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The Widow in Zarephath

1 Kings 17:8-14

 

Then the word of the Lord came to him: [9] ‘Get up, go to Zarephath that belongs to Sidon, and stay there. Look, I have commanded a woman who is a widow to provide for you there.’ [10] So Elijah got up and went to Zarephath. When he arrived at the city gate, there was a widow woman gathering wood. Elijah called to her and said, ‘Please bring me a little water in a cup and let me drink.’ [11] As she went to get it, he called to her and said, ‘Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand.’ [12] But she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I don’t have anything baked—only a handful of flour in the jar and a bit of oil in the jug. Just now, I am gathering a couple of sticks in order to go prepare it for myself and my son so we can eat it and die.’ [13] Then Elijah said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid; go and do as you have said. Only make me a small loaf from it and bring it out to me. Afterwards, you may make some for yourself and your son, [14] for this is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘The flour jar will not become empty and the oil jug will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the surface of the land.’’ (HCSB)

 As most of you know, I lived in New Mexico for almost five years before moving to the Monterey Peninsula to become your pastor.  We have fond memories of our time in that state, and since we still own a home there, we often talk about the possibility of moving back there some day.  New Mexico is well-known for its beautiful vistas and its exquisite food.  Personally, I miss the trout streams and the minor league baseball.  What you may not know about the state is that it is perennially ranked toward the bottom in most categories among the 50 states.  New Mexicans have some of the worst roads, the poorest schools, and one of the lowest per capita incomes in the country. Yet, there is one very important category that the state ranks considerably higher in--according to the 2002 Generosity Index of the Catalogue of Philanthropy, New Mexico ranks 19th in generosity or charitable giving.  Kelli Cooper, communication director for the Albuquerque Community Foundation says the results are amazing. She says, “New Mexico’s generosity index for all income tax returns is 19th nationally, with an average charitable giving level of $2,768 (per taxpayer).” (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

 This story teaches me a couple things about giving.  First, giving is not an investment plan.  There is no guarantee that you will get more money if you give more money.  If that were so, then the level of income in New Mexico would have risen substantially because of the level of generosity in the state.  Please hear me say this, if you don’t, you could very easily misunderstand something I will say toward the end of this message.

 Second, generosity isn’t always connected with physical prosperity.  The most generous people are often those who have the least to give.  2 Corinthians 8: 1-2 says “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overcoming joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” (NIV)

 The widow in our text today exemplifies the spirit of 2 Corinthians 8:2—she gave out of her deep poverty.  The famine made it rough on everyone, but it was especially hard on widows.  This woman wasn’t living on a fixed income—her income was broken.  She was probably fairly young since she was still caring for a son.  Her plans were to take the little bit of flour and oil she had and make one last meal before they succumbed to the inevitable power of the famine. 

 I wonder if she laughed or if she cried when Elijah asked for some food.  Certainly it was an ironic situation.  I wouldn’t have blamed her a bit if she laughed.  It wasn’t just an ironic situation, it was also sad.  No one could criticize her if she cried.

 What would you have done if you were her?  Would you have offered to share the little you had with the hungry prophet, or would you have turned him away?

 What you have done if you were Elijah?  Would you have taken “no” for an answer and walked away, or would you have pressed her further? 

 Really, this was a moment of truth for him and for her.  It would have been easy for Elijah to leave and find food elsewhere, or even to rally the neighbors to take some food to the woman.   Remember Jesus’ words to his disciples after the widow gave her two mites?  Mark 12:43-44 says, “So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; [44] for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.’” (NKJV)  He commented on her great faith and generosity, but He didn’t give the money back to her.  How many of you are comfortable with Jesus taking the last dime this poor widow had?  How do you feel about Elijah asking for the widow to make a meal for him before she made a final meal for her family?

 How you answer those questions will tell you a lot about what you really believe about God’s ability to and willingness to provide for His people. 

 Most of us don’t ever articulate it, but many of us are in a celestial standoff with God.  We say, “First, you provide for my needs I will give to your kingdom work.”  And God says back, “I will provide for your needs, but first, you give to my kingdom work.”

 The reason I know about it, is because I’ve had this celestial standoff with God.  Susan and I have known deep poverty.  During the early days of our marriage, everything we made was going to pay for Seminary and the new baby; we had very little left over for luxuries like food.  We weren't economically challenged. We were flat broke. We were sharing a small apartment with several hundred cockroaches and often were only able to eat a partial meal each day. Times were tough. 

 The church I was pastoring was growing, but most of the new money was going into programs and for the new building we were planning. I took on some side jobs teaching Speech at a Christian school and substituting in the public school system on days I wasn’t in Seminary, but we needed divine intervention. We were way over our heads. 

 When I prayed about our situation, I kept hearing God say the same thing-"increase your giving." "You've got to be kidding," I'd respond, "increase our giving? You don't understand, we need more money, not less." 

 We were already tithers, giving 10% of our income to the Lord, but now He was asking us to take a step of faith and increase our giving to tithe off our need, not our income. When I put a pencil to the paper, I calculated that we needed $12,000.00 more a year to make it, which meant, if we were to tithe on our need, we'd have to start giving an additional $100.00 a month. 

 Somehow we did it. Don't ask me how; I'm not an economist, all I know is we made it happen. Giving stopped being routine for us, it became an expression of faith. "God, this doesn't make any sense to me, but I feel like you've told me to do it, so here is our tithe on our need, not our income." I'd pray as I wrote out the check. 

 We didn't talk about it to anyone, we just did it. The next year the church gave us a substantial raise. More than I'd ever gotten before or since. The amount? You guessed it. To the penny! 

 God was faithful to us.  God was faithful to this widow also.  Look at verses 15-16, “So she proceeded to do according to the word of Elijah. She and he and her household ate for many days. [16] The flour jar did not become empty, and the oil jug did not run dry, according to the word of the Lord He had spoken through Elijah.” [HCSB]

 It all comes down to trust.  Do you trust in God to provide for your needs, or do you think He is incapable of doing so and that you have to do it yourself?

 My clear testimony is this; we have always been faithful to give a tithe or more to the local church where we were members.  And God has always provided for our needs.  There have been times when we didn’t live in abundance, and times when we went to bed hungry.  Even today, there are times we have to say “no” to a desire or a want, but He’s always cared for our needs. 

 Here’s the bottom line.  If given the choice between living the “American Dream” or the “Vision of the Kingdom of God,” which will you choose? 

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