Sunday, May 10, 2015

Hope for the Hopeless

So we are picking up our story where we left off last Mother’s Day.  You remember where we left off last Mother’s Day don’t you?
For the few of you who don’t recall last year’s message.  It began with a drought in the country of Israel, God’s prophet Elijah was instructed to go to a town called Zarephath where a widow would take care of him.  Starting to sound familiar?
He arrives in town, finds the widow and asks her for food and drink to which she responds by saying in 1 Kings 17:12  But she said, “I swear by the LORD your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”
Doesn’t sound very promising does it?  Well, Elijah convinces that woman that you are never a loser when you are generous and she takes a step of faith and believes God’s representative and prepares him a meal.  The result is found in 1 Kings 17:15-16 So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her son continued to eat for many days.  There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the LORD had promised through Elijah.
And that was where we left the story last year.  And it was truly a celebration of generosity and faith.  And the result was that she was rewarded and blessed.  And we all love stories like that.  But as I finished writing the message I read ahead into the next verse and discovered a story as old as humanity itself.  Because it wasn’t long before celebration gave way to grief. 
Lets’ pick up the story in 1 Kings 17:17  Some time later the woman’s son became sick. He grew worse and worse, and finally he died.
The child who had been saved through his mother’s generosity and faith has now died.  And what could possibly be more heartbreaking than the death of a child?
And it is interesting that the first death recorded in the bible is the death of a child, the younger son of Adam and Eve.  But that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.  Children are supposed to bury their parents, parents aren’t supposed to bury their children.  But it happens, as can be testified to by some of you.
And so on this day that we celebrate Mothers there are moms at Cornerstone who grieve for children lost and children never born.  And our hearts go out to you, again that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
And it was easy to find positive uplifting lessons from the earlier story.   Last year we discovered that this woman was An Appointed Mother, A Caring Mother, A Practical Mother, A Believing Mother, An Obedient Mother, A Rewarded Mother. 
But what is it that we learn from the rest of the story? 

1 Kings 17:17  Some time later the woman’s son became sick. He grew worse and worse, and finally he died. 
The Reality of our Mortality  The tragedy wasn’t that her son died, the tragedy was that he died too soon.   One of my favorite shows, when it was on, was House MD, and Dr. House’s ionic line was “Everybody lies”. That’s not necessarily true, at least I hope it isn’t but here is something that is an unchangeable truth “Everybody dies”
Manlius said, “We begin to die as soon as we are born, and the end is linked to the beginnings.”

Homer wrote in the Iliad  “Like the generation of leaves, the lives of mortal men.
Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth,
now the living timber bursts with the new buds
and spring comes round again. And so with men:
as one generation comes to life, another dies away.”

And the other Homer summed it up when he told Bart at bedtimeDon't let Krusty's death get you down, boy. People die all the time, just like that. Why, you could wake up dead tomorrow! Well, good night.”

That is the reality, why you could wake up dead tomorrow.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us in Hebrews 9:27  And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment.  Notwithstanding all the heavenly tourism books that are out there, each person is destined to die once. 

And Jesus’ brother tells us in the book of James James 4:14  How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

And maybe at this point you are thinking:  Well that has really cheered me up, this is supposed to be cheerful, non-threatening Mother’s Day message and Denn pulls this out of the hat.

But bear with me, because even though death may be inevitable doesn’t mean death is the winner.  Let’s keep going with the story.

While we don’t know the nature or name of the disease that killed the boy, it seems as if whatever it was, was really quick, remember 1 Kings 17:17  Some time later the woman’s son became sick. He grew worse and worse, and finally he died.  In the NKJV it reads this way,  1 Kings 17:17 NKJV Now it happened after these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. And his sickness was so serious that there was no breath left in him.
There is no talk about doctors, we don’t see the widow going to Elijah asking him to pray for her son, even though in the very next verse she acknowledges him as “A Man of God”.  She knew he could do the impossible, after all it wasn’t that long before that she had witnessed the miracle of the bottle of oil and a container of flour that never ran out. 
So if we keep going in the story we read in 1 Kings 17:18  Then she said to Elijah, “O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?”  The Depth of the Mother’s Despair  I can’t even begin to imagine the grief associated with losing a child.  She blames Elijah and she blames herself but she doesn’t blame God.  Sometimes it seems in our culture that we are uncomfortable with the public display of grief.  We watch tragedies unfold in other parts of the world where people are screaming and wailing and falling down in their grief.  It just seems so undignified.  One of my favorite singers is Miranda Lambert and one of my favorite Miranda Lambert song is “My Mama’s broken heart”, and if the truth was known most of us would echo the words of the mother in this song.: 

