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Cleansed

Pastor Galen, May 19th 2019

2 Kings 5:1-14

Everything Was Perfect – Until It Wasn’t

How many of you know someone who seems to have it all together? Maybe from outward appearances they seem to have the perfect life – wealth, power, prestige, the perfect marriage, good health. From outward appearances they have it made.

Such was the life of Naaman, the successful military commander of the country of Aram who was favored by the king – that is, until he was struck with leprosy. Until then, Naaman had the power, money and prestige to get whatever he wanted or needed. He had a great family, a beautiful house, a wonderful wife. He had servants and soldiers who did whatever he told them to do. He had access to the best doctors and medical care that money could afford.

And so, you can imagine his shock when physician after physician told him that his disease was incurable.

And not only incurable, but debilitating, degenerative, and life-threatening.

His leprosy would one day cause him to become crippled, or paralyzed, and possibly even blind. There was nothing that could be done to prevent this, nothing that anyone do to help him. He would be forced to live with this disease for the rest of his life, and slowly and painfully watch everything that he had worked so hard to gain gradually slip through his fingers.

Not only that, but because leprosy was believed to be highly contagious in those times, Naaman would soon be banished from his friends and family, forced to live a life of loneliness and isolation.

There comes a time in almost everyone’s life when they come face to face with their own vulnerability and mortality. For Naaman, this was that time.

Naaman’s diagnose was essentially a death sentence – a slow, painful, horrendous walk down death row.

A Young Girl’s Testimony

That is, until Naaman’s wife’s young servant girl spoke up. Forcibly taken away from her homeland, ripped away from her friends and family, it would have been easy for her to become embittered or cynical. Naaman himself may have been the one who took her captive. She had every right to hate him, to rejoice in his impending demise.

And yet she spoke up. She spoke up with compassion, but also a sense of pride and dignity. Even in captivity, even after being forced to travel over 700 miles away from her home, she still remembered her homeland and she still remembered her God. And she remembered the prophet Elisha performed miracles. And despite everything that her captor had done to her, she wanted him to know and experience the healing power of her God as well.

And so she spoke up. “If only my master were with the prophet in Israel. Surely the prophet Elisha would be able to cure him of his disease.”

Naaman’s Desperation and Extravagant Gift

Now, the fact that Naaman believed her, and that he went to such great lengths to travel all the way to Israel find the prophet Elisha speaks to the power of this young servant girl’s testimony. She must have been known to be honest and trustworthy, or Naaman would have never believed her.

But of course, Naaman was also incredibly desperate.

And so Naaman went to the king, who immediately drafted a letter to the King of Israel and sent Naaman along with “ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.” (2 Kings 5:5).

Now this was an absurdly exorbitant sum of money.  Ten silver shekels was the average annual income in those days, and you could purchase a ton of grain for one gold shekel. So the ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten garments that Naaman brought with him were equal to 750 million dollars! This shows not only how desperate Naaman’s situation was, but also how much the king valued Naaman and wanted him to be healed.

The Rest of the Story

You probably know the rest of the story. Naaman arrives in Israel and delivers the letter to the king of Israel, most likely assuming that a prophet who had the ability to cure diseases must be a member of the royal court.

The king of Israel thinks that the Aramean king is trying to start yet another battle with him (they have been fighting off and on for many years), because he knows that neither he nor anyone in his royal court has the power to heal Naaman. He tears his kingly robes as a sign of mourning. This is a national emergency — he thinks that the King of Aram is trying to start another war with them!

But the prophet Elisha hears of it and sends word to the king requesting that Naaman come to him to be healed.

Naaman arrives at Elisha’s house, but Elisha doesn’t even answer the door. He sends a messenger out to Naaman, instructing him to go and wash seven times in the waters of the muddy Jordan River.

Naaman is offended. He just traveled 700 miles and brought ¾ of a billion dollars to be healed by this prophet, and the prophet tells him to wash in a river? He could have done that back home! At the very least he had expected the prophet to come outside and meet him and be impressed by the large sum of money that Naaman brought to him, and wave his arms in the air and call on his God to heal Naaman!

