Monday, 27 June 2016

freedom of "sin" and freedom of the spirit

I heard a quote from Sitting Bull, who was a Lakhota leader in the 19th century. He said, “Inside of me there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is good and they fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins I answer, the one I feed the most.”

This isn’t too far off from what Paul says. Paul says that there are two natures at war within us. One is the spiritual nature, the other is the sinful nature. The spiritual nature is both God’s Spirit within us transforming us into who God had created us to be, and the part of us that is transformed and desires God. The spiritual nature is the part of us that has been renewed. The sinful nature is that part of us that resists God. Paul uses the Greek word “sarx” to refer to this sinful nature. You can translate the word literally as “flesh”, but Paul isn’t just talking about the body here as if the body itself was an evil thing. He is talking about a deeper reality. It is that part of us that continues to be ruled by sin.

Both the Spirit and the Flesh promise freedom. And both the Spirit and the flesh say the other way is slavery.

The “freedom” the flesh promises is: “fornication (forbidden sexual intercourse), impurity (like an unclean spirit), licentiousness (inclination towards lust), idolatry (worship dedicated to something other than God), sorcery (using drugs and making spells), enmities (related to the word enemy, hatred or hostility), strife (contention, expressing enmity, rivalry, fighting), jealousy (intensely wanting what another has), anger (very agitated, wrath, revenge, explosive anger), quarrels (strife, selfishness, rivalry), dissensions (divisions, “standing apart”, dissension), factions (sects, heresies, following self/ personal preference/ personal advantage), envy (displeasure at prosperity of another- jealousy wants it, envy wants the other deprived of it), drunkenness (intoxication), carousing (drunken partying, revelry), and things like these” (5:19-21).

I think this is often what we are taught to think freedom is- freedom from moral restrictions. Freedom to follow every desire and every appetite. We feel like this is the way of fun. We look to the way of the spirit and it looks like the way of nerds, the way of restriction, of self-denial rather than self-expression.

Those of us who have lived the way of the flesh know that the fun doesn’t last. The way of the flesh is also the way of numbing pain, of broken relationships, of children conceived in unstable relationships, of STDs, of tiring drama, of violence and danger. The preacher Frederick Beuchner says it this way, "To obey our strongest appetites for drink, sex, power, revenge, or whatever leaves us the freedom of an animal to take what we want when we want it, but not the freedom of a human being to be human."

The freedom the spirit promises is: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (5:22-23). That last one grabs us as particularly opposed to freedom. We live in a world that has a hard time seeing self-control as being part of a life of freedom. Really it is essential. To be truly free we must choose what makes ultimate sense rather than what my immediate desires are. This is sometimes called “delayed gratification”. You are willing to deny yourself something you want right now, in order to have a greater good later on, or to prevent an unwanted consequence.

The way of the Spirit is the way of mature freedom. St Augustine said, “love God and do what you will” (in a sermon on love- 1 John 4:4-12). That is the freedom of the Spirit. Ultimately there is only 1 thing necessary- Love God. Now, if we love God we will treat our neighbour with kindness because they are a work of God’s hands and created in God’s likeness. If we love God we will care about the directions God has given us to live our lives. That means really where we get in trouble is when we love something other than God best- self, money, prestige, etc.

The New Testament scholar Gordon Fee says, "Freedom is not to be free for self, but for others. The real question is not whether an action is 'lawful' or 'all right,' but whether it is good, whether it benefits. Truly Christian conduct is not predicated on whether I have the right to do something, but whether my conduct is helpful to those around me".

Again, Frederick Beuchner says it this way, "The old prayer speaks of God 'in whose service is perfect freedom'. The paradox is not as opaque as it sounds. It means that to obey Love himself, who above all else wishes us well, leaves us the freedom to be the best and gladdest that we have it in us to become. The only freedom Love denies us is the freedom to destroy ourselves ultimately."

Ultimately, the way of the Spirit leads to life in the Kingdom of God. The way of the Flesh, Paul says, does not inherit the kingdom (5:21). We hear this from Jesus in our Gospel passage. The kingdom is for those with an unwavering dedication (Luke 9:62). We deny ourselves in this life, even enduring the cross, because there is a greater good. We delay our present gratification, for a future greater gratification.

