Sermon 6.05.16—Who’s Filling the Jar? (1 Kings 17:8-16)
The Bible speaks quite a bit about generosity. Most of us are familiar with sayings like “God loves a cheerful giver.” and “It is better to give than to receive.” We know God wants us to be generous, but usually, we tend to think of it as a kind of repayment to God. Well, God has blessed me, so out of my abundance I should give back. And that is absolutely correct. But there’s more to it than that.
What if the reason God blessed you is so you can give?
The widow in our story today probably would not have considered herself very blessed by God. We know that, somehow, God has “instructed” the widow to feed Elijah before he ever arrives in her village. But we also know she and her son only have a little oil and flour left. And she tells Elijah that they will share one more meal together and then die. Things certainly are bleak for her—if there is ever a good excuse for not giving, she has it. So when Elijah tells her, “Don’t be afraid! Make a little bread for me first, then use what’s left for you and your son. There will always be flour and oil left in your containers” I would imagine she is pretty incredulous. And yet, she does as Elijah instructs.
Now, we don’t know if she followed Elijah’s instructions because she believed him, or if it’s simply because she had given up already, so it didn’t matter to her that she was giving away her last meal. But maybe, her attitude was kind of like ours when we play the lottery—I know I’m not going to win, but I’ll buy a ticket (or 10) just in case… I would expect that she probably was thinking, “Oh sure, Elijah, I’ll never run out of oil and flour. But just in case that’s true…” Whatever her motivation, she obeys Elijah, and they have enough to eat for as long as they need.
Have you ever had an experience like that? Where you gave of yourself to someone else, even though it meant a sacrifice for you, but then miraculously, everything worked out?
When I was in college, there was a girl who lived on my hall, and she didn’t really have very many friends. She was socially awkward and her clothes and her room were always dirty. But we knew each other through a couple classes, and I would always make a point to say hello to her.
Well, one day, she needed a haircut. She didn’t have a car, and the salon was easily two miles from campus. And it was raining. I had a huge assignment that I needed to work on for one of my classes, but I knew I was really her only hope of getting to the salon, so I offered to drive her. (Reluctantly, I might add. I was pretty internally grumpy the whole time.) When we got home, I sat down at my computer to find an email that my class was cancelled for the rest of the week, and our assignment would be due on Monday.
Now, I’m not saying that God is some kind of vending machine, where you input good works and you receive a blessing in return. In fact, there are several places in the New Testament where Jesus explicitly tells his disciples not to do good deeds expecting a reward. But what happened with me, and with the widow in our story, was that we heard God’s leading to do something to help another person, even at a cost to ourselves. And when we were obedient to God through those acts of giving and hospitality, our greatest needs were met.
God calls us to generosity and charity and hospitality. But God doesn’t expect us to wait until we have enough for ourselves before we help others. Like the widow, God asks us to care for one another as an act of faith. To meet the needs of those in our midst, even when it seems like we might not have enough.
Maybe it’s your finances that scare you the most. But maybe it’s your time that you are protecting. Maybe it’s your plans that you are too nervous to risk. Maybe it’s knowledge or skills that you hesitate to share. What are you afraid to give to God?
Have you, like the widow, heard God’s calling to do something for someone else, but you’ve been rationalizing your way out of it? “Not that, God. If I give that I won’t have enough for myself and my family.”
The world’s message of truth tells us that we take care of our own first. It tells us to share out of what we have left over. The pattern of the world is fear and doubt and uncertainty. But God’s truth is found in the sacrifice of Jesus, who was obedient even to death. God’s truth is found in the willingness of God the Father, who sent the Son, his Son, to die. God’s truth calls us out in the midst of storms. It’s the truth that tells us to pick up our cross and follow. But God’s truth also reminds us that we are beloved children of God, and that God wants good things for us.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, God knows your needs already. But God is asking you to open your hands, even if it means you might drop what you have been clinging to so tightly. God wants you to open your hands, that you might receive God’s blessing.
Will you go where God is calling you? Will you risk yourself in this moment, that you might gain something eternal? Will you place your trust in God, knowing that God fills jars with oil?