Pentecost 25.18 “The Killer Cupcake” I Kings 17:1-17; Mark 12:38-44
Perhaps you recall Mitt Romney’s line from his 2012 presidential campaign about makers and takers? He suggested that nearly half of Americans were “takers”, layabouts who just suck up resources and give nothing back to society. Some people think that line cost Romney the presidency which suggests to me Mitt might have slightly underestimated the percentage of takers, at least among the voting populace. I saw Mitt won a senate seat in Utah last week. Good for Mitt. Must be a majority “maker” state, I guess? No one likes to be called a taker, generally. Maybe you recall Zach Galifianakis’ character “Alan” in the second (not as good as the first but better than the third) “Hangover” movie? Classic taker! We’re laughing at him not with him in the scene where Alan’s lounging in his room, his mother comes to take away his lunch tray and he goes “Guess we don’t do dessert anymore. I didn’t get that memo. Would a cupcake kill ya?”
Much to my delight, the prophet Elijah pretty much says that exact line to the widow of Zarephath, as you may have noticed in our OT reading. Well, I noticed it. So many biblical scenes remind me of beer commercials, buddy, zombie, or Coen Brothers movies. I blame the church council for this since they told me years ago, when I was far overspent on my book allowance, that there’s nothing in books you can’t get cheaper and faster on TV. They were right about the financial savings at least, I think. Plus, I was told at pastors conference last Thursday that I’ve read too many books already.
Anyway, back to the Book and Elijah. He’s a taker! Like Alan from “The Hangover”! Tough-minded on Mike Tyson, too! And you know why Elijah’s demanding cupcakes from this poor widow at Zarephath? Well, now; that’s an interesting backstory… Short answer is that God sent him there promising he could mooch off the widow a good long while. Now, Elijah is in full on mooching mode because there was this drought that caused a famine that caused havoc in Israel (and manual labor is just never a thought that occurs to Elijah). Here’s the fun part: you know who caused the drought? Elijah! Yep. It’s on him. I don’t think he could have gotten elected dog catcher in Israel. Or in America. Certainly not in Utah…
In the first verses of 1 Kings 17 we hear Elijah declare (because they’d abandoned the ’41 hymnal) “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” James and John were obsessed with learning Elijah’s trick of calling down fire from heaven on people. Me, I’m much more keen on his rain trick. I think that’s way cool. Anyway, God liked the rain trick too and told Elijah, “Flee from here and go east, hide by the Brook Cherith because everyone hates you and I will command the ravens to feed you there.”
Which is just like one of my favorite Bud Light commercials where we see this guy standing on the balcony of a swanky NYC penthouse with two attractive women holding Bud Lights and a hawk swoops down onto the guy’s arm, bottle of Bud Light in his talons (used as a bottle opener). The girls are impressed and go “Wow. Can he do it again?” The guy goes, “Sure. Go get one boy…” One girl asks: “Where does he get them from?” The guy furls his brow (never having considered this) and goes, “I don’t know.” Cut to a cafe at street level with a waiter shouting, “He’s coming back! Get down!” and everyone’s diving for cover as the hawk upends tables, terrorizes everyone, searching for Bud Light. This is Elijah. As long as he gets his, who cares where it comes from? Classic taker…
Eventually the Brook runs out, Raven Service stops and God tells Elijah to go to Zarephath in Sidon where a widow will provide for him. He sees the widow straightaway and greets her with “Get me a drink.” And, as she’s going, Elijah says the line: “Oh, and would a cupcake kill ya?” (NIV!). And she goes “Well, actually it would kill me! Because of this drought, I’ve only got a little flour and oil. I was gathering sticks to make a fire, make my last meal for me and my son and then die.” Elijah goes “Boo-hoo! Enough about your problems. I’m hungry! Make me a cake first, fast as you can, bring it, and then we’ll see about you.” Ultimate taker!
In the Gospels, we find more likable characters than Elijah, more givers than takers, like the poor widow in the temple who put her last two mites into the collection plate and got Jesus’ attention. I don’t have a beer commercial or movie reference to paint her picture for you, but I do have a true story about my Grandma Asmundson. She was a poor widow living in Calgary in the 1940’s with 4 kids to raise, a cleaning lady with precious few mites. My mother told me how they were down to their last 5 dollars one Sunday. Sitting in church, as they did every Sunday, the collection plate passed and sure enough, Grandma Julia put her last 5 in the collection plate, their entire livelihood, all they had to live on.
My mom was not impressed at the time. She was just ticked. Her mom seemed selfish and cruel to her that morning, caring more for Jesus than for her family—more like a mad prophet who’d take your last cupcake, or send his hawk to steal your beer than a kindly kingdom builder practicing good stewardship. That a well-off uncle stopped by at 1 pm that day with a 500 dollar gift did not strike my mother as divine vindication for grandma’s reckless ways, though it was interesting.
So, I have a soft spot for poor widows going all in on Jesus. They’re family to me. It is tempting to play off the poor widow giving away her last mite as a maker—contrasting her to takers like Elijah as if her giving is what builds the kingdom. The old saw “give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he feeds himself for life…” would have us see my grandma as teaching us a way to turn 5 bucks into 500, way ahead of Joel Osteen’s Prosperity Gospel. Such sermons may be very moving. They’re just not very true!
Because that’s not how grandma Julia was! She was a taker cut from the same cloth as Elijah. Mom was right: Grandma Julia cared far more for God than for her family. And it’s only as her family came to share her reckless Lutheran faith that would put her last mites into the pot—not as a way of bullying God into turning the 5 into 500, but because the 5 was keeping her from grabbing onto Jesus completely, both hands full of Him—that a love far greater than the earthly bound us to one another as more than blood relatives; now as eternal members of Christ’s Body(!). The love that cares for no one and nothing half so much as Jesus looks cold, capricious, cruel from the outside. But Elijah and his friends get it; for we share a bond the world never grasps.
There’s only one Maker—Jesus. But, He makes us holy by drawing us into the divine taking that cares for nothing half so much as Him, His Kingdom—living off His Dying, every day. So my takeaway is simple: be a taker like Elijah and the widows. Line up as a beggar, every day, to get your Fish from Jesus’ hand. Eat His Body, drink his Blood. For in that holy taking, Jesus is holy making; and Peace (surpassing understanding!) guards heart and mind in Him. Amen.