Saturday, November 7, 2015

A tale of three women

1 Kings 17: 8-16; Mark 12: 38-44

The prophet Elijah was hiding from Jezebel. He had bested the prophets of Baal in a fire-making contest, and now she wanted to kill him. In response, Elijah asked God for a drought to fall on the land, and it did.
For over three years, there was no rain. With no rain, the crops failed, and everyone was hungry. With no rain, the rivers dried up, and there was little water. While life is hard for wealthy people, they can afford to dig deeper wells and import food. Life is a real challenge, however, for poor people, and especially poor widows.
Even so, God sends Elijah to a poor widow so she can feed him. He finds the widow begging at the gate with no success. She gathers some wood so she can cook one last meal for herself and her son. She has just a little flour and some olive oil left, one last batch of pita bread and that’s the end. After this, she assumes they will die of hunger in a short time. She probably hasn’t been feeding herself, anyway, in order to give her son as much food as possible.
When Elijah approaches the woman, he asks her for some bread. She notices he is as hungry and thirsty as she is, and she gets him a drink of water from the well. Then she shares the sad news that she has almost nothing left, nothing worth sharing. Since hospitality is a prime value of the ancient world, she is sad that she can’t offer him anything.
Elijah responds with a promise. Give me a little bread first, and then feed your son and yourself. If you do this, the flour jar will never be empty and there will always be oil in the jug until the day God sends rain on the earth. The woman did give Elijah a little bread, and they never ran out of food.
So, what would it feel like to be this widow? She has no family to care for her and her son. The fields have been gleaned and gleaned and gleaned again. There is nothing. The people in town have little enough for their own families, and can no longer share with this widow.
Those who have gone hungry, really hungry, know that they feed the children first, and themselves last. They do whatever it takes to get food for their children. How does it feel to know there is absolutely nothing left?
And yet this woman agrees to give Elijah a small portion of what she has left. She does not believe in his God – she has her own gods. Yet, she hopes that he tells her the truth, and feeds him as he asks. She gives of herself in faith and hope.
A few hundred years later, Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem. It is only days before his death and he is teaching the disciples everything he can, while he has time.
It is likely that most if not all of the disciples have never been to Jerusalem before. They have not seen buildings like the temple, with its enormous blocks of stone. But, instead of allowing the disciples to gawk at the buildings, the way modern tourists gawk at urban skyscrapers, he encourages them to see the people.
Notice the scribes over there, he says. They like to walk around in their long robes and be seen by everyone, so they can feel important. They are so self-important, they want the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They are so full of themselves, they take advantage of widows, using their inability to pay inheritance taxes to steal their houses and make themselves richer. They pray long prayers out loud so others will think they are pious. But, when they face God, they will be judged more harshly for the way they treat poor folks.
Do you see the way the scribes and other wealthy people make a big show of putting in large offerings? The gift they give is generous, but it is given for the wrong reason. The gift is intended to make people notice the size of the gift. Surely the gift they give does not hurt them.
Notice in contrast that widow. Watch what she does. Do you see that she put in her last two pennies? Why does she do that? She gives so generously because she loves God and wants to give what she can in thanksgiving for what God has given her.
Her motives for giving shows a true relationship with God, and she trusts that she will be taken care of. She gives of herself to God.

I think I have told you before about Rasma, but she comes to mind with these biblical women, so I will tell some of her story again.
Rasma and her sister Lydia, with Lydia’s son Jan, left Latvia in 1939, on the last ship out before the Russians invaded her country. They came to America and made a life for themselves. Jan was mugged in Latvia and suffered a brain injury, so he was always dependent on Lydia to care for him. Rasma did whatever she could to put a roof over their heads and food on their table.
In Latvia she had been a ballerina, and so for many years she taught ballet at the local YWCA. She also rode the school bus, traveling hours a day keeping company with the kids on their way to the equivalent of CREST school.
Rasma baked almost daily, and gave away most of what she baked. Neighbors gave her what they could spare – a basket of apples, a pound of bacon, a bag of flour or sugar. She brought baked apple slices on cookie dough to choir rehearsal, and raisin bread (stollen) for special Sunday mornings. Frequently she made cheese sticks to the delight of my sons. I also remember hearing that she left her baking mess for Lydia to clean up, and that Lydia was not so happy about that. J
Rasma and Lydia used the envelope system to make sure they paid all their bills. I was on one of the teams of offering counters, so I knew how many different people gave. I knew that Rasma put two dollars in an envelope for church every week. If she needed to miss a Sunday, or borrow from Peter to pay Paul one week, the next week there would be two envelopes of two dollars in the offering.
Like the other women whose stories we hear this week, Rasma gave of herself in thanksgiving to God, and out of a desire to help other people.
This week, as we begin our fall stewardship drive at Hope, consider how you give of yourself. Think about your reasons for giving, of your dollars, and of your time, and your skills and talents. Do you give of your life?

Please pray with me. Generous God, you give us so much. Teach us to appreciate what we have, and to give in ways that mean something to us. Amen