Pentecost 3c

Preached: June 9, 2013

The LORD Works Strength through Tragedy
1 Kings 17:17-24

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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 strengthens our faith in our Lord's continual care for us is 1 Kings.

Later on the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. His sicknesses worsened until his breath was gone. She said to Elijah, “What have you done to me, man of God! Did you come to me to bring to mind my guilt and bring death to my son?”

He said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed.

He called to the LORD, “O LORD, my God, have you troubled even this widow with whom I'm staying by bringing death to her son?” Then he stretched himself out along the boy three times. He called to the LORD, “O LORD, my God, I pray that you let this boy's soul return to him.”

The LORD listened to Elijah's plea. The boy's soul returned to him, and he became alive.

Elijah took the boy, brought him down from the upper room of the house, and gave him to his mother. He said, “See, your son lives.”

The woman said to Elijah, “Now I know this that you are a man of God and the word of the LORD in your mouth is the truth.” (1 Kings 17:17-24).

This is the word of our Lord.

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

In Moore, Oklahoma, and then in El Reno, people were busy with their daily lives. Many of them no doubt good Christian people. And then how suddenly everything changed when the EF5 tornadoes struck! So also in our lives. We know those times of loss, of sickness, of injury, of death. Life moves along fine and then out of the blue tragedy strikes -- whether a natural disaster, an sudden accident, an unexpected doctor's report, a troubling phone call, or the like.

We see the same happening in the life of the widow we meet in the text here. Unlike when we're caught in the emotional confusion of our own tragedy, here we can step back and reflect taking to heart this Scripture and glimpsing the bigger picture. We see that the Lord works strength through tragedy. He does it for this widow and for you and me, dear Christian, as well. The Lord works strength through tragedy. That's the theme. We first see a widow's faith grow stronger. And then we see the prophet's example embolden us.

A. A widow's faith grows stronger

Who is this widow? We don't know her name. She was not from the people of Israel. She lived in Zarephath outside of the promised land to the north. How did a prophet of the Lord, the God of Israel, end up staying at her house?

Here's how. Under King Ahab the people of Israel turned even farther away from the Lord. Baal had become their national God. The prophet Elijah proclaimed the Lord's judgment against them. Because of their wickedness God sent a drought and famine which would last over three years. To take care of his prophet, the Lord sent Elijah to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. There he could drink from the brook and the Lord sent ravens to bring him bread and meat.

But because of the drought, the brook eventually dried up. So the Lord sent Elijah to this widow in Zarephath. And even though she is not from the people of Israel, take note of her faith. She's gathering sticks for a fire when Elijah arrives. He asks for a drink of water, and as she leaves to get it, he calls out asking for a little bread as well. Then she tells him that she has no bread and is almost out of flour and oil. In fact, she's gathering sticks to make a fire to bake one last meal for her son and herself before they die.

Elijah tells us to go do as she planned but first to make a small bit of bread for him. And then he speaks this promises from the Lord: “For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘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 NIV84).

What faith we see in the widow! She takes the Lord at his word. As impossible as it sounded and even though her last meal on earth was at stake, she believed the Lord's promise and made the bit of bread for Elijah first.

The Lord was true to his word. The prophet stayed in the upper room of the house. There was flour and oil each day. Life had turned for the better as she lived her faith. And then tragedy struck. Her son, her only son, sickened and died. She had already lost her husband and now her son. We hear the despair and agony in her words as she takes it out on Elijah. “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (1 Kings 17:18 NIV84). That's her grief rather than her faith speaking. But we can understand her heartbreak. “Why is God doing this to me? I was trusting him to take care of me. And now this! Is he getting back at me for all my sins? Are his promises of forgiveness only for others? What hope do I have left?”

Now unlike when we're caught in our own tragic situation, we can jump ahead and see the Lord's plan here. Take note of what the widow says at the end of the text. “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth” (1 Kings 17:24 NIV84). Do you see how the Lord strengthened her faith all the more? She could count on his word no matter what, even in the face of death, for the Lord brings life out of death. Yes, the Lord worked strength out of this tragedy. He strengthened the widows faith. And he does the same for you and me, dear Christians.

