Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: 1 Kings 17:8-16, Mark 12: 38-44
Today we find ourselves in a time of moral failure, of people suffering the consequences of their leaders' corrupt and idolatrous ways… I speak, of course, of the time of the Kings, 850 years before the birth of Christ, the setting of our first reading.
A theme in the history of Israel as recorded in Joshua, Judges, the books of Samuel, and the books of Kings is the failure of Israel’s leaders to follow the law of Deuteronomy. Introduced just a handful of verses before our reading for today, King Ahab was the worst of them all.
He did, according to the book of Kings, “more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him” by introducing the worship of the Canaanite God Baal. Baal was believed to control the seasons, the cycles of plenty and of scarcity. But you don’t need to know anything about Baal to know that Israelites weren’t supposed to be worshiping him.
Think back to the first commandment carved deeply into Moses’ tablet: You Shall Have No Other Gods. That commandment has a very important subscript. It goes like this: “Or else.”
You Shall Have No Other Gods, or else God who is gracious and merciful, will remind you that God is One.
Enter Elijah. Soon after King Ahab is introduced, Elijah appears in the text like Jesus appears in the Gospel of Mark: he walks right out of the wilderness and into the story of Israel.
Elijah has a prophecy for the people, who are set on praying to Baal for their seasons of drought and plenty.
There will be no seasons from Baal. Rather God who is One will bring a drought to the land that will last for three years. God who is One is the God who rules over life and death.
Elijah delivers the prophecy then runs for his life from the land of Ahab to a riverbed where he is fed by the ravens, until the river runs dry. Then he must turn back to the place where he is condemned and--by the mercy of God and the mercy of a widow--find a way to live. That is where our story begins.
A widow in these days was the least among the least. She relied on the provision of kings or religious leaders, but without this she was reduced to begging and scavenging. Perhaps with the drought, there wasn’t enough food to go around. Perhaps the king who had turned from God had turned also from God’s people.
“I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son,” she says, “so that we may eat, and die.”
The widow is facing her own end. It is a terror and an indignity that many people face today. People who suffer the hardest consequences’ of their leaders’ and their fellow citizens’ moral failures. From schools to prisons to our borders: as in the days of Kings, our society deals in death.
And still, facing the widow who is facing her end, Elijah asks for a meal. He asks for that last morsel of food, all she had to live on. That final offering would be the beginning of God’s transformation not only for her, but for the prophet, and for all the people of Israel.
It seems that our God prefers to make Her mercies abundantly clear.
God finds the places that are empty, and fills them.
God begins where we are broken, and heals us.
God dwells where there is death, to bring life.
God of Elijah, God of the widow, God who is One
is the same God who transformed water after the wine had already run out,
is the same God who waited for Lazarus to be dead three days before raising him,
the same God who rose to heaven after visiting hell.
God sends Elijah to the widow, but God has also sent the widow to Elijah. “For I have commanded her to feed you,” God says. We don’t know the widow’s name, but we know that God met her before she met the prophet.
So perhaps she already knew that the oil and the flour wouldn’t run out;
that this man, while he stayed in her home, would heal her son;
that he would defeat the prophets of Baal by calling down fire from the sky.
Perhaps she knew that her story would echo 800 years later in the time of Jesus, the Son of God, who was sent not only for the salvation of Israel, but for all humankind,
all people who had ever lived, including her and her son, including you and me.
Perhaps she knew.
And while it’s frustrating that the authors of scripture so rarely named or accounted for the lives of women, God’s love still flows out of the margins and through the silences. With her hospitality for Elijah, the widow herself is like the last morsel of flour in her jar. It is the smallest offering, the final portion, that God uses to work wonders, to make salvation possible for all people.
Look to the town gate. Who are the widows in this neighborhood?
Look to the flour jar. Where is the last morsel in you?
God works miracles beyond our imagination,
but only after meeting us in our reality.
God’s work begins in your life where you are hurting most.
Where you have suffered most, is where God transforms you,
is where God will give you your greatest gifts,
not only for your sake, but for the sake of the other,
and for the sake of all of God’s children.
Today we find ourselves in a time of moral failure; of people suffering the consequences of their leaders' corrupt and idolatrous ways.
Today find ourselves in a time when God’s mercies and abundance overflow from the bottom of the flour jar, from the margins of the page, from the borders of our countries, from the edges of town.
God of the widow, God of Elijah, God who is One
makes miracles of us.