Hope for the Hopeless

May 10, 2015

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 bedtime “Don’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?