But Elisha doesn’t seem to be impressed by Naaman’s power, wealth, or prestige. Instead, like Naaman’s servant girl, he simply wants Naaman to know that there is a God in Israel who has the power to heal.

Naaman storms off, back in the direction of his homeland, but his servants chase after him and convince him to at least give it a try. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ve come all this way, Naaman might as well do what the prophet instructed him to do.

And so Naaman finally humbles himself and dips into the waters of the Jordan River seven times, and he his healed. He is made new, cleansed of all his leprosy, his life is restored to him. His skin is made whole again, like the flesh of a young child. Naaman has gotten his life back.

Why was Naaman healed? In the end, it wasn’t because of his vast sums of money or because of his power or prestige or the fact that he was favored by the king. Naaman was healed because he was willing to believe the testimony of a humble and compassionate servant girl, and because he was willing to humble himself and obey the simple instructions of a humble Israelite prophet.

Remembering Who We Are, and Whose We Are

There are many people in our society today who feel like they have it all together. They seem to have a great life, they have everything they need. They feel like they don’t need God. We interact with people like this every day – maybe they’re our co-workers, neighbors, family members. Maybe they are our supervisors, professors, our rich uncle, or those new neighbors who just moved in down the street.

There can be a temptation for us to be jealous of them, to wish we had what they have, to focus on how much more they have than what we have.

But like Naaman’s servant girl, let us remember who we are, and whose we are. Let us remember that we are children of the living God, and that God has already given us everything that we need. Through Christ we have received grace, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption. Because of Christ we have the hope of eternal life with God, we have been given hope and a future. Because of Christ we have been made new, our lives have been restored to us. We have been given a fresh start, a clean slate.

And as children of the living God, like Naaman’s servant girl, and like the prophet Elisha, let us look for opportunities to humbly and gently share God’s love with those around us.

In those moments that will inevitably come when our friends, neighbors and relatives come face to face with their own vulnerability and mortality, let us be ready to speak a word of hope and love, even to those who seem to have it all together. Let us point them to our all-powerful, loving and compassionate God who heals, restores, cleanses, and makes whole again. A God who welcomes all who call upon the Lord in humility and faith.

Peace Be With You

Pastor Galen, April 28th 2019

John 20:19-31

Behind Locked Doors
The door was shut and locked and the disciples were inside, hiding for fear that the authorities who had conspired to have Jesus arrested and crucified may be looking for them too. And now there was the added danger that they might be accused of stealing Jesus’s body.

The women who had gone to the tomb earlier that morning had reported that Jesus’s body was gone. Two angels had appeared to the women and told them that Jesus had risen. Mary Magdalene even declared that Jesus had appeared to her. But how could the other disciples possibly know if it was true? Maybe Mary and the other women had been daydreaming or hallucinating. Maybe they simply wanted it to be true and so they believed it to be so.

And so the disciples sat there with the door locked, waiting, hiding, scared, alternating between hope and doubt, joy, fear, and disbelief.

And then suddenly, there he was, standing in their midst. Jesus, in the flesh! There had been no knock at the door. No one had gone to the door to let him in. He simply appeared out of nowhere, right there in front of them.

At first they may have thought that he was a ghost, but he showed them his hands where he had been nailed to the cross, and his side where he had been pierced with the spear. They realized that he was indeed alive, in the flesh, standing before them, and they were overjoyed

And then Jesus proclaims peace over them and breaths on them the breath of the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t condemn them for their doubt or their fear, doesn’t reprimand them for the fact that they deserted him when he was hanging on the cross, or that Peter denied that he even knew Jesus.

Jesus simply meets them right where they are, in all their doubt and their fear, and he proclaims peace to them. And He shows them his hands and his side, evidence of his overwhelming love for them and for all humanity.

Peace be with you.

