Rev. Joel Fritsche
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. So what's the lesson here? We could talk about faith. Elijah was in hiding after prophesying drought and famine to evil King Ahab in Israel. Yahweh, the Lord, had sent Elijah east of the Jordan to the brook Cherith. There God promised to provide for him miraculously. He could drink from the brook and ravens would bring him bread and meat. It happened just as the Lord said, according to His Word. Next, the Lord sent him to a widow out in the Gentile territory of Sidon. Again the Lord promised to provide for Elijah in a miraculous way. Widows didn't typically have much. How would she feed him, especially in the midst of famine? But it happened again, just as the Lord said, according to the word He spoke to Elijah. Each time Elijah stepped out in faith.
What about the widow? Well, she stepped out in faith, too. She and her son were down to a smidgeon of flour and oil. She was ready to bake a little cake—a last meal of sorts for her and her son. They would eat it and then it would be death by starvation.
But along comes the prophet, the Lord's mouthpiece to speak His promises. And so Elijah does just that. He gives a command, but one with a concrete promise: "Go ahead, bake that little cake, but first give some to me, then some for you and your son. THUS SAYS THE LORD, the flour and oil shall not run out until I send rain upon the earth." So the widow took a leap of faith and look what God did. And the oil and flour didn't run out.
Wow! We have a lot to work with here. I mean, here we are in Nashville. We might even have a great country song on our hands. Tragedy! Certain death! Miracles! A widow! A momma and her boy! Biscuits! We could write a real whopper of a faith- inspiring tale of tragedy to triumph. And isn't that just what YOU need so that YOU can step out in faith, too? And if you do? Won't the good Lord pour out His blessings upon you? He took care of Elijah. He took care of the widow and her son. You're next. If you just obey Him, trust Him and take that leap of faith, imagine what God will do for you.
Guys, that's how texts like this one are often universally applied, preached and taught. But's that's not right. Now hold on. I'm not against obedience. I'm not saying Christians can't step out in faith and trust to take bold action. However, look at the text. Elijah had a specific promise under specific circumstances in a specific place. Hiding from Ahab and his wicked wife, Jezebel, the Lord sent Elijah to Zarephath and promised to provide for him. Same goes for the widow. Elijah spoke to her what the Lord promised about flour and oil.
If we're going to make taking a leap of faith the central theme, what do we make of how the story continues after the text? The widow's son dies and she blames Elijah—that he came to rub her sins in her face. Okay, so God does another miracle and raises him back to life. That's cool. But you can't help but recognize that faith wavers. And look at Elijah, despite God's miraculous provision, despite later seeing God's power over the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, his faith wavered at times, too. He feared for his life. Would God protect him from Jezebel? At one point he just wanted to die. That's how it goes for sinners, even the Lord's prophets. We go from faith and trust to weakness and despair.
Still, all too often we think that if we just show the Lord how faithful we are, He should pour on the goodness. And so we tend to focus on the promises that just aren't there instead of the promise that is. Yes, there were plenty of times when our Lord commended the faith of certain individuals in the Scriptures. He even once commended the faith of a Syrophoenician woman in the same region where Elijah met the widow.
Surely He'll commend my faith, hold me up as an example, reward me. But in the reality, this is how the devil works to snuff out faith, by pulling you away from what is specific and concrete, a promise from God to you, for you, to whatever else strikes your fancy, whatever you think God should be doing for you at the moment. Repent!
God has provided so much more for you, dear Christian. As always, God has the bigger picture in view. He provided for the widow of Zarephath and her son in a way she didn't even fully recognize. In fact, God was actually at work for the salvation of the world. God was sustaining His prophet, Elijah, the mouthpiece of His promise to save humanity from sin and death. God called Elijah to speak hope in the midst of the reign of one of Israel's most evil kings, the dynamic duo of Ahab and Jezebel. God was keeping alive the promise FOR YOU, the same promise given to our first parents, Adam and Eve, after the fall, the promise a Savior. It's a concrete promise of salvation for you.
Through His prophets of old, from Elijah to Isaiah and Jeremiah, God revealed more and more about the Savior of His fallen people, until the greater Elijah came in the fullness of time: Jesus Christ, more than a prophet, more than a miracle worker. Oh, He did miracles, too. He even fed 5,000 people from a little bit of bread and a couple of fish.
Still, some only wanted a miracle worker, a bread king, but God was doing something so much bigger. Your Jesus was ready to die, to give His life in payment for your sins and the sins of the world. That's just what He did on the cross—a concrete promise of salvation for you, promise fulfilled, a promise that never runs out.
God provided for His prophet Elijah through the most helpless person imaginable: a widow on the brink of death. But that's how God works. Through the death of His only Son, He provides for you. To the water in a little vessel at the font of Holy Baptism, He's attached His very concrete, specific promise and He's given you to drink the water of life that never runs dry.
Through a morsel of bread and a sip of wine, He feeds you with His very own Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, that you may eat and drink and not die, but live. Oh, you're ready to die, to depart in peace, but God's promise to you in Christ, is that believing in Him, even though you die, you live.
We can talk about faith until we're blue in the face. But far better for you is the promise, the Jesus, the Bread of Life come down from heaven, who sustains you in the way, by whom you live and move and have your being. He is God's concrete, specific promise for you. Take, eat, this is My Body! Take, drink, this is My Blood. And so it is for you, according to His Word. Eat and live forever! In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Joel Fritsche serves as a career missionary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in the Dominican Republic. He is also the Secretary of the Higher Things Board of Directors.
Created: July 27th, 2016