Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, April 30, 2017
Scripture Reference: I Kings 17:8-14
Sermon: Elijah and the Widow in Zarephath
If you have ever listened to an actor or actress talk about their work, then you’ve probably heard them say something like, “I tried to identify with their situation, what they were feeling.” Well, if this story of Elijah and the widow were to be acted out I can’t imagine it being all that difficult to connect with the widow of Zarephath. When I read this story my attention immediately goes to her. I cannot imagine what she must have been feeling. I’ve never been in circumstances quite like hers, not having any food, down to the last meal. One knows she is feeling lost and desperate by the very fact that she tells Elijah, “This is it. My son and I will now die.”
And now, when one would think things couldn’t possibly get any worse, when it seems nothing else could be taken from her, a stranger, and not even just any stranger, but a foreigner, comes and asks her for food. When she tells Elijah about her situation he still doesn’t come back down. Rather he asks again. I can just imagine what she must have been thinking in that moment, “Did this jerk not hear me?”
But if that was her thought, even for just a moment, we certainly wouldn’t know it. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any further hesitation on her part. She goes and does what Elijah asked of her.
To tell you the truth, part of me just doesn’t get it. Why does she give the very last of what she has to Elijah? She’s not a Jew. She doesn’t believe in Yahweh. If anything, given what we know about Elijah’s circumstances, she worships the god Baal. Does she just figure why not? What the heck do I have to lose? If I give him the fool I’ll die. If I don’t give him the food I’ll still die. So why not?
Or maybe there is something in Elijah’s voice. Maybe she hears authority, confidence, something that leads her to trust him.
Why does she do it? That seems to be the big question – not only for the story, but for us. It’s the question I keep coming back to over and over again. Why does she do it?
I’ve certainly had those moments when I’ve felt stretched to the limit, where I have nothing left to give. I’ve felt that when I’ve been up all night with a sick kid and then put in a full day of work, cooking, cleaning the house. I’ve felt it after a long week of work, or a week where I feel like I am going in multiple directions. I’m sure we all have those moments.
Nor is it uncommon to hear people saying that around church either. “I’m giving everything I can to the church, and yet the church is always asking for more. Don’t they know how tight my budget is or how busy my schedule is? I can’t possibly do one more thing.”
It is because we can so easily identify with the widow that we keep asking why. Why did the widow do it? How did she do it? Because we really want to know. We can identify with her and we want to know why.
It was as I was asking this question over and over again that I realized I was missing the focus. The story isn’t being told to bring attention to the widow, or to Elijah, but to God; the one who provides, the one who sees and acts with compassion. It is a story, a witness, to what God does through this widow because she is open to the situation before her. She is open to what God is doing. It isn’t the widow who keeps filling the jar of meal; it is God. It isn’t Elijah who raises her son from the dead; it is God. Nor is Elijah’s encounter with the widow a change meeting; God directed Elijah to go to her. Indeed this story glorifies God’s compassion. It is a testimony that leads us to shout the words of Psalm 146, glorifying God’s compassion for all.
That is the word, the trustworthy word, of God – God’s love and compassion for all. That is word made known to us in God’s care for the widow. That is the word made known to us in the cross where life and freedom are revealed. That is the word made known to us at an open table. That is the life giving word.
The widow trusted the word. The widow gave what she had because she trusted God’s word spoken through the prophet, “Do not be afraid. God will take care of you.” She trusted is enough to act, but what if she hadn’t? She would have died. That would have been her last meal, but because she acted in trust she experienced, she tasted the abundant gifts God has to offer.
It is the same word spoken to us, the same invitation to experience life in God, to find hope. We are called to put our trust in God, to act in confidence of God’s promises, even when it isn’t so easy, even when it seems we are at the end, that things couldn’t get worse. But when we do, when we too stay open to God, when we respond to God’s word, we will join the widow in declaring, “The word of the Lord is truth.”