Sermon for Sunday, November 11, 2018 || Proper 27B || 1 Kings 17:8-16
Today I’d like to talk to you about a special type of miracle that never gets any press. It’s not going to sound very miraculous when I say it, but perhaps by the end of this sermon, I’ll have convinced you. Here it is. Here’s the special type of miracle that never makes the news: There is always a little more inside us than we realize. That’s it. There is always a little more inside us than we realize. Doesn’t sound miraculous, does it? I promise you, it is.
Such a small miracle happens in the life of the widow of Zarephath in today’s first reading. The widow of Zarephath has come to the end of her rope. I imagine that over the last several weeks, the amount of flour in her jar diminished at a much faster rate than she hoped, despite careful rationing. With one day’s flour left for herself and her son, she leaves town to search for firewood, so that she can make the last of the cakes that have been sustaining them since the drought began. Firewood is plentiful in a drought, but food is scarce – a wicked irony I doubt was lost on the widow. With an armful of sticks and branches, she turns to head back to town, when a man stops her and asks her to do an impossible thing – to bring him a little water and a scrap of bread.
“I have only enough for my son and me to eat a final meal before we die of hunger,” she says to the man, who is Elijah the prophet.
“Don’t be afraid,” says Elijah. “Just believe me: God has promised me that your jar of flour won’t run out.”
“You’re talking miracles,” she says.
“Perhaps I am,” he says, looking her in the eye.
She looks up to meet his gaze. “Miracles don’t happen to people like me.”
Elijah moves to her, takes the sticks from under her arm, and puts his other arm around her. “Yes, they do,” he whispers. “You just have to know where to look.”
Now, there’s a common misconception that miracles are these big, flashy events that disrupt the natural flow of existence in order to change things for the better. Perhaps some are. The ones that get the most press definitely are. But this is only one small subset of the miraculous. The widow’s jar is of another category altogether. The widow’s jar always has a little more inside it than the widow realizes. And when we are at the end of our ropes, so do we. That’s the miracle. There is always a little more inside us than we realize.
God made each one of us to be like the jar of the widow of Zarephath. When she is at the end of her rope, when she and her son are nearing death by starvation, she reaches into her flour jar and finds a little more – enough to live another day. The next day there’s a little more – enough to live another day. And the day after that. And the day after that. Each day, she reaches into the jar and finds just a little more life.
God’s unpublished, unsung miracle is that you and I are like that jar. When we are in the middle of personal droughts, when we are at the ends of our ropes, God’s unsung miracle triggers, and we find there’s just a little more inside of us to keep us going.
There’s always a little more inside of us than we realize. Think of the new parent staying up all night with a colicky baby. She stopped counting how many nights in a row it had been because it her sleep-deprived state, she can’t remember how to count into double digits. The pediatrician has cut every type of food out of her diet to see what the baby might be reacting to via her breast milk. But the colic remains no matter what she eats. Her spouse is underway, somewhere beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean, and there’s only so much her family and friends can do since she’s the baby’s sole source of food. For the thousandth time that night, she walks the circuit of the bedroom, wearing a rut in the carpet. She rocks. She shushes. She sings. She feeds. Still the baby cries. Somehow, some way, she manages to do circuit one thousand and one. That’s God’s unsung miracle: a little more endurance, a little more love than she realize
Or think of the alcoholic who finally realizes he needs help. He was driving home last night from the bar after half a dozen too many, and as he approached a traffic light he was convinced that red meant go. It had always meant go, right? He blew through the light, narrowly missing a tracker trailer moving through the cross street. When he got home he poured another drink to steady his nerves. Or was it three more? In the morning, the phone rang, but it couldn’t be morning because the sun was setting not rising. He finally rouses himself and finds his voicemail full of calls from work about that big presentation. He remembers the tracker trailer from the night before. What if it had been a few feet closer? Or heaven forbid, what if he had crashed into another car? Red means stop. Red had always meant stop. He has to stop. He calls a buddy who has been trying to get him to come to a meeting. Somehow, some way, he manages to stand up in front of the meeting and acknowledge his powerlessness. That’s God’s unsung miracle: a little more courage, a little more honesty than he realized
Or think of the daughter who is watching her father drift off on the tides of Alzheimer’s. Last year, she and her brothers made the decision to move him to a nursing home after the third time he left the gas burner on the stove running for more than a day. Her brothers all live out of state, so they rarely visit. But she goes to the home every day to see her father. At first, he called her by name. Then he called her by her long deceased mother’s name. Then he called her no name at all. Now he doesn’t even notice her coming into the room. But still she comes. Every day, she thinks she won’t be able to walk into that room. Somehow, some way, she does walk into that room. That’s God’s unsung miracle: a little more determination, a little more love than she realized.
Inside each of us is a jar like the widow’s. When we are at the end of our ropes, God works a miracle on that jar, filling it with just a little more endurance or honesty or determination or love or faith or hope or whatever we need to sustain us for today. When you are feeling empty of the thing you need to keep you going, look within and witness God’s unsung miracle filling your jar with enough of that something. Miracles do happen to people like the widow and to people like us. We just have to know where to look. There’s always a little more inside of us than we realize.
Thanks be to God.