Rev. George Miller
1 Kings 17:8-16
Nov 11, 2012
(Sermon is done in character) Our nation appears to be at a stand still. People are divided over the president. The war over seas rages on. Gas is being rationed off and winter is upon us.
I’m afraid that here in Upstate New York Mother and I are feeling the brunt of it all.
My father bravely fought in the first World War. When he returned he and my mother married and moved here to start a new life for themselves.
They built this hotel with a dream and determination, believing that people would flock here in the fall to see the changing leaves, ski in the winter, get away in the spring and escape the scorching heat of the city in the summer.
And they were right, making their dream into a reality. They had my brother Tommy and then they had me. Then the dream began to sour when Dad died due to wounds he endured in battle.
But my mother is a brave woman and she pressed on, raising Tommy and I while maintaining the business.
She made sure we went to school and church, even if she was too busy with the daily running of the hotel to go herself.
Mom is a hard worker who did not a judge a single soul. It wasn’t unusual for us to have guests who were migrant workers from Mexico or black porters from the railway.
Mom didn’t care who you were or where you hailed from. “All men’s money is green and all men’s blood is red” is what she’d say.
For awhile things seemed like they’d be OK, then the war started. The war to end all wars they said.
Hitler was railing and Pearl Harbor was attacked and just like that everything seemed to change overnight.
Wanting to make our nation proud and to follow in the footsteps of our dearly departed father, Tommy and I immediately went down to enlist in the military.
Tommy got in right away. I was denied entrance for what they considered “unfortunate circumstances.”
Mother said perhaps it was for the best, so I could help her run the business. But I hated staying behind while Tommy and all the other brave men journeyed oversee.
At first it was an incredible time of unity. We all knew what we were fighting for. Then the reality settled in. This was not going to be a quick and easy war.
It would take time, years perhaps.
With most of the men gone, women flooded the workforce. You’d see them in factories, even pumping gas at the local station.
Almost overnight we went from a nation that produced consumer goods to one that produced war supplies.
By May 0f ’42, the prices on almost all our everyday goods were frozen, starting with sugar and coffee.
Soon, everything was being rationed off. Gas, tires, meat, silk, was limited. Cookbooks came out with recipes on how to deal with the food shortage.
With the enemy having control over 90% of rubber supplies, the President called upon us to help out anyway we can by contributing scrap rubber to be recycled: old tires, raincoats, garden hoses, bathing caps, you name it.
People were encouraged to carpool, only drive when necessary and stay below 35 MPH to conserve tires.
By the end of ‘42 half of car owners could only get 4 gallons of gas a week and had to prove they owned no more then 5 tires.
Those who were industrial workers could get 8 gallons. Doctors and preachers could get more. Truck drivers and members of Congress had an unlimited supply.
Know what that meant for Mother and I? Business began to dry up. Because of the war few people could afford a trip to the Catskills, nor make it here on 4 gallons of gas at 35 miles per hour.
Our thriving hotel began to dry up. Mother had to let go of most of her staff. There were those who stayed, only because they’d have no other place to go and having a place that was warm in winter was better then no home at all.
Things grew more difficult. Mother and I were used to finer things. Like this coat from Macy’s. But soon it became apparent that those days were long behind us.
Things wore out, they broke down, we made do. So even with the lining tore and buttons fallen off, I wear it without too much complaint.
I mean, how could we honestly complain? Tommy and all our other brave soldiers were oversee, defending our nation, fighting for the right cause.
Tommy would send us letters from wherever he was stationed: France, Italy. He’d include pictures of them on a warship or at a makeshift canteen or some pretty young girl sent in to entertain the troops.
We never let him know what was really happening over here; we’d write back saying everything was fine, keep up the good work.
His letters gave us the courage to go on; that and going to Sunday Service. With business down, Mother would join me at the old white church on the hill.
The pastor would tell us stories from the Bible meant to inspire us and keep our dreams alive.
Sometime it worked, liked when Rev. Whitaker told us the story about Elijah and the widow.
How she was once a well to do woman and her town fell onto hard times, so hard so had to go to the gates of the city to gather enough sticks to cook a meal.
How her ration of oil and flour had gotten so low she was sure it would be the last meal her and her son would eat.
How a stranger came into town seeking assistance, and though she herself thought she had too little to give, she discovered that in the Lord she did indeed have “enough.”
Though that story seemed far fetched, it was something we could relate to, and it gave us enough hope to press on, which is what we did.
Rationing began to affect every part of our life. Women’s clothing could not have hems or belts greater then two inches. Cuffs on sleeves were eliminated. Gone were nylon stockings.
