I like to bake bread. When we came to New Zealand we left behind a lot of cookbooks but I scanned in my favourite pages from my favourite bread cookbook so that I have those recipes and directions on my computer. I have used them many times, most recently this evening. So when I was listening to my Daily Audio Bible podcast the other day and I heard the story about the “Widow at Zarephath” in 1 Kings 17, it struck a cord with me. Perhaps what really hit home was the commentary after the reading in which the reader, Brian Hardin, summed up the passage with the directive to “Bake the loaf.” What does this mean?
Some of you may recall the story. There is a drought and famine in the land and God sends the prophet Elijah to live by a brook where he is able to drink water and eat bread and meat brought to him by ravens. Then, the brook dries up and Elijah is told to go to Zarephath, where there is a widow whom “God has directed” to give food to Elijah. Now, first of all, it is not at all clear from the story just HOW God directs the woman to give Elijah food. It almost seems as though the first the woman hears of it is from Elijah himself. Perhaps. God works outside of our constraints of time and space. In any case, he goes and finds this woman gathering sticks to make a fire to bake her last little bit of flour and olive oil together to make a meal for herself and her son. She believes this will be their last meal. There is no food anywhere in the land and so she is prepared to eat this last little bit of bread with her son and then wait to die. It’s a heartbreaking story, really. The woman is hopeless and yet so full of love for her son that she is going to make the effort to make the most of their last tiny meal together. So, as she is in this frame of mind, along comes this prophet of God who asks her to get him a drink of water and a piece of bread. She tells him her story. Remarkably, the first thing Elijah says to her is, “Don’t be afraid.” These are the same words that Jesus uses over and over. These are words that I have come to understand as “a miracle is coming, wait for it.” Or, to put it another way, “Trust me, and watch how things turn out. You’ll be amazed.” Elijah proceeds to tell her that IF she trusts him and does as he asks, her flour and oil will not run out until rain comes to the land, signaling the end of the famine.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if that were me, I’d be pretty skeptical. I realised as I listened to this story and to the commentary afterward, that this is something that is played out in my life in so many ways. On a very literal level, what is my response when a homeless person or a panhandler asks for money? What if they “promise” something in return? I’ve found that more often than not I am tempted and, indeed, often succumb to the temptation to turn away or to offer excuses as to why that person isn’t “worthy” of “my” charity. And then there are the more metaphorical examples where I may hear a call to do something or to go somewhere and I make excuses for why I can’t do it or why the call may not be a genuine call. But beyond that, what’s really going on is that I don’t TRUST the outcome. I don’t believe that whatever it is will turn out the way I want it to. I can’t imagine how it could ever turn out in my favour or how it could ever “be right.” And this lack of faith can paralyse me into doing nothing, staying with the status quo.
This theme plays out in other places in the Bible. There’s Abraham and Isaac, when Abraham actually takes his son to sacrifice him to God, all the while TRUSTING God’s promise that through Isaac he will have a nation full of descendants. (Genesis 22) The story seems so barbaric and gruesome to us, sometimes to the extent that we miss the point entirely. Abraham LOVES his son and he KNOWS that God knows how much he loves his son AND he TRUSTS that somehow God will see him through this. And God does. [Why God would put someone through a test like that is beyond the scope of this post and, frankly, beyond the scope of my theological imagination to answer at present.]
The other story that comes to mind is the parable of the talents. (Matthew 25 14-30) In this one, a man gives “talents” (or money) to each of 3 servants. He goes away and comes back and finds that while he was gone two of them have invested their money and doubled it while the third hid his under the mattress (so to speak). He is very angry at the third son for his laziness and obvious lack of shrewdness in investing. This parable could be (and probably is) used as justification for the “rich getting richer” approach to politics and economics. However, I see it a bit differently. I think the reason this parable came to mind when I was hearing the story of the widow is because PERHAPS there is a parallel. Quite possibly, this parable is about the third servant’s lack of FAITH. He hangs on tightly to the status quo, to what he’s got, instead of investing it (sharing it, sowing it into a world of great need), and by playing it safe, he helps no one, including himself.
And so, Brian’s commentary admonishes me to “Bake the loaf,” to give it all to God, to take risks in order to share the God’s grace and mercy and unfailing love with those who need it. I need to do this EVEN (or especially) when I feel like I might be down to my last cup of flour, my last measure of oil, my last penny, my last nerve, my last bit of compassion.
These thoughts have been swirling around in my head, mixing it up with the images and reports I’ve received from various friends on Facebook of the events of the Montana Gay Pride event this past weekend. Montana Pride has a history of being very unlike other Pride celebrations. The first time I went to one I was fascinated that they held WORKSHOPS. Most of the Pride events I'd been to in other places involved a big, flamboyant parade and parties. Maybe there were outdoor bands and concerts, a dance, a drag show or two, but never workshops. Last year, I went to a workshop on faith and sexuality and met some amazing people there, including a woman named Michele whose son is bisexual and who shared her journey of coming to accept that. I’ve gotten to know her a bit more over the past year and she has shared some of her experiences on her blog, Rainbow Icecream. This year, my friend and “little brother” Tom was director of the whole thing and apparently did an amazing job (not surprisingly) and a woman whom I know from GCN (Kathy at CanyonWalker Connections) came to speak and to meet people and to do her amazing work of reconciliation between the Church and the gay community, especially those (most of us) who have been so wounded by the Church. I believe it took someone like Tom, a passionate Christian gay man, to bring this most unique aspect to a Pride event. I would imagine this must have been, in a sense, Tom’s “Bake the loaf” moment. As I described in a previous post, it’s often not popular for gay people to be associated with Christians or Christianity because of how we have been wounded and rejected by many Christians. Tom and Kathy and Michelle and many others have responded to that call to reach out in faith, knowing that it might (and does) bring abuse and ridicule and rejection from both sides. It’s humbling, really, to see that kind of courage. And yet, just like the widow, just like many of the people whose lives Jesus transformed, just like Abraham, many of us have found ourselves at rock bottom with nowhere else to turn and out of that brokenness has come the gift of truly knowing, believing that it really all comes down to GOD.
I am challenged by the story of the woman who gave her last little bit of food to a man of God, TRUSTING that God would come through for her and her beloved son. I am challenged by the story of the Apostle Paul who suffered all kinds of abuse for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and truly believed God when he said, “My GRACE is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I am challenged by people who suffer unimaginable hardships to bring that grace and compassion to others. It all comes down to trust in God to work things according to a plan that I don’t need to, or really even want to know. Just “Bake the loaf.”