Pastor Kyle Bitter - The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, July 21, 2019

Text: 1 Kings 17:17-24

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In 1970, Spencer Silver was working in the 3M research facilities. He was trying to develop a stronger glue. He invented a new substance, but it was even weaker than the glue that 3M already sold. It stuck to things but could be easily lifted off. The substance seemed useless, but Spencer Silver didn’t throw it away.  Four years later, in 1974, Arthur Fry, another 3M engineer, was singing in the choir at his church. He was frustrated because every time he opened his hymnal, his page markers would fall on the ground. With a sudden flash of insight, Fry remembered Spencer’s uselessly weak glue. He put in on his book marks, and found that he could stick them to pages and un-stick them again without doing any damage. Thus, the post-it note was born (http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/postit.htm). Some inventions are made intentionally and by design when people see a problem and set about fixing it, but many many others come out of nowhere in a sudden flash of inspiration that allows a person to see ordinary things that have been there all along in a completely new way. 

Have you ever wished you could have a flash of insight and inspiration in your life? I’m not talking about an invention, but about understanding what’s always been in front of you.  How do the things God places in your life, the people the experiences, the blessings, the tragedies fit together? In short, what is God’s will for your life? It’s an easy question to ask, but it can be a hard question to answer, and it gets even harder when you’ve got sinful people trying to understand the designs of the perfect and holy God!  And yet, Jesus asks us to pray, Your Will Be Done. So, what is God’s will? Today’s Scripture selection shows us a woman who, after a variety of experiences, did experience a sudden flash of insight into God’s will for her life. Through her story, God allows us to see a flash of insight into what his will is for all of his people and to consider what exactly we are praying for when we pray: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

God’s Will to Save

This Bible history story takes place in a city known as Zarephath. It’s located in Sidon – a region along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in modern day Lebanon – an area that was right along the edge of the area controlled by God’s Old Testament people.  The events of today’s reading feature a woman – a widow – her son, and the prophet Elijah. In the verses before this section, God explains how Elijah came to know this woman and her son. She was starving to death in the famine, and Elijah approached her with a bold promise from God: if she trustingly shared her meager remaining  food with him, her flour and oil wouldn’t run out until the famine was over. The woman believed God’s promise, listened to Elijah, and gave him some food. And God kept his promise. Miraculously, flour and oil didn’t run out.  Elijah needed a place to stay as he conducted his ministry in the area, so this widow offered him the guest room in her home, and that’s where the storyline picks up today, with another even greater tragedy than the famine. 

 “Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. (1 Kings 17:17 – NIV84). This was a far greater tragedy than just the loss of a dearly loved child. In a society that didn’t have the social safety nets that we are used to today, this son was the widow’s only hope for survival once she was too old to work.  Without him, she would retire to a career of begging once she was too old to work. So, you can imagine her confusion: what was God’s will in this particular situation? [the widow] said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (1 Kings 17:17-18 – NIV84). I don’t think it’s too hard for us to understand the widow’s line of thinking.  In the Bible, God describes himself as a god of absolute holiness and justice. A god who cannot ignore sinful behavior and pretend it didn’t happen!  A god whose perfect sense of justice demands that sin be punished, and the wicked plans of the devil be broken and defeated at every turn. You can see that playing out through Bible history. Cain was exiled to wander the earth after he killed Abel and refused to repent. God used the Old Testament nation of Israel as his tool to destroy the pagan nations of Canaan who insisted on following other gods. David’s son, conceived through adultery and murder, died. And all of these things are visible evidence of the sad spiritual reality that “the wages of sin is death,” and not just death and hardship and disaster here on earth, but eternal death in hell forever!  And so, it’s not all that surprising that the woman took stock of her life and saw her sins and concluded that this tragedy was a punishment from God for her sinfulness. 

It's a line of thinking that’s easy to engage in today too.  Why does sickness or disease invade your own body, years earlier than expected? It’s easy to wonder if it might have been something you did.  Why doesn’t God let me have the friends I long for or the accomplishments I work so hard for? It’s easy to wonder if maybe you haven’t done enough things to please God!  You turn on the TV and see news of a natural disaster, and it’s easy to wonder and common to hear people say that such a tragedy must be punishment for the people living in that area for the wickedness they were engaged in.  God’s will is to break and defeat sin and the power of the devil at every turn, and so it makes perfect sense!    

