“The Lean Years” (Enough series 2/3)

“The Lean Years” (Enough series 2/3)

1 Kings 17:8-16

Last week we were with Moses at the burning bush
discovering that what he had in his hand
was all God needed to do amazing things.

This week we are taking a huge leap forward in the timeline.
Since we are skipping the wandering years,
and the age of the judges,
and the beginning of the Hebrew monarchy
I’ll give you just a quick taste of what we are passing by
so we have a better understanding of
where we are in our passage this morning.

Even before Israel entered the promised land,
while they still wandered in the wilderness,
they began to develop a pattern to their relationship with God.

They would be faithful followers of YHWH,
things would be good, life was nice,
and then they settled into complacency about their faith,
and before you know it they’re worshiping other gods
or ignoring divinity all together.

God removes God’s blessing and protection
and the people fall into peril.
They are invaded, or their own campaigns for conquest fail,
or they are taken captive to a foreign land.

After some time they realize they made a mistake,
they remember the deliverance of their ancestors
by the great God YHWH and they cry out for YHWH’s help.

At that point, during the time of the Judges, God sends a judge.
Now this is not a person who declares guilt or innocence
but someone who is gifted by God
to make the deliverance of the people possible,
think of the Judges as perhaps Moses lite.
Not the parting of the Red Sea kind of deliverance
but deliverance all the same.

There are 15 judges in the bible.
Some of the names you may recognize others you won’t.
Some served only for the purpose of deliverance,
others did double duty as prophets.

I would imagine that most of us are recognize names like
Gideon, and Samson, and Samuel.

When Samuel was Judge over Israel the people rallied
and demanded to have a king placed over them,
so they could be like the nations that surrounded them.

Samuel warned them that a king would mean taxes
and having their children conscripted into the nations army.
But the people persisted
and Saul was named king.
And it didn’t take long at all for Saul to muck it all up.
By the time we get to the story of the prophet Elijah
the great king, King David, is long dead,
and the current king’s name is Ahab.

Israel had once again started their spiraling away from YHWH
and towards false gods.
This culminated when King Ahab married a woman named Jezebel who worshiped the Cannanite god Baal.

A great number of the Israelites followed their king
into worshiping Baal.
Which put King Ahab and Queen Jezebel at odds with Elijah,
the prophet of YHWH.

Elijah was an awesome prophet,
and God used Elijah for some spectacular things.
But because so many followed Baal
Elijah felt as though he was the only one left who remained faithful.

Just before the passage we read this morning
Elijah went up against 400 priests of Baal
in a contest to see whose god was the most powerful.

Without getting into too much detail Elijah,
or more specifically YHWH, wins the day
and the priests of Baal, all 400 of them, were put to the sword.

When word gets sent back to the queen about the defeat,
and the execution of her priests,
she makes a death threat against Elijah
and so Elijah does what any triumphant prophet
with the great God YHWH on his side does…
he high tails it out of there!

The whole contest with the priests of Baal
was meant to convince the people of Israel
to turn back to YHWH.
Apparently it didn’t work too well,
and so, while Elijah is on the run,
God sends drought to the land
and declared that it would not rain
until the nation of Israel returned to YHWH once more.
Even though he is running in fear God takes care of Elijah.
He has food and water for a while
but eventually the drought reaches everyone.
Including the prophet.

That brings us right up to our passage for this morning.
God has been providing for Elijah in different and wonderful ways; at one point God has ravens bringing Elijah
a morning meal and an evening meal.

And then God does something different.
God tells Elijah to go to the town of Zarephath (Zar-i-f-ath)
because there is a widow in the town
who God has commanded to feed the prophet.

So let’s really think about this for a second.
In the bible times, and our own if we are honest,
there is a social hierarchy.
Rich men, skilled men, hired men,
slaves, women, children, widows.
Ours may have some subtle variations but you get the picture.

Widows were often poor and neglected
especially if they had no other family around.
All this widow had was her son,
apparently a young son not able to work
to try and support himself and his mother.

This is the person to whom God has sent Elijah,
not the rich or the powerful, but the poor.

On the morning of the day that Elijah was to show up,
this widow awoke, thirsty and nearly starved.
Her son was in much the same shape.
She glanced over to the kitchen
seeing all she had left in the world, some flour and some oil.
And she knew.
She knew that – that flour and oil
would make the last food she would ever taste.
That once it was baked
she and her son would eat
and then wait for the inevitable, slow, death that would come.

