The Prophet as Ambassador of Abundance
1 Kings 17:8-24
The Prophet as Ambassador of Abundance
June 5, 2016 Maple Grove UMC
Here’s what the children learned last Sunday. Maybe you’ll repeat it after me this morning:
A prophet is someone who reminds us
How God wants us to live.
So last week Elijah reminded us, when it comes right down to it, when you have to choose and the stakes are high, always put your trust in God—not anyone or anything else, but in God. Today Elijah is an Ambassador of Abundance, reminding us that there is plenty for everyone and the key to abundance is sharing.
Here’s the story. There’s a famine in Israel, and God sends Elijah to a poor widow in Sidon. He asks her for a drink of water, a precious commodity during a drought. She went to get it and he added, "And how about some bread to go with it." The widow replied, "Give you some bread? I don’t have any bread. All I’ve got is this handful of flour and a few drops of oil. I’m getting ready to make one last meal for my son and me, before we starve to death. Give you some bread?"
But Elijah is the Ambassador of Abundance. He says, "Don’t be afraid." Why don’t you repeat that one after me: Don’t be afraid. "Share with me first," he said, "and the flour will never run out and the oil will never run dry." And that is exactly what happened.
Now you might say that the abundance in this story—the flour and the oil never running out—you might say it was a miracle. And it is, in that we can’t say exactly how it happened. The problem with calling this a miracle, though, is that it’s not unusual in the Bible. In fact, with God miraculous abundance is not the exception; it’s the rule.
- The Garden of Eden, our original home, was a place of goodness and plenty, the way God intended life to be.
- When Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years, God fed them manna every day. It fell from the sky and they would eat, and then the next day it would fall again. But if they tried to store it up, it rotted. God’s abundance is always plenty, but never for hording.
- When faced with 5000 hungry people, the disciples despaired: "Better send them away. We don’t have enough." But Jesus said, "Wait—what do you have?"
"Five loaves," they said, "and a couple of fish."
"Will you share them?" Jesus asked. A bit reluctantly, they did. And everyone ate, and there was more food left over than they’d had to start with. Sharing unleashes the abundance of God.
- Acts 2 tells how the early Christians sold their possessions and shared with each other. This kind of sharing wasn’t easy. Not everyone did it; one couple even lied about it. But when they did it, the result was that familiar miracle—no one was in need and everyone had enough.
Elijah is an Ambassador of Abundance. And he’s in good company—the Bible is full of them.
Samuel Wells points out how odd it is for Elijah to ask a starving widow for something to eat.1 It’s seems almost rude. Why does he do it? Because he respects her dignity. Everyone has something to offer. The Ambassador of Abundance doesn’t give people stuff; he gets people to share what they have and it becomes enough for all.
Wells also teaches that this story is more about faith than facts. The prophet does not wave a magic wand and suddenly everyone is a millionaire. Sometimes we have to share as though we have enough even when there doesn’t seem to be enough. That’s why Elijah said, "Don’t be afraid."
When the prophet asks a starving widow for something to eat, he is asking her to see the world a whole new way. It is, as Walter Brueggemann puts it, "a summons to leave the fearful world of scarcity and to practice the world of abundance in concrete ways."2 The Ambassador of Abundance doesn’t give us stuff; he asks us to share our stuff, to leave our fearful, grasping world for a miraculous world of plenty.
So how might an Ambassador of Abundance call us to share our last morsels of bread? How can we leave the fearful world of scarcity and practice the world of abundance?
I knew a guy in seminary. His wife found herself unexpectedly pregnant during his second year. My friend was in school, racking up loans. His wife felt too sick to go to work some days and was losing pay. And he knew enough about how much it costs to raise a child to make him nervous. Every night he lay awake worrying about money. Every time he needed to buy even some little thing he’d ask himself, "What if we don’t have enough? What if we don’t have enough?" Two things happened to change his fear: (1) His fellow students—dozens of us—took a collection that paid for all the cribs and carseats and stuff that babies need. And (2) his pastor advised him that every time he asked that fearful question—"What if we don’t have enough"—to answer himself with a different question—"Yes, but what if we do have enough?" And of course, somehow or other, they had enough. But what really changed was his faith, the way he looked at the world. His pastor was an Ambassador of Abundance, summoning him to leave his world of fear for the practice of abundance.
A couple of years ago, Maple Grove’s Stewardship Team was meeting to plan the fall pledge campaign. We were trying to set a financial goal for the next year. We knew it had to be high enough to meet the church’ needs, but we feared if it was too high people would grumble and feel overwhelmed. We went around the table sharing various desperate ideas, until finally Cathy Davis said, "We’re coming at this the wrong way." She asked us to get up and move to a different physical space to symbolize moving our hearts and minds to a different spiritual space. She prayed for God to replace our fear of scarcity with a trust in God’s abundance. We breathed deeply, and set a high goal. And then you all surpassed that goal. Cathy Davis was our Ambassador of Abundance, overcoming fear with prayers of abundance.
The same is surely true for our life together as a nation. Whenever we try to improve our schools or provide health care for the poor or save the world from climate change, people will say, "We just can’t afford to do that." Now the truth is we may not have the political will or consensus to solve these problems—liberals don’t like conservative ideas and conservatives don’t like liberal ideas. But the truth is, we have the resources to solve any problem we set our hearts and minds to. What we need is an Ambassador of Abundance to summon us out of our fearful scarcity and invite us to share.
Jesus was an Ambassador of Abundance. In Mark 8 he says, "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." What we fearfully grasp gets away from us; what’s truly ours are the things we give away.
St. Francis was an Ambassador of Abundance. In his famous prayer we say that it’s in dying we are born to eternal life, it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it’s in giving that we receive.
Abundance is a miracle, but in God’s economy it is not the exception, but the rule. And abundance is unleashed by the simple act of sharing.
1 Samuel Wells, Learning to Dream Again: Rediscovering the Heart of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013), 100.
2 Walter Brueggemann, "Disciples of the Great Connector," Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, ed. Anna Carter Florence (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 72.