Here’s a catechetical question for you, dear Children of Light.
We hear of the resurrections of the sons of the Widow of Zarephath this morning and of the Widow of Nain.
The question is: Are these First Article Gifts or Third?
This isn’t an obscure question. It should be fundamental to us.
It should occupy our thoughts and speaking, that it may determine our choices and our living, especially for the sake of our children.
The Widow of Zarephath had a son. We heard how the Word of the Lord rescued them both.
But the really big deal about last Sunday’s Old Testament reading was not that the bread and oil did not run out and that her son and she did not kick the bucket when they thought they would.
That was a FIRST Article Gift. The THIRD Article Gift was the main thing, namely, that God gave her the Holy Spirit so that she believed His Word and lived according to it.
The FIRST Article Gifts of bread that kept feeding them and oil that didn’t run out, even those point us toward the SECOND Article Gifts of life and salvation in God’s Son, Christ Jesus, Who is our Daily and Eternal Bread of Life Come Down from Heaven, in Whom we have the Unending Oil of Gladness.
Why do I ask about and speak of this today? Because what the Lord GAVE the woman and her son last Sunday, we hear Him TAKE AWAY this morning!
After this, the son of the woman became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath in him.
If it was baffling that God should send the prophet to a poor woman to feed, who was about to die, how much more baffling that, having saved them, God would then permit her son to die!
It baffles the woman, and that breaking of sticks moment I mentioned last Sunday finally comes for her, doesn’t it?
“What have you against me, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son?”
It’s a bitter accusation from a woman grief-stricken.
She feels as if she’s being punished for her sin.
Ever feel that way? Why is this happening to me? What have I done? This isn’t fair! Why should I even bother coming to church or being a Christian, when THIS is how God treats me?!
What has changed for this woman? She still has the Word and Ministry of God in her midst. She has only lost her son!
Dear Christian, this is a hard question, but an important one.
Is that son a FIRST Article Gift or a Second or Third one?
Before I answer, let me be clear. First Article Gifts are gifts from GOD! They are GOOD Gifts, as are all gifts that come down from the Father of Lights. They enrich our lives and are meant for us to cherish. Body and soul, eyes, ears, and all of my members, my reason and all of my senses . . .Clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have.
The widow’s son was a wonderful First Article Gift.
Would this woman have rather had the Word and Ministry of God or her son? You know the answer to that!
Our love of First Article Gifts is powerful. Look how we pursue them over the Word of God!
We are talking of the First Commandment, aren’t we? Having no other gods, and so we should fear, love and trust in GOD above all things!
But that’s hard when God is in the house and He lets your little boy die, isn’t it? It’s hard when being a Christian doesn’t mean that you have all your earthly needs taken care of as you want. You still have money problems, job problems, people problems. You still have health concerns. Nothing seems to be getting any better – and by that we mean FIRST Article things!
SECOND and THIRD Article things never fail us!
In Christ, you will always have a God Who loves you!
You have a God and Father Who gave you His Son!
You have that Son Who laid His life down for you!
You have the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus!
You have Him seated at the right hand of the Father interceding for you and the promise that He will come again to take you home!
You also have the Holy Spirit Who not only CALLED you by the Gospel and enlightened you with His Gifts of Water and Word, but Who constantly IS CALLING you – with the whole Church – through the Ministry of Word and Sacrament and KEEPING you with Jesus Christ in the One True Faith. By that Holy Spirit, you have the forgiveness of sins and the promise of the resurrection of the body when Christ comes again in glory!
So, are the resurrections we hear of this morning – the raising of the sons of the Widows of Zarephath and Nain – are they First Article Gifts or Third? They are First Article Gifts, aren’t they? God is caring for these women by returning their sons to them, but He doesn’t do that for everyone. He didn’t do that for every grieving mother even back then! Mary did not have HER Son returned to her to help around the house in Joseph’s absence, as the Widow of Nain got her son back. Mary would have her Son returned in the Resurrection of Easter! But not to help around the house, but to help HER in HIS House, through Word and Sacrament! Christ’s resurrection is Eternal!
The boys of Zarephath and Nain still await that resurrection, along with their widowed mothers, who had their boys returned for a little while, to comfort and care for them, before they were all laid down into the grave until Christ comes again. SECOND and THIRD Article Gifts sustain them even now!
Do you see? First Article Gifts wear out. Second and Third do not!
I say this, because of the danger we all face of letting go Second and Third Article Gifts for the sake of the First.
Maybe we have to work on Sundays. Maybe we tell the boss it’s OK. We don’t mind. We need money. We think we can do without the Word and Ministry of Christ. Nothing bad happens when we do without it, but when we have no money? No gas, no this or that, no fun with friends. No food! We’ll DIE without money!
Dear Christian, you’ll die even WITH money!
Steve Jobs had money. Lots of it! He still died. He also had a pastor once. A Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor, who taught him, confirmed him, communed him at God’s altar. What happened? Nothing earth-shaking. We see it all the time. His parents saw a First Article Gift in him, and they nurtured it. Maybe there were special camps they sent him to. The best schools. Whatever his First Article needs were, they provided. And that’s not bad! GOD’S the one who provided him his genius and raw talent, even his success! But not so that Second and Third Article Gifts are ignored! Not so that First Article Gifts leave us dying with money, fame, a world that heralds our passing, but with no pastor to bury us a Child of Light who lived – and died – in communion with Christ!
Dear parents, what are you willing to provide YOUR children at the expense of God’s Second and Third Article Gifts? What would you be willing the world have through YOUR child’s genius, talent, accomplishments, success – at the expense of having no pastor to bury him or her as a Child of Light?
Christ didn’t die and rise, baptize, absolve and feed us so that we are lost in our pursuit of First Article Gifts. He provides His Second and Third Article Gifts so we are preserved and provided for especially when First Article Gifts finally fail. They will.
SOME Things will never fail, dear Christian, and THESE God provides to keep you and yours in the One True Faith – unto life everlasting! And they will!
In Jesus’ Name, Amen