In Desperate Need

A story of endurance and faith in desperate times, based on 1 Kings 17:8-24.

The Story

Elijah the prophet has told Ahab the wicked King that there will be no rain or dew in Israel, because “Ahab … did more to arouse the anger of the Lord … than did all the kings of Israel before him.”  That’s quite an achievement, if you look at the four chapters of murder, idol worship, etc., that his predecessors had been guilty of!

God tells Elijah to go to a foreign (godless) land to lodge with a widow, i.e. a woman with no means of support!  Does Elijah need to learn some humility? or to depend on God?  Elijah finds her and begs (with a stunning lack of sensitivity) for water and bread from her – she replies that she is in a desperate state (v12).

Note that God does not promise a miraculous end to the drought, or even a miraculous but isolated plenty in the place where Elijah is going.  God promises only enough for today, and then the next day, and so on; Elijah and his adopted family can see no way out, they have no security other than God’s promise in the midst of catastrophe.  

However, the situation grows even worse.  The widow’s only son dies and, with him, her only hope of survival after Elijah has gone and into her old age dies too.  Naturally, she is heartbroken and angry with the man of God.  Tragically, she assumes that she is to blame, and that the presence of the man of God has only brought God’s attention to her sins, and divine retribution for them.  Elijah cries out to God in genuine need – at last he has learned to identify and empathize with the plight of the ordinary people, rather than just himself.

Application

The rich, the powerful, the leaders who should be doing God’s will, have led the whole nation into sin.  Big issues are being worked out here, with big consequences. Unfortunately, even God’s prophet, and the innocent, must suffer the consequences. 

Today, we understand natural cause and effect (as opposed to early Old Testament (mis)understanding that God does everything directly).

A Christian Perspective

Jesus’ approach is to draw people to him, not to condemn their sin, but to bring them healing and to know the presence of God.  In Jesus presence we are saved from our sins, no matter how desperate the situation around us. We will be liberated from the consequences of sin in the world around us, as we look ahead, eagerly, to God’s Kingdom on Earth and the next life in heaven, whichever comes first for us.

Not Power, but Faith

We’re not looking for power, but faith … a Sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:5b-10 (Year B, Proper 9 / Ordinary 14)

Introduction

Sometimes I hear Christians say “if only we really believed and really loved like Jesus we would transform the world,” but Jesus said that most would reject God, and war/poverty would be with us until the end times.  What they really mean is if we had more numbers we would have power!

Scripture – 2 Corinthians 12:5b-10

Paul, a man of great faith, is not healed  (miracles are not a reward for faith).  He explains that he must have this thorn in his flesh, to make him rely on God’s grace.

The Corinthians are wealthy, powerful, clever, successful & strong.  Paul’s two big letters to them (16 & 13 Chaps) are one long rebuke!  He has to justify his authority to say these things and does so – by boasting about his sufferings (Chap 11)!  Paul uses his weakness to shame the strong (as in 1Cor Chaps 1-2).

Application

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men” said a wise historian about the idea that religious leaders and kings could not make mistakes.

I mentioned the Islamic State earlier.  The Five Pillars of Islam are: declaring the faith; prayer; giving; fasting; and pilgrimage.  But look what happens when you give people guns – these gentle ideas are quickly thrown out!

We need weakness to remind us to rely on God.  Many of you know my wife but may not know that she has been ill for all her adult life.  Our struggle against this illness has been good for us – it has brought us closer together, stopped us from being able to take each other for granted.  Our relationship with God is like that.

Conclusion

We won’t transform the world for the better by being strong or clever or powerful.  There are lots of strong, clever and powerful people in the world and they’re making it worse as often as better!  We will transform ourselves, not the world, by doing three things:

  1. We will be fallible, average and powerless (what we are now);
  2. but we will rely on God’s Omni-power, -presence, -knowledge and -seeing: faith in God; and
  3. we will be doing the best that we can.