October 20, 2019

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Contemporary Service:

Traditional Service:

Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 17:8-16

The Widow of Zarephath

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “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.


Sermon: “What if…Our “Little” Was Really a Lot?

When I was growing up…we never had “a lot.”  Don’t get me wrong, we always had enough food at dinner; clothes that fit (most of the time), a roof over our heads and the modern conveniences of electricity and water.  But I knew that times were “lean” for my parents.  Can anyone else relate to that?  Mom was a strong woman and she made the choice to close her successful business she had built to raise my sister and me.  She was always able to make something out of nothing…even if I waited until the night before a big school project or bake sale.  Mom would go into a seemingly “empty” pantry or closet…and POOF!  “A lot” would materialize.  Might not be exactly what I had in my head…but it worked.  My mom was always able to turn our “little” into “a lot.”  Especially when I had friends over.  She would invite “whoever” to stay for dinner.  There never looked like there was enough to feed everyone…but there was ALWAYS enough and ALWAYS leftovers.  But “what if” there hadn’t been?

            “What if” is the theme for this year’s stewardship season and beginning today we are kicking off a three-week sermon series exploring three Biblical stories where people feared the worst and were instead surprised by God’s abundant grace.  In today’s text, we heard the story about the widow from Zarephath.  What do we know about this unnamed woman?  We know that she was Phoenician and most likely, she believed in the god Baal who many people sacrificed to and called upon for rain and fertility.  Culturally, people in those times prayed to and worshiped multiple gods.  We know that she was a mom and she had a son…could have had daughters too, but they certainly wouldn’t have been mentioned in this story if the writers hadn’t bothered to take the time to honor the widow by knowing and naming her….but that’s for another sermon.  But having a son meant, of course, that she should have had some type of security because children meant survival and a son meant someone would always care for her and provide for her.  But…during that particular season there was a drought that had desecrated the land and the people there were starving.  The people there were starving and dying.  This widow and her son were going to starve, and they were going to die.  She was preparing their “last supper” if you will.  This is what she knew.  As a mother, I cannot wrap my head around what she was preparing to do.  She was out foraging for wood so she could build a fire, take the last little bit of flour and the last little bit of oil that she had…and bake a small loaf of bread for her and her son to eat.  Then along comes this man, this stranger, this immigrant from another land that she knew nothing of.  A man who unabashedly and faithfully believes in and speaks for the God is Israel.  Whose ways and looks are foreign to her.  We know this man as the prophet Elijah.  He happens upon this woman and asks her to bring him a drink of water while she is in the middle of her certainly grief-filled task.  Remember…hospitality was the most important concept in those times.  People depended on the hospitality of others to survive and the way a person treated the stranger or immigrant was what defined who they were.  We know of nothing that she says at this point but we know that she brought him a cup a water.  Then Elijah asks for more than she is prepared to give.  He asks her for a piece of bread.  I have to imagine the look on her face of  “are you kidding me right now?!?”  Look at me!  I am clearly starving and have nothing.  All I have is this little bit of nothing and you want me to make bread for YOU with it?   Instead of for my son and me?  Who do you think you are?!?

            And then Elijah says, “Do not be afraid.”  Do as you said you were going to do but make me the bread first and bring it to me…then go and make some for yourself and your son.  ”Israel’s God, the Lord, says: The jar of flour won’t decrease, and the bottle of oil won’t run out until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.”  Oh…now this is different.  This man, this prophet, is offering her a promise from the Lord.  Do this for me…and you won’t go hungry.  AND…by the way…my God is SO powerful and SO faithful and SO amazing…that my God will send the rain and quench the thirst of the drought and the people.  This had to have been a difficult thing for this mother to do.  She had so very little, and yet, by giving the little that she did have, she was given a lot.  Her little was turned into a lot.  She stepped out on faith.  I imagine her thinking, “what if this could be real?  What if this man truly is speaking for God?  What if my child and I won’t die this day?  What if this will not my our “last supper?!?”  She turned this “what if” that WE typically allow fear to answer, into possibility.  Into hope.  The audacity of hope.  Our God is a God of hope and promise and love.  Even in our darkest hours, even in our deepest grief and sorrow…God reaches out to us and calls us to respond in hope.  It isn’t easy though.  Sometimes it just downright, for lack of a better word, sucks.  Life can be that way.  But…life WITH hope…even the tiniest glimmer of hope…presents possibilities and those possibilities live inside of us as people of hope.  We are named and called as people of God to answer…to step out in faith, hope and above all…love.  That is what we should be wrestling with when we are faced with “what if” questions.  Faith, hope and love are bigger than fear when we keep our eyes fixed on God and offer ourselves and the little that we have, to and for others.  The way that we care for the “least of these” people that live not only among our communities but outside of our communities is what set us apart as people of God.  If we aren’t answering that “what if” faithfully…in ways that would be pleasing to God…what are we doing? 

            In preparing for this message today, I did something I had never done before and I did some “crowdsourcing” on Facebook to see what others would recommend as movie examples that would highlight this message from scripture today.  I had quite a few different suggestions, but one in particular caught my attention.  Here is a clip that summarizes the message of this film.

<run the “Pay it Forward clip>

            This young, pre-teen boy, Trevor starts movement that reaches across the country.  One of my favorite quotes from the movie says that Paying it Forward is an “extreme act of faith in the goodness of people.”  The audacity of hoping and having faith in the goodness of people.  Children and youth always have the ability keep things so simple…and simple is what it all comes down to in thinking of how to treat each other and recognizing what others need.  If someone is thirsty, give them a drink.  If someone is hungry, give them food.  If someone is freezing, give them shelter.  Anne Frank was a child that faced real-life monsters outside her door…and yet she is quoted to say, “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.  How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”  Let that sink in just a moment.

            The movie that I thought of when preparing for this message today is one that changed my life forever when I was a teen in Youth Group in my home congregation.  “Places in the Heart” with a star-studded cast.  Sally Field won an Oscar for her role in this 1984 movie.  I don’t have a clip for you this morning, but if you are interested in a movie about the possibilities of hope and unlikely friendships with strangers…from unwanted and unimaginable circumstances.  I highly recommend it.  I had the opportunity to ask a question of Sally Field at her book signing in St. Louis last fall…it was a question about that movie and our present polarized country.  She answered it beautifully.  That movie changed my life and broke my heart open to the possibilities and the still, small voice inside me…that brought me to where I am, standing before you today.  Through its many lessons and illustrations…it opened a space for me to look at and answer my “what ifs” differently.

            So, beloveds, how are you going to answer your “what ifs?”  Will you rise to answer the audacious call of hope, faith and love of other?  Will you allow the life-giving possibilities that live within you to give life to others?  Do not be afraid. There is enough. In God’s abundant mercy, there is more than enough. Thanks be to God.  Amen.