Epiphany 4c

Preached: January 31, 2010

Our Father's Promises Trump our Worries
1 Kings 17:7-16

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit comforts our hearts today is 1 Kings 17:7-16

After a while the brook dried up since there was no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him [Elijah], “Get up. Go to Zarephath which belongs to Sidon and live there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.”

He got up and went to Zarephath. He came to the city gate, and look, a widow was there gathering wooden twigs. He called to her and said, “Please, bring me a little water in a cup so that I may have a drink.” She was on her way to bring it, and he called to her and said, “Please, bring me a bit of bread in your hand.”

She said to him, “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have a piece of bread but only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. See, I was gathering a couple of wooden twigs to go and make it for my son and myself, so that we could eat it and die.”

Elijah said to her, “Don't be afraid. Go, do as you've said. But make a small piece of bread from it for me first and bring it out to me. Afterwards make some for your son and yourself. For this is what the Lord the God of Israel has said, 'The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run out until the day the Lord gives rain on the ground.'”

She went and did as Elijah had said and ate for days -- he and she and her household. The jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run out according to the Lord's word which had been spoken by Elijah. (1 Kings 17:7-16)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

1) What worries you?

What worries do you struggle with? Worries about making payments and credit card debt? Worries about aches and pains or stays at the hospital? Worries about family relations, issues at work, what others are saying about us? We worry about our children, many of you your grandchildren. What kind of world will they be growing up in? And the younger people among us, you, too, carry your worries: grades, friends, relationships, success or failure. So many things worries trouble us. But at least after last Sunday we don't have to worry about the Vikings losing another Super Bowl. All kidding aside, doesn't that illustrate how we can worry about little things like winning a game all the way up to life and death issues, even eternal issues. I'm I forgiven? Will I go to heaven?

A. The widow's worries

1) What worried the widow at Zarephath?

Think about the worries troubling the heart of this widow in Zarephath. For so much of history, the husband was the bread-winner for the family. He worked the fields or ran the trade or owned the property. How difficult for the widow left behind to fend for herself! How was she going to provide for her son? At first she appears to make ends meet. Maybe she gleaned in fields as Ruth had done. Maybe she had some skill or craft of her own. But things went from bad to worse. A drought struck the land, bringing famine.

We know the reason behind this drought. Here's the background: It was the mid 9th century before Christ. Ahab had come to the throne of the northern ten tribes of Israel along with his wife, Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians. Not only did Ahab commit the sin of Jereboam, which was promoting worship at the golden calves that King Jereboam had set up several decades earlier when the northern tribes broke away from Judah -- not only did he continue in that idolatry, but he promoted the worship of Baal even building a temple to Baal in Samaria the capital. For Baal worship had been brought to Israel by Jezebel, Ahab's wife. So the Lord sent the prophet Elijah to Ahab. Elijah declared to him, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1 NIV). This drought not only affected Israel but also its neighbors. Sidon to the north from where Jezebel had come and towns under its control, like Zarephath, felt the drought. Curing this time the Lord took care of his prophet leading him to a brook from which he could drink and sending the ravens to bring him food.

But what about this widow in Zarephath? As she looked up at the cloudless sky day after day, worry must have grown in her heart. The ground cracked. The hot wind blew. Months passed. How could there be any harvest? Food grew scarce. What was available was beyond her means. Where was her god now? Where was Baal. He was suppose to be the god of thunder and rain, but then why this drought? She's down to her last handful of flour and the last few drops of oil in the jug -- only enough for a small circle of flat bread, one last meal for herself and her son until they withered away from hunger, and then what would death bring?

Now sometimes we try to lessen our worries by saying, “Things could be worse,” or “At least I don't have it as bad as so-and-so.” And we could compare ourselves to this widow and say, “I suppose I should be happy compared to what she had to go through.” But, dear friends, that's not God's way of comforting you in your worry and lifting you up from it. Let's return to Elijah and see God's way.

B. Our God is in command

1) How does God's promise to Elijah comfort us in our worries?

The stream Elijah had been drinking from dried up in the drought. Might even this prophet have begun to worry? The Lord has it planned out though. He sends Elijah to this town outside of Israel, to this widow in Zarephath. He promises Elijah, “I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food” (1 Kings 17:9 NIV).

As the account unfolds, we realize that God had not verbally spoken to this widow ordering her to do this. When Elijah comes, she doesn't know anything about it. But the Lord, as God over all, was certainly in command. He was in control, directing all things according to his wisdom and mercy. He commanded her in a way she did not even realize.

