The sermon from First United Methodist Church in Sweeny, Texas and Columbia United Methodist Church in West Columbia Texas on June 11, 2017. This is the beginning sermon in a series titled “Average Joes with an Extraordinary Story.” This sermon series are first-person narrative messages. The sermon title is “The Widow’s Son.”
The Lord’s word came to Elijah: Get up and go to Zarephath near Sidon and stay there. I have ordered a widow there to take care of you. Elijah left and went to Zarephath. As he came to the town gate, he saw a widow collecting sticks. He called out to her, “Please get a little water for me in this cup so I can drink.” She went to get some water. He then said to her, “Please get me a piece of bread.”
“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any food; only a handful of flour in a jar and a bit of oil in a bottle. Look at me. I’m collecting two sticks so that I can make some food for myself and my son. We’ll eat the last of the food and then die.”
Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go and do what you said. Only make a little loaf of bread for me first. Then bring it to me. You can make something for yourself and your son after that. This is what Israel’s God, the Lord, says: The jar of flour won’t decrease and the bottle of oil won’t run out until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.” The widow went and did what Elijah said. So the widow, Elijah, and the widow’s household ate for many days. The jar of flour didn’t decrease nor did the bottle of oil run out, just as the Lord spoke through Elijah.
After these things, the son of the widow, who was the matriarch of the household, became ill. His sickness got steadily worse until he wasn’t breathing anymore. She said to Elijah, “What’s gone wrong between us, man of God? Have you come to me to call attention to my sin and kill my son?”
Elijah replied, “Give your son to me.” He took her son from her and carried him to the upper room where he was staying. Elijah laid him on his bed. Elijah cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, why is it that you have brought such evil upon the widow that I am staying with by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself over the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, please give this boy’s life back to him.” The Lord listened to Elijah’s voice and gave the boy his life back. And he lived. Elijah brought the boy down from the upper room of the house and gave him to his mother. Elijah said, “Look, your son is alive!”
“Now I know that you really are a man of God,” the woman said to Elijah, “and that the Lord’s word is truly in your mouth” (1 Kings 17:8-24, Common English Bible).
The man just seemed weird to me. I am Obedasher and I live in the town of Zeraphath. My mom called the stranger, “Man of God.” His real name was Elijah and he was a prophet. First he asks my mother to make him a pancake. And, to top that all off, she was to make his pancake before she could make food for her or me. I might not have known much, I was after all, just a kid, but I knew selfish when I saw it. OK, I get that part. He was hungry. Well who wasn’t? It hadn’t rained in Israel for months. The crops were either already dead or were dying on the vine. Everywhere you looked there were dead crops, but it didn’t really matter. Mother and I didn’t have money to buy food anyway. All we had was a little bit of flour and a little bit of oil and no hope of getting more.
My dad had died a few months before. It was just me and mom at that point. Back when it all happened I wasn’t really old enough to do much to help her. And, had there been rain the crops might have made and my mom could have gone out and gleaned someone’s field. You know, gleaning? I know you don’t hear much of it in your day, but it was a common practice in Israel during Bible times. The owner of the field would intentionally leave some food around the edges of the field so widows and the poor could come in after the harvest was done and glean, pick what was left. It was a good system to take care of the needs of people like me and my mom. The only problem was if there were no crops to pick, there were also no crops to glean.
This time of no available food was made even more difficult when it was a woman or a child involved. In those days women weren’t allowed to own property and they weren’t allowed to do business. If a woman had no husband or adult sons she would often go back to her father’s house. But, my grandfather had died many years before. I never knew him. So that was not an option either.
When the man came to my mother asking for food she told him that she was going to use the last of her flour and oil to make a small meal of bread for her and me and then, because we had no more food and no prospects of getting more, we were going to lay down and die.
Elijah told my mom that it was OK and that she should go ahead with her plan but first to make a small loaf of bread for him! Can you believe the nerve this guy had? Here mom and I are, about to eat the last of the food we had to our name and he wanted us to give some of it to him. Like I said, I was young back then. I was perhaps eight years old. But, I was old enough to know you didn’t ask people to give up the last of their food! I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was fuming. I am pretty sure there was steam coming out of my ears. I was thinking, “I just can’t believe how selfish some people are. We are about to die of starvation and he wants the last of our food. It just wasn’t right.
Then he told my mom some craziness about if she did as he asked the oil and flour would not run out until the rain returned and there was enough food for everyone to eat. I couldn’t believe the ridiculous story this guy was telling my mother. I knew it was impossible for the jars to refill themselves. It was all crazy and weird.