So maybe you believe that the way of the Spirit really is the way of freedom, but you just don’t know how to live that way. Maybe your anger is too explosive and you don’t know how to replace it with patience and kindness. Maybe your lust feels too strong and you don’t know how to replace it with self-control. Something that I’ve learned is that we have to plan for this. I used to think I could just wish it and then someday God would just transform me and I would wake up different. God is very involved in this transformation, but we do need to plan for it and work towards it. Going back to what Sitting Bull said, how do we feed the good dog and not the mean dog?

Dallas Willard was a spiritual teacher who had a particular interest in personal transformation into the way of the Spirit. He uses the Acronym “V.I.M.”, which stands for “vision”, “intention”, and “means”. First, he says we need the “vision”. We need to see Christ and his ways as being the best way to live. We must have a desire to see Jesus as king of the world, but especially of our lives. To allow Jesus to rule in your life means you are at that point living in his kingdom. The kingdom is where what God wants done is done- not just at some point in the future, but now. We need to have a desire and love for Jesus that outweighs everything else. We need to be convinced that the way of the Spirit really is freedom- even if we don’t feel like we have the ability to live it. We have to want to live it.

Next is “intention”- We have to intend to live this way. We have to resolve that this is a way for us. We have to decide that not only that this is a good way to live, but that this is the way to are going to try to live. You have to choose it. You have to trust Jesus as your king. You have to trust that he really does know the best way to live. We intend to obey him as our king- to follow his example and teaching. Willard says, “no one can actually believe the truth about him without trusting him by intending to obey him. It is a mental impossibility. … In fact, you can no more trust Jesus and not intend to obey him than you could trust your doctor and your auto mechanic and not intend to follow their advice. If you don’t intend to follow their advice, you simply don’t trust them. Period.”.[1] This means that we live according to our beliefs. If we are living the way of the flesh, then we are believing something more than Jesus. If we really believe Jesus, then we must intend to follow his ways and actually decide to do it.

Lastly is “means”- these are the methods we use to become the kind of person that naturally has the fruit of the spirit as a part of their character. First, we should be specific. We should look at ourselves honestly and name what ways of the flesh are present in us- Anger? Resentment? Lust? Quarrelling? Drunkenness? We won’t always be able to just grit our teeth and do otherwise. We should aim at become the kinds of people who naturally act as Jesus would have us act. Because of who Jesus was, the easy thing for Jesus was to forgive people from the cross- the hard this would have been to curse them. Our outer actions are expressions of our inner being. That’s why Paul talks about the “fruit” of the Spirit. They are an expression of an inner reality. We intend to become the kind of person that has the fruit of the Spirit. That means we examine and learn to transform our inner being- our thoughts, feelings, habits, and relationships.

There are a number of means of transformation God uses. For example, spending time in prayer and meditation before God concerning an enemy might lead us to see our enemy differently. Perhaps God allows us to see their motivations and good intentions. Maybe we see their abuse at the hands of their parents. Maybe we see some sort of disorder that causes them to act in disruptive ways. Maybe God will remind us of a time someone else forgave us when we hurt someone. We can study Scripture and meditate on our enemy as being made in the image of God, or we can meditate on Jesus forgiving those who nailed him to the cross and imagine our own enemy and ask ourselves why we are so unwilling to forgive. We can meditate on the logical consequences of not forgiving. Fast forward your life 10 years and see where the un-forgiveness leads, or where the habit of not forgiving leads. You might consider places where un-forgiveness is the norm- maybe Israel and Palestine- Has un-forgiveness led them into a life you want? Perhaps read about the lives or the saints, or read their writings and learn from their many years of dedication to way of Jesus. Maybe take up the practice of fasting to teach your soul to be sweet and kind when you don’t get what I want.

Transformation is possible, but we have to want it. We have to have a vision of where we are heading in our spiritual life, we have to actually decide to start walking the way of the Spirit, and we have to use every means God has put at the disposal of the church. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and this is what it means to be a subject of the kingdom of God. Of course God is with us every step of the way and we need to rely on Him for strength and guidance. Anything else is not what Jesus meant by following him. AMEN

