Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Saturday, June 8, 2013

3rd Sunday after Pentecost: "Ministry With"

1 Kings 17:8-24
Text verse
 Elijah was the same kind of person as we are.
James 5:17

Last week we began our series on the Old Testament prophets, looking at Elijah and his confrontation with the prophets of Baal.  We saw that he is recognised as one of the greatest prophets of Israel and then I introduced a somewhat troubling verse from the New Testament which reminds us that:

   Elijah was the same kind of person as we are.  

As it says in the original Greek: “Hy was ‘n mens, net soos ek en jy.” (only my South African and perhaps Dutch followers will appreciate this attempt at humour).  The truth is......What Elijah and I can do.  So as we look at Elijah, and in fact any of the Biblical prophets, the Bible is holding up a mirror in which we see what you and I can both look like and be like.

So, let’s work through our reading and see what we can look like, what we ought to look like:

Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Now go to the town of Zarephath, near Sidon, and stay there.   I have commanded a widow who lives there to feed you.”

Last week we saw Elijah’s obedience to God in a very difficult situation.  Once again, Elijah is sensitive to God’s guidance, even though it is strange.  Go to a Gentile territory to a Gentile woman.  Gentiles are unclean.  But Elijah has had his meals brought to him for the last few months by an unclean bird, so... 

                                                      So Elijah went to Zarephath

He goes, once again in obedience, and he becomes the first prophet to the Gentiles.  He decides to “minister with” those unlike himself.

“Please bring me a drink of water,” he said to her.    

Notice, as the rest of the story unfolds, how, as this poverty stricken gentile woman responds to the request of a total stranger, a beggar, she does 3 of the 6 things that Jesus will teach as marks of true discipleship.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

She welcomes strangers, feeds the hungry and gives the thirsty something to drink, even though she is hungry and thirsty.  Do you need to be reminded to do these things today?

She answered, “By the living Lord your God I swear that I don't have any bread. All I have is a handful of flour in a bowl and a bit of olive oil in a jar. I came here to gather some firewood to take back home and prepare what little I have for my son and me. That will be our last meal, and then we will starve to death.”   (for most of us, these would be good reasons to not help a beggar)

You know what I see in that verse – good, plain, old-fashioned honesty.  Tell one another what is going on in your life.  Share your pain.  We so often don’t know what is going on in the lives of other people we love because they don’t tell us, even when we ask "How are you?"

And then the prophet remember, she and her child are about to starve to death – what word does the LORD have for her through the prophet...................

“Don't worry,” Elijah said to her.

This is one of the 365 times (according to Philip Yancey) in the Bible that God will say “Don’t worry.”  Worry is the opposite of trust.  Do you need to be reminded of that command today?

And then comes what for me is one of the most amazing miracles in the Bible.  As a child (and in many ways I am still a child) this is my favourite: 
“Go ahead and prepare your meal.  But first make a small loaf from what you have and bring it to me, and then prepare the rest for you and your son.  For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel says, ‘The bowl will not run out of flour or the jar run out of oil before the day that I, the LORD, send rain.’ ”   

He says the flour and oil won’t run out, if she first makes a meal for that believable to a gentile woman about to use her last flour and oil? Would you believe it.....especially from a beggar who has just shown up asking for water in the midst of a severe drought?  

She has to take that step of faith,....... make it for him,........ use up her remaining flour and oil, ........take it to him ......then go back and make for herself.  It’s a huge step of faith.  What would you do...feed your child first??........ she takes the step of faith and is then saved by that faith.  Salvation by faith which proves itself by works, has always been and remains God’s way of saving human and me. 

 Now, I don’t know where you are right now.  You might be at a place of abundance..... of green pastures..... of still waters in your lives.  But perhaps you are in or going into a drought; certainly if we listen to the news of the last week – it’s getting very tough economically in our nation.  Maybe you’re in a drought..... a wilderness..... a barren place, spiritually or physically, right now.  Remember my text verse: 

 Elijah was the same kind of person we are.

Oh God, how do I become more like Elijah today?  Can I make 3 suggestions from this first part of our reading:

First:  Elijah learned to depend on God for the basics.  Move away from thinking that you can provide the basics for your life and that you’ll only turn to Him for the big things or for the emergencies.  The food you’ll eat today – realise that God has provided that for you, not your cleverness, or your wise investment...but God.

Secondly:  Learn that God works in mysterious ways and be on the lookout for them.  See Him working in the strange and even unwanted things in your life.  None of us want hard times, but learn to look for the providence of God in the midst of what’s going on in your life.

Thirdly: Learn to trust and obey God.  This is a commitment which really needs to be renewed daily – trusting and obeying God.  

