What was the best meal you’ve ever eaten? What is your favorite food? If you’ve been following the reports from the 2013 CHUP Texas mission team on my blog, you know that we’ve thought about food a great deal, and have explored the ways that it shapes who we are.
This Lent, we’ll be looking at some of the meals that are recorded in the Bible and the ways that those meals reveal something of the character of God or the needs of God’s people. Last week, Matt Fricker led us through an exploration of the Passover. Today, we will look at a couple of curious stories involving Elijah.
First, let me ask you what you know about ravens? We don’t think about them a great deal, I understand. But what is a raven? It is a large, ominous creature. Ravens are scavengers who will eat anything that is put in front of them, alive or dead, clean or unclean. According to Leviticus 11, the raven is a “detestable” creature.
But enough about the football players from Baltimore. Our text actually refers to the large black birds that resemble crows, but are bigger. They are enormously intelligent, and they have appetites to match. Has anyone ever called you “ravenous”: it means that you’re so hungry you will eat anything. I was telling the truth when I said that Scripture called them “unclean” animals – probably because they are scavengers who have no problem eating dead or decaying flesh. The Children of Israel were told to have nothing to do with ravens.
In our reading from I Kings, God commands the prophet Elijah to speak out against the king of Israel and then to hide out in the hills for awhile. “Don’t worry,” God says. “I’ve commanded the ravens to take care of you.”
I can’t be sure of this, of course, but it is difficult to imagine that Elijah is particularly thrilled by this arrangement. He is a leader of the people of Israel, called to live a holy life, and now he is essentially dumpster diving twice a day – worse, actually, because he doesn’t get to choose which items in the dumpster wind up on his plate. And yet many scholars believe that Elijah is sustained in this fashion for about a year. An entire year wherein what you have been trained to think of as evil, unclean, and detestable…as your source of life and hope. Do you think that was tough for the prophet?
What do you think that Elijah learned as he sat by that brook every day waiting for his winged companions to bring him sustenance? He had to come to know at a deep level that God’s faithfulness and provision are sufficient. Every morning, one of the birds brought him enough to get through the day. Every evening, he had enough to get through the night. He had no ability to hoard or to save – he was forced into total reliance upon God. If Elijah was going to make it out of there, it was because God, not Elijah, was able.
Similarly, he had to come to see that God was not particularly interested in Elijah’s prejudices or notions. God did not ask Elijah’s permission before coming up with the raven plan; in fact, the Lord used what the prophet had been taught to despise as a means of saving his life.
And once God had taught Elijah that God’s provision is sufficient and that God is apparently willing to break down boundaries, God uses Elijah to teach that to someone else.
The prophet is sent to a widow in Zarephath. Zarephath is not a community of faithful people. Instead, it is a town in the
gentile regions near Tyre and Sidon. She would be an outsider to the Jews. Unclean. And if Elijah was lost and alone in the wilderness, this woman was lost and alone in her isolation and poverty there in town.
Hundreds of years later, Jesus was surrounded by a group of people who thought that they knew all that there was to know about him. In fact, they had known him for so long, and had watched him grow up that they didn’t feel the need to pay attention to him at all. And when his ministry was at a turning point, he used this story of Elijah to remind people that the God that they claimed to love and to serve is a God who does new things and who breaks down barriers.
More than that, Jesus used this story to remind people that he was not interested in being the “flavor of the day” when it came to their religious appetites. He was not interested in being one “faith option” among many. He was about to embark on his ministry of healing and reconciliation, of challenge and confrontation, of salvation and redemption. And as he began that ministry, he used the stories of Elijah to remind the people that we can only trust God for everything when we trust God with everything.
Let me repeat that: We can only trust God for everything – that is to say, we can know that God will supply our needs and sustain us – when we are willing to trust God with everything – that is, when we are willing to let God have control of everything in our lives and not feel the need to retain some places for our own purposes.
The meals in our Scripture lesson today encourage and challenge us to bring ourselves to God. Our entire selves. To trust God, and to depend on God to get us through and to give us what we need. To rely on God. Not God and something else. Not God and my job. Not God and my car. Not God and my kids, my health, my spouse. Not God and my good looks (that’s a relief, I know…).
Trust God. Rely on God. And live into that trust by giving the things we hold dear to God for God to use according to his purposes.
The church was in a bind. The roof had failed and the heater was making some funny noises. They were really low on money. One of the older members, a man who had the reputation in town for being very wealthy, stood up to encourage the flock. He said, “When I first came to this town, I was homeless. I was unemployed. I didn’t have a friend to my name. And I came to worship and I heard God ask me if I trusted him. And I said, ‘Yes, Lord, I do.’ And I heard God calling me to give myself to him. I looked in my wallet and the only thing there was a ten-dollar bill. It was all I had in the world, and I put it in the plate. I gave it all to God, and look at where I am now. That’s what happens when we trust God, friends.” The church was silent for a few moments, until one of the older women said quietly, “I dare you to do it again…”
Beloved in Christ, remember these meals. Remember that God is sufficient – that God is the Lord of your expectations and your prejudices, your hopes and your fears. God is the source of all that is. God is the one who calls us from where we have been and who equips us for the places to which he will send us.
God used a couple of disgusting birds and a poor widow to teach that lesson to Elijah. How is God teaching you to rely on him today?
Remember. And be thankful. Amen.