2016-10-30 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
“Unlikely Places and Faces”
1 Kings 17:1-24
We move ahead 100 years in the GodStory from last week…It’s 900 BCE and David’s empire has lost its lustre and though his son Solomon did his best, his 700 wives/300 “secondary wives”/concubines complicated his life and divided his heart and the kingdom and the united, once-strong, 12-tribe monarchy is scattered and torn asunder…the southern and northern kingdom lines are drawn again, and a variety of kings rule in various regions of Israel.
One of the strongest kings emerges in the north…in the northern urban centre of Samaria…the name’s King AHAB and he’s built a strong economy and military batallion and as often is the case, where there is much power and wealth, so there is much depravity. Ahab’s Dad, Omri, is remembered as “doing more evil in the sight of the LORD than all who came before him.” But Ahab took his Dad’s wicked ways one step further and is quoted as “doing more evil than ALL who were before him!”
Ahab married the wicked Jezebel who hailed from the Northern coast…she loved her rain-god Ba-al and had the King wrapped ‘round her finger thus creating a political-religious tour de force that praised the gods of rain, oppressed the poor and celebrated and reinvigorated the gruesome tradition of child-sacrifices.
So it’s no surprise that the promise of blessing in Israel and Israel being that nation that is to bless the ends of the earth is in deep jeopardy.
God’s in need of another Moses….to shake his fist against the evil empire and pronounce the Word of the Lord against the warlords of the day…
Enter Elijah the Tishbite from po-dunksville…an obscure rural town called Tishbe.
Elijah pronounces judgment on Ahab & Jezebel and their evil kingdom.
“As the Lord the God of Israel LIVES – – there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word!” [ take THAT, rain god! ]
Ahab and Jezebel shrug (who is this Tishbite and why should we care?)
And Elijah is told by God to run and hide in the wilderness of Wadi, 30 miles east of Evil Empire headquarters.
For a year, Elijah wanders, prays and waits. He is fed by ravens (magpies?!) and drinks from the Wadi river. And lo and behold, his prophetic words of judgment come true! The rivers and valleys dry up…his babbling brook turns into a dust bowl.
Fearing for his life and unsure of his future, Elijah hears another word from the Lord.
Go….to a land flowing with milk and honey and there I shall…
“Go…to Zarephath which belongs to Sidon and live there, for I have commanded a widow there to feed you!”
Elijah wasn’t sure if it was brain dehydration or the 24-hour flu from all that 2nd-hand raven food…but he wondered…
Zarephath? Jezebel’s hometown stomping grounds? Ummmm, don’t you want me to steer clear of Evil Jez? What good could come from me being there?
And even if I do travel the 60 miles…(in the blazing heat with no food or water)…
You want me stay with a widow?
I’m already broke as a joke…and you want me to find refuge in a widow’s care (during a famine)?
Elijah weighs his options. Die in the desert, or die in the outskirts of Sidon where the “Lord told me so.”
Errrgg. He packs his satchel and starts a-walkin’.
It takes 7 days travel…parched and exhausted, he meets a poor woman gathering kindling at Sidon’s town gates.
He cries out… “Bring me water…bring me a morsal of bread!”
The widow knows of Elijah’s reputation and though she doesn’t share his religion convictions, she chooses to humour the prophet.
“As the LORD YOUR God lives, I have nothing baked, a handful of meal in a jar, a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”
Elijah pleads with her and musters up all his strength to pronounce words of promise…
“DO NOT BE AFRAID! Go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake and afterwards, make more 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 LORD sends rain on the earth.
The widow did as Elijah said…and this mini-community of faith shared life and bread together for many days….the jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail…according to the WORD of the LORD.
>>>>> We’ve heard the rest of the story…it’s not happily ever after…the widow’s boy dies (her only hope for any kind of future), Elijah pleads with God and literally lays his life down for the boy…and the boy’s life is restored…and the widow believes in Israel’s living God – – glorifying YHWH for the true words that God had put in Elijah’s mouth.
* * * * *
What’s the good news here for us north American Christians at FBC 2900 years later?
Do we find ourselves in places of desperation and despair? On the verge of eating our last meal? [ maybe, but doubtful…the closest I ever came to being on the streets was… ]
So, what is the good news here?
The good news can’t simply be an exhortation to “be like Elijah” and draw an “S” on our chest…leap tall buildings or jump through rings of fire.
Elijah goes down in biblical history as a superhero. Mocking the gods of Ba-al and calling down fire from heaven…whisked away in a chariot of fire and leaving earth in a blaze of Glory. He even gets 2nd Testament “props” as he shows up alongside Moses at the Mount of Transfiguration.
We can’t all be Elijah…but we can pursue the “Elijah way”… and that’s where the good news comes in…
The good news is that as a foreshadowing to the way of Jesus…Elijah’s faith and fortitude aren’t forged in God’s Gym or Bible Avengers Academy, pumping iron with all the other superheroes of the time.
Nope! Elijah’s formative faith is forged in the unspectacular context of a widow’s 1-room shack.
Elijah’s heart is shaped in humility as he’s mentored by a woman who shows him self-less hospitality when he is hungry and homeless.
Elijah’s obedience is honed in the day to day struggle alongside a woman on welfare, joining in the ordinary rituals of patting together one more flatcake – – holding his breath as his bowl scrapes the bottom of the meal jar…or those nervous seconds as he tips the jug and waits for something to drizzle out.
– Faith and obedience…spiritual formation happens in pretty humble digs!
– Are we ok with this scenario? Faith and Obedience formed in mundane places?
>>>>>If so, our prayer might be – –
O God of providence and care…get us to the doorstep of some unlikely allies this week — help us to forge faith in those places where we least expect it…among those who we would NOT be prone to call friend or neighbour…
Teach us of the reality that the meaningful, life-changing lessons of faith are not always taught in the flashy and glamorous settings of universities and institutions of “higher education”, but in the ordinary, “homely” places of sticks, flour and a little oil…
Eugene Peterson says: “The Elijah way…purges our imaginations of this world’s assumptions on how life is lived, on what counts in life. Over and over again, God the Holy Spirit uses prophets to separate his people from the lies and illusions they have become accustomed to and put us back on the path of simple faith and obedience and worship of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
[The Way of Jesus, p. 126 ]
Oh God, purge our imaginations today…this week…keep us centered through worship, word, fellowship…working alongside unlikely allies…
And because of the humility, compassion and courage that we learn in these places,
may we be known in this city, as a people who continue to speak of a living God…
A people who are discerning the life-changing, soul-shaping presence of God in ordinary places…amongst friends, yes, but strangers too!
Let’s close with a prayer that Elijah may have prayed during his 2-year internship with the widow and her son, Hannah’s prayer…a prayer of gratitude and praise in the wake of a time of desperation and revelation…
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.
“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
for not by might does one prevail.
The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered;
the Most High will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king,
and exalt the power of his anointed.