Archive for May 2012

Trust Issues: 2 Kings 4:1-7

May 31, 2012

Preached by the Rev. Jeri Katherine Warden Sipes on March 11, 2012 at Wesley Memorial UMC as part of the Lenten Sermon Series
Disciple-2-Disciple: Learning from the Great Cloud of Witnesses

Our scripture lesson in 2 Kings 4 today is about reaching the end of your rope, hitting rock bottom, being between a rock and a hard place, running on empty, feeling hopeless and overwhelmed with no sign of a light at the end of the tunnel. Have you been there? Maybe you are there now. We all have moments in life where we or those we love feel overwhelmed by all life has thrown at us. What do you do or who do you turn to when you are facing difficult times? What do you do when you can’t pay your bills? When your worry consumes you? When every conversation with your spouse is an argument? When you feel depressed, alone and hopeless? When your heart is broken and your dreams are shattered? When you just can’t seem to find happiness or motivation for anything? When you are discouraged, down and disappointed? When you feel empty or purposeless? When you are juggling more than you can handle? What do you do? Who do you turn to?

This was where the unnamed widow in our verses was. She was perhaps at the lowest point in her life; she was experiencing despair, death, and debt all at once. Her husband just died. She was left with a debt that she could not pay. Back in those days when people could not pay their bills, parents were forced to sell their children into slavery to pay their debts. The creditor was knocking at her door. And this poor, unnamed woman was at the point of despair. But this unnamed widow teaches us today very important lessons about discipleship, about putting our full trust in God no matter our circumstances. When all seemed lost, our scripture verses tell us that this woman cried out to God.

Too often in difficult times we turn to God as a last resort. When we’re in trouble we often panic and worry and try to solve and control our own problems. We get overwhelmed at the size of our troubles. We don’t trust that God will take care of our problems. We don’t trust that God will provide. We don’t fully rely on God. I have always thought it was very ironic that our money says, “In God we trust” when too often we trust more in money to fix our problems than we trust in God. Too often in good and especially bad times we don’t make room for God, therefore we don’t make room for a blessing; we don’t make room for a miracle.

The widow cried out to God. She knew her problems were too big for her handle. She cried out to God and sought help from Elisha expecting God to provide, deliver, strengthen, and save. She didn’t just cry out half-heartedly or with doubt or skepticism or hesitation or distrust or unbelief. She expected, anticipated, strongly believed and knew in her heart that if she came to God with her problems, with all she had, God would make a way out of her troubles. There is an old gospel song that says: “Waymaker, He’ll make a way; Jesus will make a way. For he knows, the Lord know what you’re going through, and he knows, God knows, when you’ve done all you’re known to do. And the Lord know, He knows, just how much you can bear, and the Lord, I’m so glad he knows and he feels every pain, every cry of despair. So, in your trials, just remember that you’re never left alone, for in your weakness that’s when the Lord, He’ll make you strong. Waymaker, he’ll make a way.”

As God’s disciples we must trust that God is truly the Waymaker of our lives; God always makes a way if we but come to him with all we have. But too often we hold back. And again, we do not make room for God in our lives or in our troubles. We do not offer God everything; we do not come to God fully trusting, fully expecting and fully believing God to make a way through our problems as the widow did. Our problems, our troubles, our present circumstances may seem insurmountable, big and impossible in our own eyes, but we must fully trust and believe that nothing, not a single thing in our lives, is insurmountable, too big or impossible for our God. Psalm 50:15 says, “Call on me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us again of God’s promises: “God is made perfect in our weakness. When you are weak, God is strong.” Our God is in the business of delivering, of rescuing, of providing, of showing mercy. Our God is in the miracle business. Luke 1:36 reminds us that “nothing is or will be impossible for God.”

All God wants and asks us to do is to come—to come as we are and with all we have. Elisha asked the widow, “What do you have?” The widow answered, “Nothing.” We can come with nothing, with emptiness, with problems, with questions, with doubts and still God will make a way. God will make a way with what you have, even if all you have is nothing, even if all you have is a pile of debt, or a mountain of problems. God can and will make a way. Remember what God was able to do with Moses’ rod, young David’s sling, a little boy’s lunch, twelve ragtag disciples, and empty vessels. Time and time again throughout the Bible and in our lives, God shows that he will make a way around seemingly insurmountable or impossible circumstances. God is the Creator of the world; God has boundless resources; there is no limit to what our God can do.

The only limit is us. All too often we stand in the way of God. We prevent the Waymaker from making a way for us. We often limit God because we do not fully trust God; we do not trust God to be in the intimate details, or the overwhelming problems of our lives. We can’t imagine that the Creator of the Universe can care us us that much! But God has professed his unconditional love for us time and time again. And yet from time to time we all have trust issues when it comes to God. But the widow teaches us to not limit our God, but to trust God—to trust God to hear and respond to the cries of all his people.