What was really hard for me to believe was, my mother was buying the whole bit. She sat and listened to what Elijah had to say and she swallowed that whole mess hook, line and sinker. It really was hard to believe.
Later Mom told me that it wasn’t so much that she believed everything Elijah had to say but instead she thought, “What is there to lose? If I use all the flour and oil to make bread for me and Obedasher we will die soon. The little bit for the man of God won’t really matter in the long run. What do we have to lose?” She decided to risk a little to be able to not only eat another day, she was hoping it would be true and last until the rains came again.
After that she also taught me something I didn’t know. She taught me that God had told our people the importance of hospitality and that you always shared what you had when a stranger came to your door. She said the rest of our story proved God’s faithfulness.
Because my mother took a risk for Elijah, the Man of God, God blessed us. Elijah promised that the flour and oil wouldn’t run out. And, much to my surprise, they did not. Every day my mother would use what looked to be the last of the flour and oil to make our food for the day. It wasn’t a king’s feast. It was really just very simple bread. But that bread kept us going and we didn’t starve. Mother always believed it was because we honored God by following His instructions. Back then I wasn’t so sure but today, I believe too.
Then, as if we needed more convincing of God’s power, I got sick. I got really sick. As each day passed, I got weaker and I got sicker. I was confined to my bed and slept a great deal. My mother managed to find what she needed to make broth for me. I never did know where she found it, but there was broth for me just about any time I was awake.
One afternoon after I finished my lunch of bread and broth, I rolled over, went to sleep. I did not wake up. I was dead. From what I am told, my mother was crushed by what had happened and she was angry with God, but even more than that, she was angry with Elijah, the Man of God. She picked me up and carried me downstairs to Elijah. She questioned if the whole reason he had come to our home was it point out my mother’s sins and to take me away? I am very familiar with the details. We discussed it over dinner quite often. Mother loved to retell this part of the story.
Elijah took my body from Mother, then scooped me up in his arms and carried me back upstairs. He sent mother out of the room and closed the door. She stood right outside, wanting to know everything going on inside. She says she was crying throughout the whole experience. At first she was crying out of sadness for me dying. But then she was crying out of great desire to be in the room to see what Elijah was about to do. She said she knew there should be no way he could bring me back to life. Yet at the same time, Mother also knew that this man seemed to have a special relationship with God. After watching the flour and oil never running out over the past few weeks, she confessed she knew anything was possible.
As for what was going on inside the room, Elijah later told me, he laid me down on his bed. He then stretched himself out over me. Mother said he then prayed but it was more of a cry than a prayer. Elijah cried out in a very loud voice. He cried out from some place deep within him. “Lord my God, please give this boy’s life back to him.” Elijah cried out, almost screamed his prayer. Then he stood up. I was still dead. He lay back on my body, and prayed again. When I was still dead, he did the same a third time. When he was still laying on me the third time and praying, I woke up. The Lordlistened to Elijah and gave me my life back. The only thing was, I didn’t really know I was dead, at least not until they assured me I had been.
When I woke up, I was startled to find Elijah lying on top of me. “What are you doing?” I screamed at him. When my mother heard this, she busted into the room. I don’t think anything was going to keep her out at that point. She had to come back into the room. First, I had been dead. She was hearing my voice again. But, the way I sounded to her was not at all what she expected. She said she could hear fear in my voice. I’m not sure the whole fear business was true, I’ve never been afraid of anything. Still, she insisted I was afraid. I didn’t agree, but knew not to argue with her.
When I woke up and saw Elijah’s face so close to mine, I was startled. Who wouldn’t be? I could also see the tears in his eyes. He quickly got up from lying on top of me. I asked him why he was crying. He said it was because I had died and after the first time he prayed he feared God wasn’t going to answer his prayer to give me my life back. There were still more tears, from both he and my mom when they realized God truly had answered Elijah’s prayer. I had actually died but now, now I was alive again. That could only be God.
They kept telling me I had been dead. I really didn’t believe them at first. I thought they were pulling some kind of a joke on me to get me to quit sleeping so much or something.
I had felt so bad. And, I am always so tired. I’m really not sure what finally allowed me to believe what my mother and Elijah told me. It was all so strange. I had known a few people who had died in my life, including my dad. I knew there were people who had prayed for them. Not one of them had ever come back to life, not a single one. Yet here I was, living proof that God has that power. I had been dead. Then I was alive again.
