Pastor Edward Brockwell
1 Kings 17:8-16
God’s Unending Grace toward Us
Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
8Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 9"Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you." 10So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, "Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink." 11And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, "Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." 12So she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die." 13And Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. 14"For thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.' " 15So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. 16The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke by Elijah.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2) Amen.
In our precious Savior, beloved hearers!
In our text for today we have a wonderful account of how God is for us, not against us. He demonstrates this through His unending grace toward us. It has no limit. God lavishes it upon us through Christ Jesus our Lord, though we may have to bear all sorts of crosses, losses and trials throughout our lives. Our text demonstrates that God accomplishes all things for us according to His will. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28). He "upholds all things by the word of His power." (Hebrews 1:3). Through His Word that God pours out His blessings and unending grace toward us.
Our text begins with a devastating and widespread famine, one that threatened not only the survival of a widow in Zarephath, but also the northern kingdom of Israel, its surrounding regions, and even the prophet Elijah. This famine was not just an extraordinarily hot summer, but rather, it was gruelling, day to day crisis that lasted a few years. Yet, there was an even worse famine taking place at the same time. It was much like that which prophet Amos had prophesied centuries later: "Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord GOD, "That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD" (Amos 8:11).
Furthermore, the true worship and word of God were put aside. The wicked King Ahab, who married Jezebel, served and worshipped Baal. The nation and its leaders made their choice, they rejected God's word; they turned from truth and embraced man-made idols. What was God to do? His people were set on a path of wickedness and unbelief that would lead only to death and destruction. Such is always the case when people do not heed the commandment of the Lord: "You shall have no other gods before Me." (Exodus 20:3). Indeed, our Gospel lesson for today reveals why this commandment is so, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." (Matthew 6:24). Anything that a person fears, loves or trusts more than God will only cause one to despise and reject God altogether. All idolatry is dangerous.
Thus, the people of God were on a collision course headed for disaster. God had to get them to see the error of their ways. But God delights in mercy (Micah 7:18). He wanted them to know His love and grace, and to repent of their ways and return unto Him. Israel was not listening, so the Lord sent his called servant Elijah. He announced that there would be a famine, that there shall not be dew nor rain except at the command of God's word. The Lord would take care of Elijah in special ways during the drought and years of famine, even if it meant that He would send ravens to deliver food to Elijah.
Finally, even the Brook Cherith, that sustained Elijah with water, dried up. The word of the Lord came to Elijah: "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you." (vs.9). Notice how God works through His Word. God's grace did not end with the unbelief of Ahab and the nation of Israel. God was at work, even through a famine whereby many would face starvation and death. He wanted to bring His people to their senses and know Him as God, their only God. His grace does not stop or dry up because of man's sin and unbelief. But for the moment, it was time for God to miraculously provide for Elijah, commanding him to go to Zarephath, where God's unending grace would provide a widow to feed him. Even in difficult times, when it seems as though there are no alternatives to hardships and no answers in sight, God has a plan and God is at work. God’s plans are so great that He not only helped Elijah, but all along he would care for a poor widow, both physically and spiritually.
Elijah went to Zarephath. "He came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks" (v. 10). Our text for today is an exciting and powerful example of how God's grace, love and concern are for all people. He reaches out to the lowly, to those who appear as utterly insignificant and unknown. So intent is God in reaching out with his grace and salvation that He even reached out to the widow of Zarephath with His unending grace. She was not among God's chosen people. She lived among people who worshiped the god Baal. Such an idol is totally incapable of hearing people’s prayers and helping them in deep sorrow, for it is nothing more than an idol made by man. The false gods that were commonplace in Zarephath offered no comfort or hope, especially in the midst of the famine. They are simply figments of human imagination and can give no support to those who cry to them. Yet here is one woman among many, a despairing widow, who had given up all hope of living and was waiting to die.
Hopelessness and despair, these are the things that person is left when he serves mammon in the place of God. Worry and despair becomes the forms of worship that person will give to the false god of mammon. Such worship is nothing less than an unbelieving, anxiousness focus on the things this world. But faith, however, it is the worship of the true God. Through preaching of the Word, God works in us a confident trust that He is our loving Father who will care for all of our needs in both body and soul.
Elijah knew this faith first-hand. Centuries later, God raised up another of His spokesmen in the church, who also firmly believed God and relied on His unending grace. In his explanation of the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther boldly confessed what we also confess today: "I believe that God created me, along with all creatures. God gave to me: body and soul, eyes, ears and all the other parts of my body, my mind and all my senses and preserves them as well. God gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and land, spouse and children, fields, animals, and all I own. Every day God abundantly provides everything I need to nourish this body and life. God protects me against all danger, shields and defends me from all evil. God does all this because of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, not because I've earned it or deserved it. For all of this, I must thank, praise, serve, and obey God. Yes, this is true!" God wanted the widow of Zarephath to know Him not just as Elijah’s God, but also as her God.
The widow of Zarephath believed the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah that the bin of flour would not be used up nor would the jar of oil run dry (1 Kings 17:8–16). He who feeds the birds and clothes the flowers will certainly provide for our daily needs. For He has already provided for our eternal needs, clothing us with Christ's righteousness in Baptism and feeding us His body and blood for our forgiveness. With such confidence we are liberated from worry and are free to do good with our material resources, especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 5:25–6:10).
How about us, dear friends? Perhaps our problems are not as dire as that of the widow. But do we not struggle with what we see and feel? Are there not times when things seem to go from bad to worse? We don’t know what to do, so we worry. But let’s look at our text. Notice how God didn’t send Elijah to this widow until all other hope was gone and only one small meal stood between her and death. God often has to knock out all the false hopes and man-made promises that we are so apt to build and rely on. We try propping ourselves up with our own strength, or that of other people, or with things of the world, which our Gospel lesson calls, "mammon". Yet in His infinite wisdom, sometimes God allows us to be weighed down until everything collapses leaving only His promises for us to lean on. And His promises, the promises of your loving heavenly Father, His promises are always certain.
God’s promises bring us an endless supply of grace, grace that helps us with every need. More importantly, this grace gives us faith to believe, faith to trust that God has redeemed us from all our sins. His endless supply of grace comes to us through Holy Baptism. Though the water applied in baptism has long dried off, God's promises of life and grace and forgiveness are ours in abundance. In the Divine Service we come to the Lord’s Table in the famine of this fallen world. If left to ourselves, all we see is sin, worry, all the cares that weigh us down. But there on the altar, there is another promise, a different kind of flour and oil that will never run out. The true body and blood of our Lord are given to us in the bread and wine. In these means, and through the promises of God’s Word, God is reaching out to us with an endless supply of grace and eternal life. He applies to us the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won for us at Calvary. God has also poured out his grace upon us in giving us His Holy Spirit. He assures that we are God’s children. We trust in God promises, His promises are the sure foundation by which we also act on in life, for they have first acted in our hearts, bringing us to faith. Our hearts are directed toward our neighbour, to serve and comfort them, just as Elijah did the widow at Zarephath. God has opened the precious treasures of His holy gospel and unending grace toward us.
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen." (2 Corinthians 13:14).
 Psalm 57:2 "I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me."