1 Kings 17:1-17
The focus of our worship this morning is our celebration of Communion. But before we get there I want you to hear a story that you might not be very familiar with, because I think it really has something to say to us in our current situation. Last week Pastor Beth Long-Higgins told us the story of King David wanting to build a temple, and God responding that instead God would make King David’s family into a dynasty. That’s a key idea about Jesus being a descendant of David and the Messiah. However, that whole dynasty idea didn’t really seem to work out in the short term.
David’s kingship involved a lot of ups and downs, including some pretty serious mistakes, yet God continued to work through him. After David, his son Solomon became king. Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem that his father had wanted to build. That project and others were completed using forced labour, fulfilling the warnings that the prophet Samuel had given the people so many years before about what would happen if they got a king. King Solomon made political alliances by marrying women from other nations. His wives brought their religious practices with them and eventually, the nation’s faithfulness to Yahweh, the One God was corrupted. It wasn’t just that the people worshipped false gods, but they also laid aside the way of life commanded by God, including caring for the vulnerable. After Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split. Both the northern and southern kingdoms had a series of kings who were unfaithful to God, and led the people down a dangerous path. When we pick up the story today, King Ahab of the northern kingdom had just married a foreign princess named Jezebel who came with her religious, economic, and social practices that were contrary to God’s way, and the prophet Elijah tried to warn the king about his poor choice. I am reading from the 1st book of Kings, chapter 17, verses 1-17, in the Tree of Life Version.
Now Elijah the Tishbite, one of the settlers of Gilead, said to King Ahab: “As Yahweh God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be no dew or rain these years, except at my word.”
Then the word of Yahweh came to Elijah saying: “Leave this place, turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, east of the Jordan River. It will come about that you will drink from the wadi. I have also commanded the ravens to feed you there.”
So he went and did according to the word of Yahweh—he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens kept bringing him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the wadi. Then it came to pass after a while that the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
Then the word of Yahweh came to him saying: “Arise, go to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have just commanded a widow there to provide for you.”
So he arose and went to Zarephath. Now when he came to the town gate, to his surprise, a widow was there gathering sticks. So he called her and said, “Please bring a little water in a jar that I may drink.” As she was going to fetch it, he called her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”
So she said, “As Yahweh your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in the jar, and a little oil in the jug. Now look, I am gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go in and prepare it for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.”
Elijah said to her, “Fear not! Go and do as you said, but first make me a little cake from what you have there. Bring it out to me and afterwards, make some for you and for your son. For thus says Yahweh God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be exhausted nor shall the jug of oil be empty until the day Yahweh sends rain on the land.’”
So she went and did according to the word of Elijah—and she and he, and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not exhausted, nor did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of Yahweh which He spoke through Elijah.
This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
This story is the setup for a major confrontation that the prophet Elijah is going to have with Jezebel’s prophets of Baal, to prove once and for all who is God. The god Baal was the god of rain and his worshippers believed that each year during the dry season, Baal died and then came back to life. So when God stops the rain, it’s a direct statement against the power of Baal. It’s very effective. You can imagine the prophets of Baal going nuts to figure out what’s happening with this drought. But the problem is this drought doesn’t just affect King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and the prophets of Baal. It affects everyone in the region, including the guy who prophesied it. Elijah winds up in the desert living next to a stream that only runs during the rainy season. Eventually it dries up. God had been sending Elijah bread and meat twice a day, which by the way was a pretty high-class menu, but humans can’t live without water, so God told Elijah to go somewhere else to get what he needed.
What I want us to consider this morning is that this is a story of faith, of trust, on the part of Elijah and on the part of the widow.
First let’s look at Elijah and his trust. The command to go somewhere new is the quintessential journey of faith. There are so many stories in the Bible that start with God telling someone to leave what is familiar and safe and go somewhere new and unfamiliar. God doesn’t send Elijah back to Israel, back to what is familiar. God sends him to Zarephath in the region of Sidon. Queen Jezebel is from Sidon. The people of Sidon are Baal worshippers. And this is where God is going to meet Elijah’s needs.
There are some faith communities that teach that God is always going to ask you to do something you don’t want to do. Like, if you really don’t want to be a missionary to India, that’s exactly what God is going to tell you to do. I don’t think that’s the way God works. But we can’t deny that there are plenty of stories where God sends people to uncomfortable places. Not because God is mean, but because something good is waiting for us in that uncomfortable place.
