1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)
The word of the LORD came to Elijah, 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.
The Failure of Fear
Two things come from text. 1. There are times of drought in our lives. And in the midst of drought 2. a perspective of hospitality. This morning I’m going to ride the rail of hospitality.
Henri Nouwen wrote, In his book Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life.
“The church is perhaps one of the few places left where we can meet people who are different than we are but with whom we can form a larger family.” "To form a healthy expression of that “larger family” the parish needs to become more and more a community of hospitality. Hospitality both for the stranger and also for the existing congregation.
His model of spiritual life might be seen in images. Images of poles and the movement between poles. The poles are total polar opposites." The spiritual life is that constant movement between the poles of loneliness and solitude, hostility and hospitality, illusion and prayer. The more we come to the painful confession of our loneliness, hostility and illusions, the more we are able to see solitude, hospitality and prayer as part of the vision of our life. It is indeed difficult to move from fear to faith. Hopelessness to hopefulness.
As I look at my own life and my reason for being here I confess that priest have these tedious lives.
The life of the priest is filled with moments of wonderment. We baptize your babies, we marry your children, we bury your loved ones, we stand at your loved ones bedsides and watch as they take their last breaths, we stand at gravesides with tears in our eyes, the graduations, the accidents, the suicides, the broken hearts, the times of refreshing and yet there are times when we still may feel alone. Surrounded by a congregation and these strange but real feelings arise. We may seem as though we bear them well. Lives filled with Wonderment yes, but sometimes our lives are filled with despair.
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)
We Wear the Mask
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
We hold it together. We suck it up. We act as though nothing has happened. We act as though it does not matter, but yes my brothers and sisters it does matter. It does hurt and we do cry. We feel your pain, we bear the burdens, we know that that cross is heavy, but we bear it anyhow, bear it anyhow because Jesus said it would get easier.
However it is the combination of hospitality even in a reluctant form and dry times in our lives that the text today leans toward. We get our bread and water from the widows and the weak.
This is where the hope is. The good news. Yes, There are dessert places in our lives. Times when our deepest despair is inwardly magnified and feelings of hostility, loneliness, and dark illusions fill our souls.
We find that we have been rejected by those who we thought loved us and we now have to live in a new reality called hopelessness. If you’ve ever been overcome by hopelessness you consider options where there is no future. You lose sight of where real good loving is. You drift from the good times of prosperity and health, toward feelings of drought, famine and disease of the soul. You succumb to feelings of self loathing, self hate and self destruction.
You no longer live nor long to rise in the arms of faith but barreling on a downward spiral that will not end well.
But our text tells us In the midst of dry places, in the midst of storms, in the midst of famine, there is hope. That’s what today’s text is about, a woman who has lost hope, a son who has nothing to offer and a stranger who has a strange request of the mother who is a widow.
When she obeys the man of God she moves aside her fears and exercises a measure of faith. That’s what is takes to overcome fear and doubt, faith. Mother Isabelle Atchinson would say starve your doubt and feed your faith. In tough times it takes faith. Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. It is the unseen future that provides a different reality than our circumstances may dictate.
The new reality, a new way of thinking, a new way of seeing, the prism of faith gives us the proverbial rose colored glasses to see things not the way they are, but the way they shall be, when God gets through. In famine and times of despair God becomes our reality.
He’s so high we can’t get over Him. So wide we cant get around him. So low we can’t get under him the song writer would say.
God’s reality erases fear, when faith moves in.
Fear builds more mountains, Faith moves mountains,
Fear extinguishes hope, faith sustains hope.
Fear has us conclude that there is no future and faith helps us create not only a future but assures of that life it is not futile.
The women’s story is our story, she is a widow, she is nameless, not because she is not important but so that you may insert your name, her story is our story, if not through connecting in her poverty, then in her despair…
the text reveals to us, everything is going to be alright. Isn't that just like God. Beloved, together, priest and people, We go through, famines, floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, turmoil, wars, and a still small voice from heaven comes and tells us The Lord will make away somehow.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waits for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who has subjected the same in hope, …
Interjection of faith…faith moves in…and a little meal and oil is enough.
Faith moves in and the jug of oil does not run dry til its season has ended.
Faith moves in and the young man and the mother live.
Faith moves in and fear moves out.
Finally, faith is full of promises. A little meal and a little oil means for the woman and her son a future. That’s why Jesus, the Text and Henri Noewen are striving to get us to understand that hospitality gives the traveler, the sojourner rest for the soul.
To my weary travelers on the road of life I leave you with this song written by my godmother Loretta’s Anderson’s grandfather the late Charles A. Tindley, a Methodist preacher in Philadelphia PA, wrote
1. Life is like a mountain railway,
With an engineer that's brave;
We must make the run successful,
From the cradle to the grave;
Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels;
Never falter, never quail;
Keep your hands upon the throttle,
And your eyes upon the rail.
Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us,
Till we reach that blissful shore,
When the Angels wait to join us
In Thy praise for evermore.
2. You will roll up grades of trial;
You will cross the bridge of strife;
See that Christ is your conductor
On this lightning train of life;
Always mindful of obstruction,
Do your duty, never fail;
Keep your hands upon the throttle,
And your eyes upon the rail. Amen.