Sunday 6th June, 2010 Second Sunday after Pentecost
A great prophet has arisen among us! God has visited His people Luke 7:16
O God, the consoler of the afflicted, You illumine the mystery of suffering and death by the light that shines from the face of Christ; grant that, in all the trials of our earthly pilgrimage, we may remain united to Your Son in His passion, so that they may be revealed in us the power of His resurrection; for He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever Amen
Old Testament Lesson 1 Kings 17: 17 – 24
Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah, saying, "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you." So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink." As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." But she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die."
Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth." She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord O my soul: while I live I will praise the Lord
While I have any being: I will sing praises to my God
Put not your trust in princes: nor in flesh and blood, which cannot save.
For when their breath goes from them, they return again to the earth: and on that day all their thoughts perish
Blessed are those who help is the God of Jacob: whose hope is the Lord their God
The God Who made heaven and earth: the sea and all that is in them
Who keeps faith for ever: Who deals justice to those who are oppressed,
The Lord gives food to the hungry: and sets the captives free
The Lord gives sight to the blind: the Lord lifts up those that are bowed down
The Lord loves the righteous: the Lord cares for the stranger in the land
He upholds the widow and the fatherless: as for the way of the wicked, He turns it upside down
The Lord shall be king for ever: your God, O Zion, shall reign through all generations. Praise the Lord
Epistle Galatians 1: 11 – 24
I want you to know, brothers and sisters that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, "The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me.
GOSPEL Luke 7: 11 – 17
Soon afterwards Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favourably on his people!" This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
NOTES ON THE READINGS
Sadly, one has to report that not a lot of people are aware of Biblical text sufficiently to catch sight of some very important issues. One of those issues is the extreme antipathy Jewish people had about those of other races and cultures, and vice versa. Here, you see, is the prophet being involved with someone not of Jewish faith, but rather was a despised gentile. It must have been a shock for the stock-standard Jewish person of whatever age.
You will recall that famine had struck the land, and here Elijah was provided with an ‘out’ to survive the lack of food. It all looks so simple in a way, and yet miraculous in another. However, the real point is that when people care enough to share, then threats are reduced. It is a passionate little cameo, but one to which Jesus drew attention in His preaching. Centuries after the event, even reference to it drew the vitriol of Jesus’ townsfolk to the experience of Elijah. It was enough to drive the people to try and kill Jesus there and then. (So much for evolution of the faith mentioned last week! Bigotry manages to hold on long after the event!)
The real point at issue here is that even in those days of yore, Elijah had to do with people of non-Jewish life and faith, the uncircumcised, the outcast and unclean, and did so quite happily, for both parties to the occasion. The promise of God, from Abraham on, was always to the whole world. And that is something we moderns forget so terribly easily.
Why ever is it that some of the old Psalmists both catch sight of, talk about and enjoy a faith and a God Whose vision is for all humans, and the rest of us forget it all so easily? This ancient worthy was totally aware of the real needs of life and living then, for fairness and justice, and just as aware of the rarity of those values in the world of which he was part.
Oddly, we now encounter another passage which may well be unfamiliar or even unknown to many readers. In this passage Paul had to defend himself against those who considered him no apostle at all, which is a difficult enough process for anyone. But in relating his story to those gainsayers meant that we have some information about Paul that otherwise we would not.
For anyone who still holds to the dramatic and instantaneous conversion of Paul, then please look again harder at this passage and at the Acts’ retelling of the story.
‘But I went away at once to Arabia ....’ and like anyone who has to face an almost total rearrangement of life and thought, Paul needed to drop off the world for a while. Thanks heaven that he did, for otherwise his teaching and writing may well have carried a lot more unnecessary baggage. One needs time to ponder and absorb many new things when a change of direction so radical is faced. Sadly, there are not too many modern people who see the need for such re-arrangement and re-assessment – and they tend to suffer for it as well.
All this goes to show how great is the challenge of repentance, which is no shallow business, but a matter of seeing that such change goes to the very roots of one’s being.
