1 Kings 17:8-16
There was no reason that the prophet Elijah should know or be concerned about a Gentile widow from over the mountains. They couldn’t have been more different, Elijah and the widow of Zaraphath—different races, different cultures, different religions, different genders.
But God commanded Elijah to go to her. Why? He had the people of Israel to instruct, to grow, to bless. I think Elijah was instructed to go to her because she had something to teach him about faith and something to teach all of us who get to hear this story, thousands of years later. God commanded her. She didn’t know God, yet she listened to God, and was obedient. She used the last of her resources, flour and oil, and the skill she had to make that something edible, and she made it and shared it. I admire this widow*. I admire her resourcefulness, the way she keeps going despite the growing knowledge that she’s going to run out. I look in my cupboard and if I’m missing one ingredient, I’m in a tizzy. It must be time for take out. But over these weeks, she rations what she has, stretches it, and finally on the last day, as she shakes out the last whisper of flour from her jar and after leaving her oil container upside down all day, she hopes she has a teaspoon full, enough to make a last meal for her and her son. She is teaching us to value every little bit, and isn’t this last bit the most valuable of all, a last supper, a family communion that they will remember until they fade away from hunger and are no more. She is this flour, this oil. She is the forgotten, the nothing at the bottom of the jar. Her neighbors don’t know or care, or maybe they also hunger because of a famine upon the land.
Now, along comes a stranger, Elijah, a prophet of God. Elijah has stood in God’s presences, suffered persecution from God’s people, brought difficult, challenging words to God’s people, a food they just couldn’t swallow, something that would have nourished them, if they hadn’t been so distracted with their own self-importance. So here he comes to a nobody according to what this world values. However, she is more faithful than any of the widows in Israel. So Jesus says when he almost gets himself killed in his hometown of Nazareth. She listens to God. She cooks this meal for Elijah. She treats him like her own son, better than her own son. She teaches us and Elijah about family, how to ask for help, how to tell the truth about our own need, how to come together in community and work together, who to trust when we cannot trust the powers of this world to feed the hungry, who to look to for resourcefulness and faith and obedience.
There was no reason that the Scribes at the Temple would see the woman put in her last 2 coins, but there they stood not 10 yards from each other. He was strutting around, making sure everyone was listening to him, seeing him, blessing him. She went unnoticed, as she put in her 2 coins and a prayer. He would take those 2 coins and it would mean nothing to him, even though it meant everything to her. Would she, like the widow of Zarapheth, go home and cook her last meal and starve unnoticed? What would the scribe do, when he got home? Would he eat his fill and still feel empty? God brings these contrasting people together to teach each other something. They are a few feet away from each other, but they may as well be on different planets. They don’t know the same people. They don’t live by the same truths. They don’t have the same priorities. And yet they affect each other. He affects her because he devours her last 2 coins, all she has to live on. He doesn’t seem to be affected by her, because what she offers seems so small compared to everything else he has. However, Jesus says, he will eternally be affected by how he has treated her. He receives the greater condemnation.
The other contrast that the Scribe and widow teach us, is about acting out of fear and acting out of faith. Why is he strutting around like this? It is because he is afraid that he isn’t enough. He’s put his faith in his position, and his wealth, and his importance, and it isn’t fulfilling him. If he doesn’t have the reassurance and recognition that he gets from long prayers and even longer robes, he is afraid he isn’t enough. He is acting out of fear. She is acting out of faith. She has put her faith in God. She knows that robes and recognition don’t give satisfaction. You’re always going to need more. But she gives her last 2 coins, knowing that money isn’t everything, having experienced miracles before and knowing that God can make something out of nothing, trusting that her coins will be valued, if not by the scribes, then by God. And she’s right. She knows God made us good. She knows that God values every contribution no matter how small. She gives out of her faith, rather than her fear, and she becomes an example to us.
There was no reason that a poor family, driving an old white Ford 1-ton van the mom a childcare worker and the dad an insulation installer would fit in at the local Lutheran congregation full of teachers and nurses and doctors. But that’s where we found ourselves. My mom with 4 kids, dad staying at home. We did our best to fit in, but I know we stuck out. They gave us their hand-me-downs, and we were thrilled to get them. We shared our friendliness. My mom took on the Sunday school superintendent job. We couldn’t afford $10 apiece for the Mother/Daughter banquet, that would have been $40, more than my mom made in 2 days work. We stood up and said it was unjust. We were heard. We changed our community. And we were changed by our community. They were examples of professionals, of how life could have many choices with an education, so they helped me with my college applications, and paid for my books in seminary. They changed me. Mom took piano lessons, started a mom’s group, started a support group for people struggling with depression. Two groups of people who should never have come together, did for the betterment of both.
A little babe is born on a cold night in a barn. His cry pierces the night. God made flesh, come to us. So many unlikely combinations: The Christ child and the shepherds, the son of God and the magi, the shepherds and the angels, God and humans together, Jesus and the lepers, Jesus and the Samaritan woman, Jesus and the Roman Soldier, Mary and Elizabeth.
There is no reason that God should come here to us, people of no importance, who struggle, who are weak, yet Jesus came to share our experience and know us, and to give himself as a living sacrifice that we might have life abundant in communion with him and the whole people of God and all of Creation. He came to us to make us family, to make us strong, to heal the world.
A little Spanish-speaking church is looking for space. A little bigger Lutheran Congregation finds an opening as a preschool vacates the building. There is no reason that we should come together, but 5 years later here we are, friends, working side by side for the Gospel.
There is no reason that any of us should be here, except we felt the pull of the Spirit calling to us, inviting us at different times from different places, to participate in something messy but beautiful and at times frustrating, but to be part of something bigger than ourselves and our needs.
There is no reason to think that a church is needed or welcome out there in our county offices, testifying at city hall, or relating to neighbors, but somehow God keeps bringing us together to teach us something about ourselves and to help us open our ideas of who we are and who matters in God’s Kingdom wider until we truly all are one.
And I can’t help but wonder what unlikely pairings and combinations of people we will find ourselves in in the coming weeks and months, how we will be challenged and stretched as we reach out to our neighbors, how we might be surprised by the person or people that God places in our hands, that when we thought we were the ones helping, we find ourselves helped, stretched, learning, growing, valuing life differently, seeing people instead of problems, awed by the complexity of our systems that keep people down. There are neighbors right next door that we don’t even know their names even though they’ve lived there 10 years or more. God has placed them here not for us to overlook the or assume we don’t have anything to offer each other, but to show us that we are all related, we need each other, and everyone has something to offer, gifts from God for the good of the whole and that we are stronger together.