“The word of the Lord came to him” (1 Kings 17:8).
Whenever I read a text like our scripture lesson this morning, someone will inevitably comment: “I sure wished the Lord spoke to people and worked miracles today like God did back in the Old Testament.”
I usually respond: “I believe God still speaks to people. The problem is we’re not listening. And I believe God still works miracles. The problem is we’re not paying attention.”
Go now to Zarephath and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you when you arrive (1 Kings 17:9).
Notice that Elijah is listening. He sets out and goes immediately to Zarephath. And when he comes to the gate of the town, just as the Lord had said, he meets a widow who is gathering a couple of sticks to build a fire for dinner. He called to her and said, “Pour me a glass of water. And while you are at it, bring me a morsel of bread.”
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.’
See, like you and me sometimes, she must not have been listening when the Lord spoke, when the Lord commanded her to feed Elijah when he arrives. Or perhaps she heard the command; she just doubted the command. She questioned the command. She feared the command, for she knew that she only had enough flour and oil to make one final meal for her and her son. Then, in the midst of the drought and famine in the land, they would surely die.
Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid” (1 Kings 17:13).
Old Testament Professor Katherine Schifferdecker imagines her saying:
“Easy for you to say! You’re not the one preparing to cook one last meal for yourself and your son before you die. You’re not the one who has watched your carefully-hoarded supply of flour and oil relentlessly dwindle day-by-day, week-by-week, as the sun bakes the seed in the hard, parched earth and the wadis run dry. You’re not the one who has watched your beloved son slowly grow thinner and more listless.”
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 (1 Kings 17:13).
“How dare this man of God ask me for bread, knowing that I have so little? Who does he think he is, asking me for bread before I feed my own child? There is simply not enough to go around. I told him that I have only “a handful of meal, a little oil, and a couple of sticks. There is not enough. And Death waits at the door.”
Then the good news:
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 (1 Kings 17:14-16).
Have you heard the word of the Lord? Or have you not been listening?
Have you heard the word of the Lord? Or have you doubted it? Have you questioned it? Have you feared it?
I thank God that many of you have not only heard it, but you believe it. And not only do you believe it, you live it. And today you are a living testimony to the miracle of that word.
One day, you lost your child in a tragic accident. Years later, you needed open heart surgery. A year later, you fell and broke your hip. Then just a few weeks ago, you fell again, this time breaking several ribs. But yesterday, you got up, got dressed, and in spite of some who did not believe you had the enough energy to leave the house, you not only came to the Fall Festival, but you came to decorate this sanctuary with this beautiful fall cornucopia, symbolizing abundance, symbolizing that with faith in God, you not only have enough, you have more than enough, symbolizing a jar that will not empty and a jug that will not fail.
A few years ago a failed marriage destroyed your business, your financial worth and your self-worth. For years, you struggled for enough sticks to survive. And today, your business is back, your debts are being paid, and you are using your gifts to make a difference in the world. All because, although your jar got low, it never emptied, although your jug almost ran dry, it never failed.
You woke up one morning with blurry double vision. You later discovered that you suffered a stroke. Unable to work, unable to see, unable to live without assistance, you never lost your sense of humor or your sense of gratitude. In the face of your suffering you continue to worship God, praise God, and thank God for the gift of life. Somehow, some miraculous way, your jar never emptied and your jug never failed.
Several of you made decisions in life that landed you in the hospital or in jail. It was not that long ago that people were saying that you were all but out of sticks. But here it is, just a short time later, and you have a new lease on life. Your jar never emptied. Your jug never failed.
You were taking out the trash one day when you fell and broke your leg. And when you needed him the most, your husband abandoned you. People said that you were too old to get back up, too frail to start over. They said you only had a few good sticks left. But miraculously and mysteriously, today, you are as strong as ever. Your jar was not emptied and your jug did not fail.
A few years ago, a church found itself without a pastor. An interim pastor was even hard to find. Attendance was down, the budget was behind, morale was low, sticks were about to run out. They could see the bottom of the jar and squeezing mere drops from the jug. But the church was listening, and the church heard the word of the Lord. The church followed and the church risked. Their jar never emptied and their jug never failed.
Some in our culture complain that following Jesus is too much risk. Some say that it brings too much discomfort, too much pain. They say that the grace of Jesus is too extravagant, the mercy of Jesus is too generous, and the love of Jesus is too abundant. The light he commands us to shine is too bright. They fear such light, and they say it would be better for business if it is kept under a bushel.
They say they can tolerate the church preaching “we welcome all to the Lord’s table as God welcomes us,” and it is ok to believe that all means all; just as long as the church doesn’t actually practice what it preaches.
But when the culture tries to control you, when it tries to hold you back, when it uses fear to tempt you to preach and practice what is popular instead of what is the gospel, to preach and practice what is socially acceptable instead of what is the Word of God, when the culture tells you that you do not have enough sticks; behold, you miraculously receive the word:
“Do not be afraid. Because your jar will never be emptied and your jug will never fail, and as long as you are following Jesus, you will always have a great big pile of sticks!”
Pricilla, a dear friend of mine from Louisville, Kentucky, called me one day to give me the news: “Brad and I have decided to adopt two more children from Ukraine.”
They had already adopted two the previous year, one is two and the other is three years old. They both have lived in an orphanage since they were born.
As a concerned friend, I asked, “Do you really think that is wise? You already have two adopted children. And I know what a handful they are. Pris, I know you are a great mother, and I know Brad is a good father, but don’t you think there are limits? Aren’t there limits to how much you can give?”
Pricilla responded by saying something like: “When it comes to love, I have not yet found the limits. You know, Jarrett, I really don’t believe one can ever run out of love. From my experience, love is a renewable resource. The more love you give, the more love you seem to have.”
The good news is that God is still speaking today. God is still filling jars and replenishing jugs, and in God’s kingdom, sticks that fuel the fire of the Holy Spirit are renewable resources. So, do not be afraid. There is enough.
No, in God’s abundant mercy, there is more than enough.
Thanks be to God.