July 8, 2019
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”
22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”
24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”
1 Kings 17:17-24
I promise to take you out to dinner at Pier 101 Friday night, I promise to be home by 10:00 pm, I promise to lower taxes or raise taxes, etc. We hear promises from people all the time, but can we trust them? Whether we hear the promise of a date night from our spouse, of making it home by curfew from our kids or the perfect plan for tax reform from a politician, we can be skeptical as to whether or not promises will come true. In our reading this morning from 1 Kings 17, a starving widow’s faith in God’s promise of life was put to the test. God makes the promise of life to us too, and we each have our own struggles that test whether or not our faith knows God’s promise of life is the truth.
In our reading from 1 Kings 17, there was a widow from Zarephath struggling to keep herself and her son alive. The widow and her son were struggling to survive because there was a famine throughout the region. There was a famine because the rains had stopped falling. And, the rains had stopped because of the wickedness of King Ahab of Israel. 1 Kings 17 begins with these words, 1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” God held back rain as punishment for Ahab’s resistance to recognize God as the one true God and as punishment for Ahab’s worship of idols. As the nation of Israel suffered for their wicked king, God kept his prophet Elijah alive by sending him east across the Jordan River to a creek for water and with food brought to him by ravens. In time though, even the creek dried up and God told Elijah to go to a widow in Zarephath. This woman was not an Israelite, but she had come to believe in the God of Israel and God was going to strengthen her faith in him through Israel’s prophet. When Elijah crossed back over the Jordan, went through Israel and came to Zarephath on the Mediterranean Sea, he met the widow for the first time as she was gathering sticks to build a fire to cook a final meal for her and her son, and then they would die.
In response to the widow’s grief at her hopeless situation, 13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid.” Elijah then told the widow to go ahead with her plan to make a final meal, but to first make him some bread with the last of her jar flour and jug of oil, and then make a meal for her and her son. Finally, Elijah shared God’s promise with her that 14 “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.” The widow believed Elijah’s words and God kept his promise, so the widow, her son and Elijah were all kept alive by God’s miraculous power. This widow from another nation was kept alive by the God of Israel, a testament to God’s love for all people and a wonderful strengthening of her faith. Having Elijah with her and having enough food was a great blessing until 17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” The widow’s faith in God was being put to the test again after surviving the famine as her son was taken from her. Our faith often cries out with the same questions as the widow when what we need, love, depend on, etc. is taken from us.
When tragedy strikes our lives causing our faith to cry out for help, God is ready to help. In our gospel reading from Luke 7, Jesus encountered a similar situation to that of Elijah. As Jesus was traveling, he came to the entrance of the town of Nain and saw a widow’s only son being carried out to be buried. And, 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then, Jesus went up to the corpse and said, 14…“Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. The miracle amazed the people and they praised God saying, 16…“God has come to help his people.” Jesus helped this widow with his power of life and when tragedy strikes our lives, God has come to help us too. Jesus came to take all the tragedies, all the results of sin and all the despair, all the results of unbelief away from us by overcoming death. In his death, Jesus ended sins grasp on our lives by taking the punishment of sin for us, and in his resurrection, Jesus gave us the guaranteed promise of our own resurrection to eternal life.
When the worst tragedies come into our lives, we know God’s promise of life is the truth we need to hear. When someone dies, do we really think anything but the truth of Jesus’ power to give life can give anyone real comfort in death? No, we are confident it is only the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection that gives comfort in this worst of all tragedies, but is that what we say and what we live? If Jesus is the one source of life and our confidence, then he needs to be the truth we listen to when death comes. If Jesus is the source of life and our confidence, then he needs to be the truth we live in every day.
The foundation for our faith in Jesus’ promise to give us eternal life is the beginning of a new life. Jesus proved his power to bring someone back to life with the widow of Nain’s son. Jesus also proved his power over death by his resurrection from the dead. Jesus also brought you and I to life by faith. We have not experienced death and our personal resurrection yet, but we will and until then our faith gives us confidence to meet the trials of daily life.
The widow of Zarephath needed reassurance from Elijah that her faith in God was going to save her from the worst tragedy in her life. She was already a widow and now her only son was gone, she felt lost. She had been kept alive by God and given hope by his prophet, but now she saw no more life around her. Elijah saw the widow’s faith being shaken and went to God for help. 19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” Elijah was confident that God’s promise of life for the widow went beyond keeping her alive to eat a few meals a day until the famine was over. Elijah was confident that God’s promise of life was death stopping life. The widow was going to see that God was with her to give life each day and even after death. Jesus has given us this same confidence.
The promise of life through Jesus changes lives. In our second reading from Galatians 1, the Apostle Paul reminded the Galatians that the gospel of Jesus changed his life. The first half of Paul’s life was spent persecuting anyone who believed in Jesus. Paul said, 14 “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” Paul’s life may have looked good on the outside as he followed the commands of his forefathers, but without the foundation of faith in Jesus, his heritage as an Israelite was of no benefit to him. Instead, Jesus made Paul see true Israel as all those with faith in Jesus. God’s power changed Paul’s life so that he now had confidence in eternal life in heaven through Jesus and not his own zeal for keeping laws. His life was also changed so that instead of taking life, he was now bringing the good news of eternal life to as many people as he could.
When we hear about God working through Elijah to bring the widow’s son back to life or the mission spirit of the Apostle Paul, we wish we had that kind of power. The kind of doubt that does not believe we have the same power as someone like Elijah and Paul is the same kind of doubt that affected the widow at Zarephath. In a difficult moment, she cried out to God wondering if her faith in his promise of life was true because her son had died. In response to her cry, God showed his promise of life was true. When Elijah cried out to God on the widow’s behalf, 22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!” 24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.” God worked through Elijah to show the woman the extent of his promise to give life. Jesus was sent to show the world the extent of God’s power to give life. When you and I feel like we lack the power or faith of someone like Elijah and Paul, we need to be reminded that it is not the strength of our faith, but the strength of what our faith is in. Our faith is in Jesus, so when the worst tragedies or daily trials tests your faith, test God and his promise of life will not disappoint you.
We hear promises from people all the time, but we can be skeptical as to whether or not promises will come true. We are skeptical because we have had moments when our spouse has scheduled over a date night, a teenager has missed a curfew and a politician has found the right tax reform an impossible task. In our reading this morning from 1 Kings 17, God promised to keep a starving widow and her son live, but when her son died her faith was put to the test. In the end, God brought him back to life and gave the woman confidence to say that the word of the Lord is true. God makes the promise of life to us too, and we each have our own struggles that test our faith in God’s promise of life. However, our confidence in God’s promise does not come from someone who breaks promises, it comes from Jesus. He overcame death, he lives, and we too will live. Jesus is our confidence and we will share his gospel so that many will share our faith that knows God’s promise of life is the truth. Amen.