24th Sun. after Pent. – Series B – 1 Kings 17:8-16; Mark 12:38-44
The Baptism of Jacob H.H.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Throughout Holy Scripture, the Widow is always found as one who suffers in the face of uncertainty.
She lives in a world full of ifs, maybes, and probably nots.
For nothing is guaranteed for the widow, her future is not certain, and even today is still in question for her.
She does not know where her next meal will come from, she is without any certain help from her community and neighbors; she has very few options if any in getting out from her despair.
In Scripture, the Widow is often the poorest and weakest of all mankind.
Whether it’s the Widow at Zarephath who is threatened with starvation and death, or the Widow at the temple, who gives up everything she has to live on; the Widow remains the poorest, the weakest, the most fragile of all peoples.
And yet, as we find today, hidden in the weak and fragile frame of the widow, for us in our reading we are given a kind of lens by which we see through this weakness, true strength, through this uncertainty, a truly certain promise, and through this fragility, the very faithfulness of the Gospel given for you.
Therefore in our readings, make no mistake, the widow herself is not the point. She is not the main character, she is not the subject of this text.
Which means for you and I, as we look to our readings, not only is the widow not the point, but neither are we.
We are not to find a kind of example to follow that will finally give us the comfort that we need to march out of these doors and live the Christian life.
The answer to our readings, is not “Be like the widow, give until it hurts, give until you have nothing left, and then you will be blessed and God will finally be pleased.”
It is not to say that our true comfort is found in living like the widow.
No indeed the widow is not the point of the text.
And by extension, you and I, are not the point.
For even on this day, even in this baptism that we celebrate, we find again, that the central character of the day is not the true point.
Jacob is not our comfort, his parents, his sponsors, his pastor; we are not the point, for we ourselves are not the comfort to be found.
This is not to dampen our song of celebration, rather, it is to move our eyes to the real comfort, the real certainty and faithfulness of the Gospel…truly the very reason that we can have joy and comfort on this day.
For with this in mind, we look with new eyes to our readings for this day.
In 1 Kings 17, it seems as though there is nothing to be found but uncertainty and death…it is a bleak situation for the widow, Elijah and her son…and yet in the midst of this uncertainty and death we find something truly astonishing and miraculous.
For we should be astonished as Elijah asks the Widow to give him nearly everything she has to live on.
He asks for water during a season drought and despair, and then seems to add insult to injury asking for bread when she barely has enough for one last meal.
Not only is the water nearly impossible to find, but the bread is the only thing this widow has to live on.
Indeed, she responds in our text, that after she bakes this bread, she will feed it to herself and her son and then die.
It is the last food, the last of anything that she has.
Indeed, the only thing that seems at all certain in this story is that death will soon come to her. There seems to be no way out, no hope and no help that she can find.
Elijah’s request is pretty astonishing. And yet, what follows is more astonishing still.
For here, Elijah preaches to the widow, “Do not fear, go and do as you have said.” He proclaims that the Lord will be faithful to her; that he will provide even in the drought of death.
What’s astonishing, is that the woman does this. What’s astonishing is that the Lord provides.
And not only with flour and oil, but with faith to trust in his mercy.
Indeed the most miraculous, the most astonishing event in this story, is not that the jars stay full, but rather that the woman believes and acts. Even in the face of uncertainty, even in the face of death itself.
For what can possibly explain this kind of faith?
It’s certainly not widow herself. It’s not what she brings. It’s not what she offers. It’s not her willingness, or her faithfulness.
No, this kind of faith, this kind of believing and acting, is only a faith that comes from God.
It is His sure and certain work to create faith, that he now brings to completion through His Word spoken through the prophet Elijah.
This faithful Word creates, sustains and keeps faith forever.
For even those who are the weakest and fragile of all, even in these God creates and keeps in His faith.
And this kind of faith that he gives is not just some general kind of faith, it is not how our world describes its own idea of faith, it is not blind trust, or the willingness to believe.
