“Calling All Saints!”

“Calling All Saints!”

All Saints’ Day
1 Kings 17:1-24

Today’s text is the first time we hear of Elijah, who became a prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, beginning during the reign of King Ahab. He just pops into the story out of nowhere, with no back story at all except that he is from Gilead.

The first thing we hear of Elijah is that he says to King Ahab, there’s going to be a drought: neither rain for dew these years except by my word.

He no sooner finishes this proclamation to King Ahab than he is called by God to go east of the Jordan where God will send ravens to feed him. He does this, staying there until the water is gone. Then God tells him to go to Zarephath, in Sidon, where God has commanded a widow to feed him.

Wow. We’ve had practically no introduction to this Elijah guy, and God has him speaking to King Ahab of the coming drought, and then God is moving him about the countryside and commanding ravens and a widow to feed him. I mean, who is this guy?

Well, let’s back away from that story for a moment and ask: when is this guy?

Elijah lived from 900-849 BC. For a reference point, consider that King David died in 970 BC, 70 years before Elijah was born. Between last week’s lesson about God’s covenant with King David and this week’s lesson about Elijah and the widow, approximately 100 years have elapsed. King Solomon reigned after his father, David, and when he died the kingdom became divided, with one king over Israel in the north and another king over Judah in the south. In these intervening years, there had been several kings in each region, and virtually all of them “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord,” primarily worshipping other gods. Only King Asa in Judah did what was good in God’s sight. King Ahab, in Israel, the one to whom Elijah prophesied about the drought, was one of many who did evil in God’s sight.

It must have been hard to be a prophet. A prophet needed to speak to a king and say things that the king really didn’t want to hear. In our parlance, it was “speaking the truth to power.” But it was not just any truth; it was God’s truth. Telling the king things that the king didn’t want to hear was dangerous, tricky work.

I wonder… did God decide that Elijah needed a little on-the-job training? A chance to prophesy to someone who was not a king, perhaps? And before even doing that, maybe the prophet needed a little alone time with God, some time in the wilderness learning to trust God and to rely on God and to believe God’s word… Maybe the prophet Elijah needed to practice listening to God and believing that God would provide for his every need.

Maybe before going before King Ahab again, this new prophet of God needed to go before the widow and her son. And before even doing that, maybe this prophet needed to really believe that God would send ravens to him twice each day with bread and meat.

So, after his time in the wilderness with the ravens, Elijah does as God asks. He goes to the widow in Zarephath. When he asks a drink of her, she goes to get him a drink. But when he asks for food, her whole story comes flowing out. She has only a very small amount of oil and meal left, and when he came by she had been gathering sticks so that she could make a last meal for herself and her son before they died.

Her situation is dire. She is out of food. She knows that with the drought and famine in the land and her meager resources, she will not be able to get more. She may not have accepted her fate and her son’s fate, but she is resigned to it.

Elijah speaks a word of hope to her directly from God: the jar of meal will not be emptied and the oil will not fail until God sends rain on the earth. This is more than a word of hope. This is a word of life. God’s vision of the future for this widow and her son is full of life and hope. Where she had been ready to die, this prophet of God has brought life. So, Elijah stays with them and they all have plenty to eat for many days.

And then the widow’s son becomes ill and dies. And the woman thinks that Elijah has had a hand in it, calling her sins to remembrance and causing her son’s death.

Elijah asks for her son, taking him to his own room and placing him on his own bed. In our text, we read that Elijah stretches himself out over the boy 3 times, asking God to let him live again. I wonder whether Elijah also had some other words with God, to the effect of: how could you let this woman’s son, her only source of support and care, die? God hears Elijah’s prayer, and the boy lives.

This wonder, this miracle, inspires the woman to profess that Elijah is a man of God and that God’s word is in his mouth. Interesting that three people eating for many days from jars that were nearly empty did not cause her to make this profession!

God blessed the widow and her son through Elijah. And God blessed Elijah through them. When the widow was ready to die, God sent Elijah to say that the meal and the oil would not run out. When the widow’s son died, God heard her prayer, and God heard Elijah’s prayer, and God restored him to life.

Jesus’ love in our hearts is like the meal and oil in the widow’s jars. It will never run out. It will always be enough. It will always feed us. And it is meant to be shared.

Today, we celebrate All Saints’ Day. On this day, we remember all who have died. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, as it says in Revelation. They are pure, spotless, without blemish or sin. They are saints.

Whomever comes to your mind or heart this day, take a moment to remember who they were for you, in your life, and how they touched others. Let the tears flow. Perhaps, as you remember, there will also be laughter. And, if it’s an image that works for you, imagine them sitting right next to Jesus – real close, maybe even in his lap – as they hear him say, Well done, good and faithful servant.

As we remember those who have died, especially those who have died since last All Saints’ Day, our community weeps. As we weep, we also rejoice that they now share in the heavenly feast at God’s banquet table with all the saints of every age.

As Elijah was a blessing to the widow and her son, bringing God’s word of life and hope, and as the widow and her son were a blessing to Elijah, feeding him and being a part of his journey, so too are we each a blessing to one another. And those whom we remember today have blessed us through the years and continue to bless us in our remembering of them.

In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, we walk through this life with hope and joy, spreading the love of our Risen Savior, the peace of the Holy Spirit, and the abundance and blessings of our Creator wherever we go.

And now may the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus.

“Calling All Saints!” was a sermon preached by Pastor Pam Schaefer Dawson in conjunction with our worship service for All Saints Sunday, November 1, 2020.  It is based on the text of 1 Kings 17:1-24 — the story of Elijah the Prophet and his interactions with a certain poor widow on the brink of starvation.