I will be away next week and not so reliably able to access computers so I thought I would send out this e-vo in advance.
The account of the widow of Zarephath seems fitting in these times of economic stress. Our church is actively involved in a ministry called Zarephath kitchen which provides meals for those in need. We have been blessed many times over hearing God’s call to serve and offering hospitality.
May our hearts be stirred to be hospitable and empty places set at our tables in hopes that others might come.
Then the word of the Lord came to [Elijah (the Tishbite, of Tishbee in Gilead courtesy of 17:1)] , saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 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.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 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.” 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. 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.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 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.
There are two powerful stands of this story:
STRAND 1: When God calls people into service their needs will be provided.
This story comes on the heels of Elijah being miraculously fed by the ravens. God knows our needs and our desires intimately. When God invites, calls, presses, cajoles, mandates us into service we can be sure that God will care for us. Jesus says as much when he talks of the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28-34; Luke 12:22-31). If we have ears to hear we will resonate with Elijah and be willing to step into God’s callings trusting that God will indeed provide. How might God be calling us to step out in faith and into service?
STRAND 2: When we share out of hospitality and sacrificial giving we will be okay.
The woman has her mind set on making a last supper of meal for herself and her son. After that it will be time to die. She has lost sight of hope for the future. God, through Elijah, interrupted her despair. As she boldly cared for Elijah she found that the end wasn’t so near after all. The book Three Cups of Tea talks of how the course of Greg Mortensen’s life and many villages were changed forever through the hospitality he was offered when he stumbled lost into the wrong village after a failed attempt to scale K2. (There is also a Young Reader’s Edition of Three Cups of Tea). That book is well worth your time to read. When we allow God to steer us out of our comfort zones and welcome the stranger with food and drink and compassion we have profound encounters with God. As we encounter God the other concerns come into alignment. As we encounter God circumstances that seemed surely fatal have new life breathed into them. How might God be calling us to step out in hospitality?
Answering calls in faith is a powerful strand at work in this account. Radical hospitality is a powerful strand at work in this account. But being bold—in our own flesh—to strike out may not be sufficient. Pouring ourselves out—in our own flesh—in service of another might not be sufficient. These strands—as noble as they are—can get frayed and give way under the weight of the needs of this world.
God is the third strand that offers strength and endurance. God is the one who calls us to service. God is the one who calls us to be hospitable. With God woven through our service and our hospitality we will surely endure:
God, gives us ears to hear your call to service. Give us hearts to welcome hungry strangers to our tables. Shape us again into your image. Amen.