she did.  And God caused the little bit of flour and the little bit of oil to last for many days – long enough for the drought to end, and a new crop to grow and new flour and oil to be produced.

So she thought that she had a reason to expect a special relationship – special and good treatment from God on account of her faithfulness and generosity in difficult times.  So, imagine her surprise when her son falls ill and dies.  But she makes a connection between her troubles and her sins of the past, whatever they may be and she figures it is a case of this, therefore that.  And that is our theme.  This text shows us how there is a connection between things - logically and theologically.  Our theme is This, therefore that.

The woman made the connection between her misfortune and her sins.  I cannot say that she is right or wrong, because the text doesn't say it.  I suspect that she is making a connection that she doesn't need to make.  Surely trouble comes in our lives because we are sinners.  Life is filled with pain and illness and sorrow because we live in a fallen world, but every problem is not connected to a specific sin we have committed.  Some are – sexually transmitted diseases result from unchastity and fornication, for example.  Colds and heart trouble and strokes and cancer, however, are not necessarily traceable to specific sins, or even specific patterns of behavior.

But what the woman did that was correct – and natural – was make the connection between human troubles and sin, and between her close contact with God through the prophet, and guilt.  Because God is holy, when we come into close contact with God, either through His Word, or His messengers, the Law of God is always brought to the fore.  We don't have to look for it.  We don't need to want it.  God is holy, and wherever His holiness is seen or felt, our sin stands in bright relief.  The Law of God is preached, even when no one says a word.

Life will be painful and difficult at times, even for Christians.  That pain and those difficulties will preach the Law to us.  They will scourge us and may make us question the love of God and His good will toward us.  We won't necessarily think of it that way - we may just expect pain.  Pretty soon, we will begin to think of sickness and trouble as the lot we have been given by God.  That is when the troubles begin, troubles like those that haunted this widow of Zarephath.  Some might even begin to despair of any hope from Him because they continue to battle troubles – even while they think of themselves as believers.  

That is the danger.  We might allow our troubles to preach false theology to us.  We might listen to our aches and our sorrows and think that we hear the heart of God toward us in those troubles.  I have seen it happen more than once.  If it does, we then may have a head of faith –  and a heart of fear and worry and despair.  When that happens, we are no longer believers, at least in the sense of saving faith.  We have the faith of the head, which means we still think we believe – but we don't trust God.  In this situation, we despair of His love, or of His good will toward us, or of His ability to make things better for us.  We call this being "nominally Christian" – Christian in name, but not in reality.

That is not what this text is about, however.  The woman's despair and fear and guilt were in the lesson to highlight the other part.  The other part tells us about the power, and the good will, of God.  God can do anything, and He is merciful.  This is also the point of our Epistle lesson this morning, and Paul concludes the verses of our Epistle with these words, Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Elijah takes the child and prays.  Trouble and need brought the prophet to prayer.  This, therefore that.  Sometimes God uses affliction to draw His people closer to Him.  When life is good and we are pleased with everything, we tend to get sloppy about prayer and worship.  For example, statistics tell us that during the Great Depression, over ninety-five percent of Christians attended worship each and every Sunday.  In the last five years, the average church attendance by church members was 20 to 35% per week - only about one church-member out of three bothered to come to church on any given Sunday.

Another example of the principle is stewardship.  When I was a vicar in Austin, Minnesota back in the ‘70's, the Synod released some statistics that indicated that the average "tithe" of Christians across denominational lines during the Great Depression was 4.9% of their income. The tell-tale statistic was that at that time, the average "tithe" (during the 1970's) was 1.9%.  And it isn't as good today as it was back then.

The evidence is, and human experience shows, that we tend to grow less attentive to God and His Word, and our prayers when life gets easy and pleasant, and we grow rich.  So, God often uses sorrow, trouble, pain, and affliction to draw us back to Him and catch our attention in order to remind us of Him and our need for His presence in our lives and in our hearts.  He may give us trouble to teach us to pray.  And when trouble comes, we should pray, and pray fervently and in faith.

