Theres a story in the Bible about a man named Elijah. He was someone whose life was characterised by some intense low points of self doubt, of questioning, and some high points where he took on those in the country and the king who decreed the worship of an alternative God (Baal). His life is often read through the lens of his faith – to whether the storms, or to counter the King, or of obedience.
At one point Elijah is in the desert, and God informs him of a pending drought & famine, and to feed him, Elijah is visited by Ravens who bring food, and he has a brook to drink from. However, neither the ravens or brook last forever. So, out of necessity, Elijah walks to the village of Sidon, a place known for the aforementionned Baal worship. Ahead of the visit, God had already instructed a widow to feed him. (do we know how..? ) So Elijah went, and saw a widow arranging sticks and so he asked her for a drink, and then bread. Yet because of the famine in the land, and that this woman was a widow (had no income or social standing to have an income) she had very little, in fact only enough flour and oil for one cake, after that we are told, she and son will have nothing left and die.
Elijah encourages her to bake, to give to him, and keep the remainder for her and her son, and true to Elijahs promise, from that day on, there was food in the house, enough to feed them all until the rains came and food was sourced.
You can read the rest in 1 Kings 17 in the Old testament.
Its a fascinating episode in the story of Elijah, yet this story isnt about him at all. He plays second fiddle to the widow, without her there would be no story, without her there would be no food for him, without God preparing her there would be no hospitality. Surely it should be read as the faithful widow gave gifts to the hungry man.
Yet, without the necessity of Elijahs survival from the desert, there would be no need for the widow in the story either.
This story is often one that is used when considering some of the theological resonances with what might be termed ‘Asset-Based community approaches’, and i make no apology for giving this airtime. On one hand Elijah had to be present in the village to receive the resources of the community, and this goes hand in hand with the resources of the community being given, being received by the prophet. It echoes Jesus calling the disciples to find the man of peace. It also echoes/foretastes Jesus receiving the gift of a drink of water from the Samaritan woman (another woman beset by social inequality, unemployment and derision for her marital status)
The faith of the widow to give, despite the obvious need to feed herself and her son, who are near to death is quite astounding . To feed a stranger in need. And yet she gave. She may have gave because she might have had to obey a man in that society, or because she had been guided by God to do such a thing, either faith is in the giving. What she gave, was added to, and miraculously multiplied. (feeding of the 5000 anyone?) For Elijah, and for us in Mission, how might we be attuned to the gifts and resources already present in the people, in the families, in the community in which our lives are connecting with as friends?
Notice too the sense that God has gone ahead of Elijah, God is one step ahead. I wonder, with a focus of the mission story so often reliant on the past heroics, do we in mission take seriously that God might be already ahead of us? – and if so how might we be attuned towards his revelation already in the world?
Whilst Elijah had to go to the village, when he got there he was openly present, at the main gates. He was not behind a wall, but physically in the space and place of the streets, the public spaces. By being present he was able to bring other people, the Widow, into the action, of not only his Story, but also the story of God acting in the world, as he acted in provision, and also in healing the widows son later. Maybe God acted to prepare the widow for the action, but it was Elijah who drew her into the action in the dramatic conversation and request.
If the place of resource, and the place of faith, and the place where the dramatric action resides is shown to Elijah through the actions of the hungry, socially outcast, but faithful Widow in this small backwater village – should that not be calling for the church as theatre of the gospel to encourage the gifts and participation in it by the leastest likely, and actively provide opportunity for the leastest likely to be givers in mission (not just receivers) , and humble enough to receive hospitality of strangers it wants to call friends.
The resources of the Kingdom might already be active waiting to be given. There may be too many needs to be met, but what if mission was about harvesting gifts waiting to be given. What if mission was about making the assumption that the resources for the kingdom are already there. What if in the world stage of the drama of redemption people have already been prepared to give? how might we accept their gifts? Where might the church recognise faith in the giving of them?