Sunday, June 09, 2013

The Word in Our Midst : 1 Kings 17:17-24, Luke 7:11-17

This morning I had the pleasure of joining the folks at Birmingham United Church of Christ and sharing the proclamation with them.

Our passages for the morning were:
1 Kings 17:17-24
Psalm 30
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17

Full text after the page jump.

This morning’s stories from Luke and 1 Kings are centuries apart from each other, but they have a lot in common, don’t they? You could take the names out and it might be hard to tell which one is which.
Two women- widowed mothers grieving over the loss of their only son.
Two sons – one grown and one still a boy.
Both sons taken from their mothers prematurely by death.
And both sons healed miraculously!
Mourning turned into dancing!
Sackcloth replaced with clothes of joy!
I’m a mother of four.  My kids are evenly split between girls and boys: 2 of each. One of my sons is grown, like the son in our story from Luke.  I’ll save you from trying to figure out that math and mention that he is adopted.  But an adopted son is a son no less. My other son is, like the son in our passage from 1 Kings, still a boy. At the ripe old age of 4 ½ he would like to think he’s a grown man, but he’s still a muddy, reckless little boy.
As a mother, especially a mother with sons I can picture in these stories, both of these passage speak very vividly to me. I can only begin to imagine the pain of these mothers who have each just lost a son.  Thank God their stories don’t end there!
Leading up to this passage in 1 Kings, Elijah had been on the run from King Ahab and his nasty Sidonian wife Jezebel. This widow had taken Elijah in while he was on the run. The prophet: bearer of the word from God was shown hospitality in her home. When her son died, the prophet Elijah refused to accept that she would lose her son and think that her hospitality toward the word of God had been repaid in pain. Elijah passionately threw himself on the child in powerful prayer . . . and the boy began to breathe again!
            As far as we know, the mourning widow in Luke 7 hadn’t met Jesus before her son’s funeral. But in his great compassion, Jesus saw her and reached out. He raised her son from death and gave him back to her. The people were. . .rightfully. . . astounded!
            In 1 Kings, the widow says that truly Elijah bears the word of God and in Luke, the people acknowledge that God has visited them! Jesus IS the word of God and the word is present! The Word of God is in their midst even in this time of great loss!
The Word of God in their midst turned around their sorrow and allowed them to rejoice!
It wasn’t just the loss of a child that the women were feeling between the time of death and miracle.  Certainly that loss was great, we must not diminish that aspect of their pain, but it was more than even that. 
The loss of a widow’s son marked a time of great fear and uncertainty. 2000 years ago in Israel, the pain of losing a son would have been hugely compounded by the fear of being a widow alone in the world.
It was a patriarchal society. Men were in charge of everything and the women were, essentially, property. If a widowed woman had no son to take care of her and carry on the family name, inheritance, and property, she usually wound up in poverty or prostitution, or both.
The widow whose life was touched by Elijah was already in poverty before her son’s death.  Her son was too young to support her yet. When Elijah first met them, the widow was preparing to bake a loaf of bread with the very last of her resources: her last tiny scraps of oil and flour, knowing it would be their last meal before they starved to death. She was faithful, though, and she took in the prophet and shared this last meal with him. Their supplies were miraculously enhanced. She baked bread every day to sustain them and she never ran out of food.
Once their lives were spared from starvation, the widow again had hope that her son could grow to support her and have a happy, productive life.  His death marked the loss of her beloved child, as well as the loss of that hope of a livelihood.
The widow in Luke lost a grown son.  He was probably already providing for his mother.  All at once, she lost her child,
her provider,
her livelihood,
and her future.
She must have felt like the bottom had dropped right out from under her world.
These passages do tell of God’s great power, but that doesn’t seem to be the main point the authors are driving at. These passages talk to us about uncertain futures. The widow’s losses of sons were even more than the heart wrenching loss of a child. They marked the loss of a future; of a hope for some sort of reasonable livelihood in the years to come.
What a frightening place to find yourself!
            Futures can be a scary thing – especially when we can’t seem to figure out where they’re headed.  We the human race are highly uncomfortable with uncertainty. Some of us are more uncomfortable with it than others, but it is a real fear for all of us. Think about some of the scariest times in life: they are nearly always frightening because of the uncertainty that looms ahead.
            Illness. . . with its possibility of death or disability.
            Changing jobs or retiring. . . was it the right time to make that change? Was it the right change to make?
            Going to school or graduating. . . what am I going to be when I grow up? Will I be any good at this?
            The birth of a child or a child moving out of the home. . . what will the family look like after the change?
            Seasons of life come and go, but the change is rarely easy because there is so often uncertainty about the future.  It’s hard to continue faithfully serving and trusting God when the next step is shrouded in fog.
We might, like Paul, previously known as Saul, find our lives suddenly and completely turned around. We might feel like the widow in 1 Kings who thinks Elijah or even perhaps God has something against her or the widow in Luke, wrapped in grief.
The future can be frustrating and frightening. 
Even the church itself can be frightened by an uncertain future. Many of us in the church today are concerned about the future of the church as an institution.  Across denominational lines, the American church is seeing huge declines in numbers as our culture changes before our very eyes. People are talking about the future of the church and “where do we go from here.” There is a sense of mourning for what was and uncertainty about what will be.
Our lives will be filled with uncertainty.  There are some things we can be certain about: our salvation, for one.  There are for most of us at least a few friends and family members we know we can rely on. There is an old saying that tells us that we can always be certain of “death and taxes.” But it’s ok to recognize that there is a lot in this world that we don’t have control over.  There are many things we can’t be sure of. The future is covered by a cloud of ambiguity.
But take heart because The Word is in our midst! My friends, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.[1]” and “the Word became flesh and lived among us!” Jesus Christ, the Word lived among us. When he was put to death for our sakes, he rose from the dead and then ascended into heaven. Jesus Christ the Word still lives among us today.
Like the widow in 1 Kings, we may not always find it easy to host the Word of God. She wasn’t in a position that seemed able to open her home to the prophet, and even after the miraculous provision of flour and oil, she still accused Elijah of bringing pain into her life.
Saul found it not only difficult to play host to the Word of God – he proudly and mercilessly persecuted Christ’s followers before the Jesus literally knocked him off his donkey to get His attention.  He didn’t just doubt the Word of God like the widow in 1 Kings did, He was downright oppositional! And even for Saul, there was a future as Paul. . . a future he couldn’t have possibly imagined.
The widow in Luke was already in the presence of the Word of God and she didn’t realize it in her grief until Jesus surprised her out of her sorrow!
We are asked to open up our lives to the Word of God even when it is difficult to do and the future is unclear. We are asked to open up our lives to the Word of God even when we don’t realize what He is asking of us or that He is asking anything at all! He is there when we aren’t paying attention and He’s there when it’s hard to go on. He’s there when we the days ahead are drenched in the unknown and the next step looks like a step into thin air.
No matter what the circumstances and no matter what we think our future may or may not look like, God sees our uncertainty and fear whether we see it or not.  Our comfort from Christ usually doesn’t come in the form of a mind-blowing miracle, but Christ grants comfort nonetheless. He sees our fear, he acknowledges it and he gives us comfort. We can trust that no matter what lies in the fog ahead, Christ is there to walk alongside us. He sent his Spirit to light our path and He is present with us as we travel this journey of life.

[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 1:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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