April 26, 2015
1 Kings 17:1-16
Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” 2 The word of the Lord came to him, saying, 3 “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5 So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. 7 But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
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I try to be a person of faith. As a pastor, having faith is part of my job description, I suppose. But I tell you what, Elijah has me beat. There is an impending drought, and God tells him to go hide in the wilderness, by the wadi—which is a riverbed that is sometimes dry, sometimes not. So, go hide out, says God. And not only that, but “I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”
What? That is crazy. Straight up crazy. But Elijah didn’t say a word about how ridiculous this plan was. He just “went and did according to the word of the Lord.” And sure enough, in swoop the ravens with bread and meat.
Now, you won’t be surprised to know that I’ve been thinking about this story in terms of what it might mean for us as a congregation as we discern together next steps in addressing concerns about our building size.
I imagine Elijah knew that food would be scarce as the drought set in. This was a problem that I imagine he tried to solve. Perhaps he even made a process agreement:
–Issue: I am going to starve to death because of the drought.
–Process Goals: Collect food that can be stored; plant crops that do not need much water; beg on the street . . .
I don’t know what possible solutions Elijah might have developed for his particular problem. But I’m willing to bet “hide out by the wadi and let the ravens bring me bread and meat” was not one of them.
And I don’t say this to in any way disparage our process agreement. Anne and I developed the first one several years ago after a workshop we attended in Newton with KipCor. It’s a good tool for us to use. And the current building group has put a lot of time into developing the three options that we will discuss at our meeting today.
Still, there are many options within the options we will discuss; and I’m sure some options that fall outside the realm of anything we can plan for or imagine. Maybe there is a wadi somewhere nearby where, as we speak, ravens are weaving a beautiful sanctuary for us.
I don’t think Elijah’s story says that it is bad to think through things and make wise and reasonable plans; but within our planning we should always be listening for the voice that is beyond what we can control and conceive. We should remain open always to the surprising blessings that God has in store.
8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 9 “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” 11 As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” 13 Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” 15 She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
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So when Elijah runs out of water at the wadi, God sends him to a widow in Zarephath. Getting food from this widow seems about as unlikely as being fed by the birds. All she has is a handful of meal and a little oil. Are we sure this is the right widow?
When Elijah went to the wadi on faith, he was only endangering his own life. If the ravens had failed to show up, he would have slowly wasted away by himself. But now, the great prophet is in danger of taking the last food from a starving widow and her son. It’s more than his own personal survival resting on his proclamation that God will not let the meal or the oil run out until the drought is over.
That, in part, is what makes it so hard for us—at least for me—to claim the faith we need as we move forward with solving our space issue. If we get it wrong, there are a lot of people affected. People in this congregation, to be sure. But also all the people we can and should reach out to in the name of Christ. The people who need to hear good news and have a decent meal and find a place to stay.
“Widows and orphans” are shorthand in the Hebrew Scriptures for the most needy, the most vulnerable people in a community. And we have plenty of people in need around us. Some of them we are already helping. Maybe we should help more people now by focusing our money and energy on outreach instead of building concerns. Maybe we could help more people in the future if we had more space and thus more people who could be part of this wonderful fellowship and who could help us reach out and share God’s love.
It’s interesting, though, in this story. God does not send Elijah to the widow and her son with food for them. He makes it possible for the widow to be the one providing for Elijah. And in the end, all three are saved from the drought by the miraculous, gracious provisions of God.
17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18 She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” 19 But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed.20 He cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22 The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.23 Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.”24 So 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.”
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In the first two stories we’ve read, the Lord tells Elijah what to do, and Elijah does it. In this third story, the roles are reversed. It is Elijah who commands God–“Let this child’s life come into him again”–and God does it. This pattern is echoed in Jesus’ teaching to “ask and it will be given to you.” And I, frankly, am not a fan of this approach. I feel very uncomfortable about telling God what I want; I don’t like to pray beggy/demanding prayers.
Yet these stories of Elijah and God seem to suggest a tension, a back and forth in terms of listening and acting.
I’ve felt this tension throughout our building process. I try to listen for God’s guidance: What kind of space will allow us to most faithfully follow Jesus as a church family? How can we use our financial and other resources in ways that honor God? What direction would God have us head? I try to listen to God.
And I also tell God what God needs to do to for us. I don’t always make specific demands; usually I give options: like let Doug and Nadine win the lottery OR let us find a perfect building for sale for $200,000 OR let some church that is dwindling to nothing offer to sell us their building for $1—you know, out of the kindness of their hearts.
It is true. There is a lot of tension between the talking and the listening in my prayers. I have a feeling I need to listen more—which is why I am glad we can all work on listening together. Yet I also know that God does listen when we speak; that God sometimes does honor our requests; that miracles do happen.
I haven’t quite figured out the relationship—in scripture or in our lives today—between listening to God and making requests of God. Maybe it’s that when we listen closely enough—closely enough to hear the directions to the wadi;closely enough to know the meal and oil will not run out—when we listen that closely for that long, we finally know what we should be asking.