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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Trust in the Lord

Robert Barron - Trust in the Lord

Robert Barron - Trust in the Lord

Peace be with you. Friends, our first reading is one of my favorites in the Old Testament. It's a kind of hidden gem, and I've been drawing inspiration from it for years, sharing it in talks and retreats and so on. And it's one that's not super well-known. It's an odd little quirky tale; it has to do with Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. Typical of biblical narratives, it's very laconic. It's very understated. You never get in the Bible hundreds of pages of character development and psychological exploration. You tend to get things suggested in very deft strokes. And this is a very good example of this. But let me give you a bit of background to understand the story for today.

So Elijah, the great prophet, in some ways the greatest of Israel's prophets, has gone to King Ahab. He's challenged him because of Ahab's idolatry. When the king refuses to listen, Elijah pronounces that a great drought will descend upon the land. Now I'm from California. I know about droughts and how devastating they can be. What I want you to see first of all is this sort of thing is never arbitrary in the Bible, as though God is just in a bad mood and he's been offended, so he is going to send this arbitrary punishment. No, no, here's the formula. We have to unpack the symbols. Connection to God leads to life. Connection to God is like having a garden of flourishing life. When we sever the connection with God, what happens is drought, is lifelessness. So that's what's happened because of the idolatry of King Ahab, which is spreading to the country.

Well, Elijah himself, like everybody else in the country, falls victim to the drought. He's told by God, now listen, "Go to the Wadi Cherith". That means like a little river. "You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there". Okay, what's going on? Here's Elijah basically helpless. It's drought, nothing's growing, water's drying up. He's going to starve. He's going to die. But he trusts in the Lord, not in his own resources, but he trusts in the Lord, and the Lord promises that he will care for him. And so indeed he drinks, and the ravens do indeed come and feed him. Here's a great spiritual lesson everybody. There are times in life, maybe someone listening to me right now is going through one of these, when you feel pretty much dried up. The sources of life, they're no longer there. You're worried.

How are you going to survive? Maybe not in the physical sense, but in the psychological and spiritual sense. How is God feeding you, or better, whom or what is God sending to feed you? It's an odd thing. Go to this little river. Is that the optimal way to slake your thirst? Probably not. And ravens are going to bring you food. Is that what you would've chosen? Probably not. But God responds sometimes in mysterious, unexpected ways when we're in dire need. Elijah's great virtue is that he trusts in the Lord. Well, the story goes on. The drought continues, and in time the wadi, this little stream, dries up.

Can you imagine Elijah's fear, as he's dependent upon this stream of water? I think of up here in the hills above my house in California. When it rains, which is very rare, they run in fact with water, but then very quickly they dry up. They're just dry rock river bed. How is Elijah feeling as the river's getting smaller and smaller, as his source of life is drying up? A lot of you maybe hearing me right now feel that way, that the sources of life are drying up. You wonder how you're going to survive. But Elijah continues to trust. He doesn't panic. He trusts in God's providence. Eventually now he hears a message from the Lord. Listen, "Go now to Zarephath which belongs to Sidon and live there. For I have commanded a widow there to feed you".

Now, this is a very strange command. The words mean probably little to us, but for someone in this time, it meant, first of all, he was being summoned out of Israelite territory. Now I put to you, I've traveled the world a little bit, leaving one's country is always a little bit dicey. It's a little bit frightening. When I went to study in Paris years ago, and you realize I'm leaving my own country behind. I'm in this foreign land. My own language is not being spoken. I'm not sure how things are working. It's always challenging to leave your, as we'd say today, comfort zone, but Elijah's called out of Israel into a foreign land. And more to it, he's being called to a foreign city and to visit a widow.

Now, in the society of his time, there was practically nobody at a lower social level than a widow. First of all, women were looked upon as very much second class citizens. And then a widow was someone without financial and emotional support. She was kind of on her own, at the bottom rung of the social ladder. So here's Elijah. "Lord, I'm worried. I'm running out of food and water. Lifelessness is threatening me". "Okay," says the Lord, "I got a solution. Leave the country, go to a foreign land you know nothing about, and while you're there visit with a widow, and she's going to feed you".

