Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Living on the Margins

Sometimes the lectionary leaves out the plot of a story because it wants to make connections that lie in the details. This week, we read of Elijah sitting under a broom tree wanting to die. God intervenes and gives him some cakes and water to sustain him for the journey (cf. bread of life in the Gospel lesson). But I’m more interested in what got Elijah under that broom tree in the first place.

Elijah had killed the priests and prophets of Baal in a God-inspired mass-execution. After proving the inferiority of their god by successfully calling Yahweh to send down fire and consume an entire water-soaked offering  and altar, God told him to chase down his enemies and slaughter them. When his enemies heard of the bloodshed, Jezebel, their leader, sent word to Elijah that the prophet would suffer the same fate as those he killed. So Elijah ran in fear. I think it’s remarkable that even after his resounding victory Elijah still faced a challenge he wasn’t prepared for.

Elijah slept under the broom tree, prepared to die. But God had other plans. He awakened him twice to encourage the prophet to eat cakes of grain and drink water so that he might be prepared for a forty-day journey without any more food or water. God gave him enough to make it through to Horeb, where God revealed himself to the prophet through an encouraging whisper.

As I read the story, I am reminded of the theology of stewardship, which is based on the premise that faith and fear are opposite forces—one of God and the other ungodly. Elijah ran out of fear and was ready to die, but God gave him what he needed and his fear was turned to faith. When we reach the end of our rope and are prepared to surrender only to discover that God has something else in store from us, our own fear is transformed into faith. That’s because faith is an external reality. It is a belief and trust in something else—something beyond us. If we were only dependent on ourselves, the end of our rope would be just that—the end. But discovering that God is the source of all that we have shows us that our despair is not the end of the story.

The exercise of tithing or percentage giving—setting aside the first certain percentage (10% = tithe)—forces us to accept the reality that we are not the source of our own provision. There is a little risk in stepping out as a free giver. But what we discover is the same thing that Elijah found. By living a little closer to the margin of life, we discover that God sustains us beyond what we are able to do on our own. And, when we encounter God’s gracious provision in our daily life, we are left with nothing to fear. Only faith remains.

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