Sunday, November 7, 2021
Pastor Arne Bergland
Lesson: 1 Kings 17:17-24
Scripture remembers for us the story of the prophet Elijah, the widow of Zarephath and her young son. It is a story of ups and downs, doubt and faith, scarcity and abundance, life, and death. Listen to this story from long ago and find your now and yet buried within.
The story of Elijah the prophet begins with a prediction that the land will suffer a severe drought. The prediction so angers the king that God sends Elijah into hiding. When the hiding place can no longer sustain him God sends him to find food from the widow of Zarephath. Now the widow has nothing to offer. The widow really has nothing to offer. She is so destitute that she is about to use up the few scraps she has so that she might share a meal with her son and then prepare to die. God has sent Elijah into a place of extreme scarcity. Elijah tells her not to worry. Suddenly, the jug of oil and the container of meal required to make their meal never runs out. They experience the abundance of God.
Now we come to our reading for today. Things are going great and then the son gets sick and dies. The story turns downward to the reality of death. When Life takes us to places like this we so easily question what we might have done to bring this on. It is easy to blame God when we have been laid to low. So, it is with the widow of Zarephath. With her dead son before her, she cries out to Elijah one could even imagine her beating her chest sobbing, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” It’s Elijah’s fault, its Gods fault. How could things turn so suddenly? How could one believe in such a God as this?
Now, just as suddenly the story turns again. Taking the dead boy’s body to his room Elijah cries out “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” God heard and God responded. The boy came back to life. This story that had gone from scarcity to abundance, from life to death has now turned again. Through the word of God, it is now a story of death to life.
Today is All Saints Sunday a day to remember those who have died in the last year. We may bring the grief and loss we all feel before as Elijah said to King Ahab, “The God who lives before whom I stand.”
For some of us that grief and loss is fresh. We specifically remember those saints who have died in the last year. More generally it is time for us to think of those whose love and faith has nurtured through the years.
Such remembering is good. Standing before the God who lives we may grieve our loss just as we may offer thanks for the many ways that they touched our lives.so whether our loss is fresh or comes to us from a time long ago this remembering is a good thing.
Like Elijah and the widow of Zarephath our lives experience death and life, scarcity and abundance, doubt, and belief. Our lives may turn on a dime or the loss we experience may be slow and painful. The widow of Zarephath lost her son and yet she experienced loss in other ways and so do we.
Remembering loss and offering comfort goes beyond this days remembering of loved ones past. We lose jobs and lose friendships. We move away from friends and neighbors. We may know the slow developing loss of a loved one with Alzheimer’s. We may know loss from illness of body and mind or through disappointments large and small Loss comes from disappointment at home or work or school, of dreams deferred or hopes dashed. Such loss comes at us from so many sources. It is way too simplistic and yet true to say that like Elijah and the widow of Zarephath our days are like a roller coaster of life and death, scarcity and abundance, doubt, and certainty. This too is appropriate to remember on a day like today.
If All Saints Sunday is a day of remembering, it is also a day for being comforted in our loss. Where is the comfort in the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath? We know the reality of loss and scarcity and hunger. The story speaks to that loud and clear. And yet it also speaks to new life, new faith, and resurrection. We find in this story a God who listens to our need, who hears our need and who responds to that need.
As Christians we come to a day like today with a hope born in the reality of resurrection. We say it in our creed. We believe in a God who is alive. Like Elijah we believe in a God who is alive. Why? Because of the resurrection. The widow believed because her son was made alive. Her son was resurrected. More than that, she was transformed as a person of faith.
As I come to this story I am reminded how much I need to be transformed. When Elijah through Gods word brought food to the widow and her son she believed. When her son died she doubted. When he was resurrected she again found faith. In the ups and downs of my life you may experience a similar pattern. I know I do; I know I need that in the depth of my loss I need to be transformed to be resurrected as well
At the end of one of his poems the poet Wendell Berry simply says, “Practice resurrection.” It is one thing to say one believes in God, it is another thing to be transformed in God’s love. Through Elijah God reached out to the widow. Through Christ God reaches out to us in our grief and our loss. If we believe that to be true, we may become God’s hands and feet in the world practicing resurrection that all might know God’s grace.
To be faithful is to practice resurrection. The faithful grieve over the brokenness and wrong of the world and hunger and thirst that it be restored We cannot avoid loss, it is a part of our lives, but we can practice resurrection. Transformed by the grace of God we can lift this hope for the world to see.
This is a day to remember those saints who have gone before us. They are our loved ones who have made a difference in our lives. They are the saints and sinners who have made a difference with their lives. Each of us carries with us a list of those saints who have gone before us. Heroes both great and small who in their faithfulness made a difference for us. With sorrow, we grieve their absence but with joy we recognize once again that the world does not have the final word, death does not have the final word, God does, and it is a word of life and healing, a word of hope and resurrection.