[1] Renovation of the heart, p87, 88

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

1 Kings 21- Justice and Power

What would you do if you knew you would get away with it? Would you slash someone’s tires? Would you rob a bank? Make counterfeit money? Would you cheat on your spouse? What if you knew no one would ever know? …. Well, for those of us who believe in God there is always someone watching. There is always someone available to call for justice.    
This is sometimes called the difference between ‘subjective morality’ and ‘objective morality’. Subjective morality means that I basically decide what is right and wrong. Or more accurately, ‘we’ as a society get to decide about what is right and wrong. We get to decide how people should be treated. If women should be treated equally as men that’s up to us. If women should be treated unequally, then that is up to us. If we should allow slavery or not allow slavery, that is up to us. Each society gets to define morality. That’s subjective morality. The people involved get to figure it out, but there really isn’t anyone else to say if they ‘got it right’ or not. It’s all up to them. This also means that one society has a hard time judging another society. If morality is just what a society makes up, then one what basis do we condemn the actions of Nazi Germany? We would really be judging them and the morality they formed on the basis of the morality we decided on.
Objective morality means there really is such a thing as morality out there even if there are no human beings. Objective morality means that morality is a force of nature like gravity. Your job is to discover it and align yourself to it. If there is a God always watching, I there is a God who created a law of morality along with a law of gravity, then there is a moral law out there that all human beings will be judged against regardless of what society we live in or what century we are from.
Some people think all that exists is subjective morality. In our culture that means if you can get a law to declare something okay then it’s moral and right. So if a company like Monsanto wants to put a patent on a life form, like a genetically modified seed, then they can pay expensive lawyers and lobbyists to push their interest and get the law to go their way.[1] Then they can own a life form and sue farmers who save back some of their crop for seeding as if they are stealing because that life form belongs to them. 
Or say you’re a company that uses modern day slaves (many of whom are children) to make your chocolate, or your clothes. Or, say you induce war and violence to protect your profits. In a world of subjective morality the winners get to decide what morality is. Or say you are a bank that causes the near collapse of the economic system because of greed and lobbying for continued removal of government controls, then when an economic collapse is impending you get a government bailout and still pay yourself a huge bonus for the good work you’ve done.  If you get the law changed, you win. If you gain control of the government, you win. If you make more profits by moving to a country that allows modern day slavery, you win. In a world of subjective morality, what is moral is often what you can get away with.
If, however, there is an objective morality that exists like the law of gravity and can’t be manipulated by bribes, or the legal system, or violence, then all these actions will be judged according to these universal standards. There is an all seeing, un-bribable judge.
I’ll get back to this in a minute, but now we turn to our Bible passage for today.    In the book of 1st Kings chapter 21 we read about the conflict between a powerful person and a common person who both hold different views of the world. Ahab thinks it would be nice to have a vegetable garden next to his secondary palace for when he happens to be there, so he asks Naboth who has a vineyard next to the palace if he can buy his land. However, he refuses.
            To we who have grown up in urban Capitalist North America we are a bit confused. The King offered good money, or even a better piece of land somewhere else. To many of us Naboth is just being plain stubborn.
            The majority of us (especially those who have grown up in the city) have grown up with a very different understanding of property. It is so ingrained in us that we really have a hard time thinking any other way. For us to say something is "priceless" is really just another way of saying that something is really really expensive. For us to understand Naboth's refusal we have to grasp how he viewed his land.
            For Naboth, the land King Ahab spoke of is on his family's portion of the Promised Land. When his family were slaves in Egypt, God used Moses to bring Naboth's ancestors out of slavery and into the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership. This land that Naboth was living on and tending was a symbol of God's love and care for his people. It was his job to care for it. In a sense it really wasn't his land to sell. Naboth viewed himself as steward of the land that was handed down to him from his ancestors. It was his responsibility to care for it and hand it on to his children.
             King Ahab saw the land as a commodity- as resources to be used and consumed. It is something to be bought and sold. He cared about having a nice vegetable garden, not about his ancestral inheritance. Naboth had a very different view of the land. In this reading we have a collision of values. This kind of collision happens all the time, and the way it was often resolved (unfortunately) depended on who has more power.[2]
            While Ahab, as the emotionally mature king that he was, goes to his room angry, sulking and refusing to eat, his wife Jezebel comes to him to figure out what's wrong and then sets off to fix it.  She uses the kings authority to command leaders in Naboth's town to accuse him of a crime that will get him executed. To do this she tells them to find two "scoundrels" who will lie and accuse Naboth of the false crime. They needed two because in the justice system of Israel you needed two witnesses to accuse a person of a crime just in case someone was lying. Jezebel uses the justice system of Israel to commit murder. How ironic that this conspiracy used the thing meant for justice to create injustice. Jezebel's plan is successful and Naboth is killed.
            Now if subjective morality is all there is, then those with the power have a lot of ability to make up the rules. They can manipulate the legal system, even using it as a tool to do their bidding. Under the idea of subjective morality as long as people are okay with this, or even don’t know about this, then there are no ultimate consequences for this kind of immorality.[3]
This kind of thing is what I was talking about at the beginning of this sermon. There are numerous situations involving corporations and societies that mimic this situation. A powerful individual, or group, versus a less powerful individual or group. The powerful manipulate the system to allow for their behavior, effectively buying justice. If all there is is subjective morality then the powerful get their way, and the little guy is trodden underfoot and forgotten about.
If, however, there is an objective morality in the universe, a morality that exists even if no one believes it, a morality that exists like a law of physics, then all these actions will be judged and justice will be had. If all there is is subjective morality then Jezebel and Ahab get away with it. If there is an objective morality, then there will be consequences sooner or later.        
            I had a friend who was really interested in Liberation Theology, which is basically a way of thinking about God and reading the Bible with an emphasis on releasing those who are being oppressed. My friend was explaining to me what Liberation theology was all about and he said, "Liberation Theology can be summed up by this phrase- ‘God takes sides’". In the conflict between King Ahab and the peasant farmer Naboth- God chooses Naboth's side. God cares and calls for justice for Naboth's murder. Injustice is never hidden from God's eyes. After the conspiracy and murder are over, the prophet Elijah meets the king in Naboth's garden. God speaks through Elijah and asks the king, "Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?' In the place where dogs licked up Naboth's blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!' ".  The King thought he got away with it. He is the king after all.  Now, here comes this odd man, the prophet Elijah, and he knows everything because God has told him. God sees everything, and God has taken a side. God has an un-shakable, un-buyable, un-manipulatable standard of morality. The violence done to Naboth will come back on Ahab and his wife Jezebel.
            The church has often shone at its brightest when it has stood alongside those who are oppressed- like William Wilberforce standing alongside the slaves, or like Mother Theresa standing alongside those living in the slums of Calcutta, or Bishop Desmond Tutu standing with his people against Apartheid.
            That is our place as Christians. We are called to stand alongside the Naboths who are crushed by the powers of this world who think they can buy justice- who think that justice and laws are for those with the most expensive lawyers and government lobbyists. Like Ahab, there are those who would even use the legal system to cover their injustices. Justice will be had eventually.
 In Matt 25 Jesus says:  
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
 37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
 40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Jesus identified with the Naboths of the world. Those who have been beaten up by the bullies of this world. Standing with the Naboth’s can be scary. It means you are standing against the King Ahabs and Queen Jezebels of the world, but I think we would much rather stand with the prophet Elijah and the peasant Naboth- because that means we are standing with God.  

