We’re going to spend the next several weeks reading various prophets. Before we dig into Elijah, I want to spend some time talking about prophets generally. This reflection draws on the work of Walter Brueggemann and his work on prophetic imagination.
In the ancient Hebrew world view, the temple was the centre of life. The priests controlled every aspect of life—food and dietary laws, cleanliness laws which directly related to health but also had a social component, relationships, rituals relating to birth, coming of age, marriage and death. The priests functioned in a way similar to our media. They told people what to think, who was acceptable or not and who the threats to the community were. They prescribed behavior for so many aspects of life.
Sometimes the priests and temple authorities would get so caught up in maintaining the law that they wouldn’t notice how it hurt or oppressed the people. Sometimes they were distracted by the interests of the wealthy and powerful. Sometimes they were caught by their own greed or power.
Because of their power over so many aspects of life and because they were God’s representatives on earth, few would question their authority. The way the world and the culture functioned was seen as God’s will and there was no alternative. People lost their ability to see or imagine the world in any other way.
In the midst of this environment, the prophets had the role of imagining something different, speaking in a different way on behalf of God and then finding a way of engaging people in being faithful.
This part of Elijah’s story (1 Kings 17:1-24) begins with a drought. Drought is simply a matter of fact and people are starving all over the land. There is no alternative and yet Elijah finds a place where he has access to water and food. When that food and water disappear he travels to a town. There he finds a widow and asks her for water and food. Her reality is that she is on her way home to cook the last bit of flour and oil before she and her son starve to death. There is no alternative for her. Elijah tells her that the flour and oil will not run out. She cooks for Elijah and sure enough there are leftovers for another day. She does not starve to death. The woman’s son becomes ill and dies. His death is her reality. Elijah comes–does some type of resuscitation and the child lives. The widow’s reality becomes life. Things are not always what they seem. What seems like a certainty does is not necessarily true.
In our culture, we are told: “The church is irrelevant.” “Young people don’t go to church anymore.” “There are too many other things on Sunday.” We are told the result of these things is that churches are shrinking, congregations are getting older, financial givings are dropping. We are told that the ultimate reality is that in the not too distant future, most churches will disappear. Apparently this is a reality.
But is it true? I would argue that the church is only irrelevant if we are out of touch with our communities. When we look around this congregation, we see young people and families engaged in their faith, looking for ways to connect their faith with their lives and wanting to pass that faith to another generation. When we engage in mission locally and globally, people support that with their time, energy and money. Most Sundays I look out at the congregation and see at least one or two people I don’t recognize. This tells me that, there is possibility to engage people in their faith and that this congregation is speaking to the community and inviting people to reflect more deeply on their faith and to live that faith in the community. I believe that this congregation and other churches that engage their mission will thrive well into the future. This is also reality.
Which reality do we choose? The first reality has no power. It has no ability to transform individual lives or community. It has no future except what currently exists. The second reality suggests that God is still at work. There is hope for a future in which God’s people continue to live faithfully.
The widow couldn’t see anything beyond her immediate reality. She couldn’t see more than a few hours or days ahead. She could not imagine anything different. She could not hope that life would be different. As a congregation, part of our work is to look beyond our immediate reality and seek hope. We are invited to be prophets in a world that needs an alternative. Our world desperately needs to hear that we don’t need to be afraid of each other, afraid of difference. Our world needs to hear God’s love for each person and all creation. Our world needs to hear hope and peace in the midst of violence. As prophets, we can offer space where everyone is welcome and safe. As prophets, we can feed people who think they won’t eat today. As prophets, we can welcome the stranger and newcomer to our land. As prophets, we can love those who feel unlovable. This is the reality that we can make true.
I invite you to reflect on the reality you hope for in this congregation, Yorkton and the world. Together we can be a prophetic voice and an alternative to fear, hatred and violence. As you make your pledges of time, talent and finances you make a commitment to bringing a different reality to life—you make a commitment to hope.