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November 12, 2006

Topic: Biblical Verse: 1 Kings 17:8–17:16

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Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 17:8-16

There you are, outside, in the heat of the day, the merciless sun beating down. You eyes survey the ground, searching. You move about deliberately: not too fast, because you are hungry and tired. Maybe you're thinking to yourself, "How long has it been since it's rained?" Maybe you don't care anymore. Your spouse has died, and with them, it seems, so did your hope. You've done the best that you can to provide for your young son, but there's only so much that you can do. You don't have any standing in society, and you can't go out and get a job. But even if you did earn an income, would you have enough money to pay for food? With no rain coming, the ground hasn't produced crops, and prices have soared. Your pantry is just about empty.

So there you are, outside, in the heat of the day, gathering sticks. When you have enough, you'll taken them home to light up your oven, to use what little flour and oil you've got left to make some bread for your son - and if there's enough, some for yourself. A last meal, because that bit of flour and that splash of olive oil is all that you have left. Your food is almost gone, and so is your hope.

And now, as you are gathering those sticks, up walks a foreign man, a traveler. He asks for some water to drink. You know how important it is to provide a welcome reception for guests - in your culture, you would be ashamed if you turned away a guest or failed to meet the needs of a traveler. So you go to bring back some water for this man. But then, he asks for bread - bread! When you have barely enough to feed your own family. He tells you to go bake him some bread to eat, then to make some for yourself and your son. And he offers a fantastic promise: Yahweh, the God of Israel, will provide for you. You will have flour and oil for baking bread until the rain comes again and the drought is ended. So what will you do?

If you think that life in the metro D.C. area is fast-paced, take a look at what Elijah has experienced: he first appears on the scene at the beginning of this chapter of 1 Kings, only seven verses earlier! In the brief record that we have here, Elijah is first sent to stand before Ahab, the king of the northern kingdom of Israel, to predict a drought. But why would God do this? King Ahab, you see, was leading the people in the worship of Baal, the false god who supposedly made the land fertile, provided rains and favorable weather. So the drought that would come would be both a call to repentance and a sign as to Who really does provide for the people and sustain the land. After delivering God's message, Elijah was sent to live east of the Jordan River, where God provided for him by sending ravens to bring him bread and meat. And now, with the waters dried up, God sends Elijah to Zarephath, a foreign land to the west and the origin point of the Baal worship that has overtaken Israel.

What does Elijah ask of the widow? Basically, it's the same thing that God asks of us: to step out in faith. Faith that God will provide for us. Faith that depends on God's grace. Faith that puts the needs of others before our own wants.

But the abundance with which we surround ourselves invites us to a different faith. The abundance that we know encourages us to depend on ourselves and own strength. Having much encourages having yet more. We don't give everything we have in faith - we're reluctant to even tithe a percentage of our earnings - for we fear the unknown. We want visible abundance. Sometimes we even hoard things, just in case. Think about when there's a forecast of snow here: what happens? What flies off the shelves at the supermarket? Bread, milk, toilet paper - the essentials of life, eh? When put to the test, we let our concept of comfort control us. Our want for wealth wins out. Our faith falls to fear.

But whatever happened to that widow in Zarephath? How did she respond to Elijah, this foreign servant of a foreign God? What does she do when confronted by Elijah's request and God's promise? The text tells us: she went and did as Elijah said. And God provided. He fed Elijah and the widow's household. He demonstrated compassion to this woman in need, even though she was outside of His chosen people. He provided daily bread.

God shows compassion to the outcasts: those who are in physical, social, and emotional need. God cares about the "who," He cares about each soul that He has created. He is God to the hurting. He is God to those suffering from illness and disability. He is God to the lonely and to the bereaved. God shows compassion to the outcasts: those who are in spiritual need. He is God to those who fear, those who fail to trust, those who fall short. He is God to sinners. He is God to us. We know this, because He has shown us compassion - literally, "suffering with" in becoming one of us. And in His compassion, God now gives in abundance.

But how does He do so? With large stacks of cash? With success and prosperity? With a trouble-free life? God gives in abundance, but He does so in an unexpected way: He provides our daily bread. In the case of the Elijah and the widow's household, He did so literally. And He does so for us today: the food that we eat, even the many tasty-looking items at this weekend's bake sale, all come from the God who created us and sustains us.

Most importantly, God provides abundantly in Jesus Christ. He gives the forgiveness of all our sins: the times when we have fallen short, the times when we have failed to trust in Him above ourselves, the times when we have failed to care for those who are outcasts.

When we pray in the Fourth Petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread," we're asking for God to provide for all of our physical needs. When we pray for daily bread, we acknowledge that it is God who does the providing. In his explanation for this petition, Luther includes many and various aspects of God's abundance provision: clothing, money, good government, favorable weather, faithful spouses, and more! And yes, "daily bread" does include bread.

We pray for daily bread, daily, for we need what God provides each day. We pray for daily bread, daily, because that is the nature of the faith to which God has called us: we are called trust in Him and His strength. We are called to recognize the ways in which God abundantly provides for us and to give Him thanks. And having recognized that abundance, we are called to share it with those in need. With the outcasts. The widow stepped out in faith, and God kept His promise. God now calls us to step out in faith, to rely on the abundance that He provides for us, body and soul. God is calling. How may we answer?

"Lord, give us this day our daily bread." Amen.