Bad things happen.
Rough things happen.
Painful, difficult, hard things happen.
You don’t need me to remind you of that, that isn’t the purpose of this sermon.
But what we do need are reminders that the rough, painful, difficult, and hard things don’t get the last word. We need reminders that it is ok to name the hardships we experience because there is a greater truth at work. Hard things happen – true. But the greater truth? Those things don’t get the last word. The greater truth is that God gets the last word and God always speaks life.
In our scripture today we have several key people. The prophet Elijah, a widow, and the widow’s son. This passage occurs towards the beginning of a section in 1st Kings centered around Elijah. At the beginning of Chapter 17 he was in hiding by a riverbed with ravens bringing him food to eat. When the riverbed ran dry, God told Elijah to travel a long distance to the town of Zarephath where he would find a widow who would take care of him. It turns out this widow and her son were not doing well. Their food and water were running out and they were preparing their last meal, preparing to die. Elijah says please, use part of that food to make me just a small something to eat and your food will not run out. She followed his request and the food was enough. Enough for her family and Elijah every day. But then her son fell ill, so ill he died. In her grief and pain the widow lashes out at Elijah and herself. ““O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?” She blames herself, feels that her son’s death is punishment for her sins, and turns on Elijah as the bringer of that death. Elijah takes the son, prays, and the son was revived. He lived!
This text is so hopeful and so difficult. Hard things happen and resurrection happens. Revival, Restoration, and renewal also happen. In the midst of hard things, God gets the last word and that word is a word of life. But that life is not always easy to feel, to find, to trust in. The story opens with the widow expecting death for her and her son. But instead of death, God provides sustenance. For many days there was food and water and oil enough for all of them and Elijah. But then, death did come. And immediately, in her grief and sorrow, her mind wiped away the miracle that had just happened and she turns on Elijah blaming both him and herself for her son’s death. Elijah was a part of nourishing her family, not harming them. She, her faith and trust, was a part of sustaining her son. Death, illness, injury, pain, hardship are not punishments for sin. They are not punishments from God. They just happen. Sometimes, I wish things were different. Sometimes, I wish life was a simple equation, you do xyz and nothing bad or hard will ever happen. But that is not how things work. The presence of hardship, pain, struggles, and difficulties does not mean God is absent or not working. It just means, you’re human. Isaiah 43 says when you walk through fire, you will not be burned. When you pass through waters and rivers they will not overtake you. It is a when, not an if. In John 16, Christ tells his disciples, “in this world you will have troubles.” Will, not may or might but will. God does not promise us hardship will never happen. As much as we wish they weren’t, difficulties are an inevitable part of life. But like our passage today, like John 16, like Isaiah 43, those difficulties do not get the last word. Hand in hand, in the same verses, in the same stories, scripture acknowledges the hardships things we go through and God’s enduring presence of life.
What gets the last word for the widow’s son? Life. Revival. Resurrection. God gets the last word and it is always a word of life. It was for the widow’s son. It was over and over again for Elijah. From when he was hiding in the riverbed being fed by ravens to later on when he flees from Jezebel, lays down to die, and is nourished by God. It was for Christ himself. Christ, the word of life and hope birthed in the midst of Roman oppression and rule. Christ, who struggled, felt pain, died, and rose from the grave. And God speaks life into you as well. Revival may not happen how we want or when we want. Sometimes we have to look for the resurrection or wait for the revival but I believe it does happen. Scripture teaches me that, my life has taught me that, you have taught me that. Hard things happen? True. But the greater truth? The greatest truth? Those things do not get the last word. God gets the last word. And God always speaks life.