Date: Pentecost III + Proper 5C + 6/5/16
Text: 1 Kings 17:17-24
Elijah was the mightiest prophet of God. Whereas all the other prophets are introduced to us with words like, “The Word of the Lord came to…,” Elijah the Tishbite just suddenly appears on the scene as if he needs no introduction, certification or proof. How different the apostle Paul who we heard today laying out the evidence of his argument to be a bona fide apostle even though he did not accompany the others “during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21-22). Elijah was sent to call God’s people back from their infatuation with the latest religious fad, namely, the idolatrous worship of Baal. He simply shows up and predicts drought and famine, “except by my word,” that is that he would call an end to the punishment at the proper time.
Now it was to save him from any opposition or persecution that God commanded Elijah to be hidden until the time of punishment came to an end. He goes into the wilderness being fed by ravens with bread and meat. When the brook Cherith dried up, the Lord directed him to go to the town called Zarephath to live with a widow whom the Lord had commanded to provide for him. Elijah discovered which widow was chosen and she responded as a worshipper of the true God recognizing Elijah to be an Israelite prophet. This is yet another example of faith coming to a Gentile according to God’s ultimate plan.
Now while the prophet was staying there the woman’s son became ill and died. It is a typical reaction of unbelief that the woman wonders if the death was some sort of punishment from God for her sin. “What have you against me, O man of God?” Have you ever felt like God was punishing you for something you have done amiss, or have failed to do? But you should recognize that language and know that it is here in Divine Service that you receive God’s assurance and absolution of all sins whether of commission or omission.
There is a consciousness of sin and separation from God built in to the sinner’s guilty conscience. Of course that’s not what was going on here. Remember the man born blind in John 9 when Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” as if his blindness was some sort of punishment from God. We easily love to blame God for our tragedies rather than to see that as a sinner we suffer the common sufferings and ravages of sin just like everyone else but that God delivers His people through suffering to His ultimate goal of eternal life. Jesus answered, “it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” So also for this widow of Zarephath. The death of her son was not sent as a punishment for particular sins, but was intended for the manifestation of the works of God, in order that she might learn that the Lord was not merely the God of the Jews, but the God of the Gentiles also, that He is her God as St. Paul taught so clearly, “is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also” (Rom 3:29).
“Give me your son,” says Elijah. And he carries him up into the upper chamber where he was staying. Then the dramatic event. As if to administer what we might call spiritual CPR, Elijah prayed to the Lord and then “stretched himself upon the child three times” still crying to the Lord. The Lord heard his voice and brought the lad back to life. When Elijah brought the child down from the upper chamber and delivered him to his mother he said, “See, your son lives.” Then the better miracle happened. The gift and confession of faith as the woman said, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
The Word of the Lord is truth. By this miracle Elijah showed himself not only to be the most powerful prophet of God but, more importantly, the forerunner of Him who raises all the dead to life. In a similar way we heard of Jesus raising a widow’s son from death in a town called Nain. When Jesus simply spoke the word, “Young man, I say to you, arise,” his life was restored to him. Jesus reunited him with his mother and the people drew the conclusion, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” Were they remembering Elijah? And they were saying, “God has visited his people!” And they were right. The Word of the Lord is truth.
That Word gives us the answer to our deepest questions and greatest fears. It corrects our misunderstanding of God as some sort of tyrant to understand that God is love. Though it is hard to see what we might call love in any given situation the Word has revealed to us that there is a bigger picture. The day came when Elijah spoke about that bigger picture directly with Moses and Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. That bigger picture begins and ends with God’s mighty deliverance through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Physical death is not the end of it all we’re told. There is resurrection from the dead. And though our mourning may seem to have no ending the mighty Word of the Lord gives us the eyes of faith to know that our mourning will cease and there is coming a day when God “will wipe away every tear from your eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).
What you are experiencing now, whether good or bad, will eventually be called “the former things.” Faith reaches out to that event of the grace of God who promises “the ever new thing” of “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” So to you comes this mighty Word of truth inviting you to the comfort of God’s deliverance:
Awake, O sleeper, rise from death,
And Christ shall give you light;
So learn His love, its length and breadth,
Its fullness, depth, and height. (LSB 697)