Love Empties Itself
LOVE EMPTIES ITSELF
If love is not self seeking what is the opposite of self seeking? Paul gives us the answer in the letter to the Philippians. His answer is the first answer we learn in Sunday school as a child. Jesus is the opposite of being self seeking. Before His Incarnation the Second member of the Trinity made the decision to let go of his high position and empty himself. He took on human form, the form of a slave, and was obedient, even to the point of death. Love is not self seeking. Instead, love empties itself. The good news today is simply this;
When Love empties itself God creates something new.
The incarnation, when God became a man, is one of the most mysterious and hardest to understand concepts in Christianity. Jesus just didn’t materialize from heaven, a fully grown human being. He isn’t like Captain Kirk of the Star Ship enterprise beaming to the surface of the Earth ready to do battle. Instead, Jesus was born of a woman. When the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary God created an entirely new human being out of nothing. The Biblical writers knew nothing about genetics at the time. Perhaps Jesus was genetically related to Mary, perhaps he was not. But the point is that when God pours out his love new things are created out of nothing. New possibilities emerge, new ideas are birthed, new hope is born, miracles happen.
Now you may be thinking, “ that is all well and good preacher but what does this mean for my life? I am not Jesus. I am just a normal person. I can’t create something out of nothing. What does it mean for me to empty myself? As I have prayed and thought about the idea of emptying ourselves the idea of single parents, particularly single mothers, came to mind. Now it is true that there are some great single dad’s in this world. But in our culture being a single mother is far more common. I have had the honor over the past few years of getting to know several amazing single mom’s. Those of you who are new here to Calvin may not know that single mothers play a major role in our church. You are blessed here at Calvin to have some hard working leaders. Old, young, married, and unmarried, who pour themselves out for the good of the church. But it is the sacrifice of those of you who are single mothers which continually humbles me. It is hard enough to work and raise a child on your own. But that you would go a step beyond and give what free time you have to the ministry of Calvin, truly humbles me. Whenever I am exhausted, whenever I am tired, whenever I feel empty, I remember you and your struggles, I remember your courage, your faith, and your sacrifice, and I stop feeling sorry for myself and press into the challenges in my own life.
I asked a friend of mine who is a single mother if she knew any good resources at her church for Christian single mothers to encourage them in their journeys. This church has an active ministry to single moms and she had been involved in that ministry. But she couldn’t think of any written resources to help single mothers in their spiritual journey. So I tried to think of the example of a single mother in the Bible. At first nothing came to mine. But then the Holy Spirit brought the Widow of Zarephath to mind.
Before this passage the prophet Elijah had predicted a drought in Israel that would last for several years. To provide for Elijah God sends Elijah Zarephath to be fed by a widow. In the sermon Love is Kind we learned that the word Widow in the Hebrew means empty because widow’s in Elijah’s culture were thought of as empty, and worthless. God is defying expectations. He sends Elijah to a woman who everyone considers to be empty to be fed. God is setting up a miracle.
Even during good times, this widow had very little. We don’t know how long the drought had been going when Elijah met the widow. But we know it had gone on long enough that the widow was down to her last morsels. We the reader know that the widow is on the verge of an amazing miracle . A jar of floor and oil will last for years until the Lord sends rain upon the Earth. The widow is on the verge of hope, the verge of new life, but first she must empty herself. How does the widow empty herself? How are we to empty ourselves in our lives? In this passage I see two steps that are key.
- First the widow grieves
- Then the widow believes
First, the widow grieves. All my life I have read this passage and I just thought the widow was bitter. That she had given up hope. That she was not expressing the joy of the LORD. But this week I taught on grief in my class on the book Beyond Boundaries: Learning To Trust Again in Relationships. And I sat in on our first grief share meeting here at Calvin Presbyterian Church. My trust class focuses on the grief we feel when the relationship is dead but the person is still alive. Our Grief share ministry focuses on the grief we after someone has died.
John Townsend, author of Beyond Boundaries defines grief as letting go of what you cannot keep. And in our Old Testament passage the widow probably hasn’t given herself a chance to grieve. She has a son. And she wants to be strong for him. She can’t break down in front of him because he is depending on her. Her statement that she is gathering sticks to cook a final meal for her and her son could be interpreted as a bitter retort to Elijah’s request. And Elijah’s request for the widow to give him some food may seem cruel. But perhaps it is God sending Elijah to give the widow the opportunity to speak aloud something she hasn’t been able to say. She is empty. She can’t hold on any longer. The hardest thing in the world is not being able to provide something for your children. But even if the widow were a queen with all the riches in the world, she would make mistakes, she would fall short, she wouldn’t be able to guarantee her child’s happiness and wellness. Not because she is a bad parent. But because she is human. Elijah is not being cruel to this woman. He is giving her the opportunity to speak the truth. He is giving her the opportunity to let go. He is giving her the opportunity to empty herself so she may be filled.
Grieving isn’t about letting go of hope. It is just about letting go of control. Because if God is Love then we can’t control Love for we can’t control God. Ecclesiastes 5:17 states, “sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of the face the heart is made glad.” The text doesn’t describe the widow’s facial expressions say but perhaps after the widow stopped pretending to be strong and just said her reality, tears began to flow, and sorrow started to empty from her heart.
Townsend, points out that love, and the loss of love, is a popular topic of music, particularly country music. Generally country music breaks into two categories. The protest song usually goes something like please don’t leave me I will change my ways. The I’m moving on song usually involves variations of I am over you and in the case of romantic relationships may involve the damaging a cheater’s car. But these things are not grieving. What we learned in Grief Share Thursday night is grief is the price of love. We must acknowledge the good as well as the bad. The fact that we didn’t see the bad when we entered into a relationship doesn’t make us ignorant. It just makes us human.
Just because we can’t give our child something doesn’t make us bad parents it just makes us human. Even if this widow was a queen she wouldn’t be able to provide for all of her child’s happiness. She hast to trust God to provide for her child’s happiness. And when she grieves she lets go. She isn’t letting go of hope. Because she didn’t have hope before. She is just letting go of control.
Second, the widow believed. One other thing I learned in Grief Share Thursday night is take the next step. You don’t need a lot of faith. Jesus said the faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. It is not the amount of faith. It is the type of faith. And the type of faith we need is not the faith to say I know the day will come will it will no longer hurt. That day will come. But we don’t know when it will come. All we need is the faith to take the next step. The faith to perform a little act of trust, a little act of love. Elijah didn’t ask the widow to climb a mountain, to walk on water, to pray for the drought to stop, he just asked her to make a meal for him. And it is a hard meal to make but it is something she can do. And she had the faith to take the next step, to trust a stranger, to get up again and make a meal. And when she grieved and when she believed a miracle broke out. Not just to provide for her for a week but for days on end. A well that did not run dry to provide for her in the drought.
It isn’t the amount of faith we have it is the type of faith we have. Jesus says if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed you can move that mountain. And that faith is not saying I know I can get back to where I was. It is just saying I am willing, I am willing to take the next step.
Jesus did not count equality with God as something to be clung to. But he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant and created something new. The widow she emptied herself and created something new. And if you are feeling empty today I am telling you that there is hope. You are on the verge of a miracle, a new creation, if you let go and let the tears flow. For the scriptures tell us that God is Love. And Love Empties Itself.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.