Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Art of Generosity Year B, Pentecost 24, 1 Kings 17.8-16, Mark 12.38-44

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Two widows.
Two examples of generosity and grace.
But first a little background to the lesson from Kings.
These were not good times in Israel.  King Ahab had just married Jesebel, a foreigner, and then had served and worshipped their God, Baal. 
Things were so bad that it is recorded that “Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.”  And considering how sinful the Kings who had gone before him were, Ahab must have been particularly evil.
In response, Elijah commanded according to the word of the Lord, that the rain and dew stop, except by his word.  And so a great famine came upon the land.
During the famine, God provided for his servant, Elijah.
The first thing he did was to command the ravens to take care of Elijah as he camped out in a wadi, or ravine, east of the Jordan.
The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
Then God sent Elijah to Zarephath where he had commanded a widow to take care of him.
What we find out is that this widow has next to nothing, in fact, she is so destitute because of the famine, that she is preparing to bake the last cake so that she and her son might eat it, and then die.
At first Elijah’s request of her seems cruel.
“Go, do as you have said, but first make me a little cake of it, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.”
But then he offers to her a promise:
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."
There are two things I like for you to consider about this story:
First, that when God calls us to do something, God also provides the means for us to do it.
The Bible states that God had commanded this widow to feed Elijah, and in order that she might do so, God saw to it that her food never ran out.
And the second thing is that it takes faith, a profound trust in God, to believe the promise.
Not only that, but it takes faith to believe that God does in fact have a purpose, a mission, for us to fulfill.
I would rather imagine that this widow had a few choice thoughts when she heard Elijah’s command.
“I have nothing.  How can I feed you as well?”
But God had a purpose for her, and so, provided her the means to do as he commanded.
Does God have a purpose for us as a congregation?
And if so, will God provide?
We believe that we have a purpose.  And we constantly remind ourselves of what that purpose is.
You know it.  Say it with me.
God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love, and serve all in our local and global community.”
If we truly believe that, then we are faced with a question of faith.
Do we trust that God will provide us with the means to fulfill that purpose as God did so for the widow of Zarephath?
Today we are having a congregational meeting.
Last year, as we adopted our budget, we shared that our congregation had enough in reserve to cover a projected deficit for about three more years.
I kind of regret that statement, because it is eerily similar to the widow’s statement.  It’s as though we said that we have just a little left in the jar, which we will use up, and then die as a congregation.
In fact, one of you stated following the meeting that at least you knew now, how much longer we could hold on.
Well, this is the thing.
We have gone about our business of welcoming, loving, and serving.
The Gospel is preached.  A warm welcome is offered.  We care for others.
And as we are able, we serve, doing things like making quilts to send around the world to those in need.
And today, at our meeting, we will report to you that rather than having used up the reserves ‘in the jar’, we have more than we had last year.
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.
Has God provided for us as he did for the widow and Elijah?
That’s a question of faith.
And it requires a response of faith.
The widow of Zarephath acted in faith.  She did as Elijah instructed her even though conventional wisdom would have said that there simply was not enough.
In this matter, I’m going to commend you for your faithful response.
We are not receiving support from other congregations or the synod.  We are entirely dependent on you and what you faithfully offer each Sunday.
And because of your faithfulness, and the grace of God, the jar is not empty.
That, more than anything else, is for me a sign that God continues to have a purpose for our congregation.
And so we will continue to welcome, love, and serve all in our local and global community.
And God will continue to provide for us that we might fulfill that purpose.
I should probably leave it at that, but I will risk saying one more thing, and that is a warning.
If we are not faithful to that purpose, if we no longer “welcome, love, and serve all”, then the jar of meal may be expended.
It is simply a fact that when congregations die, it is most often the result of having failed to remain faithful to the purpose that God gave them.  And one of the most common failures is that they turned inward.  They became more concerned about their own survival than their purpose.
Imagine, for example, if the widow had told Elijah that there wasn’t enough for him.  If she had did what she had planned, and baked the last cake for her son and then, waited to die.
Well, that’s what many congregations do, and the result is predictable.  If all you want to do is bake your last cake and die, God will let you.
But if you recognize that God has a purpose for you and this congregation, God will provide the means to fulfill that purpose.
Now, I’d like to share a few comments about the widow in the Gospel lesson, whose generosity is noted by Jesus.
This particular widow, gave a penny, all that she had, as an offering to the Lord.
My experience is a bit different, but the generosity of people is much the same.
Over the course of my ministry one of the statements that has been made time and time again, usually by people of great means, is “Pastor, we can’t do that because we have so many people on fixed incomes that just can’t afford any more.”
And the truth was that the most generous people in all of the congregations I have served were those people on fixed incomes.
Just saying.  .  .
There are a couple of practical reasons for this.  People on fixed income aren’t raising families, often have paid off their mortgages, and in many cases have reached a point in their lives that they are content with what they already have.
Add to that the fact that many of these people, precisely because they are on fixed incomes, budget well and include their offerings in their budgets, and what you have is a recipe for faithful stewardship.
One final note:
Sometimes those of apparently meager means have much to offer and their generosity is overwhelming.
Two women come to mind that I want to acknowledge today.
Eleanor Moody and Joy O’Donnell.
Eleanor was a bookkeeper at the local lumber company in Sandpoint.  Never married.  No family.
She was thrifty, and a character.  One of the memories I have of Eleanor is that she had pet skunks.  Actually, the skunks were wild, it’s just she feed them on her back porch.  That was Eleanor.
She served as the Church Treasurer for years, maintaining hand written ledgers.
Her property, located in Ponderay, was sold when she had to go into assisted living.  But because of its potential for commercial development it brought a good price.
After she died, the totality of her estate was given to the congregation and established the congregation’s endowment.
Joy O’Donnell was a teacher in Sandpoint throughout her life.  She too was single.
When I visited her in her home on Euclid Street, she asked if I would like to live there.  It was her way of informing me that the congregation was the sole beneficiary of her estate.
When she died, a scholarship fund was established to support young people in our congregation.
And also, because we had these gifts in our endowment fund, nearly half a million dollars, we were able to build Luther Park, an assisted living facility.
Their legacy lives on.
Two elderly women, with generous hearts, shaping the world to come.
God had a purpose for them.
And they were faithful to that purpose.
Do you believe that God has a purpose for your life, and for the life of this congregation?
And if so, will we trust in God to provide the means to accomplish the purpose to which he has called us.
That, to me, is the question of faith that we answer with our lives, each and every day.

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