Pastor Steve Mechem
1 Kings 17:8-16 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Widow of Zarephath
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; 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 the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
One of God’s essential characteristics in the Scripture is as Provider.
This idea takes shape early in Genesis and runs through the book of Revelation.
The very first book of the Bible written, Job, is the story of God as provider and what happens when God quits providing.
The Scripture writers overtly claim that God is the supplier of all our needs.
God provides for the just and unjust, the righteous and unrighteous, the good and the evil.
God supplies our needs through the natural course of things. God set it in motion, and so God is credited for the positive outcomes.
Your body is healthy, you have a job, you earn some money, you pay for your stuff- that is a natural way God provides for you.
The seed is planted, the rains fall, the sun shines, the crop grows, the harvest supplies you with what you need- that is a natural way that God provides.
But the bible makes clear that there is a supernatural way that God provides as well. When the natural course of things goes awry, the Scripture infers, God shows up.
We see it in the passage this morning.
There is a severe drought in the land. The drought leads to famine. People are starving daily because there is not enough to eat.
The Prophet Elijah, hungry himself, encounters a single mom and her son. He asks them to provide him with bread but they decline because there is only enough flour and oil left to provide themselves with one more meal before they die.
“I get it,” declares Elijah, “And here is the offer I will make to you. Take your flour and make me a loaf of bread. Then make bread for you and your son.”
“You will be amazed to learn that you will always have enough flour and oil, up to the day that the drought is breaks”
And sure enough, as the woman gave up her last bit of flour for Elijah, she discovered enough flour for herself and her son. And the flour kept appearing, for weeks, as Elijah, the woman and her son survived the famine.
The gist of the story is that this woman was rescued through God’s supernatural intervention. From where else did the flour keep coming, if not from the hand of God?
I am reminded of that Provision story in Exodus. Moses has lead the Hebrews, some estimate the number to be 2.4 million people, out of Egypt and into the wilderness. Supplies run out quickly in the desert and the people become angry and blame Moses for his poor preparation.
But in response, God provides this stuff that the hebrews find lying on the ground every morning, six days each week. They bake it into cakes. Manna, the word means “What is it?,” is eaten by the Hebrews every day of their journey.
It was a miracle food, a supernatural provision given by God. The folks got tired of it after a bit, but hey, it provided them with the sustenance they needed for a long, long time.
Jewish Festivals are often built around the idea of provision, be it the giving of the Talmud at Pentecost, or the Harvest at Sukkot (Su Kaa), or the saving of the people at Purim, or the provision of oil at Hanukkah.
The Greeks and Syrians had been run out of Jerusalem by the Maccabees. As the victors entered the temple to reignite the eternal flame of the golden Menorah, they was discovered that there was only enough sacred oil for one night and not nearly enough for the time it would take for new oil to be delivered.
But the community prayed and the Menorah stayed lit. One day, two, three, four days. It was a miracle. five days, six, seven, eight days. And on the eighth day, newly processed holy oil arrives and the Menorah stays lit and the temple is re-blessed and the Hanukah holiday is born. God’s supernatural provision.
So, biblically speaking
God provides in natural ways.
God provides in super-natural ways.
And I believe that God provides in another way- through the actions and commitment of God’s people.
St. Teresa reminded us that,
“Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on the world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses the world.”
So, using this thinking, if God wants to provide for somebody, God might just choose you to do it, or many of us to do it together.
God is providing 150 Thanksgiving baskets to truly needy families by using members and friends of Antioch BC and Second BC to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
In our church experience, we can all testify to times when God provided for us through the actions of others. When someone was there for us, lifted us up, encouraged us, made it better for us.
I believe God is providing when you sit with someone at the clinic, prepare a meal for someone who is incapacitated, provide transportation for someone without.
I believe God is providing when you choose to stand up for your co-worker who is gay and is being mistreated because of it.
I believe God is providing when you choose walk from class to class with a disabled student to insure that bullying doesn’t take place.
I believe God is providing when you join hands and hearts with people of color and with immigrants and with those who are routinely dispossessed by our society.
I believe God s providing when you choose love over hate, inclusion over exclusion, grace over judgement.
God provides through you.
There is another great provision story in the Scripture. You probably know it well. Over 5,000 people are fed as God miraculously transforms the lunch of a young boy into enough to feed the throngs. Great story. Love it.
But just for fun re-imagine it this way.
Over 5,000 people have spent a long day with Jesus and they are hungry and tired. Jesus’ disciples are concerned for them and question Jesus about what to do.
Jesus’ response, “Feed them.”
“We cant. We don't have the food to feed them, or the money to buy enough food to feed them.”
Jesus rolls his eyes. He is about to say something when Disciple Andy interjects, “there is a kid here with a lunch of rolls and fish, but I don’t know how that could help.”
“There you go. Now watch this.” Says a smiling Jesus as he takes the boys lunch in a way that the whole crowd sees, and thanks him loudly and high fives him heartedly in front of the crowd. He then has everyone sit, and begins to pray.
We don’t have the transcript of the prayer here, but maybe it goes like this. “Lord, thank you for day and this big crowd of hungry people. We need to feed them, but there is not enough money or food with which to do it. So, by faith, we accept, this young, courageous, faithful, special boy’s lunch believing you will supply the rest. Amen”
Now, do you really think that this boy is the only one in the crowd wise enough to bring some food along to this outing?
Perhaps, as Jesus was saying Amen while looking at the crowd through one open eye, they are already coming forward. Tens, then scores, then 100’s of people bringing their pocketed, hidden lunches to Jesus to use to feed them all. To provide everyone with what they need in that moment.
And feed them all he did, with basketfuls left over.
God provides, sometimes through the natural course of things, sometimes miraculously, and sometimes because a kid does what he can, and trusts God with the rest.