Today’s scriptures describe God’s faithless in times when we feel most in need, spiritually and economically. We recognize that we live in a world in which fear is used to motivate political decisions and personal priorities. We are often counseled more about threats than possibilities. We have resources all around us, and yet we are told to consider what we lack and thus to live by individualistic insecurity rather than divine abundance. The most powerful nation in the world is told by its leader to fear a ragtag group of caravaners. Persons with adequate resources are asked “will you outlive your money?” focusing on limit rather than possibility and how much time we have left rather than how we will spend time the time of our lives. We can be realistic about personal and congregational limitations in time, talent, and treasure, but in God’s world, they should not determine our visions of the future.
The exchange between God’s messenger Elijah and the widow of Zarephath is a presents the classic tension between trusting God’s abundance and obsessing on our limitations. The widow deserves much affirmation: despite her fear and scarcity thinking, she is willing to look at her situation with new eyes and trust God with her future. Her diminished resources are miraculously replenished one day at a time. “Do not be afraid,” Elijah counsels her, God will provide. Scarcity-consciousness is about fear – fear of the future, fear of not having enough, fear of our own inadequacies to respond to life’s crises. Scarcity consciousness isolates us, disempowers us, and robs us of our imagination. We feel as if we’re on our own, without resources. Every stranger is a threat to our well-being. Faith awakens us to possibilities, to a larger world, where resources come from unexpected sources. Faith awakens us new relationships and opens our senses to resources we did not know we had.
Psalm 146 reminds us to trust God not mortals, especially politically leaders. Recently, an apparently legitimate post went viral on line, showing a billboard of Donald Trump’s photo with the caption, “making the gospel great again” and “the word was made flesh.” Regardless of your feelings about Donald Trump, such sentiments are idolatrous in their elevation of a mortal to the status of savior. Only God is our savior, not any ideology or politician, right or left. The divine savior is, as the Psalm says, executing justice for the poor and promoting the healing of the nation. Pray for vision, letting go of ideology, to listen for God’s voice.Hebrews continues this theme. Mortality is the source of fear, isolation, and alienation. Our days are scarce and numbered when we depend on solely on human resources alone for our salvation. But, the true High Priest Christ has sacrificed so that we live in hope for eternal and everlasting life now and forever more. Trusting God’s everlasting life liberates us from our fears in this world. We may still be anxious and fearful. We need to respond to threats to our well-being and threats against loved ones. But, we need not be afraid of our fear or demoralized by threat. The ultimate questions of life are in God’s hands and God is on our side, now and forevermore.
In the gospel reading, Jesus contrasts wealthy religious leaders with an impoverished woman. The scribes’ generosity is based on their exploitation of the poor. They can give generously because their gains come from injustice. The widow, fully dependent on God and at the lowest end of society, gives out of her poverty. She knows that everything belongs to God and that her life is in God’s hands. Therefore, she can sacrifice, trusting divine providence to care for her.
These readings are not for the faint-hearted. Trusting God means that we may be called to get out of our comfort zones, reach out beyond our communities, and give up some of our abundance so that others will simply live. The caravan, like the two widows, is an appropriate image for our time. While we need to be prudent in the affairs of state, in border laws, and in our personal economics, we are equally called to be sacrificial and to risk comfort for greater goods for our neighbors in need. We need to look at both our “guns and butter,” our investments and sacrifices, to recognize that our self-interest involves the well-being of others and that in letting go of our tight-fisted scarcity consciousness, we open to God’s reservoir of resource in our personal lives, relationships, and political involvement.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of over 45 books including, “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World,” “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God,” and “The Work of Christmas: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Howard Thurman.”