When we go through those troubling times, we can't see the end as we do when we look at the widow here. We don't live by sight, but by faith that trusts the Lord's word, even though we can't see the outcome. He strengthens our faith by showing us that the only firm foundation to stand on in this life is his word of truth.

So, dear Christian friends, when the Lord sends those times of trouble and tragedy, times that weigh heavy on your heart and remind you of your sins, times that may even lead you to question why you should follow Jesus if such things still happen to his people -- in such times run to his word of truth. Hold on to his promises. Even though what you are feeling at the moment and your present tragic experience seem to contradict his word, cling to his promises all the more. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV84), he says. No one can snatch you out of Jesus' hands, for as the Good Shepherd he knows his sheep, who listen to his voice and follow him, John 10. Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is Christ Jesus our Lord, Romans 8. For see how God's love already has sacrificed his Son for you to pay for your sins. Since he did not spare his own Son, believe that you are reconciled to God. Your sins have been counted against Jesus instead. You are forgiven. The Father is caring for you as his own dear, blood-bought child. Not only do the Scriptures but also Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper testify to that truth. Believe his word of truth.

The Lord works strength even in tragedy. He strengthens our faith and he emboldens us in our Christian lives as we learn from the prophet Elijah's example.

B. A prophet's example emboldens us

There are two things we want to note for our learning today from Elijah's example: 1) His boldness and confidence that the Lord answers prayer; 2) His boldness and confidence that the Lord raises the dead.

First prayer. When the widow lashed out at him, Elijah understood her grief and did not retaliate. Rather he takes the boy in his arms and carries him up to his room to pray. He calls on the Lord. What boldness as he, a sinner like you and me, knocks on the door of the Almighty! But it's a boldness born from faith. His boldness doesn't come from thinking that he deserves to be heard. It's a boldness born from faith, faith that knows the Lord's forgiveness, faith that knows his gracious invitation to cast all our cares on him, faith that comes in all humbleness, confessing our unworthiness, relying on his mercy alone, clinging to nothing but the Lord's promises.

So also, dear Christian, bring your pleas to the Lord with that same kind of faith-produced boldness. You, dear sinner, have been washed clean in the blood of Christ. Your sins are forgiven in Christ so that through him your prayers are acceptable the heavenly Father. Pray as a baptized child of God, washed and reborn into his family. You, dear Christian, have the Lord's invitation and command to come before him with all your cares. Pray without doubting but rather with the confidence that God truly wants to listen to every word, for he is the one who has told you to pray. You, dear Christian, believe the Lord's promise that he will answer in the best way. Pray humbly with the boldness that clings to his promise of mercy believing that whatever answer he gives must be right and good, even if it isn't what you were expecting. The prophets example emboldens us in prayer.

Secondly, Elijah believed in the resurrection. He was confident in the Lord's power to raise the dead. We, too, look forward to the resurrection of the dead when Jesus' returns on the Last Day with his angels and our bodies will be raised and glorified to live with him forever.

Confidence in the coming resurrection emboldens us to live each day for Jesus. How does it do that? First it gives us the proper perspective on the priorities of this life. All the earthly things we strive for, even the necessities of food and clothing, will pass away. Our relationship with Jesus is more important than anything else. Only in him do we have eternal life. For he alone is the Resurrection and the Life. So confidence in the resurrection emboldens us to place Jesus first. Second, the coming resurrection emboldens us with unfailing hope. For no matter what the world does against us, Jesus will raise us up. So what can stop us from daring all for Jesus, who gave his life for us? Confidence in the resurrection emboldens us to follow Jesus with unfailing hope no matter what the world does. That's living for Jesus. So learn from Elijah's example.

Tragedies have struck and will continue to strike God's people. And when they do, know and believe, dear Christian friends, that the Lord works strength through tragedy. 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