5.8.16- I attended Weatherly High School graduation on Friday night. The program was well planned and the audience was pretty cooperative. But the student speakers brought the excitement. One after another spoke of the future, of the fear, excitement and anxiety they were feeling, all at the same time. They talked about achievements and of perseverance. They reminded their classmates that they had to have enough faith to follow their dreams into the future they’ve planned for themselves.
Having faith and confidence in yourself is necessary if you’re going to achieve anything in life. Faith needs to be built on a solid foundation; the foundation the students referred to was family and the love and understanding that brought them to graduation. But having grown up in this town, I’ve been around long enough to know and remember the grandparents whose faith in God provided the foundation on which these young people are able to build today.
There’s a big difference between confidence and fear and that’s the leap we make in our lessons today. We’re moving from confident, faithful, wise King Solomon dedicating the beautiful temple he built for God to terrified, exiled prophet Elijah, chased from his own homeland of Israel because neither the people nor the king liked the message he brought.
Jesus told the disciples that when a prophet isn’t welcome in one place, they shake the dust off their sandals and take God’s message somewhere else. That’s what happens to Elijah today. God’s king and God’s people don’t like the message God is sending, so they try to kill him. Elijah escapes and wants to quit. But God finds him and sends him to a place where God is not known. Elijah is to teach the people in that land about the great and powerful God of Israel.
God sent Elijah to a place called Zarephath. In Zarephath, Elijah meets a widow and her son, about to die of hunger. When Elijah, a foreigner, promises that God will refill the meal and oil until the end of the drought, they believe him. The meal and the oil last, just as Elijah’s God promised. The widow and her son begin to trust Elijah’s God.
Suddenly, the child is so ill that he can’t breathe. Do something, the widow demands, where is your God? Has your God come here to remember my sin and to kill my son? Do something!
This widow remembers the God who refills the oil and the meal. Maybe God’s prophet will ask God to refill her son with the breath, the spirit of God that began every human life, even hers. God, who hears Elijah’s frantic prayers, now heals. The boy is revived and handed to his mother, who knows God’s power over death.
Our gospel lesson takes Jesus to the town of Nain and he finds a similar situation. As they enter the town, they see a large funeral procession for a young man; his widowed mother is part of the crowd. Her grief is raw and fresh as she grieves the loss of her son and his future, the loss of a daughter in law and grandchildren she’ll never have.
Jesus sees her grief and fear. He has compassion on her and he touches the casket frame. Young man, rise, Jesus says. The young man sat up and began to speak and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
The story continues with the crowd’s reaction, but we need to stop here a minute to look at what’s happening and see what’s behind it. This story we get tells the simple lesson of Jesus healing a young man and giving him back to his mother.
Now that’s really good news and this is exactly why Jesus came-he came to show us firsthand the care and concern God has for God’s creation and God’s people. God cares for all of God’s people, but some of the temple people put up a fight. There are laws to be kept, religious laws and Jesus is in violation of them. Now, there might have been a time when these religious laws had a purpose, when they kept the people within the boundaries of proper worship in the temple.
But when Jesus comes, he breaks down the walls and he pushes out the boundaries. Jesus erases all the lines that separated the clean from the unclean, the sick from the healthy, the rich from the poor. Jesus comes to fulfill the prophet’s message and God’s everlasting covenant of peace, joy and mercy for all of God’s creation. Jesus ends all of life’s divisions and he opens us to the kingdom on earth as we wait to see the kingdom in heaven.
In the lesson from Galatians, the apostle Paul is starting to explain his work to the church that’s just begun. We’re only in the first chapter, so Paul’s got a lot to explain. But later on, in chapter three, Paul echos Jesus’ own words to the people-no one is justified before God by the law-we read for ourselves that the righteous will live by faith. There are no longer divisions among us-no more Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female-we are all one in Jesus Christ and heirs of God’s promise. It’s all going to be ours one day and God’s kingdom will be glorious.
When the power of God is seen, we experience miracles firsthand. Did you put your feet on the ground today and breathe in and out? Life is a miracle we take for granted every day. But life was not taken for granted by the widows in our stories-the restored lives of their sons meant that their lives would continue and they wouldn’t die as beggars.
Today’s Bible stories teach us another lesson. God’s power over death can revive us, too-assuring us that we are precious, we are loved and we are forgiven. Amen.
Rev. Dawn Richie