For whatever reason, we do not grow spiritually or emotionally or mentally when everything is status quo. We don’t grow when it’s easy. We don’t grow when everything is familiar and plodding along. We grow when things get tough, when the world doesn’t look like we thought it would, when we don’t get what we want, and when are forced to interact with people who are really different from us, like Elijah plopped down in the middle of this region of Baal-worshippers.
As we approach election day and the outrage and anxiety ratchets up on both sides of the aisle, this story reminds us that the hard seasons are when we have the greatest opportunity for growth. And also that sometimes what we need is going to come from the person we disagree with. And if we avoid that person, if we refuse to listen, we could miss out on something God has for us.
Next let’s look at the widow and her trust. There’s a few cues in the chapter that suggest this widow was usually pretty well off. But this drought had done her in. In our current context, we would say that she was middle class and doing all right usually, but not stable enough to survive a catastrophic disruption to her livelihood, like a wildfire or a hurricane or a pandemic. She had exhausted all her other options and so when she met Elijah she was gathering enough wood to go home, make a fire, cook what little was left of her food for herself and her son, and then they were going to die. What I want you to see is that this woman is at the very end of her rope. She has done everything she knows how to do, she worked every side hustle, she’s spent her stimulus check, she’s been thrifty, and she’s done. This was the end of the line for her. She did not know what else she could possibly do.
And yet she was not done being generous. She gave a stranger a drink of water. And when that stranger told her that God was going to provide for her, she trusted him. What he said to her was pretty bold. He said, “Don’t be afraid. FIRST make a me some bread with what you have left. Then make some for yourself and your son. And after that, you will continue to have enough.” (Obviously the moral of the story is that if you always let the pastor eat first at the potluck there will be plenty to go around.) This woman, who we assume was a Baal worshipper, was saved, literally rescued from starvation because she chose to be generous. She didn’t say, “I don’t know you. I don’t trust you. And I don’t have enough to share with you. You got yourself into this situation so you better get yourself out of it.” No. She took the risk, she stepped out in faith, trusting in a God she had never seen, that if she chose to be generous, she would have enough.
That is a powerful story for us. We often allow our fear of scarcity to interfere with our generosity. We think we don’t have enough, sometimes like this woman we can see that we literally don’t have enough, and so we don’t want to share. After all, that’s the wise thing to do: take care of me and mine so I don’t have to ask for help. But this story reminds us that God can do something amazing with the very little that we do have when we are willing to share it. The best way to combat our fear of scarcity is to find a way to be generous.
I want to end by pointing out what exactly what the widow gets in return. Because this is really important. She does NOT get a high-class menu of bread and meat twice a day. She gets a jar of flour that always seems to have just enough for today’s bread and a jug of oil that always seems to have a few drips left in it. Not a brimming jar and an overflowing jug. Not an abundance. But just enough. Just enough for the day. And this time, “just enough” is God’s miraculous provision.
The stories in the Bible continue to hook me because I keep seeing myself in them. And I wonder where you see yourself in this story this morning. Are you somewhere uncomfortable this morning? Maybe God has called you there or maybe you feel that like Joseph in Egypt, you’ve been carried there against your will? Are you having to interact with people you completely disagree with? … Or maybe right now you are living with just enough. Not the abundance you are used to, or that you think God should give you, but just enough. Maybe this morning God is inviting you to see God’s care in the just enough. Maybe you are feeling challenged to be generous, trusting that what feels like not enough for you is actually just enough for you and for someone else who needs it.
When we come to our Communion table, we don’t eat a feast. We could. People do sometimes and I think that’s a lovely tradition. But this morning I think it’s powerful for us to participate in a ritual of having just enough. Give us today our daily bread. Just enough. Just enough for today, trusting that tomorrow we will find once again there is just enough for that day.
It has been many months since we’ve celebrated our full Communion ritual, but this morning we are going to. The liturgy is not magic, and in these past seven months we have learned that Communion can be meaningful without the full liturgy. But we do what we do for a reason, and this morning as we do it, I will remind us of what those reasons are. So come. And remember. Because as our ancestors in the faith have declared for hundreds of years, this is the just enough joyful feast of the people of God, where people of all ages, races, and sexes — people in every type of body — come from the north and south and east and west and are welcome by Christ, who is the host at all our tables.