God’s chosen people are in the midst of a colossal mess. They finally wore God down to the point that he gave in and gave them the king they so desperately wanted. But that had, to say the least, not worked out so well. Following the reigns of David and Solomon a civil war broke out and divided the Kingdom into two parts. Judah, the Southern, weaker kingdom held the Davidic lineage and the holy city of Jerusalem. The northern kingdom, more powerful, with the great name of Israel, had no line to God’s beloved king David, and its capital city was Samaria.
God’s chosen people are in the midst of a colossal mess. The King of Israel, a man named Ahab married a Phoenecian princess, who was a worshiper of Baal, the Canaanite storm god and allowed her, of all things, to set up places to worship Baal in the midst of God’s chosen land for God’s chosen people. Elijah, a prophet of YHWH, is obviously not thrilled about this situation, and he prophesies to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” Baal, the god of rain, has no power, YHWH has power, and Elijah is the mouthpiece of God. Needless to say, this does not sit well with Ahab or his Baal worshiping wife, Jezebel, and Elijah finds himself on the run.
God’s chosen people are in the midst of colossal mess. Elijah, the mouthpiece of God, has the promise of God that he will provide him with water at the Wadi Cherith and the ravens will be commanded to feed him, and they do, and it is amazing, but after a while with no rain and no dew, the Wadi becomes what it is, a dry creek bed, and God tells Elijah to move again, this time to the the Baal worshiping, Phoenician city of Zarephath where a widow would feed him. It has been a long time since Palestine had seen rain and the widow that Elijah finds, while happy to share water with him, has nothing in the way of food to offer. “As we speak, I’m gathering sticks to build a fire and bake the last of my bread, so that my son and I can die.” Everyone in God’s chosen land was in the midst of colossal mess.
And today, we, too, are in the midst of colossal mess. After forty some odd days of waiting and worrying and praying and hoping, the Deepwater Horizon oil leak arrived on the beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast this week.. As the Press-Register editorial said on Wednesday, “Now the sorrow and the anger we felt for Louisiana have hit home. The oil spill is personal.”1 The mood might not be so depressing or the fear so great if it had arrived a few weeks ago. Instead, after the failure of the top-kill last weekend, failure upon failure of the other experimental techniques to stop the gusher, and at best a 50% success rate for the cut and cap solution currently in place, the sheen and the tarballs and the oil mats have hit us at our weakest point, when it honestly feels like there is no end in sight, no hope for restoration, no chance of this ending any time soon. As I speak, many of you are lost in your thoughts and worries – gathering sticks to build a fire to bake the last of your oil and meal so that you might eat it and die.
Everyone in God’s chosen land was in the midst of colossal mess, but in the midst of the mess there was hope. “Do not be afraid,” Elijah responded to the widow, “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 Lord sends rain on the earth.” The jar of meal does not empty, the oil does not fail, and yet in the midst of their sustenance, tragedy strikes, the worst possible thing happens. The widow’s son gets sick and dies.
We are the widow at Zerephath. For forty-some days we have mustered just enough faith to believe that our jar of meal would last. The foundation of our economy would not be harmed. The beauty of God’s creation would not be marred. But now the worst has happened. On Friday morning, our son died. This week, the last of our hope was stripped from us. And now all we see is sadness.
The widow yelled at Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” Elijah, in turn, yells at God, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her Son?” We too yell at God, “What do you have against us, O God? Why do you constantly remind us of our sin? Why did you pull the rug out from under us? Why don’t you just leave us alone, God, we are tired of it!”
The widow yells at Elijah. Elijah yells at God. We yell at God. And God is full of compassion. The kind of compassion Jesus felt for the widow at Nain, a full body, visceral kind of compassion. God is big enough to take your anger and your frustration. Its OK to yell at God, but it is not OK to forget that even in the midst of our colossal mess, God is here. God listens to the pleas of Elijah. He hears his people’s cries, and he knows their sufferings and he is moved to deliverance. He sees the sorrow of a widow who has lost her only son and is moved to compassion.
God was with his chosen people in the midst of the colossal mess of their own making. God was in his chosen land even as the leaders of Israel made the choice to worship Baal instead of YHWH. And being a false God, Baal did what all false gods do when prayed to… nothing. It could not hear and answer their prayer, and so rain did not fall.
God is here, with us, in the midst of this colossal mess of our own making. God didn’t cause the Deepwater Horizon rig to explode. He wasn’t underneath the dome creating crystals causing it to float. He didn’t make the top-kill fail. We worshiped the god of oil and being a false god it could not hear our prayer. We wanted oil. We wanted a lot of it. We wanted it as cheaply as possible. British Petroleum could give us oil. BP could give us a lot of it. BP could even give it to us cheaply and still give a good return on investment to their shareholders, but to do so, they had to cut corners.
And everyone lost.
But look back on the promise of Elijah to the widow. He didn’t promise a winning lottery ticket. He didn’t promise a full grain bin. He didn’t promise the keys to a Wonder Bread Bakery. He promised only that if she trusted YHWH enough to share out of her scarcity that her meager jar of meal and her tiny jar of oil would be sufficient. Each day would still be a struggle. Each night she would still go to bed hoping tomorrow there would be enough. Each morning she would still wake up wondering if she could keep her and her son and her house guest alive for another day. But she always had enough.
God will provide for us in this crisis too. Maybe our tourism will all but dry up. Maybe our current way of life will change. Maybe our economy will tank. We have no promises about any of that. All we do know, is that God hears the cries of his people and is moved to compassion. God calls the widow to share out of her scarcity, and we, I believe, are called to do the same. Give God the first fruits of your time and your talent and your money. If you want the tax deduction, do that by giving to one of our discretionary funds. But I’m not asking you to give to the Church today. Sure, we need it, but there are folk, even sitting near you in church this morning, who need it a whole lot more than we do, whose livelihoods are tied directly to the beach. Share with God by sharing with them, share with your neighbor, share with your brother or sister in Christ, share with our big sister Earth, and the many good creatures that God created right alongside us. Be faithful that there will always be enough, even in the midst of this colossal mess.
When the widow’s son rises from the dead, she says to Elijah, “Now I know you are a man of God.” Really, she knew it all along, but now she knows something new about the God that Elijah served, the God of provision. Sometimes, that provision is barely enough to squeak by and sometimes it is a miracle beyond our wildest imagination. Either way, God’s promises are true. Right now, it feels like we are barely squeaking by, but have faith my brothers and sisters. God is here. God calls us to share from our scarcity. God promises there will be enough. DO NOT BE AFRAID. Amen.