Trusting in God’s Providence

Photo Credit – Pixabay – Public Domain

How many of you recognize the name Corrie Ten Boom?

For those of you who don’t, she was a Dutch woman, a Christian, who helped hide Jews in the family home during the war, but was eventually caught and imprisoned by the Nazis, along with most the rest of her family including her older sister Betsie ten Boom.

She wrote a book called The Hiding Place, and this is an excerpt from it:

Another strange thing was happening. The Davitamon (vitamin) bottle was continuing to produce drops. It scarcely seemed possible, so small a bottle, so many doses a day. Now, in addition to Betsie, a dozen others on our pier were taking it.

My instinct was always to hoard it-Betsie was growing so very weak! But others were ill as well. It was hard to say no to eyes that burned with fever, hands that shook with chill. I tried to save it for the very weakest-but even these soon numbered fifteen, twenty, twenty-five. . . .

And still, every time I tilted the little bottle, a drop appeared at the top of the glass stopper. It just couldn’t be! I held it up to the light, trying to see how much was left, but the dark brown glass was too thick to see through.

“There was a woman in the Bible,” Betsie said, “whose oil jar was never empty.” She turned to it in the Book of Kings, the story of the poor widow of Zarephath who gave Elijah a room in her home: “The jar of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of Jehovah which he spoke by Elijah.”

Well-but-wonderful things happened all through the Bible. It was one thing to believe that such things were possible thousands of years ago, another to have it happen now, to us, this very day.

And yet it happened, this day, and the next, and the next, until an awed little group of spectators stood around watching the drops fall onto the daily rations of bread.

Many nights I lay awake in the shower of straw dust from the mattress above, trying to fathom the marvel of supply lavished upon us. “Maybe,” I whispered to Betsie, “only a molecule or two really gets through that little pinhole-and then in the air it expands!”

I heard her soft laughter in the dark. “Don’t try too hard to explain it, Corrie. Just accept it as a surprise from a Father who loves you.”

And then one day Mien pushed her way to us in the evening food line. “Look what I’ve got for you!” Mien was a pretty young Dutch woman we had met in Vught.

She was assigned to the hospital and often managed to bring to Barracks 28 some stolen treasure from the staff room-a sheet of newspaper to stuff in a broken window, a slice of bread left untouched on a nurse’s plate.

Now we peered into the small cloth sack she carried. “Vitamins!” I cried, and then cast an apprehensive glance at a camp policeman nearby. “Yeast compound!” I whispered.

“Yes!” she hissed back. “There were several huge jars. I emptied each just the same amount.”

We gulped the thin turnip water, marveling at our sudden riches. Back at the bunk I took the bottle from the straw. “We’ll finish the drops first,” I decided.

But that night, no matter how long I held it upside down, or how hard I shook it, not another drop appeared.

Pretty powerful story isn’t it?

It is much easier to talk about trust — confidence in God’s goodness and provision in the face of despair and doubt — than it is to live it. – Sara Kroenig

In order to understand our scripture reading, you have to know some of the back story! And there is a LOT of back story! This part of scripture was written about 100 years after King Solomon’s death. Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem that his father, King David, had not been called to build. That and other building projects were completed via forced and conscripted labour, fulfilling the warnings that Samuel had given the people so many years before. Solomon famously made political alliances via marriages with women from other nations, and they brought their religious practices with them…and eventually, the nation’s faithfulness to Yahweh was corrupted. It wasn’t just that the people worshipped different gods, but they also laid aside the way of life commanded by God, including the care of the vulnerable. After Solomon, there were a number of difficulties in the monarchy and ultimately the kingdom was divided. Both the northern and southern kingdoms had a series of kings who were unfaithful to God and led the people down a dangerous path. When we pick up the story today, King Ahab had just married a foreign princess who came with her religious, economic, and social practices that were contrary to God’s way, and the prophet Elijah tried to warn the king about his poor choice. He leaves the kingdom and is fed in the wilderness by ravens and then in a village by a widow. (Adapted from Teri Petersen)

Let’s listen, as this complicated story unfolds in 1 Kings 17: 1-16:

1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”

2 The word of the Lord came to him, saying, 3 “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.

4 You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”

5 So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.

6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi.

7 But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 9 “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”

10 So he set out and went to Zarephath.

When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.”

11 As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”

12 But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”

13 Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.”

15 She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days.

16 The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

Over the years, the central character of this story has thought to be Elijah. But let’s turn that story around. What if the central character of the story is actually the widow? Sure, she is unnamed. Sure, she is destitute. Sure, her son is dying. But it is HER faith that feeds Elijah. It is SHE who prepares her remaining flour and oil into bread.

Elijah ticks me off a bit… HE is NOT the central character! It’s the widow! And she is not a Jewish woman. She is a woman outside Jewish territory, perhaps even the same religion as King Ahab’s foreign born wife.

The widow demonstrates trusts in God’s providence. It is she who takes what she has and offers it to another.

It is much easier to talk about trust — confidence in God’s goodness and provision in the face of despair and doubt — than it is to live it. – Sara Kroenig

So what does this ancient story have to do with us? The Investment Committee met with our investment advisor on Thursday. The stock market has been a bit rocky this past week or so… the upcoming election in the US has increased its volatility. If you have checked your own investments, if you have any, you have probably noticed a change, and probably not an upward trend. There is a tendency, not just here at Stairs, but in organizations in general, when things are uncertain, to fret about dwindling returns and to hoard resources. To save things for a rainy day. And it’s a good impulse.

But what happens when our hoarding becomes obsessive. When it prevents us from doing the very things that lead to health? When it disconnects us from faith, love and community? When we cling to our resources so tightly that we don’t use them for life, but instead save them for death. (Pause)

It is much easier to talk about trust — confidence in God’s goodness and provision in the face of despair and doubt — than it is to live it. – Sara Kroenig

I’ve been your Intentional Interim Minister for a little over a year now. A year that has been like no other. While we may not have had a clear idea of how the year would unfold, we certainly thought it would unfold with activity and movement. It’s almost as if we are restarting our work, in some ways it’s a very different world than it was a year ago. In other ways, the challenges that Stairs faces are the same as when you first invited me to be your Interim Minister:

• Aging congregation
• Declining attendance
• Dwindling financial resources

I wonder what that widow would say to us?
I wonder what Corrie Ten Boom would say to us?
I wonder what God would say to us?

Are we going to cling to our resources tighter and tighter so that nothing new can flourish? Or are we going to invest them in love, faith and community?

The church of the past is not coming back. The church that nurtured you and sustained many of you is not somehow going to magically reappear. But what if we can invest in something new, something separate, while continuing to support what has sustained and given you life? What if we take our handful of flour and bit of oil and use it… instead of hang on to it…

The Transition Team has just started toying with one possibility… the possibility of nesting another congregation in this building. A different kind of congregation. One that is based on our common values of faith, love and community. But one that is different in form and function. Perhaps not even on Sunday!

That’s just one possibility… And we will have lots of opportunity to have conversation after the Listening Circles Report.

Can we trust in God’s providence? Knowing that God ALWAYS leads to life, even as that life will not look like what it did in the past?

Can we trust in God’s providence? Knowing that God is ALWAYS with us?

Can we trust in God’s providence?

Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of trusting God, amen.

1 Kings 17: 1-16
November 1, 2020 – SMUC

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