“Rooted in History: Communal Thriving” by The Rev. Stephanie Kendell

February 3rd,2022 Categories: Stephanie Kendell Letters, Weekly Letter

Beloved Friends,

Happy Black History Month! Not only have we started a new month of Root curriculum where we are digging into our individual and shared stories as we become Rooted in History, but it is also Black History Month. Here at The Park, we follow Jesus and are informed by the Bible and its culture and teachings, which means that we teach, learn, and celebrate Black History (Black Life and Black Future too!) every day of every month. If you are not Black, this is a great month to listen, learn, and notice the fullness of Black life, while also decentering and deconstructing your participation in systemically oppressive systems like racism and white-supremacy. And if you are Black may you feel seen, celebrated, and supported every day in this community, but may this month bring connections unknown, joys unimagined, and personal and communal thriving.

Our holy scriptures were written by, about, and for Black and Brown people and we are committed to centering that truth in our lives, work, faith, and community this day and always. We hope that we will see you at one of the many digital gatherings this month which starts with Bible Study and Worship this Sunday. Bible Study begins at 10am for Adults and Children 4th grade and up, then at 10:30am children up to 4th grade gather, and finally all church worship happens at 11am. We are so grateful for the vibrant life of this church and each of you that make it possible.

I am in an online Executive Certificate Program for Religious Fundraising at Indiana University for the next 8 weeks, and if you would have told me in my youth that I would grow up to enjoy talking about church finances, I would never have believed you. Yet here we are. This is a class I am taking as part of my commitment to continuing education. Continuing education is a way your pastors continue to learn and grow, and I wanted to share with you one of the ways this experience – which seems very focused on money– expands into every facet of ministry.

This past week my professor shared two sentences that have completely shifted the way I think of giving. She said, “To give financially is to be in intentional and invested relationship with each other and God.” And then she said, “And relationships shouldn’t hurt.” I was floored as I say the latter part of that sentence all the time. In pre-wedding conversations, in self-care chats, and in prayers of lament for the ways the church has been so hurtful. No wonder our relationships with giving are often so fraught.

I wrote the quote from my professor down on a post-it note and put it on my computer as a lens through which I might do my work this week. It stared at me as I read our scripture as if begging me to challenge it. But I couldn’t because the Holy Spirit did what she does and placed the sentiment of that sentence right in the heart of today’s scripture. See if you read this passage the same way I did as we read together from 1 Kings:

8 The word of the HOLY ONE to Elijah was, 9 “Get up, go to Zarephath, which is part of Sidon, and settle there; watch now, I have commanded a widow woman there to provide for you.” 10 And Elijah got up and went to Zarephath. Then he came to the gate of the town, and look! a widow woman was there gathering sticks; so he called to her and said, “Bring me, please, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 She went to bring it, and he called to her and said, “Bring me, please, a bit of bread in your hand.” 12 Then she said, “As the HOLY ONE your God lives, if I had a cake. There is only a handful of flour in a jar, and a little oil in a jug. Now look, I am gathering two sticks, then I will go home and prepare the oil and flour for myself and for my child; we will eat it, and we will die.” 13
Then Elijah said to her, “Fear not; go and do as you have said, only make me a little cake of it and bring it to me first, then make something for yourself and your child afterwards. 14 For thus says the Holy One the God of Israel: The jar of flour will not empty, and the jug of oil will not decrease until the day that the HOLY ONE grants rain upon the earth.” 15 She went, and she did as Elijah said, and she and he, and her household, ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour did not empty, and the jug of oil did not decrease according to the word of the HOLY ONE that God spoke through Elijah.

1 Kings 17:8-16 (Year W)

I’m curious how you read that story? What stuck out to you? What are you curious about?

The first thing that sticks out to me every time I read this is the way Elijah speaks. This woman has the patience of a Saint because anyone barking orders at me to make them food without a “please” or even just a “hello,” is, let’s say – encouraged– to try again.

But the second thing that stuck out is the flour and oil. It isn’t even bread yet. It just has the potential to be.  For me, seeing the flour and oil as an offering to the church, was such a helpful reminder that what we have to give and what we want to give are often two very different things. The things we want to give usually have less at stake, we are more comfortable with letting them go. But the church sometimes (well to be honest, more like -often) needs more than that. The church often needs a lot more than we are willing to give. And with good reason – we need to live.

The woman making the bread for Elijah, shares that if she feeds herself and her child, it will be their last supper and they will die, so she might as well feed this strange man, who God has commanded her to feed, (God continues to call us to feed the stranger, neighbor, imprisoned, etc.) because he will live on. But Elijah shared with her transparently the plan he has for the bread, and because she knows this man through God, she knows that this intentional support will not hurt her. In giving the gift that was needed rather than the gift she [probably] wanted, not only does she survive but the whole of her community is provided for abundantly to the point of thriving.

Often, we think of the things we want as the excess to life, but in this story, want and survival are the same side of the bare-minimum-coin. But through the actions of this faithful woman, we see that when we give beyond what we want, to the point where everyone’s needs are met, then community happens, intentional relationships are built, and generosity is found in transparent trust. When we give beyond what we want, so that the needs of God’s people are all met, we don’t just survive – we thrive with God.

Shalom Y’all
Rev. Stephanie

Simple Prayer: O Holy One, teach us to be in intentional relationships and show us how to do no harm. Amen.