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Pentecost 2, June 6, 2010

Pentecost 2 Proper 5C RCL June 6, 2010

I Kings 17:8-16, (17-24)
Psalm 146
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17

Our first lesson this morning takes us back to around 870 years before the birth of our Lord. Palestine at that time was divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom was called Israel and had its capital at Samaria. The southern kingdom was called Judah and had its capital at Jerusalem.

The northern kingdom had had a series of corrupt rulers who lived lavish lives at the expense of the people, and most of the burden fell on the poor.
The current king, Ahab, had added insult to injury by marrying the infamous Jezebel, who was from Sidon and worshipped the god Baal, a fertility god.

Elijah has been called by God to hold up God’s standards to Ahab and, at God’s direction, has just announced that there is going to be a drought which will last three years. Scholars tell us that this is a direct challenge to Baal, who was considered to be in charge of sending water for the crops. Once he announces this drought, Elijah’s life is in danger. Ahab wants to silence Elijah so that he can silence the voice of God.

Elijah is on the run. First God sends him to the Wadi Cherith, where there is water for awhile. The ravens feed Elijah. But pretty soon the water runs out and, in our lesson for today, God sends Elijah to a widow of Zarephath, which is in Sidon, Queen Jezebel’s home territory.

When Elijah arrives, the widow is gathering sticks. Elijah asks her for some water. As she is going to get it, he asks her for some food, and she explains that she is gathering sticks so that she can use her last meal and oil to make a simple bread for herself and her son to eat before they die. Notice that she says, “As your God lives….” This emphasizes that she is a worshipper of Baal. God is calling Elijah to branch out into new territory.

Elijah could be very discouraged at her news, but, if he is, he doesn’t show it. He tells the woman not to be afraid, but to go and make a little cake for Elijah and then for herself and her son, for the oil and meal will not run out until God sends rain to end the drought. She makes the simple meal, and the oil and meal do not run out.

But then calamity strikes. The woman’s son became so ill that there is no breath left in him. The woman blames Elijah for causing the death of her son. Elijah takes the boy up to his room and places him on his own bed. Then Elijah blames God for killing the boy. Note how we humans like to find someone to blame. But then Elijah stretches out on top of the boy three times and prays to God to bring life to him again. The miracle happens. The boy is alive. Elijah takes him downstairs and gives him to his mother. She realizes that Elijah is a great prophet and that God speaks and acts through Elijah.

The situation of widows in Biblical times was dire. If a woman did not have a man to protect her, she was totally vulnerable. Identity in those days came from your connection to an adult male. Women and children were considered as chattel, possessions, like furniture. By reviving this woman’s son and giving him back to her, Elijah is restoring this woman’s protection and identity.

This story is paralleled in the gospel. Jesus has just healed the centurion’s slave. He and his followers reach the town of Nain and they meet a very sad procession. A young man is being carried out. He is his mother’s only son and she is a widow, Jesus sees her and immediately has compassion on her.
He touches the bier and says, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sits up and begins to speak. The crowd realizes that God has done this.

What are these lessons telling us today? First, no matter how bad things get, there is reason for hope and faith. Secondly, God cares deeply about the little people—children, widows, people who are about to starve, people who are losing what is most precious to them. Two widows are in the process of losing their sons, the worst thing that could possibly happen. But God cares about them, and we as a society are called to care for those who are vulnerable.

Theologian Charles Cousar writes of this gospel: “Jesus sees the woman, has compassion for her, acts in raising her son, and then gives her son back to her. The latter statement underscores her restoration, her return to a place of protection and security, the renewal of her future as a time of opportunity and not misfortune. As one who identifies with and has compassion for a marginalized person, Jesus also acts to remedy her situation. There is more than an understanding look and a sympathetic word. There is a resurrection that reclaims the future. In a sense, then, the raising of the widow’s son foreshadows the raising of God’s Son, where the power of death is defeated once and for all.” (Texts for Preaching, Year C, p. 379.)

Theologian Karl Allen Kuhn writes of this passage, “Everything that counters God’s will for humanity is targeted: oppressive social and cultic [rules], economic inequity, abuse of power, disease, illness, death, sin, as well as Satan and his minions—all these were treated by Jesus as that which the kingdom of God shall overcome.” Kuhn says that we often seem to think of God’s kingdom as “belonging to a time and place beyond our own. … But the kingdom inaugurated and proclaimed by Jesus…belongs as much to the present as to the future. It moves against those elements of our politics, economics, and social boundaries that rob people of life and blessing in the here and now, just as much as it is concerned to defeat the more ‘dramatic’ forces of evil arrayed against the faithful. It is about recognizing Jesus as Lord and opening the way for his saving grace in every aspect of life.” (New Proclamation, Year C, 2010, p.98.)

So this morning, we have two stories about widows, who were considered throw away people in their society. In God’s loving and compassionate view, there are no throw away people. Every one is precious. These passages call us to renew our commitment to the poor and vulnerable in our midst, especially during these challenging economic times. Amen

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