1 Kings 17:1-16
Stewardship and All Saints
Elizabeth M. Deibert

If you read your church email, you already know that today is Reformation Sunday, the anniversary of Martin Luther’s protest against the abusive sale of indulgences. He never intended to split the Church, only meant to challenge the abuse of power in the church. And here we are, almost 500 years later, still divided but growing in Christian unity. Sadly, we still have power-crazed prosperity-Gospel preachers (usually mega-church Protestants and tv evangelists) taking advantage of people by promising spiritual blessings for monetary giving, remarkably similar to the abuse of indulgences.

Today is also all Hallows Eve, so we will give thanks for all the saints who are near and dear to us in our prayers later in the service. But that’s not all. It is our day of dedication, as we give thanks to God for our new ministry center. And tonight on Halloween, it will be obvious that we live in the land of plenty, as most children in this country will go home with enough candy tonight to last until Christmas, when their stockings will be filled with enough candy to last until Valentine’s Day when they will receive enough chocolate to last until Easter, when the candy eggs and bunnies will not be completely consumed until the end of school parties, and then there’s the incredibly long wait from early June until end of October again.

We have lived in the land of plenty for so long, it is difficult for us to relate to today’s story from the first Book of Kings. This is a story of drought and famine, of a prophet, a widow, and her son and the remarkable trust in God, which allows them to live on one cup of flour and a little oil. And though we cannot relate to the specific details of such a story of hunger, the concepts of scarcity and plenty, we can appreciate.

And as we view this beautiful field of wheat, I just wish there were some way we could calm ourselves down at these moments of holiday excess. We will spend 1 billion on adult costumes and close to that on kids’ costumes. We’ll spend twice that much on Halloween candy – nearly 2 billion. We’ll spend 1.6 billion on Halloween decorations and 0.2 billion on pet costumes. That’s close to six billion dollars on the holiday, an average of 66 dollars per person. Our country’s spending on Halloween is greater than the gross domestic product of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now sure, it is okay to have a little fun, but when our fun and games for one holiday costs more than the entire GDP of a country, then maybe something is wrong.

What do we do to change it? We can talk about it. We adjust our ways to make sure we are not building the glitz of this holiday. Don’t outdo your neighbors, underdo than your neighbors. We can offer an alternative activity like collecting cans for the hungry, and as we approach our other excessive holiday, Christmas, we look into Alternative Gifts, as Betty will describe later in our service. But it is not just the holiday excess, as I said last week, there is the daily 3-dollar latte, or lunch out, which seems like nothing, but if purchased daily, costs you more than $1000/year. Buy your own latte machine, make a sandwich and save some money. If you stopped to count your discretionary spending, you’d be shocked at what you waste.

But for now, hear the story of Elijah and the Widow and the Boy. Hear how in deep trust in God, scarcity becomes plenty enough to get by.

1 Kings 17:1-16

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word." 2 The word of the LORD came to him, saying, 3 "Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there."

5 So he went and did according to the word of the LORD; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. 7 But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to him, 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.

So Elijah, the prophet was sent by the Lord to Ahab, the not so faithful King, to tell him that there would be drought and famine in the land because the people were caught up in deadly sins – greed among them. For three years and six months there would be no rain. The fields would be dry, grain would not grow, fruit-trees would not bear fruit, the cattle and the people would have little water and little food and there would be great distress. Elijah spoke his message and then hid as the Lord told him to do by the brook Cherith, which was near the Jordan.

There is a brook there now running in a deep wild gorge which is often thought of as Elijah's hiding-place. There he drank of the brook, and each morning and evening the ravens brought him bread and meat, out of character for ravens. When after a time the brook dried up the Lord sent Elijah across the country to a little town called Zarephath on the seashore. And there he finds the widow and her son and he asks for bread. And he does so without saying please I might add. How is the widow to know that he is a man of God? And that he is going to save her son from death later in the story, the part we did not read from chapter 17. So this saintly widow says, I have barely enough to keep my son and myself alive, and you want me to share with you? But Elijah is confident in this word from the Lord, confident enough to insist on making her do something that seems very risky. I don’t think I’d have that much confidence to demand from the poor, but maybe I would if I had ever been as hungry as Elijah.

Though we are far better off than the widow of Zarephath and her son with one cup of flour and a little bit of olive oil, we feel the crunch of our day. We’re no where close to being without the basics, but we think jobs and money are scarce. We sometimes feel in this depressed economy that we will not have enough. Our 401Ks are now 201Ks. Everywhere we turn jobs are being lost. Homes worth two-thirds what we paid for them. Uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty. But through the prophet Elijah, we hear the message, that what you have will be enough. You will not run short if you share, as God calls you to share. God promises to provide.

You see what we learn from those who have really experienced scarcity? We learn to trust God. Those who have little have to trust God on a daily basis. Give us this day our daily bread. Those who have much tend to secure themselves with the wealth they have. But the Bible teaches us over and over again that our real security is in the God we trust.

So it is widows, the poorest people of Bible times, who teach us the most. The widow who gave her last two coins is a saint because she trusted God to provide her with enough to live on, so she gave away her last mite. The widow of Zarephath whose has a son to feed, who is worried about hunger, starvation, but she shares. She too is a saint.

And Jesus might also tell us that Jody Richards is a saint. When Jody saw a homeless man begging outside a downtown McDonald's, he bought the man a burger. There's nothing unusual about that, except that Richards is homeless, too, and the dollar menu burger was an big chunk of the $9.50 he had in his savings in his pocket. In a 2007 survey of consumer expenditure in the US, we see that the poorest fifth of America's households contributed an average of 4.3 percent of their incomes to charitable organizations while the richest fifth gave at less than half that rate, 2.1 percent. What's more, the generosity of the poor declines less in hard times than the generosity of richer givers does.

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It is an issue of trusting God to provide. But how do you trust God to provide if you have never really had to trust God to provide? How do you trust, if you have always been able to take care of yourself? If you have always had plenty. Trust is like anything else – being good at it takes practice. Well, I’m guessing that if Elijah or Jesus were here, they would say you have give away enough to feel nervous to practice your trust. That’s what the widow of Zarephath did. She shared enough to be nervous that she and her son would not make it. I bet many of you are anxious too. But it is my job as your spiritual leader to reassure you that God will provide everything you need.

So I will be bold like Elijah and challenge you to be generous to the point of nervousness. If your gift makes you anxious, you will have an opportunity to grow in your trust in God and to develop better savings habits and spending control. If your gift is logical and makes good sense on a budgetary page, then you may not have dared enough.

God is sovereign and will indeed take care of you. I’m not promising more answers to your prayers or more rewards in heaven or on earth, but I am saying that God is trustworthy to give you what you need and to liberate you from excessive consumerism. We’ve seen in the last two years the fruit of a decade or two of rampant materialism. We’ve seen what happens when we put our trust in Wall Street. There is a better way, church. The power, freedom, and joy of the future is not in the hands of those who believe in scarcity and try to control and monopolize the world‘s resources; it is in the hands of those who trust in God‘s abundance and give generously, knowing that there is always plenty enough for all who are not grasping. As John Wesley reminded us, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” If we do that, there will be plenty.