Word got around to the barflies and the Baptists
My mama’s phone started ringin’ off the hook
I can hear her now sayin’ she ain’t gonna have it
Don’t matter how you feel, it only matters how you look

Go and fix your make up, girl, it’s just a break up
Run and hide your crazy and start actin’ like a lady
'Cause I raised you better, gotta keep it together
Even when you fall apart
But this ain’t my mama’s broken heart

Powder your nose, paint your toes
Line your lips and keep 'em closed
Cross your legs, dot your eyes
And never let 'em see you cry
But this mom wasn’t going to bottle her grief up. 
It wasn’t that long before in the story, when the prophet had first asked the widow for lunch that she had told him in 1 Kings 17:12  . . . I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”
She could see no way out of her poverty that had been magnified through the drought and famine, but the hope that she had lost was restored when God provided for her and more.  Again she began to dream about a future of seeing her son grow up, she almost could hear the giggles of future grandchildren.  And now that had been ripped from her again.  And she is a little put out. 
And it wasn’t that she blamed Elijah for not keeping her son from dying.  You might recall in the story of the death of Lazarus both sisters, Mary and Martha said the same thing “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” That wasn’t on the widow’s radar at all, as far as we know, the widow hadn’t even asked Elijah to pray for her son. 
She doesn’t blame him for not healing her son, she blames him for her son’s death.  She blamed Elijah personally for what had happened to her son.  1 Kings 17:18  Then she said to Elijah, “O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?”   
She might not blame God, but she comes close, she blames his representative.  And I’m sure if there were others around they probably stepped back to avoid the lightning strike.  But she was speaking out of pain, and frustration, anger and loss.  And God understood. 
Our God isn’t so insecure or afraid that he can’t be challenged.  Moses questioned God, Job questioned God, David questioned God.  Even God’s own son cried out from the cross Matthew 27:46  At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
But if we are going to question God we need to be willing to listen to him as well.  When Job questioned all that God had done and allowed this was God’s response Job 38:1-3  Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind:  “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?  Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.
We may never get the answer we are looking for.  You may never know the physical, emotional or spiritual pain that they escaped because of an early death.  We grieve for our own pain and loss, but if we believe what we say we believe about heaven, and if our children love Jesus, then  without wanting to sound trite, they are in a better place. 
And that might be for the best, we might not want to know how things would have turned out if the tragedy hadn’t of happened.  
And at this point it would have been easy for God’s prophet to have taken offence at her remarks and said “Oh yeah” and walked away but that isn’t what we are told happened.  Let’s pick up the story again in  1 Kings 17:19-21  But Elijah replied, “Give me your son.” And he took the child’s body from her arms, carried him up the stairs to the room where he was staying, and laid the body on his bed.  Then Elijah cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?”  And he stretched himself out over the child three times and cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, please let this child’s life return to him.”  It is here we discover The Passion of Elijah’s Prayer.   Remember that I said that the widow didn’t come right out and blame God?  Not so much Elijah.    Then Elijah cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?”  
And then he asks God to do what God had never done before, to raise some body from the dead. It had never happened before as far as we know, we find no precedent for this in the bible.  Elijah must have been reading the Penn of Denn because he knew the reality of the only way to see what is possible will be by attempting the impossible. 
On my first trip to West Africa we suddenly discovered that our team was thousands of dollars shy of what we needed for a conference we were putting on for Pastor’s in Sierra Leone.  Peter Moore was our team leader and he made a couple of phone calls to some large churches in the states and quickly raised the additional funds.  And I loved his rationale. “If you never ask, the answer is no.”
And so Elijah forgets that it was impossible, he puts aside the fact that he had never heard about it happening before and he asks God to do the impossible, he believed the words of the Angel Gabriel from Luke 1:37  For nothing is impossible with God.”
Sometimes we say that we need to see it before we can believe it, but my philosophy is that you have to believe it before you can see it.
