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The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker

The Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker is pastor/head of staff of United Presbyterian Church in Peoria, IL

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United Presbyterian Church, Peoria, IL


Think of the Ravens

March 31, 2015

We need to think of the ravens.

Ravens were the buzzards of the Biblical world, so it is no surprise that Ravens aren’t thought highly of in Scripture. It’s a raven that Noah first sends out to search for dry land but the raven chooses not to return.

Psalm 147 and Job 38 suggest that ravens leave their young crying for food and shirk the duties of parenting. In Leviticus 11:15, ravens head the list of “detestable birds” and God’s people are forbidden to eat them.  In proverbs 30:17 the raven is depicted as a sadistic creature, gouging out the eyes of its victims.

Scripture tells us that ravens are an “abomination.” They are unclean and unfit to be in our presence. We do not eat them, we do not use them, and we do not aspire to be like them. And yet… God uses ravens to feed his prophet in the midst of a drought.

When Elijah is on the run from King Ahab, he hides at the Wadi Cherith and God commands the ravens to feed him (1 Kings 17:4). The ravens bring God’s prophet bread and meat. God uses what we believe is unclean and unfit, to sustain God’s chosen prophet. Perhaps we should think of the ravens.

Jesus thinks of the ravens. Despite all the Scriptural disdain for ravens, Jesus considers them and asks us to do the same in Luke 12:24. “Consider the ravens: their neither sow nor reap; they have neither storehouse nor barn; yet God feeds them.” God serves, cares for, and feeds that which we consider an abomination. God uses the ravens as an example of God’s gracious provision.

If it was up to us, we might ignore the ravens completely and have nothing to do with them, but they are loved enough to be fed by God and blessed enough to be used by God to feed. Perhaps we should think of the ravens. We should think of a lot more than the ravens.

God consistently uses what we believe to be less than, different, unworthy, unclean, sinful, and cursed to not only be a part of God’s community, but to sustain God’s people and participate in their salvation.

Left-handed people were considered cursed, unnatural, and sinister, but God raised up a left-handed man named Ehud to deliver Israel (Judges 3:15). Throughout the book of Judges, God relies on unlikely delivers from the son of a Canaanite Goddess named Shamgar, to a woman named Deborah, to a young boy named Gideon who is from the weakest tribe and the least in his family.

The Israelites are supposed to hate the Moabites and have nothing to do with them, but God brings a Moabite woman named Ruth into the family of Israel and the lineage of Jesus (Matthew 1:5). God also includes a harlot named Rahab in the genealogy of the Messiah, despite a plethora of Scriptural admonitions against prostitutes.

Tax collectors and zealots were among Jesus’ followers who proclaimed the Gospel message to the world. And when Jesus spoke about what it meant to serve our neighbors he told the story about a Samaritan helping a Jewish man. Most of the “faithful” Jews would have refused to serve a Samaritan for religious reasons.

Paul writes, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'" (Galatians 3:13). Cursed: an abomination, looked down upon, different. The one hung on an ugly and despised old rugged cross is the one took the form of a servant, and came not to be served, but to serve sinful, unclean, ungrateful rebels and ravens.

He does not refuse us service when we reach out to grab the hem of his robe. He does not refuse us service when we come begging from scraps like a dog because we are not of his people. He does not refuse us service when we beg him to remember us in His Kingdom even while we hang for our crimes.

He does not refuse us service though we refuse him time and time again. He does not refuse to feed us at the table. He does not refuse to wash us clean in the font. He does not refuse us entry into his family or his house or his Kingdom. Who would ever have thought the one who feeds us at Table  with the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation, is one the Bible says was cursed.  Maybe Elijah… Maybe us if we think of the ravens after all.

We are all ravens, but God feeds us, and God uses us to feed and serve all of God’s people. Think of the ravens and thank God for them.

(I first learned to think of the ravens several years ago from a sermon given by Jon Walton).


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