After I woke up, I started feeling better. I was still very weak. But, Mother and Elijah thought I that I was spending far too much time in bed at this point. But, I wasn’t strong enough to walk on my own, at least not yet. My weakness was no problem for the Man of God. He scooped me up and carried me downstairs. From the next few days, Elijah would come up to my room and scoop me up first thing in the morning and carry me down stairs where I would have breakfast and sit for a period of time. After lunch Elijah would carry me back upstairs again and I would nap for an hour or so. Then it was back downstairs before dinner. Each night at bed time he would carry me up one more time.
The recovery was really just me taking a few steps at a time. That was followed by a few more followed by still a few more after that. Before long I was able to get up and move around the house pretty well on my own. After that I would walk outside and sit, feeling the healing rays of the sun on my skin and the fresh breeze blowing through my hair. Though I was young at the time, I knew, without question, that God had done something powerful and special both with me and for me. There should never be a question, I was blessed.
The rains did finally come. That was a blessing for everyone in the region. Crops were again planted and in due course we were able to have food again. With that Elijah said it was time for him to move on. Mother and I were sad to see him go. The man might have been weird but he definitely made life interesting and exciting at our house. It absolutely was never dull.
Before he left he asked me to walk with him. We walked out to the village well. It was just a pleasant conversation, a man talking to a boy, giving him advice for life. He told me he would remember to pray for mother and me. He said he knew that God had plans for me. When we got to the well he lowered the bucket and brought it back up and we had a cool drink of water.
Then he continued. “God has given you a great blessing during the time I was here. Even more, God has given you an extraordinary story to share with people you meet. Share the story of how the flour and oil never ran out until the day came when you could once again glean the fields. Tell them about how you died and the Lordbrought you back to life again. There will be more things happen in your life. You will look around and both see and recognize the hand of the Lord at work. Those times too are part of your story. The times may be less dramatic but they are no less important to the person God made you to be. Obedasher, you are a person with a unique story to tell. Don’t let that story go untold. The world needs to know.”
With that, we walked back home. The next morning Elijah ate breakfast and then left. My mother and I haven’t seen the man of God since.
That was fifteen years ago. Not long after, my mother told me I needed a trade, a way to make a living and support a family. My father had been a sheep shearer. Because of his work my mother knew many others in the trade so she arranged for me to be an apprentice. I worked hard and learned the lessons well. Even after my time as an apprentice was over, I continued to work hard. I built a reputation as someone who came and got the job done, didn’t overcharge people and that I was someone with an interesting story. Every time I work for a new sheep owner or with new shepherds, I tell them my story. Sometimes I spend the night out in the field with the shepherds. We all sit around the fire sharing food and share stories in the quiet of the evening. They would always want to hear about the flour and oil jars never being empty and how Elijah brought me back to life. I like to think I have gotten pretty good at telling the story.
About two years ago Mother became quite ill and died. She said she knew it was her time and she was excited about seeing God. After all the two of us had been through it was a hard time for me. Though by this time I was married with two children of my own, a boy and a girl, because of our experiences I still felt very close to Mother and my grief was intense. I am comforted, however, by the time we had together and that we shared these wonderful experiences of God’s mighty power in our lives I know Mother left this world in the full knowledge of God’s power and grace. I know she loved the Lord. The last thing she said to me before she died was, “I am blessed by you, O Man of God.” To call me the same thing she called Elijah was a very real blessing to me. I still treasure her words.
I am just a regular ordinary guy who makes his living shearing sheep. Ordinary though I may be, God gave me an extraordinary story to share and I do my best to tell my story. Sometimes people believe my story. Sometimes they do not. It isn’t up to me whether people believe the words I have to say. Making the people I meet believe is not my job. I have four jobs. To be a good husband, to be a good father, to do good, honest work shearing people’s sheep and to tell a story, my story. And that is just what I do. Then, when my job is complete and I head home for my other responsibilities, I leave the rest in the hands of the Lord. I move on to the next flock to shear and the next opportunity to share what God did for both me and my mother. I tell how God made a difference for us and continues to make a difference for me and my family.
You too may be a plain-old ordinary average Joe or plain Jane. But, God has given you a unique story. You have an extraordinary story and it is your story to share with the people God brings into your life. Your story might just be what someone; some child of God needs to hear in order for them to see the hand of the Lord in their own lives. It might be just what they need to hear, to see and understand their own extraordinary story and then go out and share that story with the world. And, when it comes to sharing the stories of God’s great work in the world, the world needs to hear more of that.
As I take my leave I have one more thing to share with you. It is something Moses said to our people a few generations back. I feel certain you have heard these words before. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved