Devotional Message: The 25th Sunday after Pentecost (11/11/2018)

Lessons

1st Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146 (8)
Hebrews 9:24-28
St. Mark 12:38-44

Continuous
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm 127

Prayer of the Day

O God, you show forth your almighty power chiefly by reaching out to us in mercy. Grant us the fullness of your grace, strengthen our trust in your promises, and bring all the world to share in the treasures that come through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

Text for This Sunday

17.8 Then the word of the Lord came to [Elijah], saying, 9 “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” 11 As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” 13 Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: 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.” 15 She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

1st Kings 17:8-16, New Revised Standard Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: Generosity and Compassion and God’s Kingdom

There were few who ruled in Ancient Israel worse than King Ahab and his pagan wife, Jezebel. In the previous chapter of 1st Kings we read: “Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.” [17:33] It fell to God’s prophet, Elijah, to speak a word of challenge to this king gone bad. 

There are few realities more dangerous than an unrighteous ruler with significant power, and so immediately after declaring to the king that he was about to be punished by a great drought, Elijah fled for his life. God directed him to the Wadi Cherith, east of the Jordan, where ravens brought him meat and bread, and he drank from the wadi.

In time, even the wadi dried up, so God sent Elijah to Zaraphath, in search of a widow. He found her immediately, but the news was not good. She and her son were starving. She had run out of food. She had run out of hope. She was gathering sticks to make a fire, with plans to make one last meager meal before she and her son died.

Here is where the story takes a dramatic turn. Elijah may have offered to conjure up some food for them; after all, he did quite well for a time with the ravens. He may have offered her words of comfort and hope; after all, God had cared for him in his time of need, wouldn’t she receive the same support? Instead, he instructed her to put away her fear and feed him first. This widow, with not even enough to sustain her son and herself; Elijah asked her to feed him first.

It is an extraordinary request. And an even more extraordinary response. She actually did it! She made a cake and brought it to him. And what happened? “She as well as he and her household ate for many days.”

This desperate widow in Zaraphath had every reason to deny Elijah’s request. She had every reason to claim that resources were scarce — there was not even enough even for her and her son — there certainly wasn’t enough to share with someone else. But rather than consider this situation from a perspective of scarcity, she chose, instead, to think in terms of abundance. Like the widow in this week’s Gospel lesson, despite the fact that she had very little, she was generous with what she had, and as Elijah had predicted, they all did just fine.

That’s how generous people think. And that’s how generosity works. When people are captured by the spirit of generosity, it changes the way they think. They no longer see only the limits: they begin to see the possibilities. They begin to consider that there is enough. They begin to trust in the goodness of God.

This week at Saint Peter we’ll be talking about our plans to be generous as a faith community in 2019. We certainly could claim that these are challenging and uncertain times, and that it might make sense to be measured, careful and modest about the ways we reach out to address needs beyond ourselves. But perhaps these two widows would advise us otherwise. Certainly Elijah and Jesus would. It is, after all, what it means to love our neighbor every bit as much as we love ourselves. And this kind of love, Jesus says, is close to the heart of the kingdom of God.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What reasons did this widow have to ignore Elijah’s request that she make him some food?

  2. Why might she have decided, instead, to do what he asked her to do?

  3. What does this story teach us about generosity, and caring for others who are in need?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. Do I think of my own situation in terms of scarcity or abundance?

  2. Do I think of my congregation’s future in terms of scarcity or abundance?

  3. What needs do I sense God calling me to address in the world that surrounds me today?