No, this faith that he gives, is his own, it flows forth from his name, keeps us in his promise and so is truly certain and truly faithful.
Binding us in the promise and foundation that He remains faithful even when we are faithless…even when our faith is found wanting.
All of this, so that as we move into our Gospel text from Mark 12, our eyes are to be open, seeing that the true glory and astonishment of this story, is also not to be found in the widow herself.
Rather, all comfort, all joy, all confidence, is found for us in the faith that she has been given.
Faith in the midst of uncertainty, the unknown and even death.
That even this widow, who is not rich, who is not strong, who is not powerful, even this weak and fragile person, the lowliest of all mankind, even to this one, God gives His faith.
Again, He creates it, He sustains it, He keeps it forever, it is His work, His promise, His glory alone.
And again, this faith is not a faith for faith’s sake, it is not a measure of our own faithfulness, but a God-given, God-sustaining trust that our Lord’s gifts and mercy will never be found wanting, even when our gifts, and our mercy, and our faithfulness falters and fails.
He promises and so will provide for every need of body and soul that we have, even if we don’t know when and where and how that provision will come.
This certainty and guarantee of God’s protection, coupled with the uncertainty of how it come, is something that we find so clearly played out in our text from Mark 12, as the story of the widow leaves us wanting a bit more information.
After all, we never get the satisfaction of knowing what happens to her. We don’t know if after this, Jesus and his disciples brought her into their company and provided for her needs. We don’t know if she left the temple and never saw them again. That part of our text, is unknown and not given to us.
For in the faith that God gives to us, we are not given the promise to know how, or from where God will provide for every need that we will ever have, we are simply given the promise that He will.
Therefore, we do not trust in a kind of false teaching that if we empty our pockets, or give until it hurts, that when we walk out of these doors, God will pay us back far more than we gave up. That is not a promise that God has given to us…it is nowhere to be found.
Rather, like the widow, as we give, we too give in the face of uncertainty.
What He has given us in not a promise of wealth, nor of how, but of the certainty of His own Name. His Name which is faithful, true and does not lie. His Name which He has given to us in faith, having the peace to know that He will always provide, always remain faithful, and always give to us what we most desperately need.
For on this day, you and I have stood as witnesses to the faithfulness of our God, to His promise to always give what we most desperately need.
Here with Jacob and his family we have seen firsthand how Christ has taken one who is weak and fragile, how he has taken the poorest among us and given them everything.
For what has Jacob actually brought to this font?
Certainly, he has not brought his faithfulness, or his reputation, or his righteousness.
Indeed the only thing that Jacob and you and I have brought to this font is our sin, our weakness, our unfaithfulness, and our poverty.
Surely Jacob, and surely you and I, have brought nothing.
Thanks be to God, that in Christ, our Lord has brought everything.
In Christ, God has become the weakness and the sin of Jacob, He has taken what we fail to have, and what Jacob could never bring to this font, whether today or in 30 years.
All of this Christ has taken for you, all of your sin he has taken into himself.
He has drowned it in his cross, so that these waters might for Jacob be true and living waters of life.
Here our Lord has given Jacob and you and I, everything that we need. Faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
And all of this he does, not because we have anything offer, but because He promises to remain faithful.
Creating, sustaining and keeping faith forever.
Even in Jacob, our Lord has given His faith, even in the weakest, lowliest, and most fragile of all, Christ has poured the fullness of his faith.
All of this so that for Jacob, his life would not be found as world of ifs, maybes and probably nots, but rather certainty, life eternal and Christ fully given.
For we trust the promise of this baptism, not because of our own faithfulness or whatever we think we might bring, for all of that will certainly falter and fail.
Rather, we give thanks and confess that here you have been given nothing short of Christ himself, his death, his resurrection, his faith and his righteousness…this for you, is most certainly everything that you need.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.