Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
The Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
17 January, 2021
Second of Six in the Holy Habit of Sharing Resources Series
1 Kings 17:1-16
It was all I had left to eat: the very last handful of meal, the last bit of oil. And I only had that because I’d begged the neighbors several days earlier for whatever they could spare. I’d grown used to the humiliation of begging since my husband died; what choice did I have, with a son to care for, and no other family who would take me in?
When the man of God approached me that day, I was in the process of collecting a few sticks to make a fire. I was lost in my thoughts, reliving that moment of shame when I’d most recently approached my neighbors. I was tired of feeling like a burden, though I had offered again to do any small tasks they asked of me in return. They just shooed me away, maybe because the baby was crying and they didn’t want me in their space. Maybe they were afraid that they, too, would run out if they kept sharing what they had with the widow and her child … after all, we weren’t family, and we were in the midst of a famine. But I decided right then never to ask them, or anyone else, for anything.
That’s what I was thinking about when the stranger – Elijah was his name – approached me. He wasn’t anyone I recognized, and my first instinct was, naturally, to be a bit nervous about him; I had no idea what he wanted or intended with me.
So, I’ll admit it: I didn’t really want Elijah in my space that day—what little space I had. But there he was. And the man looked hungry. And thirsty. And he asked me for a drink.
I know what it is to be hungry, and thirsty. And to me, it looked like he might not have eaten in a few days. At least, my son and I had each enjoyed a cake of bread yesterday, similar to the one I was preparing to make as our last.
And yet, what sort of man asks a poor widow to sacrifice her child’s last meal so that he can eat? I had just told him the truth of my situation. Did he not believe me? Because he said, “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 then make something for yourself and your son.”
But then, the most extraordinary words—words that played over and over in my mind as I built the tiny fire and mixed together the flour and the oil. He said, “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.” I did not know this God of Israel—the god my people worshiped was Baal. But I’m not going to deny that I was captivated: could it possibly be true? He was inviting me to believe in the power of a God who was greater even than Baal, the mighty bull. Would the flour and oil magically keep replenishing itself?
It seemed worth the gamble; I was going to die either way. I see now that his invitation was also to trust in him, a stranger, a fellow human being who was also a vessel of the God he was daring me to trust.
I made the cakes. And, though I could scarcely believe it, there was enough for us all—for Elijah, and my son, and me! I could not have been more surprised; I honestly did not think I had enough to make a full loaf of bread. And it was enough not just for that meal, but for several days afterward.
Elijah stayed with us, and we shared our stories with one another. It turns out, he had predicted the devastating famine to King Ahab several years earlier! He told me that his God (and now mine, too) told him to warn Israel’s King Ahab of the coming famine. And then God’s voice guided Elijah to the wilderness, where he was assured that God would provide for him just as surely as I had done. I suppose that’s why the prophet was so confident that the provisions my household would need to eat and survive would not vanish; God’s servant had experienced the faithfulness of the LORD for years in the wilderness already.
He explained that Yahweh, whom his people also called the LORD—and whom he and all of Israel had worshiped for generations, since the time of father Abraham and mother Sarah—Yahweh the Lord was the one God, the only God. But King Ahab had renounced Yahweh God when he married Jezebel, and he built shrines and temples and encouraged the people of Israel to worship Baal, which was blasphemous and a transgression against the very first Commandment. But Elijah knew with utter certainty, and would eventually prove to Ahab and to all the people, that Baal was a false god, no match for Yahweh God. Ahab’s actions, Elijah said, were wicked; as the leader of the people of Israel, King Ahab should have nurtured their relationship with the God of love and liberation who had delivered Israel from their slavery in Egypt and had provided for them faithfully for so many generations. But instead, the king created confusion by encouraging the people to worship at the feet of an idol.
And here’s something else the prophet taught me: he said, “Do not be ashamed of your need. The one true God, who has created all humankind in God’s own image, has made us this way. Made us to need each other, so that we might know the joy of sharing with one another.”
And you know, he’s right! Had Elijah not come to me and expressed his need for water, and for food, I would never have experienced the joy I discovered in sharing with him, despite my initial misgivings. Had I followed the impulse to withdraw in fear from him, or to ignore or deny his need as real, or less important than my own, then I would never have met the God who greeted me through him. When I first made the cake for him, I did not know the God in whose image we were both created; nor did I know that when I served Elijah, I was serving God in him. But it was by sharing what little I had with the man, that I encountered my relationship with the living God more fully, because I was sharing a small bit of my life with him—and truly, sharing life is the wellspring of joy. It is divine.
I think too often, we live from places of fear: fear of those who are different from us. Fear of not having enough. Fear that we will not be able to navigate the complexities of relationships that could get messy down the road. Fear of being judged, or appearing weak. Fear that we will be asked to sacrifice something that we don’t want to give up, including our own sense of place and power in the world. Fear that we might need to change.
But I’m telling you: there is so much joy and delight in being liberated from all these fears! And that only happens when we share whatever we have as if it belongs as to much others as it does to us. (Which it does, because all of it is pure gift to us from God; we do not earn it or deserve our largesse, not any of us.) And real joy only comes to us if we share with the understanding that we are only giving back to God, serving Christ, in that other person, redistributing the wealth of life God has planted in this world so that everyone might enjoy enough.
Elijah showed me that God provides. I have no idea how it happened, but my provisions were sustained until the drought and famine broke. Though I certainly have had other needs since that day, I did not find myself begging again for food. And when I have found myself needing something, I no longer feel shame in acknowledging it, because I know it’s an opportunity for someone else to experience the joy of sharing. Of doing what we’re made to do. Of living more fully into the divine image.
On that day I thought would be the beginning of my end, I shared life-sustaining bread and water with a man in need. And he shared life-giving truth, the love of God, with me. And, with a joy-filled heart, I now share God’s love with everyone I can. I know a deeper richness to life than I have ever known because we shared what we had of life with each other. It’s what God does, and it’s what we’re made to do, as those fashioned in God’s image. It’s the source of our deepest and truest joy: sharing our needs, sharing our resources … in all its beautiful and complex diversity, sharing life. Amen.