Sunday, November 11, 2018

Bite-sized Miracle

Installation of Pr. Paul Erdal
Calvary Lutheran Church, Perham, MN
Pentecost 25/November 11, 2018
I Kings 17:8-16

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

In our first reading from First Kings, chapter 17, it’s hard to tell who in this small cast of characters is the most desperate.

Is it Elijah, the prophet, who had just confronted Israel’s King Ahab…Ahab whom we’re told had done “evil in the sight of the LORD more than all [the kings] who were before him.”  (I Kings 16:30)?

Elijah was desperate because he’d just informed wicked King Ahab that God was bringing upon his kingdom a devastating, long-term drought.   Elijah was desperate because horrible kings like Ahab don’t like getting news like that, and the urge to “kill the messenger” is very real….so real that Elijah had to flee to the wilderness near the Jordan River, where God promised protection and survival in the midst of the impending drought.

Elijah is desperate here…but so are the other two characters in this story—starting with that widow in a village in Sidon, a Gentile territory bordering Israel.

This woman is desperate because her husband has died, and no available man has married her….so she’s experiencing a drought in a time and place with no social safety net to ensure her survival….

….and her desperate situation is made all the worse by the fact that there’s this third character in the story—her dependent child, a son, who’s counting on her—his only hope for food, water, shelter and safety in a time of drought-caused famine.

So right off the bat we encounter three desperate souls here in this story from I Kings 17:   Elijah, a man on the run…the widow who has no means of survival…and her son, who’s utterly dependent on his desperate mother.

What heart-wrenching pathos meets us here---three desperate souls, who for all the world appear to be “goners”—thrown together by horrific circumstances, with no escape route, no way out of their tragic situation….

But here’s where things get really interesting.

Because Elijah enters her village, and immediately engages the widow….asking first for some water, and then demanding “a morsel of bread” as well.

Elijah’s brazen “ask” elicits from the woman perhaps the most pathetic sentence in all of Scripture:   “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.”  (I Kings 17:12)

Eat it and die!   Have your last meal with your son…and then wait for death to take you both!

Elijah hears this…and then responds in a shocking way:  “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….”

My gut reaction is to say, “the gall of this man Elijah!”--to order her to make him a cake from her meager provisions, and feed him before tending to her son and herself!  Typical man! 

But Elijah says more here, adding to his command an amazing promise:  “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.”

Here--these three desperate souls were bound together by more than just their dire straits.   The LORD, the God of Israel had come a calling in this Gentile village in Sidon—the home territory of wicked King Ahab’s even more despicable wife, Queen Jezebel.

Here, precisely when and where things looked absolutely hopeless, the God of Israel was already at work…to tend the needs of these three desperate ones, binding them together not just in their deep hunger, but also in their capacity for life-changing, future-opening faith.

In the light of what happened—the bottomless jar of meal, the never-empty jug of oil—in the light of this astonishing miracle, we hear Elijah’s seemingly selfish command “make some bread for me first”—not as the order of a brazen, privileged man….but as an invitation to transformative faith.

“Make me a little cake of it,” says Elijah….because there will be plenty more cakes where that came from, for you and your hungry son.

God was going to take care of them miraculously, all right—but not by way of an overwhelmingly spectacular miracle.

God could have turned everyone’s heads in Zarephath by plopping down out of heaven a 10,000 bushel grain bin right next to thousand-gallon tank of cooking oil in the widow’s own backyard.  

But God didn’t do that…God didn’t put on a show to turn all their heads and make all the widow’s neighbors go, “Wow!”…..

….but rather in the intimacy of the widow’s humble home, and in the daily-ness of life in her small household…the miracle unfolded, in bite-sized chunks that fed not just their stomachs, but that nourished their faith as well.

And isn’t that just like the God of Israel, who is our God—and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

The abundance of God—which is oh, so real—comes to us most often NOT in ways that overwhelm our senses…but rather via unexpected channels that increase our capacity to trust God in each and every moment of every day we’re alive.

Such faith opens our eyes to see God at work in some of the last places we’d ever expect:  
·       in the unforeseen “God moments” that surprise us day by day
·       in the daunting problems and the perplexing challenges that seem beyond on us, though not beyond God…
·       in all the small, barely perceptible interventions of God in our lives….
·       in the simplest of gifts--like water and words and bread and wine…..
·       in the go-for-broke generosity of the poor, like the widow’s mite in our Gospel….
·       and always, always, always in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for us and for our salvation.

Dear brother Paul….dear people of God…this same God who revealed himself in the hovel of a forlorn widow….this same God is the source of your life and your only reason for having been called and enlightened and sanctified and gathered into this community of faith…..this same One has brought you together as pastor and people, fellow-servants of our abundant God.

Martin Luther, was born 535 years ago yesterday in the village of Eisleben, Germany.   What you may not know is that 63 years later, Luther’s life came full circle when he died in the very same village of Eisleben in 1546. 

In the room where Luther breathed his last, a scrap of paper was later found that read:  “We are beggars, this is true”—likely the last words of the Great Reformer.

Although these words may not sound like a shout of triumph, they do bear stirring witness to something deep in Luther’s way of living, trusting, serving and finally dying.  

I like that definition of the church that goes like this:  “Christians are beggars helping other beggars find Bread.”

The most powerful gesture whereby we express what it means to live each day by faith in God looks like this:  our hands cupped together, the way we will shortly come to the Lord’s Table, a posture for beggars who always look to God for whatever might be the next good thing that God  has in store for us.

We are beggars—this is true—beggars who always know where the Bread comes from.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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