1 Kings 17:8-24
Beginning with Psalm 146, and then reflecting on the stories we have read today from 1 Kings and Luke’s Gospel, the amazing goodness of God is extremely evident. Our God is one who cares about the poor, the oppressed, and those who are vulnerable in our world. Remembering the ways that God has looked after us in our lowest moments can inspire us to respond by paying it forward — by sharing God’s goodness and love with anyone we meet who is struggling.
When I first read the story from 1 Kings about Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, the theme of generosity was what struck me about the text. But it wasn’t a story about a woman who had received so much from God that she responded with grateful generosity towards the hungry travelling prophet.
In fact, we have in this text, the story of a woman who has very little. She is a widow — no husband and no source of income. She has no bread — only a handful of meal and a little oil in a jug. Her problem is not that she hasn’t had time to shop or bake. No, she’s at the end of her supplies and she doesn’t anticipate getting any more. She has a son — but he’s likely too young to be of much help yet.
Her situation is so dire, and she’s so resigned to it that she’s planning for a last supper. She tells Elijah that she is gathering a couple of sticks so that she may go home and prepare a meagre meal for herself and her son. She says that they will eat it, and then they will die.
You’d think that a prophet of the Lord like Elijah would not be showing up at this woman’s door and asking for bread. You’d think that God would not be commanding this poor widow to feed him. But that is, in fact, what is happening.
Most of the time, we talk about our generosity and our giving as a response to God’s goodness to us. We think about the times when God and others (working as God’s hands and feet) have loved and supported us. And with thankful hearts, we seek to do the same for others. We pay it forward.
We offer our prayers for those who are hurting, as others once prayed for us in a time of trouble. We visit someone who is sick, giving thanks for those who came to us when we needed help. We become teachers and leaders and volunteers at camp, gratefully remembering the difference those programs once made in our young lives.
We don’t serve God with the expectation of getting something in return. We don’t offer our time, our money, or our talent with the thought that one day we’ll get paid back for it. We make our offerings out of gratitude for God’s love, for God’s revelation of Godself to us, for God’s working in our lives.
But sometimes, like the widow of Zarephath, we are called by God — or commanded by God, even — to give out of our poverty. I think of the person who keeps on making offerings to mission, even when he loses his job and has to sell his car. I think of the person who rushes to be with a suffering friend, despite the fact that her own heart has been devastated by a personal tragedy. I think of the person who gives her time and energy to children and youth programs, even though she feels totally unqualified to do so, and she never experienced anything like it when she was young.
I think of the person who gives himself completely to the work of God in the world — the one who teaches, who heals, who forgives, and who loves without ceasing. I think of the one who does not turn back, who does not give up, who perseveres till the end, though he is rejected and scorned and killed by those he came to love. He is the one whose way we are to follow.
We give thanks to God today for all those who give generously of their time, talent, and money in grateful thanks for all God’s goodness and love. But we especially give thanks to God for those who give out of their poverty… For those who give their time out of an already full schedule, for those who give their money out of a dwindling bank account, for those who give their talents out of inexperience or insecurity, for those who love with broken hearts, for those who serve with wounded hands, for those whose generosity does not fail, though they seem to have so little.
May God inspire us to acts of self-less generosity, and may we trust in God’s promise…
“The jar of meal will not be emptied
and the jug of oil will not fail
until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” Amen.