Promise, Faith, Action
1 Kings 17:1-16
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved
Old stories about long dead people
who trusted God and trusted
Stories that change lives.
Stories that enhance our living.
Stories that build our faith!
And what are the stories we tell?
What is it we do in God’s name
that is worth the telling?
What have we seen of God’s work
that is worth the telling?
Or is it that we do nothing,
standing mute in the face of Eternity
and frozen in our inaction
in the midst of the action
of our own living?
The stories, actually sagas
coming out of these past times
are big stories
making everyday people
doing their everyday things
seem bigger than the lives they lived.
Yet, are not our own lives, in a real way,
bigger than the lives we live?
Think about it…
Everything—every action, every thought we take
has an impact on other lives, other times, other cultures.
The choices we make, if they are worth making at all,
are worth telling about, worth catching the imagination
of future generations.
What are your stories of the
promises, faith, and actions of your life—
and how would they be told?
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At the end of our time on earth we get buried. Usually there is what is called a Memorial Service that is held in a church, an auditorium, at the grave side, or in a backyard. People remember, reminisce about the dearly departed, and tell stories, some funny, some sad, some about the things they did that were small, petty, nice, fun, heroic, or just cool. Things that make the other folks there remember as well, and tell other stories. What are the stories that will be told about you? How will you be remembered?
Will you be remembered for your cooking, or for the justice you demanded? Will it be for how much you could eat, drink, how well you could hold your liquor, or will it be how you were a person of faith? Will you be remembered for the violence you perpetrated, or for the love you brought to those around you? When you are talked about behind your back, is it about your goodness or is it about how preposterous or how difficult you are?
We read these Bible stories as if the people they were about were exceptional, but they were not. They were just ordinary folks who said yes to God. Elijah the Tishbite was just one such person. He did what God asked and did it well. The story is not told to make Elijah into more than he was, but to depict someone who could stand up for what was right.
Paraphrasing the sequence of events leading up to our story, There had been a lot of not standing up for what was right in the recent past. Baasha plodded “in the rut of Jeroboam, making [God’s] people Israel sin and making [God] seethe over their sin.” “Elah son of Baasha began his rule. He was king in Tirzah only two years when he was at the house of Arza the palace manager, drinking himself drunk when Zimri, captain of half his chariot-force, killed him. Zimri then became the king. Zimri had no sooner become king than he killed everyone connected with Baasha, got rid of them all like so many stray dogs—relatives and friends alike. Zimri totally wiped out the family of Baasha, but then there was a quick succession of bad kings: Omri, then Ahab, under who’s rule Hiel of Bethel refortified Jericho at the terrible cost of ritually sacrificing his firstborn son Abiram at the laying of the foundation, and then his youngest son Segub at the setting up of the gates. Then came Elijah, and our story takes up.
Some questions for us in our own time: Do we recognize justice enough to speak up for it? What does justice look like? What are some current issues that demand our voice be heard? How do we know when it is our word and not God’s word that is speaking? Do we have the courage to speak out and trust God to care for us?
What does Justice look like? If you have read any part of either Hebrew or Christian Scripture you have encountered the shape and face of justice. Justice is the business of making right the many wrongs around us. Justice makes sure things are fair, equal, and that the playing field is level. If you truly have encountered and believe in what Jesus claimed about bringing in the Jubilee Year with his coming, then you have to step away from any scripture writings that say otherwise. We just cannot put exceptions on God’s demand for justice.
I use the following model as a means to look at Scripture to understand what is God’s word and what is not. I figure that if Jesus is God’s message to all creation about how God is, then what Jesus did is more about God and God’s intentions for us that any words written in Scripture. I use it like a candle to an egg, looking within the text for traces of the Grace Jesus brought us. If we are reading about judgements concerning other people or ways of life or choices, then we need to carefully ask, in the light of Jesus’ gospel, the good news, how does what we are reading hold up? Sometimes the texts do, many times they do not. Here it is:
THE GOSPEL OF JESUS
© Rev. Hilary F. Marckx, Ph. D.
The Gospel (Luke 4:18) of Jesus is found in the life, death & resurrection of Jesus—
how he walked his talk—it is:
LIBERATING–(Ephesians 4:7-8, Colossians 2:8-10)
It does not enslave people, it will never demand we give up our freewill to any spiritual leader,
or any government;
HEALING–(Matthew 13:15, Luke 6:17)
It is neither harmful nor wounding, but comforts and is life-giving and re-creating. In this gospel we can be truly safe, nor will it hurt us and tell us it is for our own good; it enables us to live into the truth to which we were created;
SAVING–(Matthew 1:21, Luke 19:10)
It does not jeopardize or risk our well being, or ever demand that we live in fear or dread;
It will not fetter the spirit, or stifle our creativity. It leads us out of darkness, and it celebrates healthy human relationships;
FULL OF ABUNDANT LIFE–(John 10:10)
It does not give entitlement to only a few, or give some the right to hoard more than their share. It will never demand we become less as a person so others can become more;
FORGIVING–(Matthew 6:14, 7:1-5, Mark 2:1-12)
The Gospel of Jesus the Christ is truly good news because it does not condemn us to unending misery and the sorrow of separation from God, but lifts us up into a communion of eternal goodness and joy with the one who shares love with us regardless of our choices.
