Scripture Texts: 1 Kings 17:8-24
I need you to use your imaginations before I read the passage from 1 Kings. With all the recent rains, it is hard not to notice that the hillsides are lush with greenery and our yards are getting too lush to mow. Using your imagination, turn all that green grass to dried-up, wrinkled stubs. Picture the green, leafy foliage of the trees as barren limbs that look more like the onset of winter then the freshness of spring. That overflowing, churning Grande Ronde River? Bone-dry. That’s the setting for today’s passage. Earth-cracking drought.
Ahab was king of Israel, and the Bible says he did more to provoke the anger of the Lord than all the previous kings of Israel. He married Jezebel, daughter of the king of Sidon. In doing so, Ahab turned to her god, Baal, and worshiped and built shrines in his honor. Elijah, one of the great prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, comes on the scene. Baal was the god who was supposedly responsible for the clouds and weather. Elijah confronts Ahab and lets him know that it is the Lord God of Israel who brings the rains. But it is also God who withholds the rains. A three-year drought, so dry that not even the morning dew will form, will come upon the land. And with these words about the drought, Elijah becomes a prophet on the run. He hides out east of Israel in what is called a wadi, or seasonal stream bed. There, God provides for him by having the ravens bring him meat and bread every morning and evening until the wadi dries up. The Lord directs Elijah to leave the wadi to go to Sidon, the homeland of Jezebel. Now we pick up today’s reading. (Read 1 Kings 17:8-24.)
When Elijah comes walking out of the wadi on his way to the city of the unnamed widow, he must have looked like a wild man. Living in the wilderness all those weeks had an impact on him. He had a shaggy beard and hair, ragged and dirty clothes. When he reaches the gates of the city and has that first encounter with the widow, she must have wondered what came creeping into town. And then he calls out to her! “Bring me a drink of water!”
Even if there hadn’t been a drought at the time, the potential danger that the widow faced from this stranger was great. During the best of times, widows often had little or no means of economic support. But during the drought, her limited resources had literally dried up. People were just trying to survive! Wildman Elijah appeared as a real threat.
Yet…when their eyes met, she must have seen beyond his dirty outward appearance. She approaches him with what little water she has. And as she nears him, Elijah demands more, “Bring me a morsel of bread.” At this point, we learn how desperate her situation had become. She has no bread, only a handful of ground grain and a little oil that she plans to mix together, cook, and share with her son for their last meal before they die of starvation.
Elijah then makes a request that seems at first glance that he has no regard for her welfare in this time of need. He tells her to go do as she had planned; to make that last meal to share with her son. But first mix a cake of the grain and oil for him to eat. If she does this, if she trusts him and takes a chance with just a little of what she has, the Lord the God of Israel will bless her in an unexpected way: Elijah tells her that in this time of want, when a small amount of meal and oil is all that are left to be found, that her jar of meal will never go empty and her jar of oil will never be found lacking until the day the drought ends.
Why should she listen to him? She wasn’t from Israel. She has her own god, Baal, the god of Sidon. In an act of unbelievable hospitality and trust, she invites Elijah to come to her house, and she does as he says. In inviting Elijah into her home, the widow took a chance. In her limited resources, she opened her home to a wild man. She was willing to trust Elijah and his God. And she, her son, and Elijah ate until the drought was over.
This ordinary, humble woman had no idea what impact her small, quiet act of hospitality would have. Every day as Elijah and the widow and her son ate their little cakes of bread, they were reminded that God could be trusted—for another day. And every day their faith grew. In her trusting God, they all experienced the inexhaustible abundance of God.
Friends, do you see how this small act of trust had a huge impact? When we are willing to trust God, the smallest ordinary action can produce the most life-changing results. When we open the doors of our hearts and let Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, lead us in taking chances; God uses us to have an impact in the lives of those around us. Sometimes we may see and know what those impacts are; other times we have no idea how our acts of faith touch others.
I know for myself, after watching the news or reading the newspaper or answering a call at the church as someone looks for assistance with food or housing, I look out on the world and I see despair. I see misery. I see parched earth. I see drought. Then I meet a woman in the grocery store whose son brings home a backpack full of food on Fridays. She works a minimum wage job and can barely afford to keep shoes on her children’s feet. That food helps keep the kids happy, playful, and excited about life until they are back in school Monday morning. I look out on the horizon and through the heat waves rising from that dry earth, I see green, I see a little bit of life.
Then I meet a mother and daughter who will be getting a new home because someone had a dream about gathering people together, building relationships and partnerships, and building homes for those who couldn’t afford to buy one. I look and I no longer see dry earth, but an oasis, a place of life, a place where someone took a chance and put one step forward with God. That one step changed everything. That one action changed people’s lives. That one small act of trust brought life in a land that was barren and dry.
I’d like to share a story about how a small act of trust had an impact a continent away.[i] A young girl in Uganda named Christine and her two sibilings had been orphaned when their parents died of AIDS. They lived for almost two years on their own, when they were the ages of four, five, and seven. This trio scrounged for food on their own in the Ugandan country side, and when storms would hit, they would huddle in their dilapidated hut. They were finally found by a priest doing an orphan survey for World Vision.
Now, thousands of miles away in Australia, a new graduate named Julie Ann began a new job as a teacher. After seeing a commercial for World Vision, she decided to give a portion of her small salary to sponsor a child. She was matched with Christine in far away Uganda.
Because of World Vision, the children received a new home, medical care, food and an education. They became part of a local church, helping the priest that found them. Julie Ann continued to support Christine as she finished high school and even found the means to assist Christine in going to teacher’s school. Now as a teacher, Christine is reaching out to hundreds of children.
If it hadn’t been for Julie Ann, World Vision, and the priest in this village, Christine would be dead. If she had survived her childhood, she would have been forced into prostitution and died of the same disease that took the lives of her parents. Julie Ann had no idea her small act would have such a big impact on the lives of so many. Christine was able to make the trip to Australia as an adult and finally meet Julie Ann. For Christine, Julie Ann was the only mother she could ever remember, even though they had never met.
This story and countless others show what happens as we trust what God is calling us to do. Trust grows with the small steps of faith of all of us ordinary people—small steps toward Jesus rather than away from him—small steps of faithful obedience when we are attentive to the opportunities and God’s call around us. There is no act of faithfulness which is too small to be unusable in the hands of God. Trust God and take that step of faith with God. It will affect you, it will affect others. It always does. Who knows how God will use that simple act of faith and trust. God may just use it and you far beyond what you could ever imagine.
[i] Hayner’s entire story of Christine can be found at http://day1.org/1970-turning_points