1 Kings 17:8-24
The Widow of Zarephath
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel:The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
Elijah Revives the Widow’s Son
After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, “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!” But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, “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.” The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
For the next few weeks in worship, we're going to be following the story of Elijah, one of the Old Testament Prophets.
When we encounter Elijah today, he is trusting in God's providence to survive a drought.
God had sent a drought on the land to show the rulers of that time. -King Ahab and Queen Jezebel that they couldn't continue to behave as they did, treating folk abominably.
God sent Elijah to tell them: God is not happy with you and there will be no rain for the foreseeable future.
After delivering God's message, as you might imagine, the prophet has to flee for his life.
God leads him, first of all, to a brook where he is fed by ravens.
But, then, when the brook dries up, God moves him on.
And that's where we join the story today, with Elijah travelling to Zarephath and meeting the widow gathering sticks for her fire.
Elijah asks the widow to bring him some water which she is glad to do.
But, when he also asks her for something to eat, she is less willing.
She explains that she only has enough for one last meal for herself and her son, that she is about to prepare it and then they will die.
Elijah persuades her, before she does that, to prepare a little something for him and then promises her that she will not run out of food.
Steeped in a culture that places such a priority on hospitality, the widow cannot refuse Elijah's request - and her effort is rewarded when she and her household are fed for the duration of the rest of the drought.
Elijah becomes part of that household for the duration.
But not only is Elijah enabled to feed the widow and her son, he also shares with them the truth of the God whom he serves.
When her son becomes ill and dies, Elijah is the first person to whom the widow turns - to ask why?
Here is a woman who, when Elijah first met her, was prepared for death.
She was about to prepare a last meal for her son and herself.
But now she has hope - hope for life.
So when the life of her son is snuffed out, she wants to know why.
Why? She asks Elijah?
Why is her son dead?
Elijah takes this question to God.
That might sound like a familiar place for some of us, questioning God.
Isn't it the case that we often find ourselves questioning God, even accusing God?
When we need someone to rail at when life is just unfair, it is often to God that we turn.
Maybe, just maybe, in those moments, we can find hope in the story of Elijah and the widow's son.
Elijah cries out to God.
And finds a compassionate God.
A God who is not unmoved by the plight of men and women.
A God who wants to make things different.
A God who uses the gifts of folk like you and me to change churches and neighbourhoods and communities - to heal hurting people, to feed the hungry, to build fairer societies.
A God who welcomes you and me and urges us to go out and welcome others to share all the gifts that we have been given.
We find many stories in the Old Testament of people being blessed by offering hospitality.
And, indeed, that theme continues into the New Testament, where we are encouraged by Jesus " as you did it for the least of these...you did it for me".
Sharing food and drink is one of the simplest but one of the most profound acts of hospitality.
You will all be aware of the growth of foodbanks in our area - and throughout Scotland.
Since our harvest appeal last autumn,when we learned about the work of the South Ayrshire Foodbank, we have been able to take regular donations of food for distribution. And this has been greatly appreciated.
I've spoken to many colleagues who are operating or contributing to food banks and other projects that are working to ensure that families on our doorsteps do not go hungry.
And, while we abhor the need for such basic provision in our age and culture, while we long for our government to address poverty and hardship with common sense and compassion, we cannot turn our backs on those who struggle daily to simply find enough to eat.
And so we are called, not only to be generous with the food that we have, but to work to change a system that forces so many families into poverty,a system that denies people's basic rights and puts insurmountable obstacles into the path of those who simply want to feed their loved ones.
This story of Elijah this morning touches on fundamental truths that affect how we live today and how we care for others.
It comes across very simply in the first part of the story:
The widow is helped out of her predicament by helping Elijah.
And isn't that so often the way of it for us.
When we help others, we know ourselves blessed.
When we share what we have, we find our gift multiplies.
And it's not just about focussing on someone else's problem to distract us from our own.
There is a real blessing in being able to give.
And giving graciously allows us also to receive graciously.
So often our giving is tempered with the expectation of a return on our gift.
Perhaps not a physical return, but the anticipation of a Spiritual return - some reward for our generosity.
But today, in the feast we share here - as we gather around the table, to remember Christ's body broken for us and Christ's blood shed for us, we are witnesses to a selfless act of love and giving.
An act that asks for no return.
An act that makes no demands.
A gift that is freely ours.
Given in love, no strings attached.
Now that is real hospitality.
A feast of bread and wine that beckons all to come and dine.
Thanks be to God.
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