Jesus proclaims to them, “Peace be with you.” Peace be with you. The same words that we speak to each other every week when we walk in the doors of the church and when we greet one another during our “passing of the peace.” “Peace be with you.” Even in the midst of our doubts and insecurities, even in the midst of our flaws and imperfections, even when we’ve hurt one another, still we proclaim peace and forgiveness to one another.

We forgive one another because we are people who have received God’s forgiveness, because God’s Holy Spirit has been breathed into us. We are people who have received God’s peace, and so we speak peace to one another. We choose to forgive, to let go, to hold short accounts. We are people of Christ’s peace because Christ is our peace, and Christ has proclaimed peace to us.

Doubting Thomas

Of course there are many in our world who do not believe. There are many, like Thomas, who need further proof, who need more than simply eye-witness testimony.

Maybe some of you here this morning are wrestling with doubt. You look around the room and you feel jealous of those who seem to trust God so easily. You wish you had that kind of faith.

To you, I invite you to hear the words of Jesus spoken over you, “Peace be with you.” In all of your doubts and insecurities, Jesus proclaims peace to you. Peace be with you.  You don’t need to hide, or be ashamed of your doubts. I invite you to bring your doubts and fears to the Lord. Bring them to Jesus and lay them at his feet, and ask him to give you the kind of experience that you need in order to believe.

There are also many in the community around us, many of our friends and neighbors and coworkers, who wrestle with doubts. Perhaps they used to believe, but something happened that made them doubt. Perhaps the sudden loss of a friend or family member, perhaps a grievance with someone in the church. They began to doubt God’s goodness, God’s mercy, or God’s ability to provide, and they grew further and further away. Maybe they think that God could never forgive them, that God would never accept them back again.

If only they could see the resurrected Christ, if only the could hear him speak the words “Peace be with you.” If only they could see the nail prints in his hands and the wound in his side.

We are the Body of Christ

But it is we, we who are people of Christ’s peace, we who have been filled with the Holy Spirit, we who the Bible calls the “body of Christ” (c.f. 1 Cor. 12:27) who must proclaim Christ’s peace to them, who must convey to them God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Rather than scold or condemn, rather than look down on them for not believing or for wrestling with doubts, rather than judging them for what they’ve done or how they’ve gone astray, let us show them Christ’s body — the Church — in action. Let us speak words of peace, hope, life, and love to them. Let us breathe on them the breath of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, we as Christ’s body have been wounded. Yes we have holes and scars. Yes we have been bruised and beaten. Yes we have failed and fallen short. And yet Christ entrusts us with the responsibility to be Christ’s hands and feet and to carry Christ’s message into all the world, to extend God’s love and grace and forgiveness to those who have gone astray.

And so let’s show them Christ’s hands and feet. Let us be the Body of Christ, in all of our wounded glory. Let us welcome them to see, touch, and experience Christ’s body – the Church – in action.

Invitation

And so this morning I invite you to come with all of our doubts and fears and insecurities. I invite you to hear Christ’s words “peace be with you.” I invite you to tell God what it is that you desire, what it is that you need. Christ’s arms of love are open and waiting to meet you right where you are.

And for those of us who have experienced God’s love and grace and forgiveness firsthand, let us extend Christ’s peace to those around us. Let us be God’s hands and feet, let’s share the Good news that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. Let us forgive others as we have been forgiven, and let us proclaim this message of hope to a world that is desperately longing to see the risen Christ.

The Start of Something New

Pastor Galen, April 21st 2019

Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 24:1-12

Easter Sunday

Have you ever felt like your world was falling apart? Like all of your hopes and dreams were crashing down around you? Like everything you had worked for, hoped for and longed for was suddenly gone forever?

Perhaps it was the sudden passing of a loved one, the loss of your home, or a serious car accident. You were devastated, and you wondered how you could go on.

You knew that life had to continue on, so you went through the motions of life, but it felt like you were walking in a fog or a daze.

