Who has picked out your summertime reading? There is nothing like having a good and juicy book to read while you sit comfortably in an Adirondack chair or laying in a hammock. Well there is nothing better than summertime preaching because you can sit back and hear about the sagas found in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) or you can focus on the Jesus stories up in the Galilee.
So you can think of the next few weeks as a sermon series and I’ll be sharing with you the saga of the Prophet Elijah. At the close of a Passover Seder, Jews open a door entreating the prophet Elijah to return soon with the Messiah. When they do this they usually sing a song about Elijah:
Bim’hera yavoh aylenu
Im Mashiach ben David,
Bim’hera yavoh aylenu
Im Mashiach ben David,
Elijah the Prophet, Elijah the Tishbite, Elijah the Giladite, may he soon come to us with the Messiah, son of David.
Eliahu, or Elijah is one of the great prophets of Israel in the Hebrew Bible. He is known as a healer, a miracle worker, and a hero who stood up against evil kings and the false prophets of the Canaanite god, Baal. The next few weeks we will focus on some of the stories about Elijah, King Ahab and his wife Jezebel until finally we hear the story of how Elijah passes his mantel on to Elisha who takes up the reigns as Yahweh or God’s prophet.
I do want to issue a word of warning – often the ‘God of the Old Testament’ is viewed as an angry God. Don’t go there. We need to understand these texts in the time in which they were written which is to say, it was a time when ethical monotheism was taking hold amidst a plethora of many other pantheistic religions each believing in many gods, with a small g and it was common belief that the actions of the people moved a god to do all sorts of things to them because of their behavior.
The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament who is a God of salvation throughout time.
Chapter 17 in the book of 1 Kings begins with Elijah’s announcement to King Ahab of a drought. Ahab ruled the Northern Kingdom of Israel from 869-850 BCE. He was not a nice king; none of them really were in the Northern Kingdom. Ahab was the worst though. In fact in 1 Kings 16 it says, “Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.” You see Ahab married Jezebel from Sidon. (Which is today, Lebanon) She was an outsider to Israel and brought with her the many gods of Baal. She was bad news all the way around!!!
God sent him first to Wadi Cherith where ravens brought him bread and he drank from the wadi, but then that dried up so Plan B had to be put into effect. So here we begin today’s scripture….
“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.’ 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.”
“After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, ‘What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!’”
“But he (Elijah) said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?’ Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.’
The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, ‘See, your son is alive.’ So the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.’” Amen, here ends our scripture.
It’s curious that Elijah was sent out of Israel and into Sidon itself the very place where Jezebel hailed from, heartland of the Baal cult. And this woman had no means of economic support because she was a widow and her gods, the gods of Baal, weren’t protecting her. That’s a real bad place to be in. So she takes what’s left of her meal and oil and is going to make a final meal for her and her son. There was nothing left for them, they were facing a drought of their own and soon their lives would dry up too.
What Elijah did took a lot of chutzpah, but then again he believed in the God of Israel and what he did by asking the widow to make him some food with her very last morsels exhibited a lot of faith. We can be certain that she did not believe in Elijah’s God, but we can surmise that she was hanging on to a thread of hope that Elijah’s God wouldn’t fail. When you are faced with serious problems you will hang on to just about anything for hope. This time she clung to the right thing.
Elijah was a prophet whose job was to relay to the people within the borders of Israel and outside her borders the great and awesome power of the Lord God of Israel and to set them straight once again. He prophesied a drought in Israel, and God showed compassion upon Elijah not only once but a second time and it is in that second act of God’s compassion that we see Elijah, through God, bring life back from death. As Kate Huey, a UCC pastor says, “God rains mercy on a parched earth and dried-up lives.” Indeed hope is restored.
When we read stories like this, and there are so many others in the Bible and in everyday life, how can we ever doubt that God isn’t capable of restoring hope and life to us when we feel as if our lives have dried up mercilessly like the parched and cracked riverbed of a wadi? Like the widow at Zeraphath we too can cling on to a thread of hope.
There ARE times when we doubt, I know. Questions creep into our heads: When will this economic recession end? When will my pain go away? When will my depression cease? When, how long God, how long? But we must never give up hope that God is not raining mercy upon us at this very moment of our lives. When we look around there is abundant evidence that God is not far away but up close and very personal and active in our lives. God presence is through us and through others in compassionate acts of kindness from a simple hello, to a phone call, or a visit or maybe even a miracle of extraordinary measures.
This is a beautiful story of compassion and hope. It is in the miraculous resurrection that we evidence hope. Hope for a better day, hope for new life, and hope in all things to come.