1 Kings 17:8-16
What does the future mean to you? A very simple definition of “future” could be defined as a set of events that have not yet come to pass. Events shaped by the past and the present, but still events that will or may happen. Since we haven’t experienced the future yet, it is almost impossible for us to know what is going to happen in the future, but that doesn’t tell us really what the future means to us.
For some people, they talk about the future as something to have. We say, “That person over there has a bright future.” Meaning, that it seems like that person has worked hard and gotten opportunities in life. For that person, the future is something that seems fairly certain – sense that it will happen. Others talk about the future in terms of plans that are already made. I look at my calendar I know that I will be heading off to Colorado on Friday with a group of our youth for a weekend gathering. To yet other people, the future contains hope for better times. This view of the future usually comes from the reality of the past and present. We say things like, “Next year I’ll have a better paying job, and we’ll be able to do more of the things we would like to do.”
Just this past week has been filled with talk of what the future will be like, what that future will mean for us. I speak mainly of last Tuesday’s elections. The past year politicians have been telling us how they will make life better if elected as representative, senator, or governor. Many people base their votes on what they think that politician is going to do. We take into account the past and these promises and make a decision on who we think is best for us and our governments. And now, we find ourselves here at All Saints Lutheran Church doing some more thinking and pondering over what the future is going to be like at our annual meeting today. We will decide on a budget that, in a lot of ways, tells something about what the next year is going to be like. We will also decide how we want to affirm our belief that all people, including those of different sexual orientations and gender identities, are welcome in this community by becoming a rostered Reconciling In Christ congregation.
To tell you the truth, it sometimes seems to me like a lot of my time is spent worrying and planning for the future. I think that is true for many other people as well. That is a part of what it means to be human, because the future holds so many uncertainties that we cannot plan for. The bright future may not turn out so bright because of an unforeseen illness or hardship that befalls us. Our plans can change very easily because of the unknown. The better days may not come. The future is very uncertain. Uncertain to the point that we become afraid of what might happen. In this fear, we get locked up in trying to ward off what might happen so much that we forget about what is happening – right here, right now. We become jealous and guarded of our resources and spend time trying to stockpile money and resources. This usually comes to the detriment of those who could use our help and attention right here and right now. I’m a big guy, and that’s due in large part to the fact that I sometimes eat as if I don’t know where my next meal is going to come from. Truthfully though, I’ve never known a moment of real, sincere hunger in my life. But there are times when we come face to face with the reality of the present to where the future holds almost no meaning for us. The widow at Zarephath had come face to face with that very same reality when Elijah meets her.
Earlier in this account from 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah prophecies that a severe drought is going to overtake the region where not even a drop of rain will fall unless God wills it. Elijah survives for a while by living next to a watering hole of sorts, but the water eventually dries up for lack of rain. It is at this point that God tells Elijah to go to Zarephath where he will be fed by a widow.
Imagine what it must have been like for the widow during these times. With each consecutive day without rain, the closer that the reality of the present situation came. She had maybe thought that things were going to go like they had in the past. She couldn’t have foreseen that this drought could have been this severe or lasted this long. Each day the meal and oil in her jars became less and less. Each day the time of her death became more and more apparent. Pretty soon there wasn’t much future to look forward to. This becomes most evident after Elijah asks her to bring him some water and a morsel of bread. She responds flatly saying, “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 prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”
She has given up at this point. But Elijah hasn’t. He presses on and says the she should go make him something first and then make something for herself and her son. He tells her not to be afraid, but I can’t see how afraid she could have been if she had been so resigned to it. In fact, at this point, there is nothing more to be afraid of. In her sight, the future’s gone. I can hear her saying to herself, “Why not give this man what he wants? I’m going to die anyway.” Essentially she has resigned herself of any notion of control that she has over her life and begins to trust in Elijah and Elijah’s God.
It is in that stripping away of her illusions of control over death that she is able to fully give herself to God. You know what? In doing so, she finds out that God is a God that sustains life even in the midst of death. And when her son dies, she also finds out that God is a God that sustains life even beyond death when Elijah brings him back to life. Ironically, by trusting in God and not herself, the widow finds a sure hope for the future that God will always be present in her life.
That is such a hard thing for us to do – to be able to trust God through every part of our life. As much as we may not like it, we begin to take comfort in those things that give us an illusion of security of the future. When the reality is, that there will come a time when each one of us will die – no matter what securities we may have stored up for us. This seems very disheartening at first, but when I lose that notion of absolute control over my life and trust in God, I find that I’m then free to enjoy the journey that is life and help others to be able to enjoy that journey as well.
So what of the future? Are we to stop planning all together? Should we all turn in our insurance policies? Should we give up our dreams and visions? To steal a line from Paul, “By no means!!” It just means that they shouldn’t become so beholden to our future plans that forget what is important in our lives. If you go along in life measuring your security and success by these attained goals you will always be sorely disappointed, because of all the unknowns and uncertainties. Martin Luther tried very hard to attain absolute perfection, but he realized that God loves us and claims us as God’s own anyway. He called it a liberating experience. Indeed, it is liberating to come to this realization. Our dreams and vision then stop being a burden, and we can then adapt to those “curve balls” that life throws at us.
That is why we begin each service on Sunday morning at the baptismal font. To remind us of our need for God and also to remind us that God is present and has forgiven and claimed us as God’s own. In little bit, will go into that annual meeting and discuss our future financially and as a Reconciling In Christ congregation. As you discuss what this is going to mean for our future as a congregation, I encourage you to think about how God is present in your life right now. We are called to trust in the grace that God has shown us through the life and death of Jesus Christ and spread that good news to everyone in word and deed. I leave you with just one question. How will what we decide today spread that good news in the future?