On Life, Love, Lack, and Loss
November 7, 2021
I Kings 17: 8-16
Then the word of the Lord came to [Elijah], saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “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 go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
Today’s sermon is titled, On Life, Love, Lack, and Loss.
Friends, I stand before you today with a heart and mind so full of so many thoughts and emotions; I first want to say that being one among you, as part of this community of faith, sustains me in ways I can not articulate. I am eternally grateful to share in your lives and to have you share in mine.
During the pandemic I have so often been forced to ask myself the following questions, “What is church? What is our purpose?” Especially after my experiences this week, I am ready to try an answer to those two questions. Church is a community where, ideally, we feel safe enough to share our lives, to learn about and practice love, and to support one another through times of lack and times of loss.
This past week, my son had a near-fatal asthma attack and two days later my dear Friend had a sudden and devastating stroke. As a result, I spent time in three different hospitals this week, between emergency rooms and ICUs. I shared an elevator with a couple who had just received devastating news from a surgeon. I went to sleep and woke up to the sounds of babies and young children crying and crying and crying in the pediatric ICU. Most children there were in more dire circumstances than my child. Contrary to what one may think, illness and death have not defined my week. Illness and death have provided the doorways for me to step through and experience a deeper awareness of life and love, lack and loss.
When my son was unable to breathe, and 911 had already been called, there was an abysmal sense of lack like I have never experienced in my life. There was absolutely nothing I could do but to sit with him and to offer every ounce of my will and lifeforce to sustain him through unsustainable circumstances. Human beings can survive 3 months without food, 3 weeks without water, but only 3 minutes without air.
In the midst of my lack of ability to help my son, knowing full well that I could lose him before help arrived, there came this insurgence of love and appreciation for life that I have never before experienced. In a similar way, as I stood by the bedside of my Friend and held his hand for the very last time, I was completely overcome with the depth of love and admiration I felt for this man. In facing his imminent death and the loss of his presence in my life, the memories of times shared and love exchanged assumed this colossal presence in my heart and mind.
Tragedy, hardship, and the pain of loss have a strange way of filling us and breaking us open if we can bear it. We all know something of this level of pain, so we can imagine what it may have been like for the woman in our story today from the book of first Kings. She is gathering sticks to make a fire to cook the last meal for herself and her son. In this poignant moment, she meets the prophet Elijah. He asks for water and for food. The water she can offer, but not the food. Elijah could have assumed that this was not the woman he was destined to meet, but instead he makes a very bold request followed by a miraculous promise. “Bring me what you have and then go and make more for you and your son for ‘the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail.’” Elijah is asking this woman to give the last of what she has and without knowing whether or not he can fulfill his promise, she agrees.
Friends, isn’t it the same with life and with love? Life and love require us to give of ourselves without any way of knowing what will come of it. We know there will be joy and pain, disappointment and elation, love received and love rejected. We will enjoy times of health and we will endure times of illness. We know there will be times when we are at a total loss of what to do. The consequences of life and love are quite terrifying if we really think about them.
Perhaps the key is to not think too much. After all, it is not exactly what happens to us that defines our lives, it is how we react that defines us. The mother in our story today, when pressed to share her last stores of food, reacts with compassion for Elijah and a willingness to share her last meal with him. Even in her dire circumstances, she seeks to provide; she seeks to fill. She takes the risk to extend herself and all she has to offer.
Church is a place where we can do the same. It is a safe place to extend ourselves because it’s a safe place to make mistakes. Church is a place where we practice forgiveness, empathy, compassion, and communication. In this past week, one of the most challenging weeks of my life, you have provided me with so much emotional and spiritual support. Your love and concern have filled me in ways I can not articulate. This is what we do for one another and, in doing so, we learn more about the infinite and transformative nature of love.
In closing, and as we prepare to share in Communion, I wish to thank you. We are creating something truly beautiful together. In all the seasons of our lives, may our love find full expression, reflecting the light of Christ. So be it. Amen.
Source of love we call God, we are in dire need of your guidance. It is so difficult to care for one another in a polarized atmosphere, where the expression of opinions and beliefs run roughshod over the call for civility. I pray for your help, Lord, in steering us towards a better way, whatever that may be…perhaps one in which we can see one another without labels and the judgement that comes along with labels; perhaps one in which we can both oppose the practice of war and still hold those who have served, and are still serving in high esteem and with upmost care. As we prepare to observe Veteran’s Day later this week, I pray that we will pause and reflect as to how we can take steps toward an end to the wars within ourselves, the wars between friends, families, the wars between religions and the wars between nations. We are all suffering in various ways, and there is healing to be found in helping those whose sufferings are greater than our own. For the victims of war everywhere, we pray for you. For the Veterans that are waiting for medical care, counseling and treatment, we pray for you. For the leaders of our local, state and national government, we pray for you. May the light of peace and the pull of hope and the warmth of compassion guide us today and always.
I leave you now with these words from Philippians 4:6
“Have no anxiety, but in every prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds.”