The first Easter

I believe this is how it felt for the women who came to the tomb early that first Easter Sunday morning. On Friday Jesus had been unjustly tried and crucified, hung on a cross for all to see, publicly shamed and humiliated. Jesus, who always had a kind word for everyone. Jesus, who welcomed the children, the outcasts, the marginalized. Jesus, who healed the deaf, the lame, and the blind. Jesus, who always took the time to listen, who sought out those who were lonely. Jesus, the one who had personally transformed each of their lives. Jesus, the one they had built all of their hopes and dreams around. Their Jesus, the one they loved, was gone.

What would they do? How could they go one? Would life ever be the same again? How could they possibly live without Jesus?

It’s a good thing that they weren’t allowed to do any work on Saturday because they wouldn’t have been able to get any work done anyway. Saturday was a day set aside for prayer and worship and rest, but I’m sure their heart wasn’t in it that day. They probably went through the motions, prayed the prayers and read the Scriptures they were supposed to read, but their minds were mulling over all that had happened that week. They were wondering, where had everything gone wrong? Why did all of this happen?

They didn’t know what to do, so the women decided to do the only thing they knew they could do — honor and memorialize his body in the way that was customary. And so early that Sunday morning they walked mournfully down to the tomb where his body had been laid, taking the spices they had prepared to anoint his dead body.

Imagine their confusion when they saw that the stone which covered his grave had been rolled away. They went inside the tomb but his body wasn’t there. All sorts of thoughts must have been going through their minds. Why would someone do this? Why would someone take Jesus’s body? Why add insult to injury?

It never occurred to them that Jesus may have risen. They knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus had been crucified. They had seen it happen with their own eyes. They had even watched as Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross and sealed in the tomb. There was no doubt in their minds that Jesus had died. What they didn’t know was that he had risen, Jesus was alive!

It’s no surprise that the women didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that Jesus had come back to life, even though Jesus had told that them that he would rise again. Normally, in this life as we know it, death is the end. It’s final. When someone dies, we know that we won’t see the again in this life.

A Different Kind of Resurrection

But what the women didn’t realize was that through Jesus, God was doing something brand new, completely different, something that had never been done before.

Now, it was rare, but there were other people in the past who had died and come back to life. But those resurrections were not the same as Christ’s resurrection. The prophets Elisha  and Elisha, those famous prophets of old, had raised people from the dead (2 Kings 4:18-37 and 2 Kings 13:20-21). Jesus himself had raised people back to life (Lazarus John 11:1-44, Jairus’s daughter Luke 8:49-56 and the widow of Nain’s son Luke 7:11-17). The women had probably even seen it happen.

But their resurrections were not the same as what happened on Easter morning. Why? Because each of those people eventually died again. Their resurrections were temporary, they were resurrected back to this life only, but they didn’t stay alive forever.

Christ’s resurrection, however, was a resurrection to eternal life. When Jesus rose from the grave he received a body that will never pass away. Christ rose from the grave and ascended into heaven 2,000 years ago, and he is still alive today, interceding for us in heaven, and one day we will get to meet Jesus face to face.

Not only that, but the Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus was “the first fruits of those who have died” (2 Corinthians 15:20). In other words, everyone who puts their faith and hope and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins will one day be raised to eternal life just like Christ. This is why Easter is such Good News. This is why we celebrate Christ’s resurrection.

The Start of Something New

Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new creation — it’s a foretaste of what is to come when God creates a new heaven and a new earth, as Isaiah prophesied. In that day there will be no more weeping, no more cries of distress. No more injustice, no more oppression. Wars will cease. Racism will come to an end. Sickness and poverty will be unheard of. Isaiah says that even “the wolf and the lamb will feed together…they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain says the LORD” (Isaiah 65:25).

This is what God was doing through Jesus Christ, and it’s what God wants to do in each of us. Jesus’s death and resurrection was just the beginning, the start of something new.

