November 04, 2012 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato
God Story, Part 9 of 37
Texts: 1 Kings 17:1-24 (gospel text: Luke 4:24-30)
Focus character: Elijah
We have just come through the readings of a “pair of kings”. . . KING David who started off fairly ordinary, the youngest child, a longshot for the throne who gets anointed and appointed for kingship and becomes (even through his folly and failure) a “man who was after God’s own heart.” And then last week we lived in the world of King Solomon’s prayer. . . King Solomon, the wisest of all the kings, who (even through his folly and failure) goes down in history as a King who led the people of God as a united “Israel” for 40 years. . . the tribes were united, the economy was strong, God’s temple was built and all was well.
It’s kind of like the glory years of the Edmonton Oilers in the 80’s eh? [84,85,87,88,90] That era when this city was truly the “city of champions”. . . Wayne Gretzky strolling the streets of Edmonton. . . Mark Messier and the boys hanging out at local restaurants and pubs. . . the Lord Stanley’s Cup nestled in the good and glad hands of Canadians. A mere 25 years ago! [Ah the glory years. . . those were the days!]
It seems that all “glory eras” have an expiration date hmm? King Solomon’s glorious reign ended with a divided Kingdom. And thus the glory years of the father-son Kings was done. . . and from then on, it would be a series of mediocore reigns. . . and then in 870 BCE, King Ahab becomes King of Israel (20 year reign). And though King Ahab in the history books, is noted as a King who kept Israel rich and powerful, in our sacred text, we read that he probably sacrificed his soul in the process.
We pick up the God story today in 1 Kings 16 where we read that Ahab “did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him” (16:30). The sins of the previous Kings were “trivial” and in marrying Jezebel, the daughter of one of the Baal-worshipping Kings in Sidon, Ahab became a full on, whole-hearted Baal worshipper. Thus we also read that “Ahab did more to arouse the anger of the Lord…than did ALL the kings of Israel before him” (16:33)
Doesn’t it feel like chaos again? ? The voices of chaos, the choices for evil. . .
yet another fall for God’s people. . . falling into the hands of a corrupt, YHWH-defying King and being left in a state of disarray, disdain and despair. . .
But as we have learned from the stories over the past 2 months. . . God is still on the move. God is working behind the scenes and in FRONT of the scenes. . . God is continuously the protagonist in the God story. . . raising up for himself a people who will “bless all the nations of the earth.” [God will get what God wants!]
And in the midst of today’s setting of chaos, God parachutes in Elijah. We don’t know much about Elijah. In fact some biblical commentators wonder if there’s a section of the sacred text here that is missing because it really does feel like Elijah comes out of nowhere. And for such an important figure in the first testament scriptures, it seems strange that there’s not much of a back story. But remember, this is not a 400 college-level History text, this is the word of God. . . the story of God’s people. . . it’s an imperfect book that shares the story of an imperfect people who are perfected and protected by grace.
Thus all we know about Elijah is that he is a Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead. From this we can discern that he is one of God’s people. . . he is a part of the people of Israel – – – there is a “John the Baptist” feel to this prophet. . . he’s a little wild and unpredictable! He seems to be a loner, a crusty, crotchety old man, kind of grumpy and miserable, probably has chronic B.O., prone to bouts of depression and angst. . . but with a good heart. (kind of reminds me of some of Clint Eastwood’s roles in the past decade million dollar baby; grand torino: crotchety old man with a good heart).
And (like good old “clint”) he must have had some backbone (go ahead, make my day). . . for in chapter 17 we learn that Elijah gets to the temple courts of Ahab, and in the midst of a temple that had been converted to Baal worship (worshipping the God of thunder and rain), Elijah cries out: “in the name of the LORD, the God of Israel, there will be no more dew or rain, except at my word” (17:1).
And you might expect YHWH to make this a magical moment for Elijah, but instead we read that Elijah is commanded to flee! (17:3).
And for the next 3 years, Elijah would be on the run, hiding from the wrath and fury of King Ahab and his Baal-lovin’ wife Jezebel.
But the good news for Elijah, and the good news for us as the “new” people of God, is that YHWH does not just expect Elijah (or us) to disappear into some sinkhole in the face of fear, threat, and scarcity. . . God instead urges us to ENCOUNTER providence. . . to be transformed by this providence, and then to join God in the restoration of the desperate places and spaces that have been parched & broken by sin and the ways of chaos.
This is probably a good spot to remind us of the “big 3” theme words that I have suggested that we “carry” with us as we move through the God Story this year:
PROVIDENCE – TRANSFORMATION – RESTORATION. (the yr. of living storying-ly)
And as we move through vv. 4-24 of today’s text, how might our encounter with God’s living word provide for us, transform our perspective on how we live and act in the world, and then empower us to pay attention to the ways we are to be co-restorers with God in God’s “slow but sure” plan to make all things right.
Probably one of the biggest challenges for us this morning as we try to “dwell in the world of this story” is to be able to get to a place where we feel like we are “on the run” in the face of fear, threat or scarcity.
My hunch is that we are pretty good at being on the run in a “look at me, I’m so busy” kind of way, but do we also recognize that even as North American Christians we live in a world of fear, threat and scarcity?
What are we on the run from?
What threatens us?
What fears lurk on the surface or just below?
And what’s scarce in our lives these days?
Perhaps it’s not wondering where the next meal comes from. . . but perhaps in our lives there’s a scarcity of hope,
a scarcity of health,
a scarcity of security,
a scarcity of of confidence,
a scarcity of relationships. . .
[in church-land, there is a scarcity of examples! What does it mean to be a mid-sized church in Edmonton in the 21st century?]
