Narrative Lectionary text: 1 Kings 17:1-16
Sandy hit hard this week.
It’s hard to imagine what that storm was like, especially as we sat here in such perfect fall weather. Have you tracked with the story at all? Seeing the images of the streets of New York all empty was eerie. One reporter said it felt like he was on the set of a post-apocalyptic movie.
As I was thinking about those empty streets, and that storm, and our passage today I started to imagine the people in the city, and how much of a difference the storm made on them.
What are people usually like on those busy city streets? There are two kinds of people I thought of initially. On the one hand you have the successful business person who is dressed in expensive clothes, walking fast along the sidewalk, cell phone to the ear, hailing a taxi.
On the other hand you have the homeless person, wandering through the alley, looking for something to eat, and a place to stay warm for the night.
Then Sandy hits. Now everybody is scrambling to find somewhere warm to sleep for the night. Storms are the great equalizers.
It makes me think of a new TV show called Revolution…
The premise of the show is that there is an event that knocks out all power on the planet. Nothing electrical works, not even batteries. It sends everyone scrambling. The show picks up fifteen years after the blackout and North America has been divided up amongst warlords. The world has been thrown back into the Middle Ages and people are shooting each other with cross bows. It’s pretty brutal.
There’s one character who used to be a multi-millionaire because he owned part of Google. He’s a total geek. Now, after the blackout, he’s pretty much helpless. He can’t hunt, fish, or fight. He can barely make a fire.
In our story today, in 1 Kings 17, there is a famine that lasts for three years. It was a drought. There was no rain for three years.
We know a little bit about being in a drought, don’t we.
It has been sad to see all the failed crops this year. Imagine how desperate it would be if there was no rain for three years?
We’ve had other kinds of drought, though. Many of us have felt the pain of coming through a recession, an economic drought. I know many of us lost jobs and are wondering how we are going to survive.
The question that this text raises for us is this. How can we have faith in famine? What does faith and faithfulness look like when times are tough?
In our text in 1 Kings 17, we see a Contrast of Faiths
We have three main characters.
First we have Elijah. He is a prophet. He brings the Word of God. He’s really just the messenger here.
The Word of God flows through Elijah to our other two main characters. This is where our contrast comes in.
On one side we have Ahab and on the other we have the widow.
Let’s look at Ahab.
Ahab was a successful king. He formed an alliance with the Phoenicians to the north by marrying the King’s daughter, Jezebel.
Ahab worshipped their god, Baal. And also Asherah, the goddess of fertility.
Now let’s stop for a minute. If you look at this from a purely political perspective, Ahab was a good politician. He’s making alliances. They are rebuilding cities.
And he’s covering his bases economically, as well.
Let me ask you this. If your economy was based on the success of the crops, what is one of the most important things to you? It’s rain. You need good rainfall and fertile crops.
The god Baal was the god of the rainclouds and Asherah was the goddess of fertility. If you make them happy, then you’re gold.
I wonder how many times this kind of thinking creeps into our lives?
I mean this on both the personal level and on the corporate level: as a church, and as a nation.
What are the gods in our culture that we bow to in order to achieve success? What kind of sacrifices do we have to make in order to increase our wealth and protect our assets?
Let’s summarize Ahab’s faith with two words and a message.
The two words are: hoard and manipulate.
The message is: I Must Provide
After Elijah delivers the Word of God to Ahab, Then he goes out to the wilderness and lives off of the scraps that the ravens hide away in the crags.
When the river bed dries up, God sends Elijah to the city of Zarephath, in Phoenicia, just south of Sidon. Do you remember who is from Sidon and Phoenicia? Jezebel was.
There has been famine in the land for three years.
This is their hurricane Sandy. The rivers are dried up. People are hungry. Elijah comes across a widow and her son. We have to remember that the widow is the lowest of the low. She is about to use her last bit of oil and flour, so that she can make one more simple loaf of bread, and then wait to die.
Elijah asks her to give him some and promises that God will provide. Think about that. This woman barely has enough, and yet, when she sees the need of a stranger, she gives anyway. Then God provides for her, in a way that defies all logic.
Notice what the provision looks like. It is daily bread. He didn’t promise that she would get rich, or be set for life. God promised that God would provide. That’s all we need.
Let’s summarize her faith with two words: give and trust
This is her message: God Will Provide
This woman’s faith is so profound, that Jesus mentioned her in Luke 4. When the people of Israel did not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, when the Word of God came to them, he said that they were just like Ahab. Then he said that true faith is the faith that looks like this widow. When God says God will provide, we just trust.
So, what does any of this have to do with us, or our question of How Do We Fit in God’s redemptive story?
We have to remember that this is God’s story. We have to trust that, no matter what the circumstances are, we can’t lose faith that God will provide. It’s not our job to judge or withhold. Our job is to be conduits of God’s grace. To give abundantly, without discrimination, and trust that God will provide our daily bread, and that is enough.