Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Providence of God

Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year
Commitment Sunday
Sunday, November 12, 2006
1 Kings 17:8-16

The prophet of the Lord who feeds God’s people with the Word of God needs to be fed as well. So the Lord provides for him. But how is a widow who is unable to feed herself and her son able to feed the Lord’s prophet as well? Ah, but here is where we see that it is truly the Lord that is providing.

And maybe that is the thing we most need to hear when it comes to things like Commitment Sunday, and stewardship, and the giving of our time, talents, and treasure. Because when it comes to things our Lord calls us to do we’re more likely to look at all the facts standing in the way. Things that won’t make it possible for the Lord to provide for us. You know, we need to be realistic. Frugal, not go beyond our means.

A widow who can’t feed herself and her son? You’ve got to be kidding. And now you put another person there in the mix? It is seems a horrible twist of fate for that poor woman and her son.

And what about the picture of our Gospel reading? A widow who can only put in two small coins as an offering? Why does she even bother? How is a church supposed to be run on such measly amounts of money? What she put in the offering won’t make a difference at all in the on-going upkeep of the church.

But what does our Old Testament reading begin with? With the Word of the Lord. God tells Elijah to go out of his comfort zone into Sidon, a place where people aren’t accustomed to others telling them about God. And though God has told Elijah that He’s commanded a widow to feed him, it’s news to her. Or at least she’s not hip on the idea. How can I feed you if I can’t feed myself and my son? “I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”

No offense of course. And I really wish I could help. Especially since you are a prophet of God. But facts are facts. And if all I have is flour even you can see that it isn’t going to happen. Sound familiar? We let the facts stand in the way.

Oh, but you say, things were different then. God performed miracles back then. Sure, all she had was flour, but God miraculously caused it to not run out. I don’t see Him performing spectacular performances like that today. So spare me the righteous sermonizing on relying on God when we need to be using our brains and not only going on faith. God didn’t give us our brains just to check them at the door of the church.

Maybe the only response to that is, who says God doesn’t still perform miracles today? Just because they may not take the form of what you might expect doesn’t mean God does not engage in every day lives with supernatural actions. We’re far too caught up in the thinking of the world that says you have to go on what you can see and not trust in things you can’t see or prove.

What is Elijah’s request? Water so that he may drink. And bread. He is a prophet of God, he feeds people with spiritual food. The bread of life. The water of life. God’s Gospel and His promises of salvation and grace. What is one of the things God provides for His Church that this ministry may be carried out? Food and water. He provides for His prophets. They’re very unspiritual things. Normal. Ordinary. But they are the staples, what we all need.

And that’s all well and good. Unless you don’t have those basic things you need. Of course, we all know what you need for those basic things—money. But who likes to talk about money in church? We think in terms of realism, don’t we? You’ve got to have enough money in order to keep the church going. But how many of us will give the way the woman in the Gospel reading gave—of all that she had?

What did Elijah say to the widow who explained the plain facts to the prophet of God? “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”

Fact are facts, yes. But the Word of the Lord is the Word of the Lord. And the providence of God is the providence of God. God is the Creator. And He is the Redeemer. As our creator and redeemer He sustains us. He provides for us what we need. We don’t always know how that’s going to be. But we know that it is. He says so in His Word.

In the spirit of the virgin Mary who said to the angel Gabriel, “Be it unto me according to your word”, this widow went and did as Elijah had said to her. And what happened? “She and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the Word of the LORD that He spoke by Elijah.”

Inconsiderate people take others captive by their actions. If you’re sleeping early in the morning and someone decides it’s a good time to do their yard work, it’s tough to sleep through that (at least for some of us). Or if you’re trying to have a nice relaxing dinner in a restaurant and a very loud person is talking on their cell phone, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else. Or when you’re at a very long stop light and the car next to you has their amps pumped up so you can hear the bass in the next county.

We’re held hostage by these actions. People who are not thinking of others take us captive and we feel like there’s nothing we can do about it. In a similar way we hold ourselves hostage by our own way of thinking. When we let the facts get in the way of the Word of the Lord we are captive to our sinful nature. We’re listening to the world, to our reason, and to the devil Himself. But this is not the way God meant it to be for us. Jesus said if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed. The apostle Paul said that it was for freedom that Christ set us free. Why are we binding ourselves to a cautionary way of thinking when God says that He will provide for us?

And provide for us He has! He has given of all that He has—His very own self, His only-begotten, beloved Son. He has provided for us not out of His majesty but His mercy. He has given out of His eternal abundance and it has taken the form of grace. He has come to us in the spirit of humility exhibited by the widow who was picking up sticks and preparing to meet her Maker. Christ carried a beam to a hill on which He gave of Himself, His very body given into death that we may live.

Just as this passage begins and ends with the Word of God so does the Word of God itself. In the beginning God spoke the world into existence. It began with His Word. At the close of the Scriptures Christ Himself speaks and we have His words of promise of His return. Today’s Old Testament reading is like a snapshot of the entire Word of God and His providence. His providing for us. His taking care of us even when circumstances would suggest otherwise.

It’s true we’re to be prudent and not take unnecessary risks. But there’s a difference between that not trusting in God. Not stepping out in faith. Not taking God at His Word. After all, He begins with His Word and ends with His Word. His Word is what we have. His Word is what we take to heart. His Word is what we depend on when all else fails. It doesn’t look like much, doesn’t sound like much, and isn’t always electrifying, but it’s the very power of God. It’s His eternal promise of our eternal well-being.

As we began with the Word of the Lord so we end with the Word of the Lord. He was faithful to His Word in little, physical sustenance. We may be assured He will be faithful in much, in spiritual sustenance. The forgiveness of our sins. The peace of God which goes beyond our understanding and all the pesky facts that get in the way. We can stare in the face of them and look right past them into the heart of God, His very own Son Jesus Christ, to see that what He delights in doing is providing for us what we need. Amen.


Anonymous said...

Excellent sermon, Paul - when we usher, I miss a lot of ours so now I can read yours.


rev.will said...

Thanks Vona, glad you're getting use out of them. Hope to be podcasting them once we get our web site up.