Through Jesus’s death and resurrection, God was working to renew and restore all of humanity. Through Jesus, God’s kingdom was breaking into this world, bringing new life, God’s new creation. Through Jesus we can all be raised to new life.

This is Good News! This is why we celebrate Easter. This is why we proclaim that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again!

The Same Power That Raised Jesus from the Dead Lives In Us

And so this morning, whatever it is that you’re going through, whatever you may be facing, know that there is hope. There is hope even beyond the grave.

Even when it seems like your world is falling apart, or that all of your hopes and dreams are crashing down around you, know that God is in the process of making all things new.

As the songwriter said,

I can see

Waters raging at my feet

I can feel

The breath of those surrounding me

I can hear

The sound of nations rising up

We will not be overtaken

We will not be overcome

I can walk

Down this dark and painful road

I can face

Every fear of the unknown

I can hear

All God’s children singing out

We will not be overtaken

We will not be overcome

The same power that rose Jesus from the grave

The same power that commands the dead to wake

The same power that moves mountains when He speaks

The same power that can calm a raging sea

Lives in us, lives in us

He lives in us, lives in us.

Christ’s resurrection is just a foretaste of what is to come. God is in the process of making all things new. No matter what may come your way, hold on and to be strong, knowing that the same power that rose Jesus from the grave lives inside each one of us!

Palm Sunday

Pastor Galen, April 14th 2019

Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 19:28-40

Palm Sunday vs. Good Friday

I have always loved Palm Sunday, ever since I was a little kid. The joy and jubilation, the opportunity to wave palm branches and march around the church shouting and singing “hosanna.”

And I’ve always loved the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, of people laying down their coats and waving palm branches and saying “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” stirred my imagination. I loved to picture the throngs of people crowding around Jesus, the children singing and shouting, the grand welcome that Jesus received as he rode into the city of Jerusalem.

But as a child, I did not love Good Friday. The gruesome account of Jesus being beaten and mocked, whipped, and flogged, and ultimately nailed to the cross was something I did not want to think about. Jesus — betrayed and denied by his friends, rejected by the religious elite, abandoned by his disciples, was too horrific to imagine. Even the crowd that rejoiced in his arrival five days earlier seems to have turned against him.

Even now as an adult, the somberness and sadness of Good Friday is unsettling, unpleasant, and uncomfortable.

And yet, when we look at Luke’s account of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we see that even on Palm Sunday there were elements of Good Friday. In Jesus choosing to ride into Jerusalem on a humble colt, we see an illustration of Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:8 that Jesus, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” In the Pharisees’ rebuke of Jesus’s disciples, we see a foreshadowing of the looming conflict that is to come between Jesus and the religious leaders of Jerusalem. And in the passages before and after Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem we see hints of the sadness and sorrow and rejection that is to come.

The Context

The story of Jesus entering Jerusalem is the culmination of Jesus’ long journey to Jerusalem that spans much of the Gospel of Luke. In Luke 9:51, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” but he does not reach Jerusalem until Luke 19:45.  

Immediately before this passage in Luke, Jesus tells a parable about a king whose subjects hated him and didn’t want him to rule over them (see Luke 19:14,27). And in the verses immediately following our lectionary reading for today we see Jesus weep over the city of Jerusalem and prophecy its destruction because it “did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (19:44).  

The King They Were Waiting For

It’s important for us to acknowledge that the welcoming crowds who shouted “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” were most likely expecting a rather different king than the king that Jesus turned out to be.

This whole event took place around Passover time, which was a time to remember when God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt through the violent and victorious act of killing all of the firstborn sons in Egypt, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh, all the way to the firstborn of the slaves and even the animals (see Exodus 11:5). Only the firstborn of the Isrealites were “passed over” and escaped this horrific destruction.

But it didn’t stop there. When the Egyptian army tried to recapture their escaped slaves, God miraculously caused the waters of the Red Sea to come crashing down upon them, drowning Pharaoh’s whole army in one fell swoop.

