Pentecost Ten (Window Preaching Series—Window #3) 29 July 2018
(1 Kings 17:2-7 Luke 12:22-26)
“Ravens, Anxiety and Trusting God!”
This third window: God nourishing God’s People through the ages, even in the most trying times. This window depicts the OT story we just heard—the prophet Elijah being fed by a raven. That’s the window. Let’s look deeper into the window.
First a word about the prophet Elijah; then a word about ravens in the Bible.
Elijah. Of all the OT prophets not one is mentioned more or held in higher esteem in the NT than the prophet Elijah. This man was so highly regarded by God that he never saw death, rather he was transported from earth to heaven via a fiery chariot; in fact, according to the scriptures, no other human being has ever exited this earth in such a glorious fashion. There’s no doubt that, among the prophets of God, Elijah was one of the greatest.
His very name means “my God is Yahweh.” His first appearance in scriptures comes in this text from 1 Kings 17 that we just heard read. The year is 874 BC. By this time, the nation of Israel had long been divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom which retained the name Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah. Neither kingdom had too much to be proud of since the division, but the Northern Kingdom, in particular, had wasted no time forgetting the one true God. No longer did they honor the God who brought them out of Egypt. No longer did they revere the God who brought them into the Promised Land. The northern kingdom had numerous evil kings, but the “most wicked one ever” [16:30], Ahab, was in power at the time of Elijah.
We pick up the story in our OT reading today immediately after Elijah predicts a drought. King Ahab comes after him, so God tells Elijah to run and hide by the Wadi Cherith. A “wadi” is a stream, usually a small stream that will dry up in periods of dry weather. Elijah is asked to trust God that there will be water enough and, secondly, that ravens will bring him bread and meat in the morning.
Ravens in the Bible. Here’s the first thing to remember: this window has nothing to do with the Baltimore Ravens football team. I just wanted to get that straight. Ravens are mentioned in the Bible more often than one might realize.
According to Mosaic Law, Jews could eat “clean” birds, such as doves and others that fed on grains, but not unclean birds, including ravens, hawks, vultures and owls [Lev. 11:15; Deut. 14:14] which the people associated with feeding on dead meat and blood. Remember after the Flood, when Noah sends out a raven to check if the flood waters have subsided. When the raven comes back without an answer, only then does Noah send out a dove, who then returns with a branch, signifying the waters are receding.
Throughout the entire Bible, whenever a raven is mentioned, it never comes out looking good. This story depicted on this window is the exception.
I coupled this OT reading with the words of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel about trusting God, not worrying or being anxious. Jesus says, “Consider the ravens, who neither sow nor reap, have nothing in the storehouse, yet God feeds them” [Luke 12:24]. Knowing how much the Hebrews detested ravens adds conviction to this story. If God will feed and take care of this despised, unclean bird, how much more will God provide for human persons?
So here is my pastoral concern in preaching this story of God’s nourishing God’s people especially in the most trying times: my concern is that for many people in their most trying times, it does not feel as if God is nourishing them! Think about your own life situations! We do worry and we do get anxious, and many times for very good reasons; but sometimes it is difficult to find our nourishing God when we are distraught and in the midst of turmoil.
Going back to the window, Elijah could easily have been overwhelmed by anxiety. After all, he was being hunted down by the most powerful person in the world at that time who wanted to kill him. God’s nourishing presence is pretty simple. He tells Elijah to stay by this little stream of water, which could dry up at any minute. That’s where he will find water. And then he tells the prophet that one of the most unclean and despised birds of the air will bring him food to eat.
My final words come, not from the window itself, but from what it is we do every time we gather in this beautiful space for worship. We come here because we believe there is a power beyond anxiety and fear. We gather because we believe there is new life beyond life here on earth. And even though fear and anxiety want to exert authority over us, we believe in a more powerful authority in our lives. It comes from Baptism. In a fearful society that is devoured by anxiety, we proclaim a different authority and a stronger power.
The story in this window wants to become our story at the most desolate times of our lives. It calls out to us to enter into the story of Elijah trusting in a God who provides and nourishes, especially in difficult times. It calls out to the church to be an odd presence that is the only chance for humanness beyond the deathly flow of anxiety that is around us. It calls for the church to be an un-anxious presence in times of upheaval and threat and challenge when people are devoured by anxiety. Because it is when we are un-anxious that we are most able to grow in compassion and mercy with a zeal for justice and equality. God interrupts Elijah’s anxiety as does Jesus to the fear mongers in the NT, and says, “Do not be anxious. Do not fear. Trust in me.”
This window invites into another zone, not of magic or superstition, or even supernaturalism, but into the evangelical reality that the world will hold, that the world will not fall apart, that the truth of the Gospel stands in opposition to the deep fear of death in our society.
Finally, this window reminds us yet one more time that we are in God’s hands and we are safe. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Gratitude for the stirring reflections from Walter Brueggemann in his book, A Gospel of Hope, most especially the chapter entitled, Anxiety and Freedom.