Written by Pastor Ed
She Gave What She Had
May 29, 2016
I Kings 17: 8-16
II Corinthians 8:8-15
The account we read from I Kings is one of the numerous Elijah stories in the Bible. It’s fairly straightforward in its telling. Shortly before this account, Elijah had angered king Ahab by predicting a three year drought, and God had told Elijah to go and hide in a wadi, an oasis of sorts, where he could drink from the stream and the ravens would come and bring him food. But then the wadi dried up, because of the drought.
So Elijah is told to go to Zarephath, a town along the Mediterranean coast known in ancient times for its glass making, and seek out a widow to stay with. But obviously, the widow was suffering along with everyone else from the drought, and as is usually the case, the poor are the ones who suffer the most in tough times. Yet, when Elijah asks her for some water and a bit of bread, she is willing to share. And, according to Elijah’s promise, “the jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail.” (v.16)
Now there are various ways one could go with this story. I’ve heard this story used by those who subscribe to a health and wealth kind of gospel to make a point that if you give, you will get a lot more back in return. They point to the fact that the widow was blessed by God for being generous with Elijah the prophet. Unfortunately, for them, that’s not quite what the story says. For one thing, the next few verses note that at one point the woman’s son died and it took some doing on Elijah’s part to bring him back to life. Nor does it say anywhere that the widow suddenly became wealthy, with lots of food to spare.
For me, one of the lessons from this story is one that I have experienced through the years as well, that often times those who have the least are the ones most willing to share. And when we share, we can get by for a long time. I suspect, given the conditions, that if Elijah had asked a wealthy person of the city if they could spare a cup of water and some bread, they would have refused him with the excuse that they might need it for themselves.
The widow also illustrates the word we have from Paul that we give out of what we have, not out of what we don’t have. Too often we operate from a position of perceived scarcity. We tend to look at what we don’t have. We never have enough time, or money, or whatever. And since we don’t have, how can we possibly give of any of those things.
But the reality is that we do have time and money and resources. And it is out of what we have that we can give, even if it’s only a cup of water and a morsel of bread. As Paul notes, “the gift is acceptable according to what one has – not according to what one does not have.” And as he goes on to point out, sometimes one person will have something to share, and at other times the roles may be reversed.
So why do we share of our time and talents? A number of years ago I was asked to speak at a Volunteer Appreciation gathering at the Etc. Shop in Freeman, SD, an MCC Thrift store and 10,000 Villages combined shop at that time, and I came up with a number of reasons I’ve heard for why people volunteer. I was interested to run across an article that listed some of the same reasons, albeit in more sophisticated language.
According to Garrison Keillor, most volunteer work in the church, at least, is done out of guilt. According to this theory, the more guilty I can make you feel, the more volunteering I can squeeze out of you. And I’ve have seen that work. In one congregation the Christian Education person got up and said that the poor little tykes wouldn’t have any Sunday School since no one had agreed to teach, and someone felt guilty enough to volunteer. But that’s hardly a good motivation and wasn’t in the article I read.
According to the article, some people are motivated by the desire for socialization. That’s a fancy word for wanting to be around people. A documentary I heard once said that 2/3 of all conversation could be classified as gossip – and that was an important factor in holding society together. Now that’s probably a larger factor in a small town in South Dakota than it is here in Calgary, but social interaction is certainly an important part of volunteering at a place like the Thrift Store.
Some people are motivated to volunteer out of a sense of achievement. For some people that’s just accomplishing something, while for others it may be to gain some recognition. I heard a preacher once who suggested that God motivates people to do things by offering rewards. He had a whole scheme of rewards, sort of the layers of heaven. You were saved by grace, but you got better placement depending on what you had done. Kind of like promising your kids rewards if they do certain things, unless they’re like one of my kids for whom rewards didn’t work. And, quite frankly, I don’t find any basis for that kind of scheme in the Bible.
The article I read suggested a factor I hadn’t thought of before, that of increasing knowledge, or development. We sometime volunteer for something because it will give us first hand experience with something we’ve never done before. Perhaps it will help our resume or is simply something we’re interested in.
But the primary factor, according to the article, and I would agree, is the Christian desire to do something for someone else. The article calls it the compassion motivator. I said it was to make a difference in the world, motivated by love. It is a genuine desire to do something for others and make a difference in the world.
Elton Trueblood, a Quaker writer, notes in his book, The Incendiary Fellowship, that this idea has a long history. Tertullian, an early church father wrote, “It is our care for the helpless, our practice of loving kindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents.” Of Christians, Trueblood goes on to say, “They will accept a discipline, both of time and of money, which is the opposite of self-indulgence. On the other hand, they will use their energy and their money, which represent accumulated energy, to help other people, who have no claim upon them except that they are human beings whom God loves.”
(The Incendiary Fellowship, pg. 32)
He is clear that it is not just Christians, or churches that do good things. This past Thursday the Kiwanis Club gave away their 6000th bicycle out of the garage next door. It wasn’t quite as big an event as their 5000th not quite two years ago, but still another milestone. And certainly the responses to things like the fires in Fort Mac show people’s willingness to help. But for Christians, that should be an everyday occurrence, done in response to God’s love for us.
Whatever the motivation, it is clear that we would not get much done if it were not for volunteers. And even if it is only a little bit that we can do, every little bit added together makes the work happen. Cleaning 30 km. of highway ditches would be difficult for 6 people, but with 30 we were done by noon. I’m reminded of a Pete Seeger song, which says –
One person’s hands, can’t tear a prison down
Two person’s hands, can’t tear a prison down
But when two and two and fifty make a million,
We’ll see that day some round, we’ll see that day come round.
One person’s voice can’t shout to make them hear…
One person’s eyes can’t see the way ahead…
One Volunteer can’t run an MCC thrift store…
Ok, that last verse wasn’t Pete’s. Last Sunday I asked the people who were hereto list the places they volunteer. And the lists were impressive, as I’m sure many of them would be, from things you do here in the church to MCC, tutoring, the Historical Society, MDS, schools, and on and on. I see it all the time. And while there may be a variety of motivations, I know that the primary motivation is the desire to help others, giving what each of us can, from what we have.
When I said we were going to recognize volunteers this morning, Richard made the comment that that would really be the whole church, wouldn’t it. And the answer is yes, indeed. And so I invite you to find the litany on one of the inserts in the bulletin. It’s on the reverse side of the MCC Invite to a “non-event.” And join me as we give thanks for the many ways we can give of ourselves and the gifts God has given us. I’ll invite you to read the bold responses.
Generous God, for the abundance of your blessings to us
day by day and year by year,
We give you our thanks.
For the simple pleasures of life: for garden harvests,
coffee conversation, and familiar surroundings,
For health and strength to appreciate the wonder of life,
For needs met and desires fulfilled,
We give you our thanks.
For foods distributed to nourish body and spirit,
For homes which supply shelter, which nurture
order and beauty, and offer hospitality,
We give you our thanks.
With hearts that forgive as freely as you have forgiven,
With enthusiasm of spirit for the gift of life,
With music which declares your everlasting goodness,
With prayers for mutual understanding and peace,
We worship you with joy.
With creative pursuits which contribute our God-given talents,
With words which honor you as Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit,
With time volunteered and dedicated to service in church and community,
With years committed to extending the love of Jesus Christ,
We worship you with joy.
With gifts of money which reach farther than we can manage ourselves,
With deeds done in service of neighbor and stranger,
With holy days set apart to celebrate your goodness and grace,
With family and friends distant and nearby,
We worship you, God, with grateful hearts and joyful spirit.
–Rev. Kathy Jo Blaske