So, depend on God above, look for His mysterious workings, trust and obey Him and you, LIKE ELIJAH, will discover that God will provide. 
That's what our gentile widow discovered as well

Some time later the widow's son got sick; he got worse and worse, and finally he died.

A lot of time is compressed into this one verse..... Some time later......  This gentile woman has now been caring for Elijah – serving a great prophet of God, for nearly 3 years.  She has been experiencing ongoing, daily miracles in her home; the jar of oil and the bowl of flour,....... not running out!!!!  Her faith must have grown.  But.......... her son falls ill,.............. he gets worse...and worse...and finally...he dies.  Horrible things can happen to us, even when we are living a life committed to God and His service. 
 Don’t become a Christian if you think it means an easy life.

“Man of God, why did you do this to me? Did you come here to remind God of my sins and so cause my son's death?”

She feels that God sent Elijah to examine her life and discover some hidden sin and the death of her son is the punishment for the sin that Elijah discovered and told God about.  It was a commonly held view of God then...and today....... I’m amazed at how many people think God is always looking for unwitting and long forgotten sins in your life so that He can punish them.  And these people then take a jump to believing that that’s why God has ministers – to send into your home and your life to look for sins which He can punish you for. 

You laugh/smile (In a previous Church, Chris and I went to the Church and one of the ladies was offloading something and she was smoking.  As she saw our car, the cigarette just disappeared into the boot or down her throat.  She didn’t want the minister to know she smoked, perhaps because she thought, like the woman in our story, he would then tell God and then God might punish her.)

And so this widow thinks Elijah has discovered something and told God all about it.  Whenever we ask God, “What have I done to deserve this” we are saying the same thing to Him – You’ve discovered something in my life and now you’re punishing me.

It’s a very small picture to have of God..... that He just wants to punish you for your sin.  He punished His Son for your sins!!!!  

How does Elijah respond? 

“Give the boy to me,” Elijah said. He took the boy from her arms, carried him upstairs to the room where he was staying, and laid him on the bed. Then he prayed aloud, “O Lord my God, why have you done such a terrible thing to this widow? She has been kind enough to take care of me, and now you kill her son!”

He doesn’t give the widow a lecture/sermon like I just have to you.  No, he gives God a little lecture.  Notice he prayed aloud ...................... why?  I think because he’s a bit cross with God and he raises his voice.  “Why have You done this?”  “Haven’t You noticed how kind she’s been to me?”  
We see a powerful example here of intercessory prayer at it’s best!  A friend crying out to God...for you.  Now I don’t know if you have such a friend, but more importantly...are you such a friend?  The best some of us can manage is “Oh God please bless and comfort this widow in her mourning.” 
 Are you prepared to risk getting angry with God, not because of what happens to you .......but because of what happens to others?  That’s a real friend and that’s real intercession

When the Virgin Mary heard she was with child, her response was “Let it happen as You’ve said.”  But I hope (and I’m almost sure she did) have friends or family who went before God and said “Why are you doing this to her?  She’s young!  She’s actually the nicest girl in the neighbourhood!  She’s engaged for goodness’ sake, to a very nice man!  Do you know what Your Law requires us to do to a betrothed woman who falls pregnant?”

Are you that kind of praying friend?  This always happens privately of course ...... Elijah goes upstairs...... Jesus says go into a closet............... You don’t advertise that you’re praying, so you might not actually know if you have such a friend, but you do know whether you are such a friend.

Such prayer will lead you to action.  Faith always leads to works; faith bears fruit.  Not necessarily in answered prayer, that is not a fruit, but in trying to be the answer to your prayers for others...that is fruit.

So “Oh Lord, feed the poor” only becomes a useful and fruitful prayer when you actually make 3 Marmite sandwiches and say “Oh Lord, show me who to give these to today.”

You find yourself doing strange things when you begin to pray this way.    Look at the weird thing Elijah does: 

Then Elijah stretched himself out on the boy three times and prayed, “O Lord my God, restore this child to life!”

This is a strange thing to do..........because in the whole history of the world, up until that point, no-one has ever died and come back to life.  But that doesn’t stop Elijah asking God to do it and then doing something to try and make it happen.....Faith which shows itself in actions........ And the boy comes back to life and the widow says 

She answered, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the Lord really speaks through you!”

I think these words were for Elijah – because, as we see in the next stage of his story in this series, he changes.  This miracle changes him. 

 Elijah discovers what he can become in the Hands of God.  Have you?

Elijah was the same kind of person as we are.

You are a person (says the Bible) just like Elijah.  You can be a friend, just like Elijah was..........You can pray, just like Elijah did..................You can do things to help God answer your prayers.

You and I can discover what a surrendered spirit can become in the Hands of God.  

May you and I discover what a surrendered spirit can become in the Hands of God...this we do “Ministry With” the people around us.

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