But you know as well as I do that there’s one very important piece missing.  God’s will is to punish and destroy sin, but he made a plan to do that without punishing people!  That’s why he sent Jesus!  On the cross, Jesus suffered the punishment for every sin that’s ever been committed, and nothing more needs to happen!  There’s no additional payment that needs to be made, no additional punishment that needs to be suffered, no extra penalty that needs to be extracted.  It’s done – and if there’s any doubt about that, you don’t have to look any farther than Easter morning when God raised Jesus from the dead.  God’s will is that sin be defeated and destroyed, and God’s will was accomplished at the cross. 

God’s Will to Strengthen

Knowing that allows us to look at life in a new light, because we can see God carrying on what Jesus accomplished at the cross as he works to thwart the devil’s plans to drag the people God loves down to hell. That’s what was going in in Zarephath.  “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?”  Perhaps Elijah himself wasn’t completely sure what God had in mind with this tragedy either.  Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”  The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”  (1 Kings 17:19-23 – NIV84).

And with that miracle carried out right in her own house, and remembering her previous experiences with God and his promises, the widow had a sudden flash of insight into what God had been doing.  The light bulb went on and she said, “now I know that you are a man of God and that the Word of the LORD from your mouth is true!” (1 Kings 17:24 – NIV84). Now she understood why God had allowed this terrible tragedy to happen to her personally. He wanted to bring her closer to him – and this tragedy and miracle showed her where she could find out more about God and his promises! The words of God’s prophet Elijah, who had been right in front of her all along! And in the process, the devil’s plan was thwarted. Satan wanted her to think that her most important relationship was with her son, as a dearly loved family member and as her means of support in the future. But God wanted her to see that for as great of a blessing as her son was, she couldn’t place her absolute faith in another person care for her – he might die at any time!  Therefore, even more important than her relationship with her son was her relationship with God, and it was God’s will that her relationship with him be deepened and strengthened – because that would protect her from the ongoing attacks of sin and wickedness in the world around.

God’s will is to break and defeat every evil plan and purpose of the devil in your life and mine today too, where the devil comes after us with very similar attacks to what he poured out on this woman.  It’s easy today to look for comfort and security in the money you make, the people you are surrounded by, the good health you enjoy, and a whole host of other things that are good and wonderful blessings, but that at the same time threaten to overshadow your relationship with God.  And so, God teaches us that when it comes to heaven and hell, time and eternity, there is only one thing that lasts long enough to do the trick and that’s your relationship with God.  He is only one who will never let you down, who will never be taken away because of sin or disaster or death. He is the one whose will is to always bring you closer to him, where you will be protected and safe.  We pray – your will be done. And that’s exactly what God does in life, even on the occasions when it seems hard to understand.

You might think of those hard to understand times through a picture taken from the world of sports. A phrase you sometimes hear from coaches is, “no pain, no gain!”  And there’s some truth to that.  Practice for a sports team or training for a race can be very difficult and unpleasant, and sometimes downright painful, but athletes go through it because it strengthens their bodies for the rigors of competition. God does the same thing in a spiritual way. God’s will is that your connection with him grow and deepen so you will be protected from the attacks of the devil, and to accomplish that, he sometimes asks us to undergo spiritual training.  Experiences that might be unpleasant, but that force us to confront our own weakness and turn instead to Jesus who alone is strong enough to break and defeat the power of sin and temptation. In the process, God’s will is done, and you are kept safe and on the pathway to heaven.     

It’s certainly true that there are times in life when it would be nice to have that flash of insight and inspiration into how God is accomplishing his will through the varied events of life, and perhaps in some cases God will bless us with a flash of insight like he gave to this widow.  But, even if God chooses not to give that insight and clarity, you and I can take refuge in knowing what God’s will is – that that devil’s plan to drag you to hell be defeated at every turn and that God continues to draw you closer to him every day of your life.  Knowing that, you can boldly and confidently pray, Your Will be Done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.