As we allow ourselves to recognize places of fear/threat/scarcity in our lives individually and corporately, then today’s Elijah story offers us good news:
The first “morsel” of good news is this. . .
i) God sustains in the desert
vv. 4-7 The first place that God sends Elijah is to the desert, East of the Jordan River. Can you imagine for a year, being fed by the leftovers dredged up by ravens (it’s like the magpies in Edmonton bringing you your meat and bread!). At least the water was fresh. . .we read that Elijah drank from a brook. What are the lessons that Elijah learned in the desert over this year? Probably the same lessons that we might learn from God in the barren places of our lives. . . when we are alone, when life looks and feels grey, when the regular places that we get life and sustenance from seem far away or pulled away from us, what does God want us to learn?
You can place your own reflections here. . . perhaps the message God wants us to hear is: “I, YHWH, am enough.” “I am who I am.” “I will provide for your needs.” “You are not alone.”
And then we read that Elijah’s desert time is done. . . the brook dries up because of the drought and the “word of the LORD” sends Elijah into enemy territory, the land of Zarephath. Now the background info here is that Zarephath is a region in Sidon, the land that was known for Baal worship, the land where Queen Jezebel came from. You’d think that after some desert time, God might send Elijah for fellowship/solace with some of God’s people huh? Nope. . . .instead there’s another sustenance “lesson” in the cue. . . we learn that – –
ii) God sustains through “the THEM”
We live in a time where it’s pretty easy to come up with “us and them.” If you’re not like us, if you don’t think like us, if you don’t act like us, if you don’t believe like us, you must be “the them” (aka: the enemy or one who is working against us). So can you imagine the surprise (and disdain) when Elijah got the word that his next place of sustenance was to be in enemy territory, with a Baal worshipper. . . and if that was not bad enough, it was a widowed, woman Baal worshipper. This woman was no Rachel Ray, energetic, gushing with ideas and recipes, a lively, exhuberant cook. This was a woman of many sorrows, who for the last month had watched her cooking supplies literally “turn to dust” and was looking in the face of her sick and only son, carefully rationing out bread and water so they might die at the same time.
And in the midst of this desperation and scarcity, Elijah finds her and pleads with her for water and bread. . . he utters the promise of YHWH: “Do not be afraid. . . . for the God of Israel will provide” (16:13).
And this widowed, Baal-worshipping, woman, obeys the “word of the LORD” and the three desperate and dying people are miraculously sustained.
But today’s story of providence doesn’t end there! This YHWH worshipping prophet and this Baal-worshipping Widow and her son live together for 2 years (scandal!). And in the final months of their time together we read that the son becomes deathly ill. . . he dies. . . and in the wake of his death the widow cries out to Elijah “I thought you trusted me!? I thought you cared for me!?. . . is this your farewell gift to me? To put my sins in my face and kill my only son, my only hope for a future?”
What will Elijah do? Elijah, a prophet sustained in the desert and sustained by a “supposed enemy” makes his move and – –
iii) . . . “practices resurrection” – – – with meager means and desperate, prostrate pleas
Elijah does what we hope we might have the courage to do. . .
HE DOES something! This is not the time for relationship-analysis or religious wrangling (ie: I wonder if I do this, I might win a convert to YHWH?)
No! Impulsively and boldy, Elijah bolts forth into the unknown. He takes the dead body into his arms, seeks solitude with God, and cries out:
“What are you doing here, why bring tragedy at such at time as this? What are you thinking?!? Have you gone mad!?!”
And he stretches out his body over the body of the boy, 3 times, in some strange form of desperate pleading and prayer.
And the boy comes back to life.
Elijah (in a phrase made popular by the poet Wendell Berry & the writer Eugene Peterson) “practices resurrection.” It’s the first resurrection story in the first testament.
And the widow receives her boy from Elijah and says “yes to YHWH.”
Now Elijah doesn’t pack up the semi-trailers and embark on some nationwide ministry tour [Elijah’s “Back from the Dead” Tour!]. . .the reality is that Elijah continues a life on the run, moving in and out of states of depression and darkness. But this was truly a formative 3-year experience for Elijah that would inform and “re-form” the rest of his life.
The promise for us today is that in the midst of fear, threat and scarcity, God will sustain us. The miracle for us is that like Elijah & the widow, we, too, meet and live together around a table that nourishes us. . .
Today, we gather at the table of the Lord. And we ALL come with needs and hungers. . . to THIS table of sustenance! This is not only symbol and remembrance of God’s love for us, this is a practical, tangible and supernatural way for us to receive God’s sustenance (food!) through Christ’s bread and Christ’s cup.
And as we are filled and renewed, we are sent. . . filled with the resurrection life, blessed to be a blessing, laying down our lives in prayer and humility, joining God in God’s dream for the world, so that God’s will might be done here on earth as is in heaven. . . and on All Saint’s Sunday, we are not alone! Joined by heavenly saints (like Elijah, David, Solomon, Hannah), cheered on by the saints who even sit near you in the pews this morning. . . look upward, look outward, look beside you – –
Can you look them in the eye and say. . .thanks be to God?
God, in the midst of fear, threat and scarcity, says: I am with you. Creation, nature, and even the “them” will provide for you. There will be enough. . . eat, drink. . .
do not be afraid.
God of compassion,
By your power, Elijah provided bread and oil for the widow and her son.
By faith in you, the widow provided food and water for Elijah.
Give us hearts to PROVIDE & RECEIVE for/from one another: those within this community of faith and those that worship from afar. . . those outside the four walls of this worship space – –
And we pray that in providing and in receiving, we too, might experience the unimaginable power of God, through the one who has provided life itself, your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.