But that isn't exactly where this text takes us, either.  God answers the prayers of Elijah, and brings the boy back to life!  What an amazing thing!  God can do anything.  He has the power to do whatever it is we need done.  We can trust in Him.  And the woman takes the healing of her son, this great blessing from God, and she understands that this blessing is the evidence that Elijah is God's prophet, and that what Elijah says, when he preaches God's Word, is truth.  
That is the "This, therefore that" of our theme.

When God shows His power and His good will toward us, then we should be brought to trust in His Word and His promises and His will for us.  And what is the will of God toward us?  (Our Salvation).

And how do we know that?  We look at the cross of Jesus Christ.  When we want to see what is in the heart of God, we do not measure His love for us or His will toward us by the moment - how we feel or whether we experience the moment as good or bad, as happy or sad, as comfortable or painful.  The moment changes constantly, but God does not change.  He says so.  His will toward us is always the same - and we find it not by feeling ourselves or by gazing at our navels like the Buddhists, but by lifting our eyes to the cross.

God demonstrated His love for us and His will to save us by giving us His Son.  Jesus was born one of us, fully human.  What a humbling step that was!  But there was more.  He lived – poor by any standards, abject poverty by our standards today.  He lived in a backwards nation in a backwards time.  He faced all of the temptations to sin that are common to man.  He endured hostility toward Himself for nothing more than being holy and righteous.  Finally He allowed Himself to be falsely convicted and willingly bore our sins and guilt to the cross.  He suffered almost unimaginable agony of body - and the wrath of God against our sins in His soul.  He who is God was forsaken by God!  He died, even though He had earned the right to life without end.  He died in your place, and in yours, and in mine!  He paid the price demanded by the justice of God for our sins.

Then he rose again from the grave.  Just like the son of the Widow in our lesson – except He did not need a prophet throwing His body over Him and interceding with God for His life.  He laid down His life for us, and He took it up again of His own power - raised by the Spirit of God to proclaim that sin was done with, the guilt was no more, and that death had been conquered by life.  His resurrection tells us that God loves us and wants us to live with Him beyond death and every symptom and consequence of sin.  He that believes and is Baptized, shall be saved.

This, therefore that.  Because Jesus has died -- and has risen from His grave, your sins are forgiven!  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  It is by grace, and it is received by faith.  It is possessed by taking God at His Word and trusting Him and trusting His promises.  You want to be like the widow of Zarephath.  You want to see the great things that God has done - particularly the great things that He has done for you - and you will find in them the evidence that God's Word is truth.  His love for you is as real as His Word say that it is.  His will for you is life and health and peace – but not merely today and tomorrow in this corrupt and painful world.  He wants you at His side for all eternity.  He desires that you live for Him today and with Him forever.

His will is so complete that He preaches to you each week, and brings you this Holy Supper of the body and blood of Jesus Christ to strengthen and establish you in His love.  Here He hides the body and blood of Jesus under the form of bread and wine so that it is visible only to faith.  Those who have seen the great deeds of God for them may know that His Word is truth, and that His Word delivers the very things that He promises through it.  In this Supper He promises forgiveness and everlasting life and salvation, and health that endures eternally, and a home with God and joys eternally.  This is the Medicine of Immortality that bestows all that Christ has won for you - so that you may receive it and know individually that God was speaking about you and that He loves you, and that He means to rescue and save you!

So you do not need to fret and worry.  No matter what the moment may seem like, or what the danger may appear to be, or what ever, God can handle it, and His will toward you is good -- it is life and hope and peace and salvation -- and resurrection from your grave, just as He has risen from His grave!  It doesn't matter whether you are tempted to worry about your children, or your health, or your family finances, or your church, or whatever.  God can handle it, and His will is for your blessing and salvation.  You can see what God has done on the cross - and in the empty tomb of Easter.  This, therefore that.  You can trust God – and His Word is true.

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

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