1 Kings 17:8-16
Ask and ye shall receive!
Give and it will be given back to you!
Plant a seed and watch your blessings grow!
There are laws of faith called a blessing pact, where God returns your donations to you sevenfold!
Positively confess what you want and God will give it to his faithful!
Speak the word of faith and turn your one-dollar bills into twenty-dollar bills!
Let us raise our seeds over our heads as we pray aloud what God will give us in return for our payment.
Such things have been spoken by Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, and Bruce Wilkinson. You may also know the names Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Benny Hinn, or Eddie Long.
They preach a gospel known as Prosperity Theology. They preach the key to wealth is God. With enough faith, with enough gifts to the church to demonstrate this faith, God will gift in return for your financial contribution cures from cancer, give you economic wealth, send true love, or give you anything else the heart desires.
And yes, there are scriptures that support this thinking.
In Jesus’ time, this same thinking was taught in the synagogues and temple. Why is John Doe rich? Because God favors him. God gave him that money. Why is Bob So-and-So poor? Because he displeased God, and God cursed him.
In the book of Job, Job’s friends tell him the same thing. Clearly you lost God’s favor, clearly you are cursed, because you must have cursed God. If you were a good person, if you worked harder, if you had better morals, you wouldn’t be so poor.
Yet Job is adamant he never did a thing wrong against God and yet Job lost everything… We, the readers, know Job is telling the truth.
… and the book of Ecclesiastes… “The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.” Ecclesiastes says where wealth and poverty land is due to time and chance… it is meaningless, senseless, and not based on the moral worth of a person.
Against the prosperity gospel’s message that wealth is a sigh of God’s favor is the entire New Testament about Jesus, the very incarnation of God, who is born poor, lives poor, and dies poor. And his disciples, who he told to become poor. And Paul, who suffered and suffered and died… imprisoned and poor.
That sweet easy life Prosperity Gospel preachers teach us is not the life Jesus demonstrates. The bible never says an easy life can be earned, and in fact says being Christian is choosing a narrow way — a way not wide and comfortable. But a tight, hard, ragged path. The Bible says Jesus died to make us one, atone us, with God. Died to have a victory over death… it never says he died to take away poverty and make us rich.
In fact, Jesus said the poor will always be.
Today, we are given two readings… similar readings… both about widows who believe, who have faith in God, and who give up all they own. One from the old testament, and one from the new…
In 1 Kings, there is a great drought going on. Years without rain. Israel says it is because Kind Ahab has turned to worship Baal with his wife Jezebel. Their Canaanite neighbors say it is because Baal has died, but will be resurrected eventually. The prophet Elijah has said the rain will return when the Israelites return to the God of Abraham.
But that’s a very unpopular message. It’s against the king.
So Elijah is hiding out in a wadi, a wet ravine. Here, God has been sending him food from ravens. Ravens are considered really unclean to the Israelites. But these unclean birds are doing God’s will and sustaining Elijah. However, eventually, even the wadi goes dry. So Elijah travels on when he hears the word of God.
God tells him to ask an unclean, destitute widow from the neighboring capital city for food. It’s like the ravens weren’t bad enough — now Elijah has to go stoop to the level of asking unclean women, a poor woman, who worships Baal, to share her food.
Are you ready to ask for the only piece of moldy bread from the unwashed hand of a homeless drug dealer who worships Satan?
This is kind of what God asks of Elijah. Asks him to identify with this level of humbleness with other humans.
And Elijah is this faithful.
The widow, when she hears the stranger’s request, says she doesn’t have enough food to bake bread. In fact, she and her son are starving. When they finish this last cake of corn meal, she says there is no more food and they will die. The famine from the drought will be the end of her and her child.
Elijah hears the word of God again, who promises the corn meal and the oil the widow has will not run out until God — not Baal — makes it rain. And God — not Baal — will be feeding Elijah, the widow, and her son.
The woman strangely agrees. Perhaps she thought she has nothing left to lose. She and her son are going to die, what does it matter if she risks sharing their last tiny meal with a stranger? This foreign man and his foreign god at least offer a little hope that this meal will not be their last.
When Elijah takes a risk, and the woman takes a risk, the miracle God promises occurs, and the two adults and little boy survive the famine. Surely this is evidence supporting the Prosperity Gospel, right? Enough risk, enough faith, and things will always turn out alright.
… but the woman never confesses she believes in God. She never converts. She actually curses Elijah and our god later, and still! Still God blesses her by resurrecting her son when Elijah prays for such. This woman begins as a worshipper of Baal and ends as a worshipper of Baal… yet God’s blessing comes to her.
God’s love doesn’t seem to be limited to only the faithful.
Our second widow story comes from Mark. In this reading, Jesus warns his disciples against rich people who make huge donations to charity, even as they make their riches and profit off of the very people the charity helps. It’s a bit like cigarette companies donating money to a hospital for a new lung cancer wing (complete with their logo and complementary cigarettes in each patient take-home bag.) Or like Wal-Mart offering free “how to apply for food stamps” programs to its employees rather than offering a living wage or full-time hours with benefits. Or a big Prosperity Gospel church educating how to become financially stable while saying one can only be financially wealthy if a person buys their expensive holy oil or makes big donations to the church.
