I believe that people want to help others. It’s how we’re wired. Helping others connects us with others, gives us purpose, meaning and joy. Helping others is a beautiful part of being human.
We see this in children. Children are very eager to help out. My son was telling me this week how he and a few other students volunteered to skip recess to help out their teacher set up the classroom. We were very proud of him.
When crisis hits, our instincts are to come together to help one another. Our desire to help others is a big part of who we are.
But somehow, on a day to day basis, that desire to help others gets dulled or snuffed out. It’s not that we don’t want to help, but we feel like we don’t have anything to give.
We don’t have time. We don’t have the energy. We don’t have the resources. The demands on our time, energy and resources leave us numb and exhausted. We are tapped out.
This was the case of the widow in today’s story. Widows were extremely vulnerable in a male-dominated world. Not only that, she had a son to take care of. And to make matters even worse, they were in the middle of a great drought.
I see in this story a widow who has been scratching and clawing to survive and provide for her son. I see a tenacious mother, doing anything she can to keep her and her son alive.
She reminds me of many of our immigrant mothers, who work day and night, scratching out a living to support their children. They give everything they have for the sake of their children.
The drought was devastating, and the widow was at the end of the rope, with almost nothing left.
But in this dire situation, God had his own plan. This is what God says to Elijah:
“Go now to Zaraphath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” (1 Kings 17:8-16)
Elijah the Prophet
Elijah would become the greatest prophet that Israel ever had. But in today’s passage, he is at the very beginning of his prophetic career. He is unknown. He is on the run from the King of Israel. He has no allies and is extremely vulnerable.
He is so desperate, that the only one who can keep him alive is a vulnerable widow who herself has nothing to give. When Elijah asks her for a morsel of bread, she talks about her plight:
“As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” (1 Kings 17:12)
Isn’t it amazing that in Elijah’s desperate, vulnerable situation, God calls another very vulnerable, desperate person to help him? The fate of Elijah and his future ministry depend on this vulnerable woman responding to his need. The widow probably had no idea about who Elijah was or what he was going to do in the future.
It shows us that we don’t know God’s plans when we are called to help. That’s not for us to know. The question is whether we respond to the need in front of us.
I think the widow wanted to help Elijah, but what she had was so scarce, so little, so small. It was not even enough for herself and her son. She had nothing to give.
In this situation, what Elijah said seems kind of crazy:
“Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.” (1 Kings 17:8-16)
Who among us would do this?
But here, while we and the widow see scarcity, God sees abundance.
This is what God said through Elijah:
“For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: 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.” (1 Kings 17:8-16)
That is what God says. But for us, our jar of meal and jug of oil seem to always be on the verge of running empty. We feel inadequate, incapable, depleted, and not having enough to make a difference to others. We’re always saying that once I have enough, THEN I’ll give.
What do we Have to Give?
Our circumstances and our fear tell us that we have nothing really to give.
But is this really the case?
If you take the time to look more closely, you’ll see that this is not the case. There is actually much more in us than we realize.
While I was Hi-C pastor, one message I said continually was that each of us have something unique to offer to the world that only you have. It might seem small, it might seem insignificant, but to God it is precious. Inside each of us is a source of deep richness, beauty and abundance. Our sin is that we have allowed ourselves to diminish it, be blind to it.
The widow believed what God said. She responded with faith. Her jar of meal and jug of oil became a lifeline for Elijah.
“She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 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.” (1 Kings 18:16)
We have so much to give, more than we realize. What we have to offer at that moment might seem so small. We might feel like we have nothing left in us to give. But even with that little we have, we do not know what kind of blessing it will result in.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was the greatest civil rights leader of our modern times. He responded with great faith to his calling.
But just like Elijah was able to become the great prophet only because of the widow’s faithful response, Martin Luther King Jr. became the great leader he became because thousands of people in a small city responded with faith to theirs.
He was a 26 year old pastor at a church in Montgomery, Alabama, when a lady was arrested for not giving up her seat on the bus to a white person. The black people of the city decided to boycott the bus line. Martin Luther King Jr became the spokesperson for the coordinating organization.
Thousands of black people who depended on the bus system chose to boycott it. They organized their own carpools to get to work. When the city cracked down on that system, they chose to walk. They walked miles to work and miles back home.
