Life is hard.
I want it to be simple. I want good and bad to be clear — and for the good people and the bad people to get the good and bad lives that they deserve…but the lines turn out to get all fuzzy and bad things keep happening to good people and good things keep happening to bad people and it’s all a big complicated mess.
Elijah’s life is hard. And messy.
He has been the prophet who has been confronting the king of Israel, Ahab…because Ahab married a woman, Jezebel, from a foreign country, and she brought along with her the religion of Baal…and Baal’s prophets have taken up residence in the palace.
Well…in the confrontation, Elijah told the king and queen that until the worship of Baal was stopped, God would stop the rain from falling. And for three and half years…no rain fell. There was a severe drought.
Now I ask you…who do you suppose was most affected by that drought? The bad king and queen? Or the poor and struggling people throughout the region? You guessed it. Like in every disaster…the ordinary people…the people who are already struggling… are the ones who suffer most…and I’m sure many of them were good people. Even Elijah is affected….the Wadi Cherith, where he is hiding out from the royals, dries up as well.
But then…here’s where it gets interesting. Because when Elijah’s wadi…basically a stream…dries up…God sends him to Sidon. Sidon, dear friends….is the foreign country where Jezebel is from. Sidon is where Baal is worshipped as God. And Sidon, too, is experiencing the drought.
The drought, meant to show the stubborn and self-absorbed leaders of Israel who is God…is devastating ordinary folks, good people. Good Jewish people….especially widows and the struggling poor. But also good foreigners…and their widows and the struggling poor. And God sends Elijah to a foreigner. A widow. A widow who has given up hope. A struggling single mother who has nothing to feed her son or herself and is ready to lay down and die.
I am struck by how often the arrogance and petty power moves of leaders throughout the world…wreak havoc on the lives of the poor. This story plays out over and over again..as national leaders play their political games, and ordinary people…good people… are left to suffer and starve.
Now…as religious folks…understanding this to be a “religious” story about not worshipping foreign gods….one would expect that God would look out for the people who believe correctly, right?
But that isn’t the case, is it? No…God sends Elijah to Sidon. To the people who have all the “wrong” beliefs…who are hurting as well. And through Elijah, God provides for the widow and her son. While Elijah is with them…they continue to have enough food for each day. Not a full pantry. But enough for the day.
God, it seems, cares for people who are desperate and hurting…no matter who they are or what they believe. And, in an interesting twist….God teaches Elijah to be dependent on the very foreigners whose faith he was previously condemning. Life is complicated. Messy.
All too often people of faith are quick to draw lines in the sand…about who is good and who is bad. They only hear the beginning of the story…Elijah confronting Ahab and Jezebel. So, if you have a different religion…you are bad. Or whatever moral hot button is their pet issue…like if you have an abortion…you are bad. But they ignore the rest of the story….that the very person Elijah is sent to…the very person who Elijah becomes dependent upon…the very person who becomes Elijah’s companion through the drought….is that person of a different religion.
Life is complicated. Messy. People’s lives are complicated and messy. And here we see that God seeks out desperate people right where they are…loves them as they are…and they become part of God’s beloved community…people of all faiths who care for one another. God’s beloved community is not restricted to a few who are right and holy…God’s love is for all.
But then…in our story, things take a turn. The widow’s son gets sick and dies. She is heartbroken and hurt and angry. Totally justified and understandable. She blames Elijah. She blames God. She blames herself. Because just when she thought maybe things were finally going to be okay….they fall apart again.
And Elijah? Elijah too is hurt and angry. I can only imagine that he loves the boy too, after living with him and his mother for some time. And so Elijah brings his hurt and anger to God. “How could you do this? Hasn’t this woman been hurt enough?” And he throws himself, over and over …three times stretched out upon the boy. Willing him back to life. At our Bible study on Monday…someone wondered how long he would have continued trying to bring the boy back…how many times he would have tried. Elijah was overwhelmed with grief as well…for the boy…for the widow. He was willing to do anything…go to any lengths to save his life. And then, miraculously, their prayer and plea is answered, and the boy revives and is restored to his mother.
It is at this point…that she truly recognizes that Elijah is “man of God”. Miracles tend to do that. However… I can’t help but think that more than the miracle…it is Elijah’s compassion that truly reflected a God who made sense to her. A true person of God cares. God’s presence in a person’s life isn’t revealed by their righteousness…their holiness…their purity. No…God is revealed when people grieve with the grieving. When they weep with those who weep. When they cry out with the desperate. When they share in the anger that is all too common in this messy world where the innocent suffer and die. God is revealed when we care about people …. no matter who they are or what religion they are or what country they are from. Elijah is a Godly person…a saint…but not because he is holy and righteous. Rather, because he shares life with a foreign widow and cares deeply for her and her son when life is hard.
Today is All Saints Day. Today we remember the saints of God in the midst of this hard and messy life we lead. And who are the saints when life is messy and hard? The saints are the people we loved…and the people who loved us. They are not perfect. But they are the people we shared life with…and who touched our lives with compassion and care. They are the people who gave us a glimpse of God’s presence…because we mattered to them and they mattered to us. They were part of our beloved community. And God is revealed not in harsh lines that divide those who are right and wrong and good and bad….but rather…God is revealed in communities of compassion and care that reach beyond all our boundaries — religious,national, ethnic, racial, gender, sexuality…whatever they may be.
On this All Saints Day …we remember our loved ones…and are reminded of what truly is holy in this world. What truly is Sacred. And it is love. It is compassion. Everything else…all the things we think matter…nations and economies…strength and power…purity and righteousness….are meaningless. But love never ends.
We know that not every desperate mother’s prayer is answered. We grieve loved ones whose lives ended too soon…who we miss desperately. But we trust in the love…that is deeper and that is eternal…the love that reflects God’s holy presence in this world. We trust the love that never ends. We trust, indeed…in eternal life…where finally, there is no more sorrow, no grief…and we are together again…God’s beloved community. Amen.