That didn’t stop the American imagination. Mother and other women simply drew lines up the back of their legs to give the illusion of nylons.
30% of all cigarettes went to the soldiers. Due to the sugar shortage Coca Cola stopped producing soda.
Kids went around collecting scraps of metal, anything they could find: rakes, irons, bird cages.
Everywhere you went there were Victory Gardens being planted in the parks, at the schools. Which was fine, until winter set in.
Tommy wrote, Mom struggled, the business dwindled, and we wondered just how we would survive.
By 43 those ration book were a way of life, telling us what we could or could not buy with our own money. Everything was given points.
Canned spinach was 11 points, corn 14 and peas 16.
Canned grapefruit was 10 points, peaches were 21.
A can of soup was 10 ½ points, a bottle of grape juice was 15.
Each person only got about 48 points a month.
Meat, cheese and dairy were in short supply. And butter? Couldn’t get, so we would take oleo, which is white, and mix it with yellow food coloring to at least give the impression it was butter.
By 1945 we reached the point that we were ready to give up. Mother had nothing to her name. The hotel was falling into disrepair. Letters from Tommy stopped coming, we didn’t know what to do.
Mother literally felt like the widow forced to gather sticks outside the city.
That’s when Rev. Whitaker came to her with an idea: would she possibly consider using the hotel as a place for the homeless, the tired, the unemployed migrant workers and train porters to stay until the war ended?
It would not bring in any extra income, but it would provide a service that was badly needed.
Mother didn’t know what to do at first; she needed time to think.
Once she had lived during a time of milk and honey, now it seemed like a nightmare of rationed gas and worn out shoes.
She thought of the teachings from the Bible. How God watched over those in the wilderness, how Jesus called us to care for the lonely, the sick and poor.
She told Rev. Whitaker yes, and within a few days new life, and with it, a new spirit, entered into the nearly abandoned hotel.
Though no money came in, the rooms went back to being full and people pitched in to pull their weight.
Instead of sitting around doing nothing, they fixed the broken fence, they shoveled the snow, and they began to pool their resources.
I remember this one day, a new guy, someone I had never seen before, came in. Said his name was Joshua or something like that.
He spent time talking with my Mother; not sure what was being said but able to see it was making a difference.
Then he suggested to my Mother that perhaps what they needed to have that night was a party, a time to get things off their mind.
“A party?” she asked. “With what? All I have left until Saturday night is a loaf of bread and a can of green beans.”
“That will be enough,” said Joshua. “I have a bottle of juice and a serving of canned salmon. If you have the party I’ll make sure there will be enough for everyone.”
Mother thought he was crazy, but she was past the point of caring anymore. We all were.
“Besides,” she said to me, “Who’s to say he’s not Elijah come into town?”
“Or Jesus,” I thought to myself.
That night we had everyone staying at the hotel down in the dining room. The radio was on, playing songs like “PS I love You” and “God Bless America.”
And let me tell you: a miracle occurred. Though we were all badly down on our luck, together it turned out we had enough.
This one had coffee; this one had sugar to sweeten it up. This one had tomatoes while that one had meat to go in a stew. This one had pineapple while that one had fruit cocktail and they stirred it all up.
This guy had a few smokes, this one had some left over whiskey, this one had a fresh pair of nylons (how I did not know, nor did any of us ask).
We shared stories about victories won oversees; we sung patriotic tunes and church hymns that kept our dreams alive.
That night we all ate like we had not eaten for weeks, even months. And there was enough left over to feed us the next day and the day after, and when the new ration books came out we learned how to work together.
Funny thing is that we never did see Joshua again after that night. Mother and I kind of joke, saying that perhaps he was our Elijah who had come into town.
Or better yet, perhaps he was indeed our Jesus who had gathered us together to break bread and share fish.
Whatever it was, it felt like a bit of heaven broken into our wintry lives.
Not to say that things have gotten that much better.
The war still rages on with no end in sight. Gas rationing is still the reality of the land. And we have yet to receive word from Tommy or know if he’s OK or not.
Our current reality is reshaping my views of the Bible. That even though some of the stories seem far fetched and untrue, I’d rather believe in their dream then to give up in defeat and live a nightmare.
That moments like these can create a space for miracles to take place.
Is it possible that even during tough times, while our earthly eyes only see an oil jar near empty, God’s eyes see a vessel overflowing with possibilities if we learn how to work in partnership with God and others for the sake of all people?
Till the day we all live in peace, and study war no more, let us say “Amen” and “amen.”