Additional reflection:
If we look hard we can find ourselves in this 1st Kings reading. We can be one of three people in the reading. At our worst, we can be Jezebel. We can be openly and obviously cruel. We conspire to do horrible things to people. I remember one time when I was in elementary school there was a card being sent around the class. It was near my friend Chris' birthday so I thought it was going to be a birthday card for him. Once everyone had signed it the girl who started it collected the card back with all the signatures and wrote "we all hate you Daniella" and gave it to the girl. Once I found out I felt awful. I even signed my name with a happy face. And on top of that I had a bit of a crush on Daniella. It was heartless and cruel. She left the school shortly after that. At our darkest we can be Jezebel. Usually we aren't that willingly cruel, and we can think of many people throughout history that are heartless, drunk on power, and more than willing to crush others.

            The second way we might see ourselves in this story is to see ourselves as King Ahab. He didn't really make the order, but the murder was done so he could benefit from it. This is more subtle. Sometimes we benefit from oppression. We are not commanding murder or causing wars or forcing someone into slavery, but we can benefit from the oppression those wars cause. If wars are caused over oil, do we benefit from that? If goods are made cheaper by being made in a sweatshop, do we benefit from it? Sure we aren't running around shooting people because we want cheap oil. We certainly don't have a sweatshop full of enslaved children in our garage. King Ahab did not kill anyone. He didn't even command the killing of anyone, but he didn't stop it. His silence was an approval of Jezebel's tactics to get him Naboth's vineyard. In the end he received judgement. It is easy for us to fall into this way of being because it is subtle and we aren't intimately connected to those being hurt. Though I'm not sure if Ignorance is an excuse here.