They took enormous risks in doing so. Many of the folk worked for white employers who did not look kindly on the bus boycott. Many people indeed lost their jobs because of their participation in it.
But nonetheless, they walked. For more than a year. They walked until the bus system became so crippled that they finally relented and let black people sit anywhere on the bus.
Martin Luther King recalled the story of a 72 year old lady, Mother Pollard. Because of her poor health and age, he suggested that maybe she should just take the bus and let others do the walking. Her response was this: “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” (Mother Pollard) What faith!
It was because of people like her that Martin Luther King Jr. could live out his calling.
Until then, most African Americans had lived in acceptance of second class life and fear of backlash and reprisals from white people who held all the power.
But somehow they found courage. And faith that they were on the right side of history. They discovered a deep reservoir of power and abundance that was in them. Thousands and millions of these small stories combined to create this national movement that influenced the world.
Martin Luther King Jr. said this: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
My faithful response with what little I have can give a lifeline to you. Your faithful response with what little you have can be a lifeline for me.
Who are you called to help right now? Don’t worry about what you’re called to do in the future. What about right now? Even if you feel tired and tapped out, who is God calling you to help, or what is God prompting you to do, right now?
I got ordained at the end of July 2019. I thought that I would ease into life as a minister and learn the ropes gradually. But as we all know life was flipped upside down in March 2020.
For those first few weeks and months, I had no idea what to do. That whole time is a blur. I don’t know how I got through those times. I was often like a zombie, not having enough time, mental sanity, sleep and energy.
But you know what? My jar of meal was not emptied, and neither did my jug of oil fail. Our God sustained me.
A huge way God sustained our pastoral staff was through this community. All of you, faithfully coming out to worship on Zoom week in and week out. You didn’t have to. In fact, at home, you could have done anything you wanted. It may have been a small thing for you, to come out every week for worship. I’ll tell you this: even just showing up, being present, and participating is a huge blessing for those who lead. Never underestimate the power of your presence. Your faithful presence on the screen and now in the sanctuary, seeing all of your faces each week, was such an uplifting inspiration for us. It lifted my soul and led me to worship in ways I never have before. Trust me, I would never have imagined myself dancing around on the stage of an empty sanctuary! Your presence cleaved me closer to this community than ever before. You know when I went around saying all of your names? It wasn’t just for show, it was true appreciation for the blessing of your presence that lifted my soul. It’s because I was so inspired by you and what God had given to us. I’m sure that through the little the pastors had to offer, some of you were blessed as well. These are the cycles of blessings that create abundance.
Each of our small jars help us sustain one another. God calls us to offer what little we have and multiplies it. That is the blessing of the good life. That is the abundance that comes from sharing what little we have. That is the mystery of how Jesus turned 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish into enough food for five thousand people.
I was also sustained and blessed by our Session – our Elders. Our Elders had their own struggles and challenges throughout this time, and we shared them with each other. In the beginning, we met every Sunday night to share and discuss. They too were often depleted and felt like they had nothing left to give. But they responded with faith. They were faithful to their calling. And God sustained us and kept us filled. I am so thankful for our Elders during these past two years.
You know, none of our Elders just readily said “yes” to their calling. Pretty much all of them said NO at the beginning.
James Lee said no twice in previous years. This time around, we spoke three times about it, and each time, James was ready to say no. Apparently he thinks I’m a good talker or something. Hey, like Elijah, I was just a messenger from God.
Jisook and Joon also said no before too. Jennie also shared how inadequate she felt. All of them felt like they did not have enough to give: whether it be their time, energy, circumstances or enough attributes of what they thought an elder should be. I am so thankful they responded with faith and said yes. I am so excited about how God will use them to carry out the ministry of this church, and where God will lead us through their leadership.
We hope that ultimately, everyone here will serve as an elder in our church. It’s such a wonderful privilege and blessing. It is not about what you have to bring to the table, it is simply your faith that God will use what little you have and be faithful with it.
Let’s accept this simple fact: life is tiring. There’s no way around it. The question is: will you be tired in a way that leaves you more exhausted and depleted? Or will you be tired in a way that gives you joy? When you are called to give what little you have, respond with faith. God will supply your needs.
Then watch in awe as God turns that little into abundance. I’ve seen this happen over and over, and I know that God will make this your reality too. Seeing this and experiencing this: that is a good life that is opened wide.