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Pentecost 3 Proper 5C RCL June 9, 2013

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

Last week, we watched a dramatic battle in which God rained down fire on a burnt offering in response to the prayer of Elijah. This week, we are actually at an earlier point in the ministry of Elijah.

God calls Elijah to go to Zarephath, which is in the region of Sidon, now the coast of Lebanon, on the Mediterranean Sea, This is the home country of Queen Jezebel, who has married King Ahab of Samaria, the northern kingdom of Israel. Scholars tell us that Queen Jezebel was an ardent supporter of Baal and that her father may have been a priest of Baal. Elijah is going into the center of Baal worship. God tells Elijah that God has commanded a widow there to feed him. Let us keep in mind that widows were among the most vulnerable members of society. Without a husband or a son, they had no means of earning a livelihood and no social protection.

When Elijah arrives, the widow and her son are going to have their last meal. There has been no rain, and there is a famine. The woman says, “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.”  The phrase “As the Lord your God lives” indicates that she is a follower of Baal.

But Elijah asks her to feed him and he assures her that God will keep providing meal and oil until rain comes. By the way, scholars tell us that Baal was supposed to be in charge of sending rain. Even though she and Elijah are of different religions, she does as he asks, and God supplies meal and oil to sustain her and her son. She is completely vulnerable, yet she has no other hope of surviving. But in sheltering Elijah, a prophet of God, she is putting herself in danger.

Then the worst happens. The son dies. Elijah asks her to give him her son. Amazingly, she does. What other hope does she have? Elijah pours out his heart to God. Why have you allowed this to happen to this poor widow? He stretches himself our over the little boy’s body and begs God to give him life. We can imagine Elijah trying to breathe breath back into this boy’s body. The boy comes back to life, but scholars tell us that the restoration of her son gives the woman new life as well.  She also grows into a new faith, faith in God rather than Baal.

We have a similar story in the gospel. Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd are going into the town of Nain. Perhaps they are talking and discussing the good news that Jesus is sharing. But they meet a very sad procession. The only son of a widow is being carried to be buried. The widow does not even try to ask Jesus for help. Perhaps she is overcome by grief, Perhaps she has had many experiences of being unheard and expecting nothing and having no hope. Her life is now effectively over. Without her son’s presence and help, she has no future.

Jesus immediately sees her situation. He reaches out and touches the bier. By touching a dead person he has now become defiled. But he has come to fulfill the law and to go beyond the law to the spirit. “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The young man is made whole and alive. Once again, his mother also has a new life.

God cares about the least among us. God cares about us when we feel helpless, when we are helpless. God calls us to take care of our brothers and sisters who have no means of help and no one to speak on their behalf. God’s prophet, Elijah, and God’s Son, Jesus, reach out beyond all kinds of barriers in these readings. They reach out beyond barriers of class, religion, gender, and tradition to help and to bring healing and wholeness. No situation is hopeless. No person is beyond hope.

Paul tells his story today. He is trying to find some way to get through to these people who think he is a false teacher. He was a persecutor of the Church. He was advanced in knowledge of his native faith. He was at the top of the social ladder, being a Roman citizen. But he was devoting all his energies to killing the followers of Jesus.

And then just imagine the scene. He is on the road to Damascus. He is bent on persecuting those who love Jesus. And he meets that very Jesus on the road. There is a brilliant light that makes Saul go blind. And Jesus is asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” It’s like the widow of Zarephath having to extend hospitality to a prophet of the God she does not worship, only much more immediate. Saul is blinded by the light yet he is blessed with new vision. He sees the horror of what he has been doing. His heart and life are totally transformed.

He doesn’t go to confer with the apostles, He goes to Arabia. And then, after three years, he goes to Jerusalem to confer with Peter and James, and then his ministry begins, a ministry to the Gentiles, to those who are beyond the pale, just as widows are beyond the pale, the lowest of the low.

God is turning the world upside down. Everybody matters. Everybody is loved. No one is beyond the pale.

Have you ever felt as though you didn’t matter? That’s how these widows felt. That’s what their culture told them. You don’t matter. And God and Jesus told them, Yes, you do matter. Have you ever felt as though there was absolutely no hope? Today, God and Jesus and the Spirit are telling us, there is always hope.  Have you ever felt broken beyond healing? Have you ever felt as though you might as well be dead?

God is saying, You are my beloved child, You matter to me. I need you to be with me and to my work. I will make you whole, I will give you new life, I am giving you new life. That’s what all these stories are about.

Dear God, thank you for your love, Thank you for new life in you. Thank you for hope, Thank you for making all of us beloved. Thank you for calling all of us to belong to you and to belong in your family.

Amen.

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