Summary: [AN INDUCTIVE SERMON] Intended Audience: Victims of a recent natural calamity. Central Message: Trust God in times of uncertainty and distress because He watches over us and He cares for us.
A month ago, our country was hit by a strong typhoon. Many of us experienced great losses – our crops which are our only source of income, have drowned and died, acres of rice fields have been covered by flood… and tragically, some of our brothers and sisters here have lost their loved ones. I know it must have been difficult, I understand how much it hurts. And the church has been praying with all of you.
Our passage today talks about a similar scenario. Are you familiar with the story of Prophet Elijah and a widow from a Gentile territory called Zarephath? This story happened during the time when God punished Israel for its idolatrous acts under the reign of King Ahab. God did not send them rain and they experienced severe drought.
Zarephath, according to some scholars, was mostly relying on Israel for their food supply. And when Israel experienced famine, this Gentile territory were also in calamity.
It is this place where God asked Elijah to go after hiding in Cherith for several months. And God said in that place, he would find a widow who would take him in. In obedience, Elijah went and found the woman, asked her for a piece of bread and found out that she was left with her last portion of flour and oil to make the last meal for her and for her child, and then die. He was left with nothing to hope for except to hope to die as soon as possible.
How devastating it must have felt to just stay in one place and wait for the very moment that you would just stop breathing. A devastating feeling that probably most of us are feeling right now. Perhaps, there are some among us here who have been asking, where is God in these tragic times? Why did these have to happen to me? to us? …despite knowing that natural calamities and deaths are both parts of our lives. Because naturally, it is not easy for us humans to face losses. It is painful for us to experience any of these tragic things. And because of all this pain, maybe we are asking…
QUESTION: Can we really turn to God in times of distress?
Our first response would possibly be…
PROPOSITION #1 No, because He allowed this calamity to happen.
Maybe, some of us are thinking… “How can I trust a God who allows tragedy? I have lost everything. My small rice field is covered in flood, what is there to harvest now?? That was our main source of income. Where will I get money now to buy food for my family? We are almost left with nothing.” While others might be thinking… “The strong wind and the heavy rain destroyed our house. How are we going to build up a new house again? Where will I get the materials? How are we supposed to start living again?”
As humans, it is easier for us to keep on holding on and to keep trusting God when we see actual provisions. It is easy for us to say, “Lord, I trust you because I feel secure and stable.”
However, it is also easy for us to give up especially when we do not see any glimpse of provisions coming. I may have trusted God before, but now that my crops have died or now that my house is gone, I don’t think that God watches over me. I cannot trust Him anymore because He abandoned me.”
In the passage, uncertainty also filled Elijah and the Gentile widow, uncertainty of provisions from God. In verse 9, God commanded him to go to a Gentile land and look for a widow. A natural response to this command would be… “Why should I go to that place? I am left with nothing, why would I go to a place which has nothing? A Gentile land where they do not worship God? A widow who doesn’t earn anything? How would I survive if I go there?” And if we stop reading the passage here, to all of us who are weeping today, maybe we empathize with Elijah and think, “Didn’t God know that Elijah might die there? I guess God does not really care for Elijah just like how he does not care for me.” Why would this God ask him to go to a place where he could eventually die of hunger? I thought this God knows everything? It might be that He is really a God who does not watch over His people, and like us, maybe he will just allow Elijah to be left with nothing along with that widow.
PROBLEM: But there is a problem: God does provide in time of need. Look at the widow in our scripture text. In God’s graciousness, instead of leaving Elijah, the woman and the child with nothing to eat, He promised that their jar of flour and jug of oil will never run out until the famine ends. This tells us that God has a heart for those who are suffering, for those who are hopeless and those who are helpless. The widow trusted the words of the God of Elijah even in time of distress. With the strong feeling of hopelessness that there would be no more provision coming, after she empties her containers, that woman actually just wanted to give up on life. But God sent her help. In verse 16 it is written, “there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.” To think that this woman did not even believe in God, was it not God who was still with Elijah and the woman in that time of distress? Was it not God who provided everything they needed to survive and live? Can’t He really be trusted?