Elijah and the WidowPosted: June 9, 2013
SLIDE 3: ELIJAH AND THE NORTHERN KINGDOM
For the next several Sundays the appointed lessons for worship come from the cycle of stories about the prophet Elijah. So allow me a couple of minutes to establish the background of the Elijah stories.
After the death of King Solomon in 931 BCE a civil war broke out and the Ten Northern Tribes split off from the Two Southern Tribes forming the Kingdoms of Israel in the North and Judah in the South. The Northern Kingdom began to drift further and further into idolatry. By about 865 BCE King Ahab, who had married, Jezebel, a princess of Tyre, installed the worship of the Canaanite god Baal in his capital of Samaria. Elijah a prophet of the Israelite God Yaweh predicted there would be a drought in Israel as punishment for the royal idolatry. Now remember there is a long dry season in Israel even when there isn’t a drought. Rain in the Holy Land is life giving and precious. So predicting a drought was serious business.
King Ahab did not like prophets who told him what he did not want to hear, so he vowed to make an end to Elijah, whom he described as a “troubler of Israel.” God then told Elijah to get out of town and hide out east of the Jordan River, where ravens would bring him food, and he could drink from the Brook Cherith. I don’t know about eating food brought by ravens, but eventually even the stream dried up, and Elijah needed another hide out. So God directed the prophet to hike to Zarephath a town in the region of Sidon all the way over on the Mediterranean Sea. God directed Elijah to seek out a widow who would allow him to stay with her and hide out from Ahab.
SLIDE 4: WIDOW IN DESPERATE STRAITS
The widow was in desperate straits. In the midst of a drought, she had a small child and almost no food. She was getting ready to make a small loaf of bread for herself and her child and then prepare to starve to death. While she was gathering sticks to make a fire for her oven, Elijah appeared and asked for a drink of water. The tradition of hospitality in the Middle East runs long and deep. So the woman prepared to bring the prophet a drink of water, and Elijah added, “Oh can you bring me a little bread too?” Without enough to feed herself and her child, the stranger was stretching the limits of hospitality.
SLIDE 5: HOW CAN I SHARE WHEN I DON’T FEEL I HAVE ENOUGH?
How can I share, when I don’t feel like I have enough? Isn’t that one of the principal issues in our world today? Can we afford to pay Bangladeshi textiles workers another 15 cents per garment? Can employers afford to provide health care for their workers? Can we manage to distribute the world’s food supply so everyone has enough to eat? And how much is enough?
SLIDE 6: HARD TO TRUST WHAT WE CANNOT SEE
Elijah’s reply to the widow were the same words God offered to Abraham and Hagar, Moses and the people of Israel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the shepherds of Bethlehem, and the women at the tomb: “Fear not.” Fear is the great enemy of faith. What would we do if we were not afraid? God says, do not be afraid, trust me. But it is so hard to trust what we cannot see. Elijah told the widow the jar of meal would not fail or the cruse of oil become empty until the drought ended. He did not promise her a hundred sacks of flour or 20 drums of oil. No, Elijah promised her enough.
SLIDE 7: GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD
Sort of like the promise of the Lord’s Prayer we pray so often, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But are we content with the Lord’s Prayer? We don’t want just today’s bread. We want tomorrow’s bread and next week’s bread, and next year’s bread, and while you’re at it we want three bed rooms with two and a half baths air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter, and while we’re at it how about a new car and a flat screen T.V. and upgraded internet and cable. We want, we want, we want. Give us this day our daily bread. How our lives might be different if we could recognize the difference between needs and wants.
SLIDE 8: FAITH AND FEAR
Faith and fear are two sides of our human natures. Faith grows out of our aspiration to fulfill a purpose greater than ourselves in life -our desire to make our lives count for something. Fear is part of the fight flight response of our limbic systems, the will to survive at all costs. Faith and fear are two sides of our will to live.
SLIDE 9: FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM
Fear upon occasion can even be useful. A healthy respect for tornados, poisonous snakes, electrical sockets, speed limits, guns, explosives can save our lives. The scriptures even speak of the fear of God. Proverbs 9:10-11 Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For knowledge of God will multiply your days and add years to your life.
SLIDE 10: HEALTHY RESPECT FOR DANGER
Healthy respect for danger is a God given survival mechanism. Obsessive, chronic anxiety, however, is debilitating and can contribute to inaction through fear or over reaction from excessive anger in the face of threat. Stress in brief manageable amounts can motivate creativity and peak performance. But prolonged or overwhelming stress over time wears down our immune systems contributing to hyper-tension and other stress related disorders.
SLIDE 11: BITTER SWEET
And then there are the fears that come with growing older. The fear of the losses that make life bitter sweet – the loss of physical vitality, youthful appearance, friends and loved ones who die before us – the losses that make life bitter sweet. Life’s bitter sweet losses, however, make life precious. If we lived forever, our present moments wouldn’t matter. We could waste our lives without consequence. Oh how I think back to minutes, hours, days I lost, in my youth because I did not appreciate the finitude of my days. Our mortality makes life precious. What would we do if we weren’t afraid? We would live, truly live now in the present moment. Trust God. God will provide. Live now, because now is the only moment we have.
SLIDE 12: BLAME
I don’t want to leave the story of Elijah and the widow without commenting upon the rescue of the widow’s child in verses 17 to 24. The text is vague about the cause and symptoms of the child’s illness except to say “there was no breath left in him.” The widow appropriately distressed by her son’s death began to blame Elijah. “What have you against me to cause the death of my son!”
Bill Tucker claims that one of the first rules of project management is to know who to blame. And when we are under stress we often resort to blame. Lee Wolter this past week wrote in one of the Still Speaking Devotionals about blame.
Blame works. If it weren’t effective, it wouldn’t be so popular. Like a potent narcotic it absolves any sense of personal responsibility for the mess we find ourselves in. If we can just find someone or something to blame, then we can ridicule it, fire it, divorce it, disinfect it, vote it out of office and finally end our pain and fear.
But blame, like narcotics, loses its effectiveness if overused. Blaming those who blame doesn’t work either. It just makes them double-down and blame more until spiritual rigor mortis inevitably sets in.
SLIDE 13: THE ANTIDOTE IS LOVE
The only known antidote is love. Love works better than blame. Love drains the strength of blame and never loses its effectiveness. Love lessens the fear, pain and shame behind blame and helps us to see and accept who we are and what we have done or haven’t done. Love allows us to let go of our end of the rope in a tug-of-war between blamer and blamed. Then the Blame Game ends.
SLIDE 14: MOUTH TO MOUTH RESUSCITATION
One of the problems with blame is it prevents us from doing anything constructive. And with a non-breathing child Elijah didn’t have any time to waste on meaningless blame. Instead he took the child and according to the text, “he stretched himself upon the child three times . . . and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.” Now again the description is vague, but many scholars believe Elijah may have performed the first recorded instance of mouth to mouth resuscitation.
SLIDE 15: IF YOU CAN KEEP YOUR HEAD
So this story of Elijah and the widow brings to mind Rudyard Kiplings poem “If:”
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all people doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
SLIDE 16: YOU WILL BE AN ADULT
Then yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – what is more – my child you will be an Adult!