1673) What Shall I Give? (part two of four)

I Kings 17:1-16  —  Now Elijah… said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.  You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”

So he did what the Lord had told him.  He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there.  The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land.  Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there.  I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.”  So he went to Zarephath.  When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks.  He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?”  As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug.  I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid.  Go home and do as you have said.  But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.  For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

She went away and did as Elijah had told her.  So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.  For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.

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     (…continued)  This story is similar to the story in yesterday’s meditation.  Both tell the story of a poor widow who is generous with all that she has left in the world.  And this story, like the story from Mark 12, is difficult to apply to our own lives in any direct way.  But we don’t have to feel the need to squeeze some kind of stewardship principle out of them.  We should simply hear these stories and remember them, and perhaps the Holy Spirit will use the examples of these two women to inspire us to be more generous and more trusting in our own very different situations.

     This poor widow of Zarephath is in a desperate situation.  There is a famine in the land and she’s in down to her last bit of food.  She is about to go home and make a last meal for her and her son, and then they would starve to death.  Then, Elijah appears out of nowhere and asks her for something to eat.  She politely tells him that she has nothing, and is on the brink of starvation.

     “Don’t be afraid,” said Elijah, “go home and make that bread; but then split it three ways, and bring me some.”  He then tells her to trust God, and everything will be all right.  And the woman, who has never seen Elijah before, does as he says because he speaks in the name of the Lord.  She shares her last bit of food– and then the miracle begins to happen.  From then on the flour jar never goes empty and the jar of oil never runs dry, and they all have plenty to eat.

     So what does that mean for us?  Does it mean that if you take a chance and serve the Lord you will never be disappointed and you will always be provided for?  It can’t mean that.  There has been too much evidence to the contrary over the years.  There have been many missionaries who have trusted God and left everything to obey the Lord’s command to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, only to find themselves starving to death, dying from disease, or killed.  Our trust in God will not be disappointed in eternity, but here on earth it is a more complicated matter to figure out how it is that God takes care of us.

     So again, there are no easy applications of this Bible story.  It is just another incredible story of serving God with everything, and then trusting themselves to God’s care.

     In both stories, there is only a small gift– two small coins in one, a small cake of bread in the other.  But both stories were recorded in the pages of God’s Word, and are thus remembered and retold for all time as examples of giving of one’s all to the Lord and trusting Him for the future, come what may. 

     These two stories reminded me of two other stories– one is another story of great generosity and self-sacrifice, and, the other a story of a lack of generosity.  Both stones take place during World War II in Japanese prison camps.  (continued…)

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Almighty God, judge of us all, you have placed in our hands the wealth we call our own.  Give us such wisdom by your Spirit that our possessions may not be a curse in our lives, but an instrument for blessing, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.    

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, Augsburg Publishing House