What, are you joking? What's God up to here, everybody? I think what he's very often up to, summoning us out of our comfort zone, inviting us to trust in his providence, following not our own instincts, not our own projects and plans, but his project and plan for us. When you're in these lifeless times, be attentive to the people God is sending to you. Be attentive to the people to whom God has sent you. It's not your life and your projects, but God's project for you. Think too, everybody, how often in the Bible the great heroes of salvation history are called out of their comfort zone. Moses is a prime example, called out of Egypt into the desert, but time and again, it's the summons to trust.

So, Elijah makes his way to Zarephath and the widow. So everything I've said to this point is an introduction to our reading for today. That's the setup for what we read at Mass. Listen. So Elijah comes upon the widow in her town. Like everybody else, she's suffering the effects of the famine. And mind you, we're in ancient times. There was no social means of support. There were no government programs to help the poor, especially if you're a widow and you're running out of food and water. I mean, you're in pretty desperate straits, and that's the shape that she's in.

Well, the prophet, trusting in God's command, goes up to her and he says, "Look, I need a drink of water and a morsel of bread". And here's her response: "As the LORD, your God, lives, I have nothing baked; only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug". She's down to her last food, her last resources. And then, just to rub it in, she specifies, "You know what I'm doing? I'm going right now to gather some sticks to prepare a fire and I'll make a meal for my son and myself, and then we're going to die". In other words, she's at the absolute, absolute, total limit of her resources. And Elijah must be thinking, "This is the woman to whom I've been sent to solve my problem of starvation"? This is the most unlikely, crazy solution you could imagine. But, he trusts.

Again, everyone, especially those who are suffering right now, those who are going through a rough time, a time of drought, to trust in the Lord's providence, the people to whom he sends you, the people he sends to you, to trust. And so Elijah, hoping against hope you might say, almost in a wild fantasy, he says, "Go and do as you propose. But first bring me a little cake". Well, I've always felt that line is something almost out of Mel Brooks. There's something very Jewish in its humor. Imagine the woman saying, "Look, buddy, I just told you, I'm dying here. We're making one more meal and then I'm going to die. And you're asking me to make you a cake"?

We have these two desperate people meeting: Elijah, who's got nothing, sent to the widow, who has next to nothing; but at that decisive moment, trusting in what the Lord has called them to do, he asks her to give. And now this is the spiritual fulcrum, everybody. This is where the story really turns. So she trusts. Okay. Okay. I'll do as the prophet asks, and she does prepare him this little cake. And then we hear marvelously that the oil and the flour do not run out. She gave away the very little she had and then found her resources multiplied. Yes, enough food now to sustain her and her son and the prophet.

Why did it work? Because at the moment of truth, both these desperate people trusted in the Lord, and with Elijah's prompting the widow of Zarephath stumbled upon, I've often talked about it, what John Paul II called the law of the gift. You want to sum up this story spiritually, it's right here. Your being increases in the measure that you give it away. Put that on your screen saver, put that on your refrigerator. Live by it. Your being increases in the measure that you give it away. Every instinct in us says, "No, no. Take things to yourself, hang onto them, hoard them, keep them, make sure you've got enough. People want some, keep them at bay. That's your possession".

But that runs counter to the basic logic of the universe, because the Creator of the universe is love. We say, God is love. Love isn't something God does from time to time. It's not one of God's attributes. It's what God is right through. Love therefore, is the secret. Love is the great mystery, the hidden truth of all things. And the way it works is the more you give of your life, that's what love means, to will the good of the other, the more the divine grace increases in you.

This little story, everybody, it's a secret of all the saints. Saints are all different, personality, background, everything, but they're all the same in this basic regard. They've all understood the law of the gift. And that's why they become sources of life. You see how this story is so fascinating. Both of these people are in desperate straits. The sources of life have dried up. How do you open up those sources? Is you give even the little that you have, and you'll find it increasing in you thirty, sixty, and one-hundred-fold, as Jesus put it. So, spiritual lessons. When you find yourself, maybe some of you right now, in a time of drought and famine, when the sources of life seem to have dried up, trust in the Lord.

Trust in his providence. Don't give up. Listen by means of the things that happen to you, the people you meet; listen to what he's telling you. Be attentive, especially to the people he sends your way, the people to whom he sends you by the circumstances of your life. And then, when you're in your greatest distress, give in love even the little that you have. And you're going to find that the resources don't dry up. In fact, they multiply. Again, maybe especially those who are going through a dry time. I want you to hold in your mind's eye now these two figures, Elijah and the widow, and how together they discover the law of the gift. And God bless you.
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