TITHING CHALLENGE SERMON
MULTIPLE DEMANDS & LIMITED RESOURCES -- 1Kings 17:8-16
One of the hardest tasks in life is the task of knowing how to respond to multiple demands upon limited resources.
We know the obvious things we need to do such as set priorities, make a budget and live within our means. But sometimes doing those things is not enough. There are times when the priorities are all high, the needs are all important and there is just not enough to go around. There are times when we have to come to terms with the reality that we just do not have enough.
Such was the case with the widow in this text. She is living in the midst of a famine and given the agricultural nature of the economy, her resources are almost gone. Her life is complicated even more because she has a son to care for, a son who is too young to help out his mother by working on his own.
What happened to her husband and the reasons she became a widow we do not know. Maybe he sacrificed his own well being to ensure that his family was able to have food. Maybe he worked himself to death trying to get land to yield a crop when no seed could take hold in parched earth. Maybe he left home trying to earn enough money to send something back to help his family and sickness, accident or violence befell him. We cannot say for sure what led to this woman becoming a widow but surely her husband must have done all that he could to protect and care for his family.
Time has brought this woman and her son to a place of limited options, options so limited that none of them will secure their long-term survival. She finally has to break the news to her son of her plan that they share one last meal together from the limited resources they have and then wait for time and biology to do the rest.
It is while she is in the first phase of her plan of collecting sticks to cook their final meal that a stranger appears to them. The stranger makes a request for water. Given the woman’s plan it would have been perfectly understandable if she would have denied him the normal kindness of hospitality required when a stranger came to the gates of the city. However, she moves, without one word about her condition, to bring the stranger a drink of water.
Before she can get the water the stranger calls out to her to bring him a morsel of bread as well. What a punch in the gut those words must have been to her, reminding her of the limits of her kindness for she only has enough for one more meal.
There is a dignity to this woman I think that is too often overlooked. She declares in tones that sound apologetic, “As the Lord lives I have nothing to bake. Only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug. Beside this I am collecting sticks to prepare it for myself and my son that we may eat it and die. I wish had something I could give you. “
In other words, she’s saying I am familiar with the codes of hospitality to strangers but my resources are gone and there is not enough to go around and surely you would not expect a widow to take food from her starving child and give it to a stranger. Maybe you will encounter someone else later who can help you but my resources cannot handle your request.
One would think that the next words heard would be words of apology from the stranger. “I am sorry things are so bad for you, I had no idea, please forgive me for bothering you. I will pray for you that things might work out for you.” However, these are not the words the Bible records. The Bible says that after hearing the widow’s desperate situation, the prophet said, “Do what you said but give to me first.” Go ahead and collect your sticks, fix your final meal but feed me first and then afterwards make something for yourself and your son. The prophet is so bold that he does not ask to be able to share the final meal with the widow and her son but that the widow would give to him her final meal and after he had eaten to go back and fix a meal for herself and her son.
Give to me first. Words that some would have heard as insulting this widow yet heard with possibility.
- Give to me first and place my claims ahead of all other claims suggested that there was unknown power waiting to go to work on her behalf.
- Give to me first said you have more than you realize because you have enough for God to work with.
- Give to me first says there is a principle at work in creation that says we win by loosing, we gain by letting go and we are lifted up when we have been cast down to the lowest point.
- Give to me first says put your faith to work by actions that speak life and not death.
For a moment let go of your death culture that can only focus upon lost, lack and deficiency and look with the eyes of faith at opportunity, possibility and grace. A death culture will make us waste what has the possibility to bless us. A death culture will keep us crying as opposed to celebrating. A death culture will cause us to spread the witness of death in other places that will keep faith from taking root.
This widow reached deep down and anchored her hopes not so much because the prophet said give to me first but because he said afterward make something for yourself and your son. This widow anchored her hopes that there would still be something left after she gave away all she thought she had.
What she discovered was that God never takes everything without leaving some things. When she went back to the barrel after giving to the prophet first she discovered there was still a little more meal and a little more oil. From that day forward throughout the entire famine, Elijah, the widow and her son ate and the meal never emptied and the oil stayed.
What does this story have to do with us?
First, can we let go of a death culture that causes us to make our decisions based upon what we think will run out as opposed to what God can do with what we have to bring life to us and others? If the widow would have followed her plan, she would have eaten her last meal with her son and died. But because she yielded to the voice of another she found life. She found how life was still possible even with limited resources and multiple demands. She found life was still possible because life is more than a question of resources. Life is a question of faith and where we will place it in the hard moments that will surely come.
The actions of this woman were akin to the actions of our slave fore parents who kept choosing life while surrounded by a culture of death. They chose life by loving, caring, sharing and placing within every generation born the yearning for freedom. They chose life by not abandoning faith, community, God and their hope for a better day some day. The widow’s actions allow her, Elijah and her son to have a meal everyday in the midst of a famine because she chose life. Whenever we choose life we are yielding what we have and who we are to the hands of the Almighty, believing we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Second, can we live with barrels that never get full grateful that they never get empty? We live in a full-barrel world that is always telling us what we can have and what God wants us to have. Seemingly every blessing of God is spoken of in full-barrel tones, the job God wants you to have, the house God wants you to live, the life God wants you to enjoy is always full and overflowing. Where it is true that God is able to pour us out and provide ever flowing blessings that exceed our ability to contain. Where it is true my God is able to do more than you can imagine or think. But amen to eyes that have not seen and ears that have not heard and neither has it entered into the heart of man what God has in store for them that love Him.
But it is also true if we would reign with Him we must suffer with Him. It is true that “in this world you shall have tribulation but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” My friends there will be days when the barrel will not get full but, praise God for his faithfulness, that the barrel does not get empty.
I know what I am talking about because over the years I watched as this church’s resources seemed to go down more and more until all the reserves were gone, until we wondered how we would make it. How would we keep this ministry going with demands upon limited resources? But, praise the name of the Lord, our barrel never got empty. God made sure we had what we needed when we needed it most and now there is a togetherness and appreciation for God and one another that sometimes, full barrels stand in the way of.
There are some things now that I no longer worry about in life because I have seen a God at work who can keep the barrel from getting empty. I have seen a God at work who can make the oil stay. I have seen a God at work who can give just what I need at the moment I need it and not a moment too soon or too late. He really is an on-time God.
Can we be satisfied with the table that we have in a famine as opposed to trying to create a different table on our own? The critical point in this story is that Elijah, the widow and her son had something to sustain them every day in the midst of a famine. All they had was meal and oil but it was enough to sustain them during the famine and they did not have to look for food on their own. Each and every day a table was prepared for them and all they had to do was sit down and enjoy what God had made possible one more day.
I do not know about you but I am glad that I serve a God who is in the business of preparing a table. Sometimes it is the table He prepares before me in the presence of my enemies. Sometimes it is the table He prepares that reminds me of His sacrifice on my behalf. Sometimes it is the table of fellowship where He beckons me to come and spend time in His presence. I know even now He is getting another table ready for you and me and over there we will sit down at the welcome table, sing and never get tired, shout and tell the story.
We serve a God who will prepare a table for us and give us what we need to sustain us even in the famines of life. But we have to be willing to be satisfied with the table God provides as opposed to trying to create a different table on our own. So like the widow that day with limited resources and multiple demands, you and I have the opportunity to give to God first and experience all that it means to say “I trust You.”
Dr. Ricky A. Woods