If we live with this understanding of relationship, we can’t go wrong. We need not fear any mis-interpretation of text because the Gospel does not condemn. We are truly free in Jesus. I hold that if we live our lives attempting to hold true to the above standard, we will have lived lives that are indeed true to the Gospel of Jesus our Christ.
But to actually answer the question as to what Justice may look like let me offer some examples.
In Jeremiah 21 we read, “Start each day by dealing with justice. Rescue victims from their exploiters.”
Jeremiah 22, “Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the orphans, the widows. Stop the murdering!”
Again in Jeremiah 22, “Extortion is rife, robbery is epidemic, the poor and needy are abused, outsiders are kicked around at will, with no access to justice.”
In Amos 5 we read, “I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”
Then in Matthew 12:15-21, “Jesus, knowing they were out to get him, moved on. A lot of people followed him, and he healed them all. He also cautioned them to keep it quiet, following guidelines set down by Isaiah: Look well at my handpicked servant; I love him so much, take such delight in him. I’ve placed my Spirit on him; he’ll decree justice to the nations. But he won’t yell, won’t raise his voice; there’ll be no commotion in the streets. He won’t walk over anyone’s feelings, won’t push you into a corner. Before you know it, his justice will triumph; the mere sound of his name will signal hope, even among far-off unbelievers.”
In conclusion, for anyone who quibbles about justice there is this passage from Matthew 26 where we read of Jesus speaking,
“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
I do not care what your issue is. You could decide it is OK to overlook, exclude, ignore, ridicule, Socialists, Communists, Democrats, Republicans, Blacks, Asians, Homosexuals (practicing, non-practicing, married, single, in committed relationships or not), Straights, Prisoners, Women, Men, Vegetarians, Carnivores—whatever, you are doing it to Jesus.
Understand, this is not about doctrine, dogma, sola scriptura, your comfort level, what your children think, what kind of church you go to, what your education is, or who your friends are. This is just quite simply about what God AND what Jesus expect of their followers—no more, no less. From the way it reads, it seems that God does not care about our de-humanizing categories, descriptions, and stereotypes, and that God sees humans as humans–the humans God created, loves and nurtures. We are part of this creation, and we are expected to treat each of us, regardless, as we would have God treat us.
And this is the kind of life for which I would like to be remembered, and my story to be written: as being a lover of justice who made a positive change, and who helped level the playing field for at least one life.
# # #
1 Kings 17:1-16 — The Message
17 And then this happened: Elijah the Tishbite, from among the settlers of Gilead, confronted Ahab: “As surely as God lives, the God of Israel before whom I stand in obedient service, the next years are going to see a total drought—not a drop of dew or rain unless I say otherwise.”
2-4 God then told Elijah, “Get out of here, and fast. Head east and hide out at the Kerith Ravine on the other side of the Jordan River. You can drink fresh water from the brook; I’ve ordered the ravens to feed you.”
5-6 Elijah obeyed God’s orders. He went and camped in the Kerith canyon on the other side of the Jordan. And sure enough, ravens brought him his meals, both breakfast and supper, and he drank from the brook.
7-9 Eventually the brook dried up because of the drought. Then God spoke to him: “Get up and go to Zarephath in Sidon and live there. I’ve instructed a woman who lives there, a widow, to feed you.”
10-11 So he got up and went to Zarephath. As he came to the entrance of the village he met a woman, a widow, gathering firewood. He asked her, “Please, would you bring me a little water in a jug? I need a drink.” As she went to get it, he called out, “And while you’re at it, would you bring me something to eat?”
12 She said, “I swear, as surely as your God lives, I don’t have so much as a biscuit. I have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a bottle; you found me scratching together just enough firewood to make a last meal for my son and me. After we eat it, we’ll die.”
13-14 Elijah said to her, “Don’t worry about a thing. Go ahead and do what you’ve said. But first make a small biscuit for me and bring it back here. Then go ahead and make a meal from what’s left for you and your son. This is the word of the God of Israel: ‘The jar of flour will not run out and the bottle of oil will not become empty before God sends rain on the land and ends this drought.’”
15-16 And she went right off and did it, did just as Elijah asked. And it turned out as he said—daily food for her and her family. The jar of meal didn’t run out and the bottle of oil didn’t become empty: God’s promise fulfilled to the letter, exactly as Elijah had delivered it!