Perhaps it is familiarity, or perhaps we tend to focus on the unusual, and see just miracle. It is always important to ponder such questions as why Jesus did the sorts of things attributed to Him. It is worth stopping to see how compassionate and human a thing it was for Jesus to stop when confronted by such deep sadness and even desperation. That poor widow would have lost all hope for any future when she lost her only son. It is at once very human and very compassionate, as Jesus stepped ‘into the moccasins’ of that lady.
When the text reads ‘fear’ it may help to offer ‘awe,’ for that is what it was. Something so totally unexpected yet universally needed in that situation made people sit up and take notice. Israel had long expected ‘a great prophet to arise,’ and although in the event that was true, it would be quite a time before any such real recognition of Jesus would emerge. As with the changes in Paul, so in this sort of situation, it would take the passage of considerable amounts of time – and thought – before results would show up in people’s lives and thinking.
NOTES FOR A SERMON
‘Think and do’ and that old Collect mentioned. I remember bouncing off those words in a service in Oodnadatta Hall well over 45 years ago. The reason for that was twofold: it was a mixed indigenous and white congregation, and very noisy with all the kids and dogs around. It needed to be clear and straightforward, and that is where the phrase took us.
One of the things that lots of people don’t recognize is that the way that you think and feel as a human being will almost dictate both what you do and how you do it. Spend a moment or two thinking that lot through! How I act and re-act will depend on how I think and feel about you, about other people, about situations that arise and need immediate responses. Without thought, the outcome could be disastrous. Now take time to ponder each of the situations portrayed in today’s readings.
Elijah had been under great stress, and after his encounter with Jezebel on Mount Carmel, has seriously considered ending it all. Threatened on all sides is how he felt, nor did he feel capable of coping with that. So he fled – back to Sinai to his spiritual roots. Was that why he could be both a drain and a support for that widow of Zarephath? I suspect he could because he had lived through the threat of execution, as she had long lived through threat of starvation. Empathy had developed, and he could ‘walk in her moccasins’ at great support to the lady and her son. Here is an illustration of the reality that when you think of yourself only, all seems doom and gloom. But share what little you have, and a future however dim will emerge. It is a fascinating illustration of what Jesus would have to say more than a millennium later. So Elijah ‘thought’ and ‘did.’
If you would like further expansion of the idea, then take a look at Paul, in his early life as a Christian. He was deeply aware of the extent to which all his early training and teaching militated against those who followed Christ. His was a determined and rigid way of behaviour, and he would have had to shield his sensitive side against the murder and mayhem in front of him. So he would have silenced his conscience – and that is a hard thing to resile from. So he needed time and space, away from other people, to regain his sense of direction, his perspectives in life, and to look once again and rather harder at the sort of thing that Jesus was teaching and encouraging and doing. Paul would have known all about ‘thinking and doing’ – and singularly aware of the enormous changes to his priorities.
Jesus did it, in today’s Gospel, without a lot of thought, because that self-giving thing was very much part of Him anyhow. If you saw someone in need, then you did what you could to alleviate that need. Compassion and care. Here was no hand-out mentality, but an awareness of what pressures needed to be relieved to enable some sort of response of that pair to life as it then was.
Enough of Biblical illustration; may we revert to the present? If there is one thing that disturbs me deeply about today’s people, young ones in particular, (and this is generalisation certainly) is that there is little thought or even interest in the other person. Knee-jerk reaction is the order of the day with no other person coming into purview. What is good for me, what is in it for me? Such an insular and self-obsessive approach to life is a particularly dangerous path to travel, because it leads rather rapidly to dysfunction and destruction of society. So when the Faith points to a different way to operate, it is not calling on people to be nice. It is calling on people to be aware that individuals are not the centre of the universe. We are in this together, and it is only together and caring about others that will offer anything of a future. The choice is, finally, wipe-out, or a future.
So Jesus (and the Biblical Faith) are not silly, are they?