What a promise for you to hold on to, dear friends! Our God, yes, OUR God is in command of all things. Even those who reject him and fight against him are not outside of his power. Consider how the people of Nazareth in the gospel (Luke 4:14-21) wanted to throw Jesus down the cliff, but God was in command. Even the devil himself, though he strives and strains and struggles against God, is no match for the Almighty. None of your worries, dear friend, none of your worries no matter how big -- not one is beyond your God. His promises trump them.

For you see, “our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3 NIV), Psalm 115 promises. So you, dear Christian, can say with the Apostle Paul, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, 39 NIV). Our God is in command! Take that, you worries.

C. Trust your Father's promises and act accordingly

1)How did the widow show faith in God's promise?

And take note how God's promise made all the difference to this widow. As she gathers sticks for her last meal, Elijah calls to her and asks for a drink. That she can provide. But then he asks for some bread. How that request must have brought her fears and worries swelling up. Did her eyes water with tears and her voice crack as she laid out for Elijah the dire situation? “As surely as the Lord your God lives . . . I don't have any bread -- only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it -- and die” (1 Kings 17:12 NIV).

Elijah comforts her, “Don't be afraid” (1 Kings 17:13 NIV). But these words are not mere platitudes. For he announces to her the unique promise the Lord the God of Israel has made for her: “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land” (1 Kings 17:14 NIV).

Doesn't that sound so foolish and ridiculous? How often has that happened to you that something is miraculously, magically replenished? But as ridiculous and foolish as it sounded she took God at his word. The Holy Spirit brought her to believe that promise even though it went against her reason, her experience, her common sense, her desire for self-preservation, and her care for her own child. She didn't hedge her bet by making some for herself and her son first and then if God's promise worked out and there was more flour and oil, then and only then make some for the prophet. No, she trusted the promise and acted accordingly. God's promise trumped her worry.

2) What promises does God make for you?

Now God has not promised you or me that our jars and jugs won't run out. Don't try that at home. But, dear friends, he has promised to take care of you. For you see, he gave his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem you so that you would belong to him as his blood-bought child. He adopted you when he placed his family name -- the name of the Triune God -- on you, personally, through the water and word of Baptism. You were reborn. Your heavenly Father -- mark that word well -- YOUR heavenly Father takes care of you, for through faith in Jesus you are his dearly loved child. Remember how Jesus himself bought us the promise of care from our heavenly Father. He pointed to the birds and said, “They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26 NIV). His promises trump our worries.

But sometimes doesn't it seem that it takes God so long to act? Things go from bad to worse. We don't know what to do, so we worry. Notice how God didn't send Elijah to this widow until all other hope was gone, only one small meal stood between her and death. So often before we take God's promises to heart, he has to knock out all the false hopes and man-made promises that we're so apt to build on. We try propping ourselves up with our own strength, or other people, or the things of this world. So God weighs us down until everything collapses leaving only his promises for us to lean on. And his promises, the promises of your heavenly Father, will not break no matter how heavy the weight. His promises, and only his promises, truly trump our worries.

3) How do our heavenly Father's promises affect our actions toward others?

And as you, dear Christian, trust your heavenly Father's promises, his promises are the sure foundation on which you can take action. Just as this widow acted on God's promises so that she made bread for the Lord's prophet first, so also God's promises are our solid foundation, enabling us to show the love that does what is best for others. You heard the Apostle describe that love in the Second Lesson (1 Corinthians 12:27-13:13) today. “Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV). Such love acts for others without worrying about ourselves. It acts in ways that are generous, kind, selfless, considerate, forgiving. For you have the promise of the heavenly Father himself that he is taking care of you. His promises trump our worries so that we can love others, committing the care of ourselves to God alone.

So as you look at the hand of life you're dealt, what worry cards are you holding? Do you just have small worries? Maybe medium worries like sevens and eights? Maybe some major worries: Kings, Queens, maybe even an Ace. You don't want to bring any of them home. What Good News that your Father's promises trump your worries. Even his smallest promises will take away even your highest worry. And your God does not hold back his promises. He has played his Ace of trump, his Son Jesus Christ, so to speak. When you wonder whether God's promises are really for you, look to Jesus on the cross. The Father played his Ace for you. He “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all -- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NIV). His promises trump our worries. And if you doubt that although God is loving he might not be able to follow through, then look at the empty Easter tomb from which your Savior rose from the dead. Yes, the Ace of trump hasn't been lost. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes” in Christ. And so through him the 'Amen' is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV). Our heavenly Father's promises trump our worries. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313