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Pentecost 3 Proper 5C RCL June 5, 2016

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

In all of our readings this morning, we hear a theme of hope and  promise: God gives life. Christ brings new life.

In our first reading, Elijah is called to go into Gentile territory, to the region of Sidon, the home country of Queen Jezebel, who worships Baal, the fertility god. Elijah is called to go to the home of a widow, and we remember that, in that time, widows and children were the most vulnerable people. A widow would normally go to her extended family after her husband had died. She would then have the protection of the men of her family.

But this widow is alone with her son, and, when Elijah arrives, they are about to have their last meal. Elijah gives her God’s promise that they will not run out of food until the rains come and end the famine. The woman is skeptical, but the promise is fulfilled.

Then the woman’s son is stricken with a deadly illness. The text says,
“There was no breath in him.” This is a worse calamity than the famine. The woman is going to lose her beloved son, her only living relative. The woman thinks Elijah has brought this tragedy on her. But Elijah asks her to give him her son, and she trusts him enough to do so. Elijah carries the boy upstairs and puts him on his own bed. He prays with all his heart and the boy is revived. The woman now has faith in Elijah and in God.

God brings life in two ways. The woman and her son are about to starve to death in a time of famine, and their last remnants of food just keep lasting and lasting. Then the son has no breath in him, and he is brought back to life. In this text, God reaches out beyond the usual boundaries, into the land of the Phoenicians, the land of Baal.  God reaches out to an obscure widow, someone who has no power in the culture, and her son, who has even less power. God feeds them and then God transforms death and hopelessness into life and hope.

This is good news for all those on the margins of society.

In our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Paul is telling his story, and what an inspiring and honest story it is. Paul did not receive the gospel from a teacher or a preacher. He received it directly from Jesus. He had just witnessed the martyrdom of St. Stephen, and he was going to Damascus to continue his work of persecuting followers of Jesus. On the way, our Lord spoke to him and changed his life.

Sometimes we humans can be so sure that we are doing the right thing. We can rise to the top of the power structure in doing something we think is good, and then we find out that we were going down a destructive and wrong path. That was Paul. He was killing people in the name of God.

Once he saw the light of Christ, there was no stopping Paul. He traveled around the Mediterranean Sea, planting churches. Paul had been living a life of persecution. God gave him a new life and called him to proclaim the gospel of love and forgiveness.

In our gospel, Jesus has just healed the centurion’s slave. As he enters the town of Nain, a tragedy is unfolding. People are carrying the body of a man who has died. Jesus finds out that this young man is his mother’s only son. She doesn’t even have to ask Jesus for help. He sees her overwhelming grief, and his compassion flows out to her.

Jesus comes forward and touches the bier, and then he calls on the young man to rise. Instantly, the young man sits up and begins to speak. It would be interesting to hear what he said, but that will always be a mystery.

The text says, “Jesus gave him to his mother.” Jesus does not rush off. He gives this young man to his mother as the greatest gift anyone could give. As parents, we all know that having a child die is the worst tragedy that can happen. Now, Jesus gives this young man back to his mother, and her son is alive. Once again, he is giving the son the gift of life itself, and he is giving the mother a new life with her beloved son.

The crowd thinks Jesus is a great prophet in the tradition of Elijah. They know the story of the widow of Zarephath and her son. As time goes on, they will find out who Jesus really is.

The theme for today is: God brings life. When we are at the end of our rope; when we have tied a knot at the end of that rope and we are hanging on for dear life; when the world looks dark and all hope has gone; when we have tried plan A, Plan B, and every other plan, God brings life and hope. God brings life. Christ brings newness of life.

The other theme of these readings is that God cares about the least of us. God cares about those who have very little. God cares for those who have no power, no influence, no wealth, no status. God cares about everyone, and God cares especially for those who are living at the margins.

Our readings today are telling us that God cares deeply about how we treat those who, like the widows and children in these readings, have very little buffer between them and total disaster.

Like the Ladies’ Auxiliary of Grace Church, who for decades ministered to folks here and abroad, may we continue to reach out to those who need hope and help. Amen.

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