1 Kings 17:21  And he stretched himself out over the child three times and cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, please let this child’s life return to him.”
Now understand that God did not have to answer Elijah’s prayers, and God knew even before Elijah prayed what Elijah wanted, but what would have happened if Elijah hadn’t of asked God to do the impossible?   We will never know, because Elijah did ask God to do the impossible, and if we pick up the story in the very next verse we read.
1 Kings 17:22 The LORD heard Elijah’s prayer, and the life of the child returned, and he revived!  The story displays God’s Power over Death Do kids still have to study old poems and old poets in High School?  Does the name John Donne ring a bell?  When I was in high school I fell in love with Donne’s Holy Sonnet number 10.  Catchy title.  And it reads.
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy’or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
You can imagine how amazed I was to later discover that the Apostle Paul must have enjoyed Donne as well because he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55  Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Because here is the truth, that while death may be a reality it is not the end of the story for the Christian.  Death is swallowed up in victory.  Death those shalt die!!!
And you are thinking, but Pastor, Elijah raised the boy from the dead.  Yes he did but that wasn’t the end of the story, you understand that eventually he died again and there was no Elijah around the next time. 
John describes what life after death will be for the believer when he writes in Revelation 21:4  “He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”   No pain, no sorrow, sign me up.
If you know the story of King David and Bathsheba you will remember that their first child died shortly after he was born.  And while the child was sick David put on sackcloth and cried out to God to save his child but when the baby passed away took off his sackcloth and resumed his duties as king.  When he was asked about his behaviour we read his response in, 2 Samuel 12:22-23  David replied, “I fasted and wept while the child was alive, for I said, ‘Perhaps the LORD will be gracious to me and let the child live.’  But why should I fast when he is dead? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him one day, but he cannot return to me.”  I will go to him one day.
We spend a lot of time and money keeping our kids physically safe and emotionally safe, do we spend the same amount of time and money keeping them spiritually safe?   We make sure they are in hockey and cheer, baseball and ballet but do we make time in the schedule to get them out to youth group?  Do we budget time and money for them to get to Caton’s Island or Bayside in the summer?  11 of our teens spent a weekend in Quispamsis last week in the presence of 500 other teens and for some of them there were decisions made that will affect how they live in this life and where they will live in the next life.  And the 11 went because it was a priority with their parents that they go. 
You can’t make the decision to serve Christ for your children, but you can make sure they have every opportunity to make that decision for themselves. 
And then finally the story ends with these words 1 Kings 17:24  Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is the truth."
It is here we see The Widow’s Acknowledgement of God’s Power  How easy it would have been for her to think: what a coincidence just as Elijah goes up and prays over my son he wakes up.   
It was Sir William Temple who said, “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.”
How often do we ask for prayer for our children’s health and receive an answer but don’t take the time to acknowledge that it was an answer to prayer.  Instead we thank the doctor, talk about what an incredible job the antibiotics did, or all they really needed it seemed was some rest.
How do you feel when someone asks you to do something and after you do it they don’t thank you or worse yet thank someone else?  I know we don’t do things for the people we love simply to get thanks, but a thank you is nice. 

So on this mother’s day, if you are struggling with hopelessness and loss, it’s fine to ask God why?  He may not provide the answer that you want or are looking for but understand that he loves you and cares about you and he’s there for you. 
We mentioned earlier King David as he grieved the loss of his child, if you look through the story of David you’d discover that David suffered many personal and family tragedies, but ultimately he was able to write in  Psalm 30:11  You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
You understand with my natural rhythm and grace anything that could allow me to dance with joy would be nothing shy of a miracle but the principle is there.  The end result is not the dancing, it is when we allow them to, then our pain, and our suffering, and our struggles and our tears will strengthen our lives. 

There is no trouble on this earth which is greater than the grace of our God.  Do you believe that this morning?


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