- 1 Kings 17: 8-16 Elijah & the widow of Zarephath
- Psalm 23 The Lord is my Shepard
- Mark 6:30-44 Jesus and the feeding of 5000
It is a providential irony – or God’s gracious humor – that the name of a cookbook has become a motto for Mennonites. More with Less has become a catchword of identity. More with less could also be a catchword of biblical hospitality.
The late Henri Nouwen believed that, “If there is any concept worth restoring to its original depth and evocative potential, it is hospitality” (Christine Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition , p. 3).
Our biblical stories in this worship are testimonies to the truth of More with Less hospitality grounded in God’s grace.
I Kings 17:8-16 — The Widow of Zarephath
The biblical story of Elijah and the widow is the second of three stories which reveal the hospitality of God offering life in the face of death. Leading up to this three-fold revelation are stories of unfaithfulness led by the kings of Judah and Israel (ch. 15 & 16).
King after king in Israel and Judah “did evil in the sight of the Lord” walking a way of inhospitable greed. Finally Israel’s King Ahab forsakes God to marry Jezebel and worship Baal. The First Book of Kings tells us 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” (1 Kings 16:33).
God calls the prophet Elijah into this unfaithful environment. The prophet Elijah warns the people of a coming drought and famine in the face of such unfaithfulness. Elijah has to speak very unpopular words to a king and people: “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years” (17:1).
Needless to say, when you speak truth to power your life is in danger. So God told Elijah to go into hiding for awhile and that God would send ravens to bring bread and meat to him every morning and evening. And a severe drought and famine came upon the land according to the word of the Lord.
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying, ‘Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’
So Elijah set out and went to Zarephath.
When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks;
he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.’
As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said,
‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’
But the widow said,
‘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.’
Elijah said to her,
‘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.
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.’
The widow 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 was spoken by Elijah.
Hospitality to the last drop
Just before this story, Elijah is obeys God by going off and awaiting God’s action to feed him by ravens. From that distant hidden security, God calls Elijah to return to the god Baal’s home territory, Zarephath of Sidon. Zarephath is a coastal town in Phoenecia in what would now be Lebanon north of Israel. It was in the region of Sidon, which was Queen Jezebel’s home. For all the danger of returning to a seat of power, what is evident is that Baal cannot intervene with Elijah or the famine because Baal is a god (small g) not God (capitol G).
A long drought had brought widespread famine to the region. Unfaithfulness, especially of Israel and Judah’s kings, was at fault. Here in this land a widow and her son were down to their last bite of food. Death is imminent. In the face of death hospitality hangs in the balance of life and death. Being a widow without the security of a husband makes her marginalized and destitute. She is “caught between the demands of ancient hospitality and the harsh reality of famine” (Richard Nelson, First and Second Kings, Interpretation, p. 110)
The widow’s choice comes in a way that would appear to be a choice of life or death as a trade off between life for Elijah and or life for her own son. Yet she is obedient to God through Elijah. A prophet in need meets a woman in need and together they receive God’s hospitality (Pohl, 26).
Hospitality is a choice. Hospitality takes us to the heart of God. Hospitality may confront us with the hard choice of sacrifice. Hospitality offers us the possibility to let go of the strong impulse to look out for ourselves and our own at the expense of the other.
Hospitality is of God, even the heart of God. “Hospitality means erring on the side of love. God’s love incarnate in Jesus is the invitation to God’s love feast” (Nina Lanctot, “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” Leader, Summer 2006, p. 2).
In these Elijah stories, God is clearly the prime mover. But God’s moving upon the earth calls for obedience and hospitality by faithful people offering hospitality. Elijah and the widow are defining models of that obedience to God in the face of life and death decisions. Elijah is seen as a forerunner of Jesus modeling compassionate hospitality.
The word hospitality doesn’t actually appear in the Old Testament although it does in the New Testament. However, the concept and reality of hospitality are very evident in the Hebrew Scriptures (OT) and essential to faithful obedience to God. Hospitality means to reach out to the other, especially to the stranger and the outcast, the poor and the vulnerable among us (IDB, volume 2) . Often when you reach out and offer something you that what you offered is miraculously multiplied so that everyone has enough.
There is a little song with the refrain: “Love is something of you give it away…we end up having more.” This is the miraculous math of hospitality.
The Rule of Benedict and the monasteries who live by the Rule, live as their central monastic rule to “Receive all who enter here as Christ.” The heart of monastic life is the heart of hospitality.
The Lord is My Shepherd — Psalm 23
The twenty third Psalm – that best-known and most-loved Psalm – poetically and prophetically declares the hospitality of God. In the majestic King James Version: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” (23:5).
In our ever-present choice between life and death, the abundant and boundless hospitality of God offers us life. The more of life is birthed in the less of circumstances. We recognize this as we respond to God’s call with obedience which is the hospitality of obedience and the obedience of hospitality.
Jesus and More with Less Hospitality
The New Testament Letter to the Hebrews puts hospitality as a central command of obedience to Jesus: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (13:2).
Faithfulness today calls us to join with God’s hospitality. Our hospitality of obedience and obedience of hospitality is in response to God in the many moments small or large we face each day.
Ponder for a moment where in the past week were you offered hospitality? Or where did you offer hospitality to the widow or the weak, the hungry or the hurting?
We would do well to daily reflect on hospitality. Where have I been offered hospitality today? Where have I offered hospitality today? Where have I rejected hospitality today? Where have I refused to offer hospitality today?
We would do well to reflect on our life and ministry as a church SMC. Where are we living hospitality or refusing hospitality? We do have ministries of hospitality. Are there others we are refusing? E.g., Stop Drop and Roll and community meals…..
Obedience to God in Jesus Christ calls us to live a More with Less Hospitality as did the widow at Zarephath. The we prayerfully echo a blessing from the Apostle Paul who said, “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough….you may share abundantly in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8; Pohl, 133).
Sandy Richardson’s Meditation.
In this worship we have an opportunity to offer hospitality and to let God multiply the meal and oil or the loaves and fishes as a gift and grace from God shared with Hailu Cherenet and his family. In August of 2003, when Bill Loewen, Brenda Bellamy, Andrea and Kaari Toren and I were with Sisay and family in Ethiopia, we met Hailu. He shared with us his desire to do further seminary study in the US in order to better lead the growing ministry of Meserete Kristos College in Ethiopia. But he had decided that he would not come to study unless his family could come along. Our hospitality makes that possible not only t support Hailu but to support his family and the Mennonite College in Ethiopia.