But the widow also teaches us that God doesn’t always answer our prayers or our cries for help in the ways we imagine or want. I am sure you have probably heard the story about a man who was told to evacuate his house because he lived in a flood zone and in just a few days his house would be completely under water. The man did not leave his house when he was told, and so as the rains came he prayed for God to help him. At that moment a car drove by and one of his neighbor’s cried out for the man to get in the car, but the man said, “No, God will save me.” A few hours later the waters were so deep that the first floor of his house was completely under water. The man cried out for God to save him, and just then some emergency rescue people came by in a boat and yelled for the man to get in. But the man said, “No, God will save me.” A few hours later the waters were so high that the man was sitting on his roof. He cried out again for God to save him. Just then a helicopter swooped down and yelled for the man to get in, but he said, “No, God will save me.” Finally the man was swimming in the water. His whole house was under water, and he cried out to God, “God why did you not save me?” God said, “I sent you a car, a boat and a helicopter.” Sometimes God does not answer our cries for help in the way we imagine.

When Elisha told the widow to borrow empty vessels from her neighbors and to take her little jar of oil and fill up the empty vessels, I am sure the widow, for just a moment perhaps, thought: “You must be crazy, Elisha! You’re supposed to be a man of God, but now I think you’re just a crazy old man! That whole plan sounds ridiculous and a waste of time! How can something so ridiculous possibly help me at a time like this?!” The bible doesn’t say what the widow immediately thought, but I know if I was the widow that would have been my first thought! Maybe the widow thought that and maybe she didn’t. All we are told is that she trusted; she trusted that this crazy plan would be the answer to her problems. God does work in mysterious ways of course.

Now, I don’t want you to mishear me. I am not preaching the prosperity gospel. I am not saying God will abundantly provide material wealth for you and your family and do anything you ask. God is not a wish-granter; God is not a genie in a lamp. God provides for our needs, not our greed. Like the widow we all have needs—we all have spiritual, emotional, and physical needs; God knows our needs and we have to trust that God will take care of our needs. God provides for our needs, not our greed. From the widow, we learn as disciples to cry out to God in our need, to trust that God will respond, but that God doesn’t just provide, God can take our nothing, our emptiness, our brokenness and our troubles and do mighty things that will completely transform us and our circumstances.. But like the widow, we must first come to God. God will meet us where we are if, from where we are, we call upon God. Romans 10:13 says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” That is exactly what the unnamed widow in our verses today did, and God heard and responded to her cries.

But the unnamed widow is not the only disciple we learn from in these verses in 2 Kings 4. We also learn from the prophet Elisha. On the first Sunday of Lent two weeks ago we learned that as disciples today we need one another. Yes, the widow cried out to God, but she also turned to another disciple of God to help and guide her in her time of need. Another way we limit God is not recognizing or trusting that God just might want to use us—God just might want to use you—to be the answer to someone’s cry for help. The widow trusted that God would send her help, but Elisha trusted God to use him to be her help. God is a waymaker, and as his disciples we must be ready and trust that God has equipped each one of us to be God’s avenue or channel of his grace, mercy, love and compassion to people in all kinds of need. We must trust that God can and will make his way in and through us.

So, maybe right now, at this point in your life you are not at the end of your rope, not hitting rock bottom, not between a rock and a hard place, not running on empty, not feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, desperate, and discouraged. Maybe that is not you at all right now. So, maybe you are an Elisha through whom God is trying to answer the prayers of someone who is at the end of their rope, who has hit rock bottom, who is between a rock and a hard place and running on empty and who feels hopeless, overwhelmed, desperate and discouraged. Part of trusting God is completely opening ourselves up to being used by God. Part of our trust issues with God is that it is usually when we completely hit rock bottom before we turn to God and decide to fully trust God. But Elisha reminds us to trust God even during the good times when things are going pretty smoothly. Elisha reminds us to make room for God—not just when we are at the end of our rope or when we need something from God. We might not be in need of a blessing or a miracle as the unnamed widow desperately was, but God just might use us to be a blessing or a miracle to someone in need. Trusting God is not just about trusting God to provide, deliver or rescue, but trusting God is trusting that God will make his way in and through us.

As God’s disciples, we need to work on our trust issues. Like the widow when things get bad, God should be the first we turn to—not the last. And like Elisha, we must trust that God’s plan for this world includes each and every one of us. If you are where the widow is this week, put your trust in God and open your eyes to see the people God is trying to answer your cries of help. If you are more of an Elisha this week, open yourself up to God and trust him to use you to meet the needs of the unnamed widows among us. Amen.

Notes and Works/Sites Referenced: March 11 Sermon

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