+ Pentecost 2 +
Sermon Preached at Messiah Lutheran Church on June 10, 2007
May the Word of God dwell in you richly. Amen.
When I read the Hebrew Scripture from 1st Kings appointed for this morning, something seemed to be missing for me. Listen again to the reading about Elijah from chapter 17… After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house became ill. “After this?” After what? For me this part of the story wasn’t enough. What happened before the woman’s son became ill and died?
A reading from 1 Kings 17:8-16: 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.” 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.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 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.” 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. 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.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 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.
Wow, that was enough to bring perspective and context to the reading we heard earlier. Enough, a word that has resonated for me as I’ve prepared for this sermon, in two ways ….
· First the “troubled” enough – the interjection used to express impatience or exasperation,
· And secondly the “grace filled” enough – the adjective, adverb or pronoun that expresses adequacy, sufficiency and satisfaction.
Enough… what a juxtaposition of having “had” enough and being “given” enough.
In the expanded reading today, we can see that the woman of Zarephath has clearly had enough! Enough suffering and hunger to want to die. Desperate need haunts the woman’s very existence for she is a widow, or in Hebrew almanah. She is poor and on the fringes of society. Harold V. Bennett sums up the widow’s situation a bit more bluntly, as a woman whose adult male relatives, if any were still living, were either too poor to help her or wanted nothing to do with her. This social feature of her predicament invites suspicion and denigration of this person. It also breaks ground for the exploitation of this individual by other social actors in the biblical communities.
This woman’s story is significant within the Hebrew Scriptures for who she was, where she was, with whom she interacted, and what she did. Like most women and nearly all widows in Scripture, the widow of Zarephath is nameless. As such, she “functions in the narrative as a cipher for the powerless, un-credentialed, disadvantaged and hopeless” according to biblical scholar Walter Brueggermann. And yet God uses her help to keep alive one of God’s greatest prophets, Elijah.
And Elijah’s encounter with the widow of Zarephath starkly presents two different ways of looking at the world:
- through the eyes of faithful abundance, and
- through the eyes of doubtful scarcity.
Within the span of these few verses, the widow moves from
- destitution to wholeness,
- from death to life,
- from mere knowledge of God’s existence,
- to proclamation of God’s words of truth.
In the encounter between Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, desperation (she has had enough) is changed to really having enough. A jar of meal and jug of oil, enough for one last meal never run out, providing enough food until the famine is past. Then, in what seems like a cruel twist of fate (as if she hasn’t already suffered enough), after having survived the famine her only son dies. Elijah uses the power given by God (just enough) to restore him to life. God’s rich compassion and life-giving power shown in the raising of the widow’s son from death, changes her world from one of trouble (Enough!) to one of grace (truly having enough).
What makes this story all the more remarkable, is that the woman wasn’t even a Hebrew widow; she was from Zarephath, in the region of Sidon on the coast of Phoenicia in the heart of Baal country. Zarephath was a thriving commercial capital, known for its export of various goods including grain and oil. Even given a drought, it is ironic that the widow would be lacking in the very products which were in such abundance nearby. Additionally, Baal was the principal Canaanite god, who would have been perceived to be dead during a drought, unable to prevent the drought or to protect and sustain those most vulnerable like the widow, who needed protection the most.
In the Gospel today we find ourselves in the town of Nain, which means vale of Beauty, some 25 miles southwest of Capernaum. The two readings share many parallels…
· both Elijah and Jesus come to a gate,
· both involve a widow whose only son has died, and
· both involve the dead son being given life and returned to his mother.
Of particular note are Elijah’s prophetic actions repeated to some degree by Jesus in the Gospel. I find the similarities to be striking:
Elijah religiously defiles himself by touching the dead boy’s body.
· Jesus religiously defiles himself by touching the dead boy’s casket.
Elijah covers the dead boy with his body.
· Jesus covers the dead boy with his word.
Elijah begs God to bring life from death.
· Jesus’ own word brings life from death… for only God has the power to bring new life.
The resurrection at Zarephath brings the true confession of the witnesses that Elijah is a prophet of God.
· The resurrection at Nain fails to bring the true confession of the witnesses that Jesus is more than a prophet.
As an Easter people, we know that God had had enough. Jesus is sent as God on earth for us and His own resurrection is enough, bringing the true confession of who He is for us to witness to.
