In 1 Kings we read, “Then the word of the Lord came to him.”
Those of us who grieve the loss of Delcea are also able to celebrate this day, because we know that the word of the Lord came to her.
Because we know that the word of the Lord came to her many years ago when she decided to follow Christ as his disciple, and because of the many ways that she let us know through her faithful love and amazing smile that the word of the Lord came to her daily, today we who grieve also celebrate. We celebrate because we also know that the word of the Lord came to her this past Saturday morning, finally, fully and eternally.
I loved the way her daughter Eilene notified me Saturday morning of her passing. Revealing Delcea’s deep faith in the word of the Lord, and the faith that she passed down to her children, Eilene sent me a text that simply read: “Mom just left this world to be with God.”
Eilene will never forget the first time she truly grasped the depth of her mother’s faith. As a small child she remembers living very meagerly in a mobile home. One day, Eilene asked her mother to make her a peanut butter sandwich, but Delcea had to explain that, at the time, there was no bread in the house.
“But mama, I really want a peanut butter sandwich.”
“I am so sorry,” said Delcea. “And we don’t have any money right now to go out and buy any bread.”
Looking at the disappointment in her child’s face, Delcea said, “But you know something, we can pray for bread.”
The two of them then knelt down by the couch in the living room and prayed for bread.
As soon as they got from prayer, there was a knock on the door. Delcea opened the door, with Eilene by her side, to greet a gentleman who was giving away loaves of Colonial Bread.
Whenever I read stories of the Bible like the ones I read from 1 Kings and the gospel of Mark, someone will inevitably comment: “I sure wished the Lord spoke to people and worked miracles today like God did back in Bible days.”
But I don’t think you will ever hear any member of the Batterman family make that comment. And I know for certain you have never heard Delcea make that comment.
“The word of the Lord came to Elijah saying: Go now to Zarephath and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you when you arrive.”
Notice that, like Delcea illustrated throughout her life, Elijah was faithful to the command of the Lord. 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 don’t have a loaf of bread in the house] I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug.” 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 says: “Do not be afraid.”
Hebrew biblical scholar 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.”
But Elijah still says to her, go and 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?
We who grieve this day are also able to celebrate, because we know Delcea not only heard the word of the Lord, she believed it. And today we give thanks that she was a living testimony to the miracle of that word.
Born right before the Great Depression, I am certain that there were many times that her family questioned whether or not they would make it. But Delcea did make it, graduating from Elkhart High School in Kansas and marrying the love of her life, Marion Batterman. Growing up during some of the most difficult years in our country was not easy. I am certain there were many times her family just about ran out of sticks. But the good news is that their jars never emptied, and their jugs never failed.
The two newlyweds farmed together and dreamed of starting a family and making a good life together. But this was 1943, and the United States was in the middle of war with Germany and Japan. So Marian left Delcea to defend his country and freedom around the world. I am sure she worried and prayed every day and night for Marion, and although I am sure she sometimes doubted that her dreams of raising and family and growing old with her husband would be realized, the miracle was that her jar did not empty, and her jug did not fail.
Upon Marian’s return, they both put their faith into action as they both answered a call to Christian ministry. Marian preached in the gospel, while Delcea played the piano. And although they often struggled, sometimes not even having a loaf of bread in the house to make a peanut butter sandwich, the good news is: although their jars got low, they never emptied; although their jugs almost ran dry, they never failed.
I met with Delcea’s children, Marvin, Eilen and Glenda Saturday afternoon and asked them to name some things about their mother that would inspire them for the rest of their lives.
They talked mostly about her faithfulness to them as a mother. They talked about her always being there for them, supporting, them encouraging them no matter what. They talked about her always being there when they go home from school.
They also talked about how much she loved life, always curious. How she took flying lessons, enjoyed traveling and making costumes and participating in the Gaslight Theater.
They talked about a faithful woman whose jar never emptied, a woman whose jug never failed.
For the last several years, unable to walk, Delcea has suffered greatly. Her poor health forced her to move out of an assisted living facility with Marion into a nursing home.
A few weeks ago, she was hospitalized. Her doctors determined that she had suffered multiple heart attacks. They tried to correct the blockages in the arteries of her heart, but they were unsuccessful. They essentially told her that she only had only a couple of sticks left.
Hospice was called in to keep her comfortable. However, each time I would visit her, in the hospital or in the nursing home, Delcea had this amazing, remarkable smile that, considering her condition, was miraculous.
She smiled and laughed with the hope of a young girl who had just gotten married to what would be the love-of-her-life for over seventy-three years; certainly not like someone who had only a couple of weeks to live.
And during her final hours with us, when she was heavily medicated and unable to laugh and smile, if you looked down towards her legs that had been immobile for years, you would see them moving, running, almost dancing, as if if to say: “My sticks may almost gone. Death may be at the door. But my jug will never be emptied and my jar will never, ever fail.”
Night is falling. Jesus has been teaching out on a hillside. And the crowd that showed up that day, well, they were getting hungry.
The disciples with a little panic in their voices insist: “Jesus, there’s a thousand hungry people out there. We need to send them back to town so they can buy something to eat.”
Jesus asks, “But tell me what do you have?”
“Just a few loaves and two miserable little fish.”
Jesus takes what they have, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it. And, the good news is: it is enough.
However, that is not the end of the story. Although that would be enough, there is more. We read where “all ate and all were filled.” They were all fulfilled, all satisfied. They just didn’t receive something to “tie them over” until they got back into town. They ate until they were full and satisfied.
But the story doesn’t even in end there. They took up what was left over and 12 baskets were filled. The truth is: there was not enough. There was more than enough. There was not only fulfillment and satisfaction, but there was a surplus. The good news is: This is simply the way it is with Jesus.
I visited a little while with Marion yesterday. He talked about how difficult life was going to be without his wife at his side. Naturally, he talked about being a little numb, how reality had yet to set in. He knows that will soon find himself in a deserted place.
The good news is, and all of us who knew and loved Delcea know it, the word of the Lord will surely come to Marian, to Marvin, Eilene and Glenda and their families, and to each one of us who grieve this day saying: “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 and more than enough bread!”