24 Pentecost Proper B27                
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
1 Kings 17:8-16 Sermon                                       
November 11, 2012

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
------------   "Praise My Soul The King Of Heaven"
TLH 34     "My Soul, Now Bless Thy Maker"
TLH 314   "Lord Jesus Christ, We Humbly Pray"
WOV 721 "Go My Children With My Blessing"


TEXT (vs. 12-14):  “12 And [the widow] said [to Elijah]: 'As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now 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.' 13 And Elijah said to her, 'Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’”   

            In case you're not aware of it, I have a German ancestry.  My grandfather immigrated early in the 20th century.  His only sibling, a sister by the name of Shirley also immigrated sometime after that.  And then my grandfather arranged to have his widowed mother brought to the United States sometime after World War I.  But he still had many members of his extended family living in Germany.

            When World War II came along, it left many German citizens in a state of abject poverty.  People were literally scrounging for every scrap of bread they could find, which included many members of my grandfather's family.  And while all of this was going on, nobody on this side of the Atlantic could do anything to help anybody out.

            Here in the United States, things weren't going too well for my father's family either.  During the depression, they lived on $100 a month; and their family consisted of a husband, a wife, a grandmother, and five children.  So they didn't have a whole lot to spare either. 

            After World War II ended, shipments were finally allowed back in to Germany.  In my grandfather's house, they would save up enough money to ship a box of food to his extended family in Germany.  My dad remembers that they would fill tin cans with lard and bacon grease and solder them shut.  There were other things they had that were home canned or preserved in cans and jars.  They would take all of these things and put them in a box, as much as it could hold.  And then they would pour wheat into the box so it surrounded everything and literally filled every possible crack and crevice (They could use this wheat to grind into flour).  And then the box was tightly sealed, taken to the post office, and shipped out to Germany.  My grandfather sent it to his aging aunt so she could distribute it to the family.  They kept this up for quite a while too.

            Every time a box was shipped, they would get a letter in return from his aunt informing them that the box had arrived, and how much they appreciated getting the food that was sent, and how much it was needed.

            Then one day, my grandfather received a letter from his cousin.  His aunt had passed away.  And then my grandfather learned the most horrifying news of all:  she had died of starvation.  Out of all of those boxes of food that she had received, she had kept none of it for herself.  She gave it all away.  In her estimation, there were others in the family that needed it more than she did.  And nobody else in the family was aware of what she was doing until it was too late.

            It's a sad story, isn't it?  Here is a woman who literally gave everything she had, which included her own life; and she did it for the benefit of others.  Even though what she did would be considered rather foolish in our estimation, still her attitude is to be commended.  I don't think there was a selfish bone in her body.

            This morning, I am using this story to lead us into our text for today, which is the account of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath.  There was extreme famine in the land, and nobody had anything to spare.  This woman and her son were down to the bare necessities; in fact, all she had was a handful of flour and a little bit of olive oil.  When that was gone, she didn't have any prospects of getting anything else.

            So when Elijah appeared on the scene, this is the situation he encountered.  The Lord had told him to go to Zarephath and meet up with this woman.  Unbeknownst to her, the Lord was about to make a miracle happen.  We read in verses 10-11 what Elijah said to her: “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said,  “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 

            One of the interesting things about this, is what the widow says to Elijah.  Verse 12 records: "And she said: 'As the LORD your God lives....'" She has identified the one true God, the God of Israel, none other than Yahweh himself.  She was a believer!  Both she and Elijah were on common ground, right from the start.

            But that doesn't brighten her prospects for the future at all.  She continues telling Elijah in verse 12, "I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now 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." 

            This almost sounds fatalistic in a way.  She had it in her head that this is the way things were, and that she and her son were going to starve to death, and there was nothing that could be done to change it. 

            But that attitude was about to change.  Elijah responds with a promise of God, and he refers to the very same God that she already confessed.  In verse 14 he says, "For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’" 

            And we know the rest of the story.  God made good on his promise: the flour was never used up and the jug of olive oil never went dry.  As our text says in verse 15:  "...And she and he and her household ate for many days."   

            Think about this woman's attitude.  With her having so little to begin with, she would have had every right to tell Elijah "no."  She had good reason.  There was very little, only enough for her and her son to have at most a few mouthfuls of this rather crude bread.  But she took the Lord at his word.  Because God made a direct promise to her, she was willing to give up virtually everything she had.  She put her trust in God above all things, and she put all she had into his almighty and loving hands.  And she was blest.