            The 3rd person we can be in this story is Naboth. We can live under the oppression of someone, or a group of someones. We can fall through the cracks of our society. The laws can leave us exposed. I've had phone calls from people stuck between organizations and so are left without a foothold. The structures we sometimes set up can fall apart. Sometimes we end up being crushed by the powerful organization. Sometimes we are bullied at work. Sometimes we are kicked around by the powers and principalities that terrorize this world. Sometimes we are not Naboth, but we choose to stand beside him. Sometimes we are not the one oppressed, but we stand in solidarity with the person who is oppressed.

[1] I know I have stepped on a few toes with this remark. We have to be careful to avoid extremes and demonizing. These companies do what they do because consumers and voters have created this kind of a setting. Genetically modified seed is driven by the consumer demand or cheaper food. Sweatshops are driven by the consumer demand for cheaper clothes. Modern slavery is often driven by North American consumer demands. The finger is pointed at us as well for creating a context where these kinds of issues are possible and they thrive because we tend to be relatively complacent.   
[2] Naboth’s view of the land is much like the view of many Aboriginal people’s. In many ways the deceptions in the guise of treaties and the sheer physical and political violence used against aboriginal peoples is an example of the conflict between Ahab, Jezebel, and Naboth . The European settlers had decided that they wanted the land that was occupied by a variety of native peoples. The native peoples actually had a view of the land that was somewhat similar to that of Naboth. The settlers saw resources and had a sense of ownership that collided with the Native American view of the land.   
            One particular event you might know about. The "Trail of Tears" was a relocation of many Native American peoples from their homelands to present day Oklahoma in the western United States in the early 1800's. During this forced relocation many people died from exposure, disease, and starvation. 4,000 of the 15,000 relocated Cherokee people died while on route.  By 1837, 46,000 Native American people had been removed from their homes in the South Eastern United States. The result was that 25 million acres were made available for settlement my European settlers.    
            A look at the history of the treaty process exposes much injustice, manipulation, and exploitation. For example I heard a First Nations pastor named Cheryl “Bear” Barnetson say that much of Vancouver, from the coast to a mile inland, according to one treaty actually belongs to the Musquim, Broad Inlet, and Squamish nations. 
            Cheryl summed up her people's view of the land by saying, "No one can own the land, any more than anyone can own the air or the sun that shines, or the rain that falls".
According to Cheryl the Native American understanding of land was much like the Old Testament concept of stewardship. The Land was God's and those who lived on that land were responsible for taking care of it and not abusing it.
            Now I'm not sure what to say about this. I think we need to feel disturbed by the injustice that has happened to the Native peoples of this continent, but I'm not sure what the answer is, honestly. I do feel strongly that there is a parallel between Naboth and the many individuals and peoples on this planet who have suffered injustice at the hands of the powerful, who often use conspiracy and even the justice systems to oppress other peoples.          

[3] I heard Doug Wilson once comment on John Lennon’s song “Imagine” which paints an idealized world with no afterlife. "Imagine: Above Auschwitz only sky. Imagine there's no heaven above us, no hell below." The idea is that if there is no afterlife then Stalin or Hitler never really have to face the suffering they’ve caused.   

Monday, 6 June 2016

Elijah and the widow

A couple of years ago when we were living in Edmonton, Crystal saw a few crows in our back yard playing with some pink paper. When the crows flew away she went to look at what they brought into our backyard. To her surprise it was a 50 dollar bill!

I always think of the prophet Elijah when I think of that moment. As you might remember, when Elijah was hiding from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel Ravens brought him food in the wilderness. It’s one of those stories that seems to have the ring of legend and can cause you to doubt its historical reality, but I believe it wholeheartedly now.

Elijah was hiding in the wilderness because God had sent him to deliver a message to King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. They had started a quite aggressive and violent program to introduce the worship of a different god- Baal- a god from the queen’s homeland. This particular god was believed to be a storm god that controlled the rain, among other things. So when Elijah declared God’s message that no rain would fall and the land would suffer from a drought, that was a direct challenge to this supposed “god of rain”. It was a declaration that The God of Israel- YHWH- is the one that ultimately controls the rain. This challenge was obviously not appreciated and Elijah had to go into hiding. While he was in hiding he was fed by the ravens. He was camping out by a little creek in the wilderness, but when it dried up God tells Elijah, "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you." The widow doesn’t seem to be aware of the command.

