The Rev’d Ann J. Broomell
Christ Church, New Haven
June 5, 2016
Pentecost 5, Year C
We come today to the memorable story of the widow of Zarephath from the beginning of Elijah’s ministry. Elijah prophecies a drought will come upon the land of King Ahab. Immediately God sends him into the desert wilderness, by a stream, the Wadi Cherith, to be fed bread and meat morning and night by ravens and to find water in the wadi. His prophecy was fulfilled, the wadi dried up and there was no rain in the land
Then God sent Elijah further out of the kingdom of Ahab to Zerephath in Sidon to be fed by a widow. He found a widow on the edge of the city gathering sticks to cook up the last of her oil and meal to postpone death for her and her son for one more day. That is the way it was with widows of that time. She had no husband, no elder son—no one to own land, to protect and feed wife and child. They had to rely on handouts from distant relatives, often prostitution, certainly begging. Starvation was part of their future.
Elijah asked her to make him a morsel of bread first, and then feed herself and her son. How would you react? This stranger? Appearing out of nowhere and asking for your last bits of food! Disbelief? Fear? Reticence? Trust? She did as asked and found that the jug of oil and jar of meal remained filled with food which lasted until the end of the drought. Theirs is truly a story of devastating hunger and anguish. Yet they trust in God and they are fed.
This is a story of transition. The widow lives in one reality. She is able to let go of that reality and discovers a new reality she could never have imagined. We too have to let go. In all transitions one must let go of the past, to move into the present, to be able to live into the future. We may admit to fearing the future, but we find as the widow did, that only when we trust God can we discover the future God lovingly offers us.
There is a simple book called Sleeping with Bread. It tells the story of some of the thousands of children orphaned during World War II and wandering the streets scavenging for food. Even though many were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received good food, they couldn’t get to sleep at night, fearing that they would wake up and be homeless and starving again. After trying repeatedly to reassure them of their safety and failing, one of the caregivers thought of giving each of them a piece of bread to hold as they went to sleep. Then the children could sleep trusting there would be food for them on the next day. (1)
The cover of the book is the drawing of a child asleep in bed with one arm outside the covers wrapped around a loaf of bread. Giving that sign of trust and hope in the future was a brilliant idea. After their rescue the children were terrified of being hungry again. With that loaf under their arm they could trust in the future and sleep in peace.
I first stepped into this pulpit as your interim rector 53 weeks ago. I’d say, from my perspective, that we have had a wonderful year—a year of change, of new ways of approaching issues and there are concrete results for all of us—a sound system, security cameras in the church, a renovated St. Hilda’s House and rectory are some of them. Most were financed by your generous gifts to the Capital Campaign. St. Hilda’s House had a year of strong intentionality that bore much fruit.
Before I leave I find it’s time for me to talk about the future, and there are some hard facts to look at, as many of you know. The future that stretches before you holds many challenges as the operating budget of the church is not sufficiently funded by stewardship and outside income. The day to day operation of the parish is funded by a reliance on the endowment, a draw down, that needs to be cut significantly in the near future. That is difficult news, yet it is reality. Reality that calls upon those who love this parish to carefully and prayerfully work with your new rector, Fr. Stephen, to consider the path forward.
We all crave security and the ability to know what tomorrow will bring. Today’s story of the widow who gave her last bit of food to a stranger and found her flour and oil replenished until the end of the drought, seems so fitting for us who love Christ Church. She trusted in God and found a future she couldn’t have dreamed of. She let go of the last little bit of food, and she and her son were fed.
It takes an intentional trusting in God to discover the future God wants for us. Think of those children unable to sleep unless they held onto their loaf of bread. When we look at this parish we love, how many of us don’t have our loaves of bread we want to hold onto. How many of us might think it’s OK for this to change, but not for that. How many know we have to change but find letting go of what holds meaning to us very difficult. To me it’s about sacrifice for the future and for the common good.
Your new rector, Fr. Stephen, is well equipped to lead you into a future of hope and promise. He, your wardens, officers, Vestry, and staff are all going to need your love, your prayers and your strength. The person who sits behind you or in front of you each Sunday is going to need your love and support. The caring and support will strengthen God’s love in the life you share in this place. It will attract people as it enables the change that allows new life to grow—and that is exciting good news.
You are moving into the light of what’s next to come. And that isn’t something that will happen when Fr. Stephen preaches from this pulpit or chairs his first Vestry meeting. What’s next to come is yours as you discern a path into the future and as you put your full trust in God. For God is dreaming of a fine future for Christ Church. Your job, with Fr. Stephen, is to discover the future into which God is calling you, and in trust and sacrifice enable the future to unfold.
Consider the words of Jesus to the young man who had died that we heard in our Gospel reading today: Young man I say to you, rise. (3) I believe that new path God imagines for Christ Church will be grounded in the resurrection power we receive as we gather at the altar to be fed week after week. I believe that new path will come through energy unleashed by the Spirit as you try on different ideas, different ways of being. Remember the memorable and moving closing words of Morning Prayer, Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we might ask or imagine. (4)
I fully believe that they can become your words, your identity and your truth. God’s power working in us can and will do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. As you let go of the past, embrace the present, and entrust yourselves to the future, God will show you the future God dreams of for Christ Church.
Hear again the end of the story of the starving widow who trusted the stranger at her door and took her last morsels of food to serve him. 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. (5)
My friends, it is all about trust. Walking forward trusting in God, trusting in the love and healing of Jesus, trusting in the future. It is and will be my prayer that you will trust God, and, joined by Fr. Stephen, walk with God, humbly and gratefully, into the future together.
Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we might ever ask or imagine.
(1) Kurtz, Ernest and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning. New York, Bantam Books, 1992, pp. 163-4.
(2) Linn, Dennis; Shelia Fabricant Linn and Mathew Linn. Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. New York: Paulist Press, 1995, p. 1.
(3) Luke 7:14b
(4) Book of Common Prayer, Morning Prayer I, p. 60 (quoting Ephesians 3:20)
(5) 1 Kings 17:15,16