It was these mighty acts of God that the people celebrated during this time of the year. And as you can imagine, as a people who were in bondage themselves, living in the midst of Roman occupation, they longed for the same sort of decisive victory over their oppressors. They longed for God to free them in the same way that God had freed their ancestors so long. They longed for God to intervene once more in history, to bring them out of bondage and oppression just like God had done for their foreparents.

And all of their hopes centered on one central mythical figure, a person they had been waiting for for many years, the promised one, called the Messiah, “the Anointed One.” This would be a king who would be raised up from among their own people, a king they thought would deliver them, a king who would lead them to overthrow Rome and make them a sovereign nation once again.

And so, every year they would remember and celebrate the passover festival, longing for their own redemption and freedom. They would sing Psalms, like Psalm 118 that we read responsively earlier. They would ask God to save them, to grant them success (Psalm 118:25). But the salvation they longed for was not a spiritual salvation, but a physical salvation.

This was what the crowds meant when they welcomed Jesus with the words “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” They hoped beyond hope that the time had come, that Jesus was the one they had been waiting for. ‘

The Humble King

For Jesus, everything seems to have been building up to this point. Jesus had been healing the sick, casting out demons, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and calling people to follow him. He had shown his power by calming the storm and feeding the 5,000. He even raised the dead to life. Surely someone with that much power could raise up an army to overthrow Rome!

And now Jesus arrives at the crest overlooking Jerusalem, the capital city, the center of Jewish life and culture where there was also a Roman military base. What could be a more perfect place to stage a demonstration or even a coup, to gather an army to violently revolt against Rome, to attempt to free the Jewish people once and for all?

The fact that Jesus requested a colt for the last mile of his journey after traveling this whole time on foot indicates that this is a symbolic action, designed to reveal himself as a king. Jesus wanted to ride into Jerusalem in a way that would demonstrate that he was the Messiah, God’s anointed king.

And yet, Jesus chose not to ride into Jerusalem on a chariot or stallion — symbols of war that would have demonstrated his desire to overthrow Rome. Instead, Jesus chose to ride in on a humble colt, symbolic of a king who is confident in his authority, who does not need to flaunt his power and might. A king who has already won. A king who comes in peace, confidence, and humility.

In the first seven verses of this passage, Luke recounts in painstaking detail the preparations for this journey into Jerusalem. The instructions to the disciples as to where to find the colt, and exactly what explanation they should give.

After all the preparations have been made, Jesus descends down the mountain into Jerusalem. His disciples and some of the people respond by hailing him as king and spreading their cloaks on the road (Luke 19:36). When Jesus passes the Mount of Olives “the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen” (Luke 19:37), reciting Psalm 118:26 but substituting the words “the king” in place of “the one.”

Glimpses of Good Friday

At this point in time the story has reached its climax.  Jesus is riding into Jerusalem on a colt while a multitude of his disciples proclaim him as king and people spread their cloaks on the ground.  For the disciples and the crowd there is a sense that the prophecy is being fulfilled, and something very major is taking place.

While in many ways this is an exciting and dynamic picture, there is something significant missing.  In the typical story of a king entering a city, it would be at this point where the king would be welcomed by the inhabitants of the city, and in particularly the leaders.  “At the approach of a dignitary, a band of municipal officials and other citizens, including the social, religious, and political elite, would proceed some distance from the city in order to meet the celebrity well in advance of the city walls.”*

Unfortunately, we have no record of an official welcoming committee coming out to meet Jesus and his disciples.  The town officials are noticeably absent from the story. There is not even a small delegation of nobles and dignitaries who come out to greet him. They did not roll out the red carpet in his honor. The Pharisees, the religious elite who were present, tried to stifle the celebration that was happening.

All of these are indicators of the conflict that is to come, the looming suffering and persecution that Jesus will endure at the hands of the religious and political elite on Good Friday.

