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Bread, oil and resurrection

Conference preacher: Elijah, a widow and her son form an unlikely community

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The nearly 1,000 Presbyterians attending the 2019 College Conference at Montreat Conference Center sing during worship. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

MONTREAT, N.C. — Touching once again on the theme of a God who draws the circle wider than we might expect or be comfortable with, the Rev. Aisha Brooks-Lytle on Thursday took worshipers attending the 2019 College Conference at Montreat through the 1 Kings 17 account of Elijah, the widow of Zarephath (Queen Jezebel’s hometown) — and the widow’s son, whom God through the prophet restores to life.

The “miracle of the moment” following the boy’s death, Brooks-Lytle said, is that Elijah heard the widow’s pain, anguish, sorrow and confusion — and was moved to do something about it because he’d heard her story.

“He became an advocate. He wrestled with God and said, ‘God, you have to do something,’” she said. “In that moment of spiritual solidarity, the breath of life came back into that boy, and it was a miracle.”

In general, we’re “conditioned to hear the voices of those who can benefit us and make our lives better,” she said. “Compassion calls us to redefine community and draw the circle even wider … If God can get a privileged prophet and a broke widow to come together, how much more does God want to do with each of you?”

Take it from Elijah himself, she said: “You can’t be God’s mouthpiece if you don’t know how to listen.”

The prophet’s transformation began when he first heard the widow say, presumably with a trembling voice, that she had only enough food for herself and her son and was unable to feed him, too.

“He heard her, and he offered her something he had — his faith in the same God who had fed him,” she said. She imagines that each time Elijah and the woman went back for more meal and oil — which never ran out — they “looked at one another and must have said, ‘God did it again.’”

“The woman came to understand something about the God of Israel — that God listens, can be trusted and calls people of faith to walk alongside one another and hear the cries of someone in pain,” she said. “Hearing the stories of others stirs your heart and gets you to advocate.”

She challenged the collegiate congregation: “Do you have ears to hear God at work in unlikely places? Once you hear, will you be a voice of transformation and change?”

Followers of Christ have two auditory alternatives, she said: tune in or tune out.

“You can tune out people with different ideas,” she said, “or you can tune in to God’s great plan to release captives, restore justice and reconcile people. We serve a God who sees, hears, understands — and loves.”

The conference concludes Saturday with closing worship. On Friday evening, attendees will hear from speakers from the nearby Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women.

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