It is interesting to think about Elijah and this widow. Elijah has been on the run and living in the wilderness. He’s a bit of a Wildman. … When God sends him to someone to give him water and food, God doesn’t send him to some rich man with deep cisterns of water to last through droughts, and large granaries full of food. God sends him to a widow living in Queen Jezebels’ homeland. … A widow was one of the most vulnerable people. They were easily abused. In that culture it was important to have a man to protect you and to give you a voice in the broader society. For example, it would be next to impossible to have a voice in the legal system without a man representing you. Without a husband, or some other man looking out for her, she was incredibly vulnerable. Living as a widow almost always meant being thrust into poverty. She would have been easily taken advantage of. … Her son would have been her only real hope for the future. He would care for her when she was too old to care for him. …Of all the people God could send Elijah to, He sends him to this poor widow.

One way to read the Bible is to see yourself in the various characters. So you might read this passage and see yourself as Elijah. There are a few lessons we might learn by doing this. One, is that just because we follow God’s will we are not guaranteed to have easy lives. It is a common mistake to think that because we go to church and give of our money and offer our services to the church that things should go well for us. We won’t get sick. Those we love won’t endure tragedy. Unfortunately, it’s not true. We look at Jesus and the disciples and we would not say they had easy and comfortable lives. Paul describes his life as a Christian in one of his letters,
“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:24-28).

With the example of Paul, Jesus, his disciples, and other servants of God, like Elijah, we should be careful not to expect our lives to be easy just because we are doing what we should be doing. Neither should we expect that we are somehow out of the will of God just because we endure some suffering.

Another lesson to be gleaned would be that you never know where help might come from. God provides for us in surprising ways. If we were calling the shots, we would send Elijah to a rich man, but God sends Elijah to a poor widow. In Isaiah 55:8 God says, 
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”.
 God acts in ways that are unexpected. God saved the world through the death of Jesus, the Son of God, and the son of a carpenter. The cross was God’s self-sacrifice to show His love to humanity. Jesus chose a ragtag group of disciples from fishermen and tax-collectors and changed the world with them. … God chose, of all people, a group of slaves and fought for them against Pharaoh and one of the strongest nations on the earth at the time- Egypt. … God behaves in ways that we don’t expect. And, at times, God provides for us in ways we don’t expect and that might not even make sense. Most of us wouldn’t have the guts to ask for help from a poor widow. And yet, that is where Elijah is sent. God might give us help from somewhere we least expect it.

We might also imagine ourselves as the widow. A lesson we might glean is that God will sometimes ask of us at a time when we feel like we are least able to help. He might ask something of us when we feel physically weak, emotionally broken, financially poor, and spiritually empty. But, God will not ask anything of us without also giving us a way to fulfill it. God asks the poor widow to feed the wildman-prophet Elijah. Elijah asks her for bread and she says, 
“I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die" (17:12).

This is who Elijah is sent to. A widow that is cooking her last meal. And yet, Elijah asking her for help is really the means of salvation for her and her son. Elijah says to her, 
"’Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.’ She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days” (17:13-15).

If Elijah hadn’t asked her for help, she and her son would have died. So God may ask us to do something when we are weak- physically, emotionally, financially, or spiritually- but God asking something of us might actually be the means by which we are saved and made strong. Sometimes we think God is asking too much of us, when really it is the means God is using to heal us. God asked a widow with no food to feed a stranger and because of it she was provided with an abundance of food. God has a tendency to use those the world sees as weak and poor to show his strength and abundance.

Think about Mary. She was a common girl. Young and not married, and God chose her to be the mother of Jesus. Think of David, the youngest of his brothers, a shepherd, he takes down the giant Goliath and God makes him into a great king. This story is repeated over and over throughout the history of God’s people. As Paul says in 1 Cor 1:27, 
“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong”.

To sum up a few of the lessons we can learn from this passage, as we see ourselves as Elijah we are not guaranteed to live lives free of trouble and suffering just because we are living in God’s will. The opposite might even be true- we might suffer because we are following God’s will. We also should expect the unexpected in terms of how God is going to help us. Help will come from unexpected places- like food from a starving widow. As the widow we learn that God may ask things of us when we feel too week to obey. God may ask us when we feel physically weak, emotionally broken, financially poor, and spiritually empty, but our obedience to God when we are weak might actually be how we are made strong. So may our eyes be opened to see the world as God sees it, and may we be willing to be uncomfortable and expect the unexpected as we follow God.

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