So she heads out to gather some wood for the fire
the fire with which she will bake her last meal.

Just imagine for a moment the sorrow in her heart.
The desperation she must have felt
as each day the flour and the oil supply dwindled,
knowing that one day soon
there would be nothing left but death on an empty stomach.

There was no hope for her.
No family to care for her and her son.
No food stamps. No soup kitchen.
The drought was hitting everybody,
but it hit the poor widows the worst.

It is to this widow,
who in her own mind has already died,
that God sends Elijah to get fed.

Elijah is sent to a widow
in the midst of such desperation
that she looks forward to death as sweet relief
from suffering.

As she is gathering wood for the fire a man,
already light years ahead of her in social standing
asks her for some water to drink. WATER TO DRINK!

In the middle of a drought.
A drought that is literally killing her and her son.
But she sets out to get him some water to drink.
To do one last good deed.
And as she heads towards her home to fetch the water
he calls after her and asks for some bread too.

See right here (motion drawing a line) this is the line,
and Elijah just crossed it.
She had nothing left but what she and her son
were going to eat for their last meal
and here this stranger is wanting to take that last bit of food.

She gathered up her courage and spoke to Elijah
explaining to him the situation
hoping he would settle for some water and move along.

But he persisted
and did so with a promise from YHWH
that until the day that rain fell on the ground again
she would not run out of flour or oil.

And that, that right there, changed everything.
Not because she is certain that the promise will be fulfilled
and that God will provide.
All she has seen lately has been desolation and despair.

But none-the-less that promise,
spoken from the lips of a stranger, gives her hope,
something she hasn’t seen in a very long time.
And that hope, ignites a spark of faith,
and that faith moves her feet into the kitchen
to offer all that she has to God
in the hope that God will supply all that she needs.

Because when we give God a little thing, God can do anything.

And friends, this is the one area we are told,
nearly commanded, to test God.

When Jesus is tempted in the wilderness
one of his answers to the devil is that it is written
“you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
In other words, don’t try to force God’s hand.
Don’t use the Word of God to try and manipulate God.

But there is one exception to that rule
and we find it in the book of the prophet Malachi
chapter 3 and verse 10.

“Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury
so there will be ample provisions in my Temple.
Test me in this and see
if I don’t open up heaven itself to you
and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams.”

Give.
Give of yourself and your resources to the work of God
and see if God doesn’t rain abundantly more blessings
down on you.

I’m pretty sure this is where we get the old adage
“tis better to give than receive.”

One of my favorite John Wesley stories demonstrates this well.

When John and Charles Wesley were at Oxford
they belonged to a group dedicated to pious living, holy living.

It was a small group
consisting of them and a couple of other students.
They would all try to receive communion every day.
They spent their free time in study and in prayer
and in discussion of the scriptures
and of the various works of renowned theologians.
The students on campus mocked them calling them
“The Holy Club” and the group didn’t mind the name
so they kept it.

One day another member of their group
asked John to join him in visiting and ministering
to those in the local prison.
Wesley was a bit hesitant
because it would take time away from his study and prayer.
But eventually he went.

And he came out of that first visit
exuberant and energized and blessed beyond measure.
And committed to making sure carrying for the less fortunate
was a big part of his spiritual pursuits

When we give, time, talent, money, forgiveness, hope, we receive. Giving is indeed better than receiving
because it is only in giving of ourselves,
giving even all we have back to God
that we receive the fullness of God’s blessing to us.

The widow, with a tiny bit of hope and an ember of faith,
did as Elijah asked, gave all that she had left in the world,
and was blessed with the means
to feed her and her son well throughout the rest of the drought.

It doesn’t take much, even just a little bit,
and God can do anything,
and part of that anything,
is heaping blessing back onto us.

Last week we asked the question
“What do you have in your hand?”
What is it that you are uniquely qualified to give
or to do to help the church function
to its fullest and grandest ability?

This week we are asking “What are you willing to give?
What sacrifice are you willing to make?”
Time, talent, finances, prayer, presence, gifts, service, witness?

We have plenty of water to drink and food to eat.
Truth is we have quite a bit to spare.

The drought of our times is a spiritual one.
And the people are thirsty, and they are hungry,
and we need to be out in the world,
offering them water from the never-ending stream.
And that takes time and money and sacrifice.
It takes a careful examination of our priorities.
It takes being willing to say “no” to self
so that you can say “yes” to God.
Being willing to sacrifice our own comfort for the comfort of another.