Let’s Welcome Our King

And so we cannot separate Palm Sunday from Good Friday, the victorious king from the suffering Messiah. The truth is that this is why Jesus came. He came to give his life for us, so that we could be saved. The suffering and death and rejection that he faced on Good Friday is what it means for Jesus to be our King.

And so this morning I want to invite us to welcome Jesus as king. Not on our own terms, but on his. Let us welcome Jesus as the humble king who came to bring about our salvation. Humble yet confident in his authority. Even though there are so many in our world who do not acknowledge Jesus as King, let us give Jesus the welcome and the honor that he is due, like Jesus’s disciples did so long ago. Let us worship him as the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

 

*1] Brent Kinman, “Parousia, Jesus’ ‘A-Triumphal’ Entry, and the Fate of Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-44),” Journal of Biblical Literature 118, no. 2 (June 1, 1999): 281. Accessed December 15th, 2013. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.

God’s Provision in Desperate Places

35144684_10217135216751702_847451855578464256_n“God’s Provision in Desperate Places”

Guest Preacher: Alexis Garrett

April 7th 2019

1 Kings 17:8-26

It’s so good to see you all this morning! Thank you, Pastor Galen, for inviting me to speak with you all today!

So I was born in here Baltimore and lived in the city until I was about 7 years old, before my parents moved my siblings and I to a small city called Havre de Grace in Harford County. Now my family grew up fairly middle class, as my dad owns his own plumbing and HVAC business along with my two uncles and has been in that business for about 25 years. I also come from a Christian family and my older sister, younger brother and I grew up attending church. So, my parents firmly believed and always taught us that God takes care and provides for us; even in hard situations. Well, that belief was put to the test in 2008.

Now I’m sure most of you know about the recession that happened in 2008. The housing market and stock market had crashed and was making a devastating impact on jobs and families. Over 8.4 million people lost their jobs, and small business suffered immensely. My family was included in that number. Business had started to become scarce. People were not buying or fixing up property, which caused a decline in the number of clients that were contacting my dad for work. Money was barely coming in and every week it was getting harder and harder to pay the bills. Life was changing quickly around me.

Though I had no financial responsibility, I felt the effects within my family. For example, we had stopped eating out at restaurants. Lights had to stay off in the house, so the electric bill would not be run up. We took our clothes to the laundry mat to avoid using water that would run up the water bill. We did anything to cut costs in the house. Things had gotten so bad that my parents could no longer afford to pay our health insurance. But the worst was that they were struggling to pay the mortgage on the house. If my parents couldn’t pay the mortgage, we would soon lose our home; my parents losing everything that they had worked so hard for. We were at a point of despair, and we were in a desperate, and dire situation.

Elijah

My experience reminds me of a story in the Old Testament found in 1 Kings 17:8-16. This story centers around a prophet named Elijah. Now Elijah was a pretty powerful guy, and God had enabled him to do many miracles. As a prophet, Elijah’s role was to act as God’s messenger or mouth piece to share God’s message with the people of Israel. You can imagine how tough of a job that may be.

During this time, the kingdom of Israel operated as a monarchy. Israel had a history of Kings that chose to turn away from the laws that God had put in place and chose to follow other gods, putting up idols to worship and serve instead of Yahweh the God of Israel.

The king in power during Elijah’s life was king Ahab. He also turned away from God to serve an idol named Baal. King Ahab married a woman named Jezebel who was the daughter of a priest who served Baal. Baal was considered the god of the heavens, sky, and of fertility. Fertility meant Baal would create and sustain thriving agriculture for the people. Because Ahab had turned away from God to serve Baal, Elijah pronounced a judgement that God was going to shut up heaven so that it would not rain for 3 and a half years. Choosing to withhold rain demonstrated that the God of Israel has power over what should have been under Baal’s jurisdiction. It served as a testimony that if Baal truly was God, he would have been able to make it rain once again.

We now come to the passage in 1 King’s 17. The drought was in full effect, so God had provided a place for Elijah to receive food and water from a town called Cherith, which was east of the Jordan River. As a result of the drought, the spring dried up, so God instructed Elijah to head to Zarephath where he meets a widow:

 SCRIPTURE: 1 KINGS 17:8-26.