Statistics from the 2005 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that over 50% of women above the age of 55 (or more than 35 million women) are or have been widowed. A striking figure, but loneliness and despair are neither gender, or age based. All of us sitting here this morning at some time and perhaps a few this very moment (even in the midst of this assembly) have or are feeling the pangs of isolation, the heartbreak of having had enough, whatever the reason.
· We live in a society that has a “multitude of means” but not enough to care for the widowed, orphaned, homeless or oppressed.
· We live in a society that has “wealth of wisdom” but not enough to bring an end to war and violence.
· We live in a society that has “amazing assets” but not enough to bring an end to hunger and poverty.
· We live in a society that has “resplendent resources” but not enough to provide medical care for all.
· We live in a society that has “fortunes of freedom” but not enough to find out why so many are living imprisoned.
· We live in a society that has “countless communities of faith who gather in worship” but not enough to share the good news with the 75% of Northern New Englander’s who have no church affiliation.
We know that isolation, sin and brokenness take many shapes and some people have just plain had enough. The assembly that worships here comes from communities of great wealth, tangible even in the parking lot here and in our own homes. And yet in the midst of all these abundant riches, many are empty, poor in spirit and relationship, seeking to fill a hunger at the core of their being. New clothes, a bigger house, that promotion at work, the right school or activity for their children, a perfect vacation to rekindle family connections or a strained relationship never seem to be enough.
We might not be down to our last meal, or mourning in a funeral procession, but we as individuals and greater community are truly hungry and empty in our mourning. Jesus simply had compassion for the lonely, grieving and the disenfranchised and provided enough help when he saw someone in need. The people in our lessons and many around us don’t know Him enough.
Our lessons from the two widowed women show that while they lived centuries apart, they had had enough due to the brokenness and hard circumstances of their lives. And yet despite their geographic, demographic and time differences, they were open and faithful to God’s presence in their lives and were blessed with enough.
- The Word shows that in loosening the strangle-hold on our resources we experience a deeper connection with the abundant resources of the God of the universe. Enough.
- Where the world sees poverty, weakness and abandonment, God provides daily sustenance, strength and acceptance. Enough.
- May we be the women from Zarephath and Nain and come to understand that the riches of this life are not found among the powerful, beautiful, and privileged, but among us in abundance by the One who watches over, cares for and sustains the widow and all others whom society ignores. Enough.
God listens and responds. While our prayers may be answered in ways far different than we initially imagine, God is touched by our prayers and responds creatively with enough. Our role as people of God is to seek and live in the place where our gifts meet the world’s needs. In discerning what enough means in our lives, we experience God’s gracious abundance and presence in every moment. When we live out our deepest gifts and callings, we are transformed and we have enough living in God’s amazing grace.
A poem by Lutheran Pastor Dan Bollerud speaks to the amazing grace in which we are called:
The small child places the feather in the stream
watching it float down the rough seas and the log jams of leaves
imagining the perils at each turn
and the maneuvering of the crew as they bring the ship around
with each new dip and swirl in the foot wide seas
and she knows… she knows what can and can’t be done
what is and what is not real
but does not limit herself to these
she knows instead the power of believing
beyond the realms of the reality of this world
into a world ruled by love
the love of God, which says
The texts for today share God’s powerful Word, the healing of Jesus Christ, and that the presence of the Holy Spirit is enough to restore wholeness and life. This is the kind of God we have… one who upholds the orphan and widow, who turns mourning into dancing. We, too, are witnesses to that…like Elijah, Jesus has the healing power of God, the power to raise a widow’s son from death. You are covered with His word, too, and He brings resurrection to those places in your life which have died.
As God’s people gathered in this place, the word about Jesus, giver of life, spreads. We learn that the ministry of Jesus and ours, is about addressing real human need in compassion. We know and experience God as far more than a prophet. We know him as the Word made flesh, Immanuel, God with us, graciously sharing, providing, and blessing us with enough to overcome all the messiness of this world …
Water of life that brings cleansing and forgiveness… enough.
Word that brings comfort and faith through grace … enough.
Grains of wheat gathered, baked and broken for you… enough.
Fruits of the vine gathered, fermented and shed for you… enough.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.