The good deed — donating to a hospital, offering education, ministering — is over shadowed by the fact the good deed wouldn’t be as desperately needed if the deed doer wasn’t MAKING or making worse the bad situation these charity cases are in!
In the story, Jesus is watching people come and leave coins in a donation box at the temple. People he has chastised, the wealthy, come and leave a large sum of coins… but what they leave is only some of what they own. They give a percentage of the money they have gained.
Then a widow, a person with no income, and dependent on charity to survive, comes and leaves all she has. She trusts God, trusts the temple, and now is completely broke.
Jesus points her out to his disciples. She has given more than everyone else. We understand she has given 100% while the others gave .05% or at max, 10%…. even though the rich gave more money, what they gave is a less percentage of what they own compared to the widow.
But what is Jesus meant even more in his comment than simple percentage math?
What if he meant this woman has given all her hopes and dreams to the temple? She is all in. She feels compelled to give the last money to feed herself and her children to the church.
And yet, nearby, stands the affluent church and community leaders, who give a little portion of their income, and reap lots of praise. You know — get their name on the wall for their contribution and get on TV where they say ‘I am wealthy because I am faithful to God!’
Is their .05% faithful more faithful than the widow’s 100%?
Why is she still poor if wealth is a matter of God’s faithfulness?
Where did the wealth of the scribes and religious leaders come from? Work, yes… but also inheritance, and rich relatives, luck of birth and chance good deals, but also donations and gifts. The money given to the temple. And the assets they ‘devoured’ from the widows, the congregation members, who trusted them to guide their lives.
Widows needed a man to manage their legal affairs. Many of us need someone to help us with finances. And just as it was in Jesus’ time, so it is today – some people get rich by ripping off, stealing from, the elderly. Tricking the average person. Some claim to be good hearted and helpful even as they help themselves to eating up all the savings of an duped man or woman.
I see this happening today! Some Prosperity Gospel churches preach that if a person simply gives enough to God through the church, ANYTHING that person prays for will happen. It just takes faith! If your cancer doesn’t go away, if your debt doesn’t go away, if true love doesn’t appear… it isn’t because God or the church have failed you, it is because you haven’t demonstrated enough faith. Give more. Believe more. Pray more. Buy more.
Recently, I read about a woman who was dying of cancer. She trusted so much in the messages of Prosperity Gospel that she gave all her income, went into great debt, praying and trying to demonstrate her faith that God would cure her. She even began to skip chemo treatments to maintain her big donations. Her daughter said, “Right up to the end, mom was writing in her diary how she knew God would cure her if she could just give a few more dollars and believe a bit more.”
God’s favor cannot be bought!
Richness and poverty are not from blessings and curses.
We follow the god who was born in a barn to an unwed mother, raised by a day laborer step-dad, lived in a tiny no-horse town in an impoverished occupied Middle Eastern country. We follow a god who had no place to rest his head, who was cursed, spat on, betrayed. A god who went through a kangaroo court and was dealt injustice, and then killed through capital punishment in a public and brutal way.
Our God never promised us a rose garden. Our God promises us companionship in the awfulness of life and in the beauty of life. Our God promises us that one day, God God’s self will dry our tears and feast with us. Our God promises us that we and God together can make this world a better place.
We Christians are given an incredible responsibility – we don’t just have to donate to the poor, and to our churches, and to one another… for there will always be need. No — we have to destroy the systems that cause poverty, destroy the churches that harm people, and sit in the dirt with each other when the storms hit. We have to speak truth to power, even when that makes us unpopular. We have to protest injustices even when that means we have to give up the power those injustices give us. We have to be like Christ, be like Jesus… and not take the easy route, the easy explanation, for wealth inequality.
Do we have enough to give? It depends on who you ask and why they are giving. If you’re giving to earn God’s blessing — stop. You already have the blessing of God’s love. If you’re giving to help others with no expectation of return — continue. Such is how to live Christian. If you are giving out of your wealth to be seen — stop. You are harming God’s work. If you are giving out of your heart for the mission of God — continue. Whatever you give large or small God will use. — and money is just one type of gift. The most important gift you can give at all if the gift of a loving life.
In the words of Amy Pectol, the wealthy in the past and those of today “actually give less than those who have middle or lower incomes… those with the least continue to give more, by percentage of their resources, than the wealthy! Jesus is NOT endorsing this behavior, but blatantly naming it for what it is… and challenging US to see the structures that allows this to continue. [So!] What can WE DO to make society and… our faith communities more equitable? Why do we let this continue to happen such that the poor give until it hurts and the wealthy seem to so often benefit from this self-defeat of the impoverished?”
Go out. Be bold. Speak truth. Live like Christ. Throw some money changers and other hypocrites out. Let’s make a world where no one is down to their last two pennies while others sit on mounds of gold. Let’s make the kindom of God now and no one has too much or too little! Amen.
Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore, Ohio, 11-8-15