God’s Healings 6/6/10

1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24) and Luke 7:11-17

I.                    The Modern Dilemma of Miracles

We cynical modern individuals have trouble with thinking about the reality of miracles.  Perhaps they are just things that could be explained in Biblical times but would now have an easy scientific explanation … and then there are those of who have been affected by something miraculous who know that explaining it does not make it any less extraordinary.

As we look at our two scripture texts from today, let us look for what God is doing in and through these miracles. 

II.                 1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)

A.                 A History of Kings and Prophets

After bringing the Israel people to the Promised Land, the people start to settle in and they get hungry for some structure – they ask God for a King.  Grudgingly, God allows them to have a King – the first one was Saul, his successor David, and his successor Solomon on down the line.  With each king, there is a prophet – a man of God who helps the king to remain accountable to the true king – God.  Holding the kings accountable and responsible, as you might imagine, did not always make a prophet very popular.

  • Ahab and Jezebel
  • Elijah’s message to Ahab and the ensuing drought throughout the land.

“Karl Allen Kuhn sums all of this up best by looking at the big picture, in ‘the contrast the author of 1 Kings is drawing through the wider narrative between the forces that lead to blessing and the forces that lead to destruction’ (New Proclamation 2010). Are you, and your church, ‘a force that leads to blessing’?”[1]

B.                 Elijah in Trouble

Our narrative in 1 Kings has not one but three miracles that work together to build drama into our story.  They pull us along, and make us hold our breath as we wait to find out where God is taking us.

  • First – the birds that bring Elijah food in the desert.
  • Second – the meager amount of food lasting much longer that it should have been able to
  • Third – the raising of the widow’s only son after he died.

C.                 God’s workings in this situation

Elijah – God is leading Elijah in ways that seem counterintuitive.  He tells him to go to Sidon (Jezebel’s homeland) where he will find a widow, not a person of power or resources to help him.  Elijah does not necessarily understand all that will happen as a result of his listening to God, but he goes.  His trust in God allows for the work of God within the situation at hand.

The Widow – When Elijah asks for water, the widow responds out of the societal customs of hospitality, but she protests when he demands on being fed first.  She has only a very little amount of food – so little that she is, in fact, preparing to die after this next (her last!) meal.  I’m not certain that Elijah knew why he was doing things this way … but by demanding to be fed first, Elijah allows the woman to put her trust in God as well.  There is no way for us to know how we will act if and when we get to the end of all hope, but this widow found something in Elijah and “his God” that gave her hope.

“Fretheim writes that “the activities of both God and creature are considered crucial in bringing life at each step,” with the prophet himself, and the widow, and the birds all sharing what they have to offer: ‘effective power is exercised through the birds of the air, small gestures, meager resources, feeble words, human obedience, and the witness of a poor woman. Through such lowly means, God’s work gets done, even in the most hostile of places’ (First and Second Kings, Westminster Bible Companion).” [2]

To bring this back home to us: what both Elijah and the widow did that all of us are capable of doing in our faith walk today is to trust in God’s plan for our lives.  The poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran said, “Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but manifestations of strength and resolution.”  It is out of Elijah’s deep faith that he can trust in God’s path.  The widow’s desperate (and therefore strong) hope is what allows her to begin to have faith in this foreign God of the wild prophet man before her. We may not understand or like the specific tasks set down in front of us, but believing and hoping in God and in the future is a strong and courageous act of faith which, I believe, is always rewarded.

III.               Luke 7:11-17

We have not yet talked about the third miracle, when Elijah raised the widow’s son from death to life.  The prophet Elijah was close in the minds of the people that saw Jesus, experience his presence, witnessed to his miracles.  This third miracle so closely relates to Jesus’ actions  

A.                 Why help a widow?

Widows had very little power in Biblical times.  As a woman you were first your father’s responsibility, then your husbands.  If your husband died before you, one of his relatives married you and cared for you.  “The death of an only son would leave a widow without an heir … and without an heir all personal property reverted to the husband’s family after his death.”[3]  Leaving the widow with absolutely nothing.

Thankfully today, this is not normally the case.  The care of widows and orphans is stressed repeatedly throughout the Bible.  The widows in Sidon and in Nain are both absolutely racked with grief for their child – not because they now have no standing in society, but because they have lost their only child.  Both Elijah and Jesus are moved with compassion for these two women.

The poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran said, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?”  The widow in 1 Kings is almost afraid to hope, but her suffering had carved out a space in which God could reside.

IV.             Jesus is moved by compassion.

Nobody asks Jesus for this healing in Luke.  Jesus sees the woman, perhaps is reminded of the story of Elijah and the widow and is moved with compassion.  “In the Hellenistic and Roman culture in which being moved by another was a sign of weakness, here that supposed ‘weakness’ is associated with Jesus and, through him, with God.  Compassion and mercy are the apex (the height/ the peak) of God’s character and of the new communal life in the Spirit.”[4]

Without any words of explanation from anyone, Jesus understands this woman’s pain.  He knows her heart and he yearns to ease her pain, to comfort her in her suffering.  I find this to be the most moving part of our two passages:

“Jesus can hear the cries hidden in the deepest crevices of our despair, just as he heard the heart of the grieving widow.  He touches us in the place of our greatest pain.”[5]

This does not take away our pain or suffering, but our deepest longing in life is to be seen, known and loved – not by some distant, benevolent God, but by a personally invested, strongly compassionate Savior who loves beyond the end.  This is our deep longing.  This is our deep comfort.  Thanks be to God!

Let’s pray: Always There by John van de Laar © 2010 Sacredise

 We thank you, O God,
    for the miracles of supply
        in our moments of need

    for the miracle of resurrection
        in our moments of lifelessness and despair

    for the gift of faith
        when our ability to believe is strained.
And we praise you for always being there for us.

You are God,
    You are accessible,
        You are involved.
And, we recognize our need of you.

Thank you that, as we seek to love, to serve, to follow you and to make a contribution,
    we can rely on your grace and your Spirit to support and guide us.  Amen.

[1] Kate Huey, Courageous Compassion.  http://www.ucc.org/worship/samuel/june-06-2010-tenth-sunday.html

[2] [2] Kate Huey, Courageous Compassion.  http://www.ucc.org/worship/samuel/june-06-2010-tenth-sunday.html 

[3] Verlee A. Copeland in Feasting on the Word: Luke 7:11-17.

[4] Gregory Anderson Love in Feasting on the Word, Luke 7:11-17.

[5] M. Jan Holton in Feasting on the Word, Luke 7:11-17. 


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