July 23, 2009

1 Kings Reflection

Mennonite Mission Network is preparing a series of sermon "prompts" for Mission Sunday in November. They asked me to write something on 1 Kings 17:8-16. Here's my reflection:
In this passage, Elijah is instructed to ask a poor widow for assistance. She has barely enough to feed herself and her son. She believes they are on the brink of death. Yet, God prompts Elijah to ask the widow to make him a meal. Can you imagine asking someone in a bread line to make you a meal?! There is a profound lesson for people of privilege to learn from this passage of what it means to be with people in need. Conversely, there is a profound lesson for people in need to learn from this passage of what it means to be with people of privilege.

It is often assumed???at least within Christian circles???that the have???s ought to offer charity to the have-not???s. I don???t want to disregard this instinct. But there is more to the relationship between those with and those without than charity. We do not simply serve people on the margins, we serve with people on the margins. God sees within all people something of worth, something to contribute to the work of his Kingdom coming on Earth. For this to happen, people of privilege must move beyond hand-outs and risk asking those same people who would commonly receive to give. It requires us to recognize our own shortcomings, our weakness, our own need. In short, it requires humility.

How many times have young people returned from service opportunities and shared of their personal transformation? As a poor, migrant worker receiving clothes and food from young, bubbly teenagers once told me, ???I think they are receiving more than me.??? We must recognize how much we receive from giving. And that it is only part of what God is doing when people from both sides of the economic scale come together.

On the other hand, those that receive assistance from others often assume a passive posture. It isn???t an easy place to be in. It is often not simply humbling but humiliating. Yet, in this passage???as said above???God believes all people have worth and reason to contribute to his work in the world. In the passage in 1 Kings, the widow served even when she had so little. She trusted Elijah which may have not been an easy thing. The down-and-out are often taken advantage of, their vulnerability abused. But this woman continued to do what is right, to put other needs before her own. The lesson here is not to continue giving away what we don???t have, but to acknowledge the value we have even when we feel without value in the lens of the world. Remember, it has always been the hands that held so little worldly power that have made the most radical changes throughout history. From the Hebrew slaves of Egypt to the farm workers of California in the 60's. It is the empty handed who God seems to most commonly empower for the continued preparation of Christ's Kingdom come.

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