Oct. 30 Sermon: Faith From the Outside

1 Kings 17:1-16  October 30, 2016     Year 3 Narrative Lectionary


We just heard the story of Taj a single mother telling us about the time in her life when she sometimes wouldn’t eat so there would be enough for her kids. She lived a life of scarcity. She used to feel shame going to the food shelf.

Now, she is in a different place. A place of abundance. Feeding chickens in her yard, baskets of food around her as she speaks to the camera.  Her story could have ended in so many different ways. She could have said, “I figured it out. I helped myself. You figure it out.” She could have said, “I’ve got to save all that I have now and keep it to myself so that will never happen to me again.” But instead, we meet a woman who has gone through a time of drought and here she is, in a time of abundance, helping to feed others. She has been transformed by her experience.

I think Taj is the woman from our story today.

The widow.  That’s what we’re told about her. She is defined by her lack. She does not have a husband- he has died. Then we find out she does not have enough food or water. She is preparing to die. She doesn’t have life. It’s a drought after all.

And who shows up on her doorstep?  The dude who caused the drought! The man, a prophet named Elijah, who told King Ahab that it wouldn’t rain unless he said so.  And God, in God’s great and infinite wisdom, then told Elijah he’d better hit the road. With news like that, King Ahab was bound to kill him. And just wait until the people around him found out.

So where does God send Elijah? Into enemy territory. Of course.

Now, a little historical background to get this story situated properly.  Israel has split into 2 kingdoms, the northern and the southern. Ahab was king of the northern kingdom where our story begins today. Earlier in the book of 1 Kings, it is said that King Ahab did evil in the eyes of God more than any other king that had come before him. He married Jezebel, a woman who worshipped Baal. The Bible tells us that Ahab did more to anger God than any other king. Now, that doesn’t mean that life in the northern kingdom was bad. The life of the northern kingdom was about as good as it was going to get during his time as king. But in the eyes of God, things were not good.

So God tells Elijah to announce a drought and then to run for his life. For a while, the ravens feed him twice a day. God’s own creation feeds this exiled prophet as commanded by God. Pretty soon, the wadi dries up and he is sent to the widow.

The widow, defined by her lack of a husband also doesn’t have much in the way of community. Widows were pushed to the outskirts of society, so she and her son would have been on their own.

She also lacked faith in God. Her first words to Elijah and his request for food are these: As the Lord your God lives…I don’t have it! I don’t have the food you request of me Your God, she says. Not hers.

Yet, it doesn’t run out, the food or the water. It’s a miracle.

But then her son becomes very ill and is on the verge of death and both the widow and the prophet have choice words to and about God: The widow says, invoking the name of God: 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! Elijah takes her son and addresses God from his private room, O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?”

They both call out to God or accuse God out of scarcity. Out of fear. Out of lack of evidence of God’s faithfulness.

When have you suffered a drought? When has your faith been dried up, waiting to hear from God? When have you wondered how you will get by? Or when have you called out to God in anguish and your prayer has gone unanswered? Perhaps your loved one died.

I want you to notice something about today’s story. It doesn’t begin with “God provided for the widow and the prophet in all circumstances. The end.”  Today’s story, as far away from your life as it may seem, is just like your story and my story. God provides again and again and again. Oh, the stream dried up? Try this next. Oh, you’re hungry? Try this. And around each bend, there is another miracle. And then another. Astounding miracles of healing and everyday ordinary miracles, like eating. Like hearing about God through an enemy. Like negotiating with an enemy. Like finding community with someone you swore you didn’t like.

Trusting in God, having faith in God comes in fits and starts, doesn’t it? And it’s the foreigner, the outsider, the enemy that preaches to Elijah who has been driven from his homeland. It’s the widow, the woman who lacks, who is no longer hungry, no longer on the verge of death – it’s the widow whose son was certainly almost dead who proclaims the work of the living God through Elijah. This woman who does not believe in God, she says, Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.

God’s faithfulness was present in the woman’s actions, in Elijah’s actions. God’s faithfulness is proclaimed through the woman’s actions and words.

So on this All Saints’ Sunday, I ask you who is the saint in this story?  Or is there more than one? It’s easy to get caught up in limiting descriptions of sainthood.

It’s not about good behavior or a lack of bad behavior that designates saints.  It’s about God acting in our lives. It’s about what God can do with nothing.  It’s about what God can do with ordinary people, with people in full-on survival mode. It’s about what God can do in a woman who didn’t know God yet acted in faith she didn’t know she had.  She acted on promise that was given. She was told there would be enough, and there was. She didn’t have anything to go on but this stranger’s proclamation.

We are all saints – living into the promise we can’t always articulate but we know is true, is there, is always there because it’s a promise from God.  So it’s through simple acts each day. Our stuttering belief. Our week-kneed faith. God works with it.  God is working in the scarcity of the stark hospital room, in the lonely lunchrooms, at the silent dining room tables, in the midst of fights and despair, working out abundance. Working out life.

And when we’ve lost all hope, when we can’t remember the promise through the tears of our grief, the balled up anger in our hearts, the railing anxiety – God calls us to the table, to eat what at first appears to be a supper of scarcity, a last supper. A little chunk of bread, a drop of wine dripping off the bread. But it is enough. It is more than enough. It is jaw-dropping abundance. It is life-from-death.