Don’t Be Afraid

by Elaine Maust
1 Kings 17
June 10, 2007

Elijah trusted God.

So what was the big deal about that? Please open your Bible to I Kings 17 and let me tell you. Trusting God was not the most poplar thing to do at the time. Ahab was king of Israel. I Kings 16:33 says that Ahab, “did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.” And they were quite a line up with bad reputations! How would you like to be remembered as the one who made God the maddest?

And, Ahab was married to Jezebel, a woman who you might have heard of even if you don’t know much about the Bible. Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, made the worst husband wife team in history. Under their leadership God’s people went wrong in the worst way! Jezebel made a bad king worse. She was a queen with a foul nature and a nasty habit of killing God’s prophets. Together this destructive duo made Baal worship the national religion. Baal was the mythical god of rain, thunder and lightening. Remember these were God’s people, wandering off loving other gods. (1st commandment).

But Elijah trusted God. That was a big deal. Let’s see what the Bible says in I Kings 17. By the way, this is the first place in the Bible that this important prophet is mentioned.

We meet Elijah, from Gilead, as he waltzes up to this infamous King Ahab and makes a pronouncement. How exactly did he get access to the King? And what prepared Elijah for his extraordinary life of speaking on God’s behalf? So many questions…

Well, anyway, Elijah marches into the palace and up to the king and says, (v1). The King James Version says, “Before whom I stand…” Elijah was presenting himself as God’ chief executive or confidant.

God has an interesting sense of irony, wouldn’t you say? God is furious that his people, the ones he brought out of Egypt, the ones he cared for all those years, are now giving their loyalty to Baal. Now remember what Baal was supposed to be the god of? Thunder, lightening and rain, right? And so God, Israel’s God, Elijah’s God, our God says. “Okay, folks, you think this so-called god of thunder and lightening is all that? Well, then, it won’t rain until I say it rains. How about that?” God, making a point.

Then, verse 2, God speaks to Elijah again. You know I wonder how Elijah got the message? Did he just have a feeling? Did he have a dream? Did the Spirit whisper in his ear? God told Elijah where to hide. Running for one’s life does seem to be the thing to do at the time. God tells Elijah where the hide out will be, in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordon River.

(v4) “I have ordered.” God talks to people, but also directs nature. We have lots of examples of this in the Bible, but listen to this language, “I have ordered the ravens.” Even the ravens, those sassy black crows, at God’s command.

So like a good prophet, Elijah did what God said and went on a camping trip in the valley. You know, there are times in the future when Elijah doubted God. It is comforting to me that even this famous prophet struggled with trust sometimes. But that’s another sermon. In this chapter, watch for this, over and over Elijah gives God the benefit of the doubt. I’d like to trust God enough to just keep doing what God says, even when I’m not sure how it’s going to work out.

So Elijah set up camp in the Kerith Ravine. I picture him there that afternoon. Sitting there, alone with God. The first moments of a long silent personal retreat. I wonder, as the sun began to set, if Elijah was getting a little hungry as he waited for the crows to bring him a sandwich. But then, I imagine, he heard something behind him. And there, there were a small flock of black birds coming toward him. As they got closer, he could see there was something in their beaks. And then, they were upon him, feathers and squawking and gone. And on the rock in front of him, bread and meat.

Holy take out.

The Interpreters Commentary says, “A miracle is an event with which human comprehension has not caught up. It is not an interruption of law, but the workings of a law which human reason has not yet charted.”

Do you suppose he was afraid to taste it at first? You know ravens are scavengers. Where did the birds get the food? Doesn’t matter, Elijah was fed, morning and evening, by bird delivery for “some time.”

Then the brook dried up. (v7) Sobering words. Would you have been worried about then? “Okay God. You’re the one who told me to come out here in the middle of nowhere. It’s not looking good for me right now.”

But remember Elijah trusted God. And God was still taking care of Elijah, leading him to new opportunities and preparing fresh resources. God has a whole country full of people in a faith and farming crisis and God doesn’t forget about one prophet waiting for instructions down by the dry bed of a creek. But that’s just like God. We can count on Him to come through.

We know a little about a drought, don’t we. Our area is over 17″ short of rain this year. But imagine how your yard and garden would look if it never rained and there was no dew! No grass. No flowers. No leaves on the trees.

Unless you know the story, you will never guess where God sent Elijah next. Zarephath.

Now that may not seem like such a big deal to you. But let me tell you, it was. Zarephath was on the wrong side of the Israelite tracks. These folks were not Kosher, you understand. People from Israel were not supposed to have anything to do with Phoenicians, no eating, no visiting.

Ironically God said, “Go at once to Zarephath.” And there’s something else you should know about Zarephath. It was located on what is today, the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon. Just 9 miles south of Sidon, Jezebel’s home town. And Sidon was the worship center for Baal, the rain god. So God said, in effect, “I’ll take care of you during the drought, Elijah, and I’ll do it right under the nose of this so called god.”

Elijah got up and started walking. Walking to Zarephath would have been a little like us walking to Jackson. What makes you keep on trusting God when your “brook runs dry”?

“Go to Zarephath and stay there.” Hmmm… Elijah never knows where God will send him next. His last audience, you remember, was with a king. This time it was with a widow. (v9)

Why all the way to Zarephath? Was there no one in Israel who could be trusted to offer hospitality? In fact, Jesus in Luke 4 says, (25-26) “there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time… yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.”

Just like God commanded the birds to feed Elijah, God commanded (v9) a widow to feed him. So how did the widow get the message? How did she hear God’s command?

I love it. There’s this cosmic show down between God and Baal brooding, and God looks up some obscure poor woman, an outsider, a single parent, to invite her in on the action.

