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Re-thinking The Meaning of Enough

June 10, 2018

RE-THINKING THE MEANING OF ENOUGH

Lakeshore Drive Baptist Church, Little Rock, AR

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

June 10, 2018, 9 AM

 

1 Kings 17


17Now 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.’ 2The word of the Lord came to him, saying, 3‘Go from here and turn eastwards, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.’ 5So 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. 6The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. 7But 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.’ 10So 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.’11As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ 12But 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.’13Elijah 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. 14For 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.’ 15She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16The 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.

 

I must make two clarifying statement about this sermon from the outset.  

 

First, this sermon is not a moral or theological defense of poverty.  Second, this sermon is not a moral or theological defense of inequality or male privilege.  Please do not read this text or understand this sermon as meaning that inequality and poverty are divinely ordained.  I do not intend to say or suggest that poverty, hunger, and inequality are ordained by God.

 

Instead, this passage challenges our ideas about sufficiency and scarcity.  In this lesson, the prophet Elijah issued a prophetic warning about a three year drought.  The northern kingdom of Israel was then ruled by King Ahab, considered by commentators to have been the most wicked and unjust of all the rulers mentioned in the Hebrew Testament.  Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel, led a religious sect devoted to worship of Baal, the chief male god of the Phoenicians.  

 

According to Canaanite and Mesopotamia belief, Baal was the farm god who held power to increase agricultural crops, livestock, and farming conditions (including families).  So, when Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh, predicted a three-year drought, his prophecy asserted that Baal, the god worshiped by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, was a false god.   

The location of the Wadi Cherith is unknown where Elijah was fed bread and meat delivered by ravens each morning and evening.  The point is that God provided food every day for the prophet.  Eventually, the wadi that supplied Elijah with water dried up because of the drought.  Don’t miss the point.  God provided food and water for the prophet every day.

 

At verses 8 thru 10, the story takes another turn as the prophet was directed to travel to Zarephath, a town along the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea that was in the region of Sidon, in the very heartland of Baal worship.  Look closely at verse 9, and notice the word of the Lord to the prophet:  “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”  

 

What is this foolishness?  Go into the heartland of Baal worship as prophet of Yahweh?  Go live with a widow?  Go trust God to provide food and shelter there?  This plot is thickening.

 

The plot gets even thicker once Elijah reached Zarephath.  Elijah finds the widow.  She is never mentioned by name, only identified by her widowed status.  Elijah found her to not only be widowed.  She was also a single mother.  She was down to her last food supply.  When the prophet first encountered her, the widow was gathering sticks for firewood so she could prepare the last food she had for herself and her son.  In the face of her situation, Elijah had the gall to demand that she give him food and water, and – even worse – to ask her to show hospitality to him before she even fed her son and herself!

 

The key verses for this passage are at verses 13 thru 16. 

 

Elijah said to her [the widow], “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said [gather the sticks of firewood and prepare the last meal you intended to share with your son]; 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.  

 

Elijah challenged the widow to re-think whether she had enough food.  Elijah challenged her to re-think the whole idea that Baal supplied rain needed for agriculture and food.  Elijah challenged her to re-think the notion that she was too destitute to extend hospitality to a stranger from another region and a different religious faith.  

 

This passage is a direct challenge to a lot of things.  We don’t encounter Baal-worshipers nowadays.  But the Baal-mindset about prosperity is very much with us.  It shows up in the claims from politicians and investment advisors that their policies, investment portfolios, and plans will make people wealthy and healthy.  The truth declared by the lesson about Elijah, the drought, and the widow of Zarephath is that God alone is the source of life!

 

Not the New York Stock Exchange.

 

Not your personal investment portfolio.

 

Not the amount in your bank accounts.

 

At every turn in this lesson, the message to us is clear:  God provides!  

 

God provides always.  

 

God provides when we have plenty.  God provides when our supplies run low.  

 

God provides when we think we have things figured out.  God provides when we don’t know which way to turn.  

 

God provides the rain!   God provides when drought happens.  

 

God provides when unexpected needs arise that aren’t in our budget – such as a hungry and tired immigrant from another religion showing up when we are down to our last food.

 

God provides!  This is the meaning of a theology of abundance.  However, the temptation to adopt the idea of scarcity constantly bedevils us.  This lesson challenges that idea.  According to this lesson, God provides food and water even in times of drought.  This lesson is Biblical support for the foundational belief in black religion that God provides “bread in a starving land.”  

And because God provides, we always will have enough, even during times of drought.  God will provide enough even when stock markets crash.  God will provide enough even when crooks steal and tyrants oppress.  God will provide enough even when we, like the widow from Zarephath, are worn out and believe all is lost.  