Bri and I gave the girls a choice this year
in regards to how we celebrate their birthdays.
We could have a party at home
like we have done the last couple of years
or we could go and spend a couple of nights,
just the four of us, at Frankenmuth,
at the hotel with the largest indoor water park in Michigan.

Guess what they chose?

Our first night there we were having dinner
and we sang happy birthday to Michaela
because it was her actual birthday
and when our server heard it
she snuck away and got a nice big red helium balloon
and gave it to Michaela.

Michaela’s face lit up as she looked up at the balloon,
but the very next look on her face was one of concern.

She looked at the balloon
and she looked at her little sister
who hadn’t noticed the balloon yet
(because there was cake on the table.)
and then Michaela turned to the server and said
“my sister and I are both here for our birthdays.
Mine is today but hers was last week on the 29th.
Is it possible to get her a balloon too?”

I was floored by that act of kindness and concern for another.
If I hadn’t been there to see it
I would have had a hard time believing it.
But I could not deny the evidence of my own eyes and ears.

The point is though, in our life of faith,
everything we do is about someone or something else.
Michaela’s thought
when her fortune was increased by the balloon
was to share that fortune with her sister.

God sent Elijah to the widow
not so Elijah would be a drain on that poor widows resources.

God sent Elijah there
to save the widow and her son from starving.
Sure, Elijah got some food too,
but God had already proved earlier in the book
that God did not need destitute, starving widows to feed Elijah.

As God’s people, the church,
we are here with a purpose
and it is not to build cathedrals or simply to show up on Sunday.

For lack of a better way to say it,
we are supposed to be the modern day Elijah’s
the ones who just happen to show up at the right time,
with the right resource, to make the miracle happen.

And that is no small task.
In fact it can seem down right impossible.
But all Elijah did in this case, and in so many others,
he just showed up.

He went where God told him to go.
And widows were saved,
and priests of false gods were slain,
and all it really took was for Elijah to show up.
To be present
and to be looking for the moment of need he could take care of.

When we give money to the church it does a lot of things.
It covers costs for programs and ministry and staff.
It goes to the district and the conference
and to the denomination
and does all sorts of good in parts of the world
we might have trouble pronouncing.
Where there are problems and issues we, ourselves,
can hardly fathom.

When we give our money and our time and our talents
to the pursuit of knowing God and making God known,
we get to be a part of something far bigger than our selves.

And those investments, the kind that require financial sacrifice,
the kind that require a sacrifice of time or comfort,
those investments keep paying out down the line.

We are all here today
because of the saints who invested in us.

Parents and grandparents,
pastors and Sunday school teachers,
bible study leaders, and street preachers,
and even those who put those little “come-to-Jesus”
comic books in public restrooms.

And all of those people
are the result of the investment of others,
and the investment keeps going back through the centuries.
And now, is our time to pay that investment forward.

Sometimes all that takes is showing up.
Show up, not just to church on Sunday
but to the coffee shops and the pancake places.

Show up looking for and expecting to see
an opportunity to pay forward the investment of our ancestors.

Look for the widow picking up wood for her last fire.
Look for the child in need of an encouraging word.
Look for the lonely who are in need of a friend.
And be what they need.

Be that miracle.
Believe that what you have to offer, matters.
Look at what God could do with a staff,
with a little flour and oil.
All it takes, Jesus says, is a mustard seed of faith.
Can you show up?
Can you offer even a mustard seed,
and trust that God will do the rest?

Next week is our final week on Stewardship.
It is also the day we are hoping to collect
all of the pledge cards so that our finance people
can let us know the kind of ministry we can do in 2018.
And it is an important thing to know.

Understand that a financial pledge is not a contract.
It is simply the amount you have prayed about
and believe that you will be able to give
to the work of the church in 2018.

If something changes in your life
and you cannot keep up with your pledge… thats okay.

Just let us know and we can adjust accordingly.
All this does is give us an idea
of what our financial picture will look like in the new year,
and in what ways our church can show up
and meet the needs of those around us.

So please plan to join us next week.
Bring friends and family.
Bring a joyful heart knowing that in our giving,
of our money, of our time, and of our talents,
we get to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves.
We get to be the Church,
God’s blessing to the world. Amen? Amen.

 

 

 

 

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