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So, there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.

So, what’s going on here? Elijah meets a widowed woman in the town of Zarephath. Zarephath was a town in the Region of Sidon which was located along the Mediterranean (This is near Modern Day Lebanon). The two major exports in Zarephath were grain and oil. This drought made it impossible to grow crops and produce the oil needed to keep the economy going and people fed resulting in famine throughout the land.

By the time Elijah meets this widow, all of her resources had been exhausted with only a little left to sustain her and her son. She had reached her end. This was essentially her last meal before she accepted the reality of starvation. Can you imagine how she felt in that moment? To have barely enough left for her and her child and then to have this complete stranger ask her for water, THEN turn around and ask for bread?

But something in Elijah’s response makes her react. “Do not be afraid,” Elijah says.

Now this woman had every reason in the book to be afraid. She was prepared to eat her last meal and now she’s being asked to take what little she had a give it to a stranger. I wonder if Elijah’ next response compelled her: For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the Lord sends the rain on the land.” With nothing else to lose, she may have been thinking, “well, let me just try it.” She could have simply refused Elijah after his request, but she made the decision to take the risk and trust this man, and this mans God.

I mentioned earlier about my family’s financial crisis. The recession only lasted 2 years but its effects lasted about 3-4 years for my family. My parents still could not afford to pay the for-household expenses, and a few years into the recession I was heading off to college to attend Loyola University. We too were in a place of desperation. After receiving all I could from financial aid, there was no way I could continue to pay the remaining tuition to continue attending this school. My parents were at a place of desperation. God saw the situation we were in and through the graciousness and sacrificial giving of my extended family, they paid many of our household expenses for multiple years. My grandparents, aunt and uncle put their money together every month and helped my parents pay the mortgage, groceries and part of my tuition every year until I graduated.

If it was not for God’s provision through my family, we would not still be in our home, and I would not have graduated from Loyola. Though the circumstances of the situations are different, God provided for my family like he did for the widow.

But not only did God provide food for the widow, He did it in the form of a miracle. The same jar of flour and oil was used every day until God sent the rain. Can you imagine her astonishment? For three years she prepared meals from that same amount of flour and oil and every single day she came back and there was still enough oil and flour for her to feed her family! There was a continual assurance of provision in God’s promise. Even in the midst of scarcity surrounding them Elijah, the widow, her son, and her family had their needs met by God.

I think sometimes the image of the God we see in the Old Testament is depicted as different than the God of the New Testament.  And I get that. Often in the Old testament we perceive Him as a wrathful, angry, and unmerciful God that allows suffering, whereas the God we see in the New Testament in the person of Jesus is kind, merciful, forgiving, loving and full of grace.

Though we see plenty of examples of Jesus providing for those in need, we see that that happening in the Old Testament too. The same God whom through Jesus, fed 4000 people off a few fish and loaves of bread, is the same God who saw a woman in a state of despair and desperation and sent Elijah to provide food that would not run out until it rained three years later. This is also the same God that provided Manna from heaven daily to feed the people of Israel while they were living in the desert. This is the same God who used my extended family to financially carry my family until we could reach stability once more. God sees the places in our lives that we need for Him to provide. The places we share with others and the ones that no one else knows about.

Conclusion

What about you? Where are areas of desperation in your life that you need God to intervene and step in? What are those places that leave you at a point of despair? Maybe it’s a situation in your family that just seems impossible to solve, or a financial situation much like what I went through. or maybe you just want God to help you in the time you spend with Him. What would it look like for you to trust God with those areas of desperation? Like the widow chose to trust the God’s promise and give the last bit of oil and flour that she had, whatever your worry may be, I want to invite you to bring that to God. He sees the places of desperation in our lives and longs to intervene. He longs to carry that burden, to ease our fears, and to provide what we need.

Let’s Pray.