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Scripture Readings with Discussions for Pentecost +2 (Proper 5 (10):

10 June 2007: 
1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17


Hard Decisions?
a sermon based on 1 Kings 17:8-16
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

When my wife and I were young (er), we were quite Öcourageous.  We went on a motorcycle trip through Europe.  It was the time before credit cards (Come on now: thatís not that long ago) and near the end of our trip we ran out of money. We walked into a bank to have them transfer some money from our own bank, but that would have taken at least 3 business days, they told us. Well, we didnít have the money to pay for a motel for this period of time, so we decided to just go back home in one go.

When we were about 200 miles away from our home in Germany, I spent the last of our money to fill up the tank.  The problem was that I knew that one tank filling would only last us for a maximum of 150 miles. So, we did the only thing left to do: we prayed for a miracle--the miracle of the bottomless gas tank.  When we were about 150 miles away from home I had an idea.  And perhaps giving me this idea was Godís way of answering our prayer.  I poured the rest of the two-cycle oil I had (perhaps about a quart and a half) straight into the gas tank (instead of the separate oil tank) which filled the tank a little fuller again.

Needless to say that the bike ran very rich, producing more smoke than normal, but I didnít care, because somehow we made it all the way home. To this day, I am still not sure whether engineers would agree that pouring the 2-cycle oil is what extended the gas mileage.  But my wife and I have always given thanks to God for coming to our rescue.  This is our closest experience to the bottomless jar we have to this day. And this is what came mind first as I read the story of the faithful widow.

Our OT reading offers indeed a remarkable story.  Itís about a widow who experiences the true miracle of the bottomless flower jar and oil jug, as she provides food for the prophet Elijah at a time when she herself had nothing to spare.

The first widow lived at a time of a severe drought; people were literally starving to death during that time, and the prophet Elijah was actually wanted by the authorities.  King Ahab had decreed that all prophets of the Lord be found and put to death. Our widow faced a really hard decision.  By accommodating the prophet of God she made a decision to give of the very substance of her livelihood and she had to make a decision to become a traitor to the King, which I am sure, was punishable by death.  This widow put her and her sonís life on the line for God.

Sometimes in life we face those decisions that are not clear-cut. They are in the gray areas of life.  Sometimes the right thing to do is to take a stand on the wrong side of the law, because human law takes a second seat to Godís law.  Ask many of those who went through the civil rights era, who put their lives and their future on the line for the noble cause of ending discrimination and racism.

Or ask those in Nazi Germany who hid in the basements of their homes Jews, homosexuals, or many others that were on Hitlerís political enemy list. They risked their own lives and the lives of their family members to do what is right in the sight of God. And some of them actually lost their lives as they were found out.

Or, for an example closer to our time, consider those students on campuses in the U.S. nationwide that get arrested every year by insisting to organize prayers around the flag poles of their public schools. They stand up for religious freedom and expression in a time when officials tend to go overboard with ďde-religifyingĒ public spaces and events.

I am excited about these kinds of decisions, because to me they prove the existence of God.  Selfless and self-sacrificial acts of this nature just do not fit into the natural scheme of this world; none of Darwinís evolutionary laws can account for such a show of altruism. In fact, altruism was one of the things Darwin struggled with; if I remember correctly from my Science and Theology classes at seminary, he flat-out admitted that he did not have an explanation for it.

I get goose bumps whenever I hear of people that stand up to others on the grounds of their beliefs and conscience.  Just recently I got all excited again when I watched the movie Luther and especially watching the scene where he stands before the Emperorís right-hand man and says: ďhere I stand, I can do no other (than to affirm my writings and confess my faith), so help me God!Ē

The thing is this, if the widow had given in to human weakness and had gone against her conscience, she could not have stood to see her own reflection in the mirror (if they had mirrors back then).  Sure, she could have come up with some really good and solid justifications; after all, she had the law on her side.  But still, there is no way you can rationalize your conscience into submission as a believer. The Spirit of God is going to make sure, you wonít forget what is right.

In the end, God richly rewarded the widow and her son; they did not go hungry the entire time the draught lasted.  A little later on in the chapter, we even read about how Elijah is used by God to heal the widowís deadly ill son.  God stands up for us, if we stand up for God.  God provides for those who obey God and do what is right.

How about us this morning? What kind of decisions do we face in everyday life?  Are we struggling with what is Godís will?  My guess is that deep down, when you ask your own conscience, you already know what the right decision is.  Perhaps we can get inspired this morning by the example of the faithful widow. Most likely, our decisions arenít even as difficult as hers, so letís take courage this morning and letís take joy in standing up for what is good and right in the sight of the Lord.  Amen.


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