 

The theology of abundance holds that enough is always more than we need, even when our need seems greater than what we have on hand.  Elijah didn’t have a plan for sustaining himself when he predicted the three-year drought.  God provided more than Elijah needed when he lived by the Wadi Cherith.  God also provided more than Elijah needed when he lived with the widow of Zarephath.  

 

And God provided for the widow of Zarephath more than she expected.  She didn’t expect her food supply to be consumed by an uninvited hungry foreigner, but God provided!  She didn’t expect to shelter a homeless prophet, but God provided!  She didn’t expect God to stretch her world view.  She simply wanted to gather sticks and prepare a last meal for her son and herself.  

 

The theology of abundant sufficiency shown by this passage is made clear by two references:  the jar of meal and the jug of oil.  Elijah had the widow know that the bottom of the jar of meal and the bottom of the jug of oil did not define their resources!  God is the bottom, not the jar or the jug!  God is the “bottom line,” not the balance sheet.  God is the “bottom line,” not the budget.  God is the true “bottom line.”  When we depend on any other “bottom line” we practice the idolatry of Baal!  This passage shows that the bottom of the jar of meal and the bottom of the jug of oil are not the bottom of what God can and will provide for us.

 

Faith isn’t foolhardy, so this passage doesn’t support the idea of wasting what God provides.  Instead, it forces us to discard excuses based on our notion that we aren’t rich enough, aren’t strong enough, aren’t numerous enough, aren’t smart enough, aren’t popular enough, or aren’t whatever else enough.  Enough is always guaranteed by God even when we can’t detect it!  Our problem is that we define enough by the bottom of our jars and jugs, rather than the riches of God’s grace and mercies.

 

Now, like in the experience of this passage and always, migrating people are fleeing violence, hunger, and other threatening conditions in their native lands.  Across the world, national and local leaders are arguing about whether to admit, welcome, and share services with migrant people.  Across the world and in the United States, the issue is whether we will follow the example of the widow of Zarephath or turn our backs on hospitality and the needs of our migrating neighbors.

 

Now, like always, those who believe in God must live out the truth shown by this lesson.  No matter how bad things are, we always have more than enough needed to share.  No matter who is in power, we have a duty to live out the theology of sufficiency.  Why?  Because we trust God to faithfully provide whatever is needed to be agents of love, hope, justice, hospitality, and peace!  This means we have no excuse for acting like we are doomed merely because our coffers are low.  We have no excuse for closing our hearts, hands, and heads to the needs of others who are suffering.  

 

And this lesson forces us to admit that we too often place our faith on Baal-like systems defined by how much we see above the bottom of our personal jars of meal and jugs of oil.  The false Baal pantheon followed by King Ahab, Queen Jezebel, and the Canaanite and Phoenician culture is mirrored in our time by the equally false ideology of free market capitalism that defines wealth in terms of private financial gain rather than common good.  

 

Free market capitalism idolizes “the bottom line” of our personal jars of meal and jugs of oil.  Free market capitalism does not empower people to take care of others.  Free market capitalism does not inspire people to respect the God-given dignity and worth of others beyond their ability to provide some material benefit to us.  Free market capitalism, like the Baal pantheon followed by King Ahab, Queen Jezebel, and the culture that Elijah confronted, is built on the idolatry of human entrepreneurship and profit-making that defines “enough” as making a private profit, not in sharing with and caring for others, especially others who are different from us and who seem unable to give us a benefit (profit).   

 

Free market capitalism, like the Baal-deity worship, is idolatry!  In the same way that Elijah’s ministry challenged the belief that Baal controlled fertility, you and I are called to live out and proclaim the prophetic truth that the “bottom line” of our jars of meal and jugs of oil is not God!  God is not confined to our “bottom line” estimations about who we are and what we can possibly do.   The bottom line of our jars and jugs is not God!   God is the bottom line!

 

The good news is that God does provide more than we think is enough.  God provides more than we think is enough whether we understand how God does it or not.  God provides more than we think we need even when unexpected needs arise (as in a hungry and homeless prophet of a different religion).  The good news is that the bottom line of our jars and jugs is not God!  No!  God is the true “bottom line.”

 

When this is our faith, we re-define the meaning of “enough.”  When this is our faith, we expect God to provide based on God’s “bottom line,” rather than our jars and jugs.  We will expect God to continue to restore our jars and jugs so we can live to God’s glory.  We will trust God to provide more people and resources than we realized because we know that “the earth is the LORD’s.”  

 

So let us remind one another about Elijah and the widow of Zarephath.  Then let’s live out that faith so the world we see how it looks, how it functions, and how God uses people with that faith to be prophetic forces to the “bottom line” Baal worshipers of our time.  

 

Amen. 

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2018