Elijah finally makes it to Zarephath. Wonder what shape he’s in by now? Did he look like he had been living under a bridge? As he approaches the city gates he sees a woman gathering sticks for a cooking fire. He calls out to her (v10). Reasonable request for a traveler in a drought.

Without a word, she turns to get the water. When he calls back, “And one more thing,” (v11).

Okay, water was one thing. But a piece of bread, now that is another entirely. (v12) Imagine that you are so low on groceries, that you can’t even come up with a few bites to share with another hungry person.

(v12). (So, she knew the Lord.) She listed for Elijah the entire contents of her pantry. She knew exactly what she had. Imagine the careful rationing. The weeks of watching the contents of the jars slip away. Trying to make everything come out just right so nothing could be wasted. Tonight it would be gone. It was as if she was down to her last peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Tonight they would split it and then, she and her son, would die.

And Elijah said, “Don’t be afraid.”

Oh God, give me that kind of courage and faith. That when I am down and desperate myself, I still trust God enough to say to someone else, “Don’t be afraid.”

Then Elijah gave her a lesson in first fruits giving. No matter how little or much we have, the first belongs to God. When I share the first with God and others, there will always be more for me. And Elijah gave her a promise (v14) Elijah knew what he was talking about when he assured her that God would take care of her, didn’t he? And here is a great confession of faith (v15)

Sometimes the greatest faith is to trust that I have something to offer

So the Bible says, Elijah came to live with the woman and her family, for the duration of the drought. (v16) Do you suppose she wondered a little about the strange character who occupied her guestroom? Verse 24 gives us a hint that maybe she did. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This story reminds me of some of the desperate times we have been through here at Jubilee, together and as individuals. Times when there was nothing left. I remember times when the pain of life was unbearable for some of you. When the doctors offered no hope. When there was no money left. When the creek dried up. When the oil and flour were almost gone. When we were asked to share when there was nothing but crumbs for ourselves. You know your own stories.

And God said, “Don’t be afraid.”

And in ways we could not have imagined. God, the God who can be trusted, intervened. Thanks be to God.

(Simon Tugwell, from A Guide to Prayer) “The miracle that breaks the rules reminds us that the rules themselves are miraculous. We need to rediscover and to cherish a basic sense of wonder, of surprise, of the precariousness of actuality.”

And so our nameless widow lived a miracle everyday. Do you suppose she checked the jars every morning when she got up? Still enough for lunch. Could she trust God for tomorrow too? Were those days of celebration? Of fear?

How about us? We have experienced similar trust tests and similar miracles. And our days now? Are they filled with fears for the future or trust in God?

But the chapter isn’t over yet. There’s one more trust test for us to consider…

Her child got sick. She watched him as he grew sicker and sicker. Weaker and weaker. I wonder if she was remembering her fear from before Elijah’s arrival, of having to watch her child die. Do you suppose he had some illness related to malnutrition? (v17)

And this widow who lived by God’s miraculous provision, lost it. Who can blame her? Her son was dead. She blamed Elijah. (18) She blamed herself.

Elijah asks her to give him the boy. What did he plan to do? He carried the boy upstairs to the prophet’s quarters where he was staying and laid the boy out on the bed. I wonder if his lips were blue. And Elijah asks a question so many of us have asked in the face of tragedy, God, how could you let this happen? (v20)

Then three times he spread himself over the boy’s body, (my sister the nurse says she thinks Elijah was giving him CPR). Praying a desperate prayer. And God, who was listening all the time, heard Elijah and the boy lived. (v22)

Elijah picked up the boy and carried him back downstairs. Think about how different the trip down the stairs was than the trip up the stairs. (23)

Then the woman gave a second confession of faith, “Now I know….” (v24)

When we find ourselves in the kind of desperation I Kings 17 talks about we often wonder, can we trust God? Will God come through for us this time? Will we really have everything that we need? Can we dare to believe the hope God speaks into our hearts?

But God is never on trial. God is the God of provision and healing. The God of the birds and the rain. The God of enough.

No, the test of trust in time like this is on us. Will we believe and act or will we fear and turn away from God. The question is not, can I trust God, but can God trust me? Will I share and live or will I hoard and die? Will I believe and pray? Will I wait and trust?

Remember what Job said when he was in the worst moments in his life? His wife (that woman was no help) told Job, (Job 2:9-10) “Are you still holding on?… Curse God and die!” Job said, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In Job 13:15 Job summed up his trust in God, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”

Even if the oil and flour would have run out. Even if the son would not have come back to life. May our confession be, “Yet will I trust him.”

May God give us the faith to remember his provision
The trust to share our crumbs
And the courage to keep responding to his call.

A Handful of Flour, a Little Oil
By Macrina Wiederkehr from A Tree full of Angels

Having eaten my last crumb
I hear a voice in the wilderness of my heart
Bring me a little water
The voice pleads.
I am off for the water
When again I am interrupted
Bring me a scrap of bread
The voice calls.
I freeze inside, barely able to believe
The demands of God.
It is kindness to give someone a drink, yes
But to give out of an empty house is agony.

Someone is asking for a crust of bread
And I have only
A few teas
A handful of flour
A little oil.
The sticks in my hand
Are to build a fire,
To bake a few crumbs for myself
Before I die.

But the call waits in my soul
Like a volcano.
I bake the bread in silence
With my tears
With my handful of flour
With my little oil.
The salt from my tears is the seasoning.

The hungry one eats and is nourished.

Suddenly I am hungry no longer
My vessel of flour is undiminsihing
My jar of oil never runs dry.

When you have gathered up the crumbs
Of all you have and are
And baked your bread
In the only place left:
The oven of your heart,
Then you will know what it means
To be bread for the world.

There is a wealth in poverty
That ought not to be wasted.
There is a nourishment in crumbs
That ought to be tasted.

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