            I'm going to cross over now to our Gospel lesson for today from Mark chapter 12, verses 38-44.  Here Jesus is making a contrast between the Scribes (and we can include the Pharisees too) and a woman, not a whole lot unlike the woman in our Old Testament Lesson.  This woman put a contribution into the offering box, which amounted to two lepta (according to the Greek text), which amounts to about 1/64th of a denarius, a denarius being a normal day's wage.  If we do the math according to today's monetary standards, let's just say for the sake of argument a normal annual wage is $33,000.  So in comparison, it would be like this woman having a whopping $1.44 to her name in today's money, and that's it!  That's all she had!

            These Scribes and Pharisees loved their positions of power and prestige.  They made a huge deal about who they were and how much they would give, and how much better they were than everybody else.  Verse 40 of our Gospel lesson also gives us this description:  "...who devour widows' houses..." So not only were they braggarts and show-offs, but they were getting rich by taking advantage of widows like the poor woman who gave all she had.  You can see why Jesus found this so detestable.

            In verses 43 and 44 of our Gospel lesson, Jesus really drives home the point.  The difference between the Scribes and Pharisees as compared with the widow has nothing to do with the amount they gave.  It's their attitude that is the lesson here.  We read: 43 And [Jesus] called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

            As we consider the widow in our Old Testament Lesson, and the widow in our Gospel lesson, I wouldn't want you to get the wrong idea.  Don't think that I'm telling you what you have to contribute, or assume that we all need to empty our bank accounts and put it in the offering plate.  That's not the point here at all.

            The attitude is the important thing, and that's what we need to remember.  The widow that put her two coins in the offering box that Jesus witnessed didn't do it to show off to anybody.  She didn't go around telling people, "See, I have put in everything I have!"   She did what she did very privately.  But Jesus knew her heart, and what her situation was.  He knew everything about her.  Being true God, Jesus was able to do things like that.

            God knows everything about us as well.  He knows our sinfulness.  He knows those times when we have had the wrong motivation in our lives.  He knows those times when our faith in him falters.  He knows about those times when our attitude is anything but God pleasing.  That's what sin does to us.

            The widow at Zarephath and the widow in the temple teach us some valuable lessons in attitude and trust.  We need to know that we can trust in God above all things, and that's important to remember.  We should never forget that God loves us and cares for us.  And we need to remember that God wants our entire lives dedicated to him.

            But we fail, and we fail miserably.  Our sin condemns us, and the only prospect we have is eternal death.  We have a gloomy picture ahead of us.  The fact that God knows all about us has us literally shaking in our shoes.

            Remember however about how much God loves us.  That's why Jesus came to this earth.  Just like the widow at Zarephath and the widow in the temple, Jesus gives absolutely everything he has, and he gives it to us.  He gave his very life to pay for our sins, so that through faith alone we would be born anew, born from above, into a new life and a living hope.  Our sinful record is washed clean by Jesus, and we stand before God as righteous and holy through faith alone.  Total and complete forgiveness is what we have because Christ has given everything to us.

            When it comes to our Christian attitude, the Apostle Paul writes in Philippians chapter 2 verses 5-8: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!"

            This morning, I began with a story about my grandfather's aunt.  She received all of these boxes of food that he sent to her, and she gave every morsel of it away.  She indeed gave everything she had, and she did so at the expense of her very life.  She perhaps didn't know that she was starving to death, but that wasn't her concern anyway.  All that was on her mind was that her family was getting fed.  She wasn't after praise or glory as she faithfully tended to the needs of others.

            This morning, we are receiving the Lord's Supper.  You will come forward to the communion rail before the altar where you will be receiving the true Body and Blood of your Lord Jesus.  When it came to the likes of you and me, Jesus spared nothing in saving our souls. 

            The bread we will receive is the same body Jesus gave into death for our sins.  The wine we will drink is the same blood Jesus shed for the full remission of our sins.  Jesus didn't just give us a little bit of his body or a few drops of his blood.  He gave it all, completely and entirely.  He literally gave us everything he had, and he is still giving it to us right now, here, today.  Through that true Body and Blood, we have forgiveness for our sins, and strength for our faith.

            Trusting in God above all things is an important lesson for us to learn.  We trust him with our lives and our souls, even in those times when it isn't easy or our human logic tells us otherwise.  And when we bring our broken spirits and contrite hearts to him, we are giving him all of ourselves so that he will create within us a clean heart, and a right and willing spirit.  And as we make this prayer today, we can do so with confidence, knowing that through faith in Christ Jesus, it has been done.