Toorak Uniting Church

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Running on empty

1 Kings 17
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
8am, 3 September 2006

This morning we will reflect on the text in a slightly different way as to what we are used to. Rather than reading 1 Kings 17 as a whole and then reflecting on it, I intend to take you through the story in stages, considering a few verses at the time.

We look at the first two verses first: 1 Kings 17: 1-2.

Here we meet Elijah. His name means "The Lord is God" and as more often happens in scripture his name is significant: As the story unfolds we will discover that his program, his core commission, is to prove that "The Lord is God".

His antagonist in the story is Ahab, King of Israel. In the eyes of his contemporaries a highly successful king under whose rule Israel flourished. In the eyes of scripture however he is judged differently.
A country’s prosperity doesn’t necessarily mean that justice is done and the Lord’s commandments followed. And under the rule of Ahab they were not.

Part of Ahab’s success story is that the knowledge of God is suppressed and other, lesser gods were promoted who were probably more convenient to serve from the perspective of those who stood to benefit from it.

The worship of Baal did not involve the care for the weak and vulnerable in society, nor did it support those in need. It was a religion that worshipped power, success and the accumulation of wealth by a fortunate few. It encouraged the belief that might is right and that those who found themselves at the top of the heap had every right to trample those at the bottom.

An easy god to worship if you’re top of the heap. A terrible god to be guiding the political and economic decisions for those who are poor and vulnerable.

"In the Name of God: no rain until I say so".

The prophet is called to tell the king the consequences of his rule. This is not about God using nature as a tool to punish. The drought is an immediate result of Ahab’s neglect of God’s commandments. The story simply says: Where God and his ways are forgotten and neglected, wilderness ensues. That is a far more important issue than if God can or can’t break the laws of nature and would use nature as a tool for punishment or reward, as is posed in Crosslight this week.

Where might is right and greed gets a free reign, life turns into a jungle.

Let’s read the next little bit: 1 Kings 17: 2-7.

His life threatened we find Elijah near Wadi Cherrit. Elijah has become a refugee, an asylum seeker, hiding from the authorities because they don’t like his message.

He is fed by ravens. Unclean animals which appear in the story tongue in cheek. There is no place in Ahab’s prosperous abundance for a prophet who doesn’t agree with the way the King is organizing his country. The prophet therefore has to rely on unclean birds that are considered the thieves and robbers of the ancient Middle Eastern animal Kingdom.
The world is turned on its head: In the prosperity and wealth of Ahab’s Kingdom, what should have been God’s people are behaving like ravens, they have become thieves and robbers. In the wilderness outside where there is nothing to eat or drink, ravens are providing God’s prophet with all he needs to keep himself alive.

1 Kings 17: 8-16.

The widow: She is at the end of her tether. She is gathering wood for her last meal. She is ready to die and she most probably looked the part.

How dare Elijah go up to her and ask for water and even food?

And how does she, ready to die and probably feeling extremely desperate and distressed bring herself to be nice to Elijah, get him water and share some of the very last bread she will be able to bake with him?

It is this sharing I feel that is really the heart of the story. Where Ahab the king does not serve the Lord and turns his world and the world of those who are entrusted to his care into a wilderness, a widow, and a foreigner, a single mother in desperate circumstances changes her world into an oasis by sharing where there is nothing to share.

The food doesn’t run out where selfless love and sharing take over from greed and anxiety about ones own survival. Let us just think about that for a moment.

1 Kings 17: 16-24.
Now what to do with this part of the story?
Instead of dwelling on what could be the first reported instance of mouth to mouth I think we should concentrate on the message this part of the story seeks to convey.

The son of the widow dies. The life giving community she and Elijah have established by sharing and caring for each other proves incapable to keep the wilderness at bay and death from their door.

Elijah confronts God, he is livid! OK he says, you sent me to Ahab and I told him his world would turn into a wilderness if he kept going the way he was, but this poor widow hasn’t done anything wrong and now it is her son that is killed. This is just not fair! You can’t do this.

The point at issue here is not if Elijah could bring someone back to life, that, although it may be an intriguing question is of no real importance at all. The really important question is if, where sharing and caring has brought about an oasis of kingdom living in the middle of the wilderness, God will let death still have the last word.

Remember when mouth to mouth happened before in the Bible?

It is in Genesis two where God breathes his own breath into lifeless clay and gives life to Adam. What Elijah challenges God to show is that he is still the creator, is still creating, even where death seems to be winning hand over fist and the wilderness is proving hard to keep out. Even from those places where God is worshipped and his commandments guide life. With the resurrection of the son hope, faith and the trust that somehow in this wilderness God will breathe life into creation again is resurrected and the assurance given that no matter how bad it will get, wilderness and death will never have the last word. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2006

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