May 29 Sermon

Let there be Life
A Reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
Based on 1 Kings 17:8-24 & Luke 7:11-17
For May 29th, 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time

I was excited, even though I didn’t know what to expect. So many had been talking about him – a teacher, a healer, a miracle worker … some even said he was a prophet returned from old. There were so many talking about him that I had to go see him for myself.

I wasn’t one of the disciples. Well, at the time I couldn’t have even been called a follower. I was just part of the crowd following along, hoping to see something dramatic, something unusual, maybe something historic. You just never knew what Jesus might do.

A lot of those followers dropped off as he walked out of the towns they were familiar with, going beyond the places thought of as “safe”. Even more dropped away as he entered places where the people worshipped other gods. That didn’t bother Jesus too much. After all, this was supposed to be a place of miracles, the region where Elijah had fled. So even if Jesus did not do anything miraculous, following him would permit me to see a place of ancient miracles.

This was the place where Elijah was fed by a generous widow, a widow who saw God’s grace. The prophet needed food, so he begs. He asked for bread. But he did not beg from the wealthy people in the cities; no, he hung out at the edge of the city, just outside the city gates. And there Elijah begged for bread from the poorest of the poor, a widow. She told him she only had enough flour for one last meal before she and her son would die.

And the prophet said the words usually sung by angels: “Do not be afraid.” What a message in a time of drought, a time of famine. What a message in a time of reduced resources. “Do not be afraid.”

And the prophet promised: God will fill your flour jar and your jug of oil as long as this famine continues. And it did. The woman takes a chance with Elijah. She does what he asks, bringing the prophet food and then feeding her own household. And her family is able to eat just as the Hebrew God has promised.

I’ve often wondered: Who is the model of faithfulness in this story? Who is it that we are supposed to be most like? Are we to be like the prophet who goes where God commands even when common sense says it’s the wrong direction, the wrong place, the wrong time? In obedience, Elijah goes into enemy territory that is under a famine and begs from the poorest of people. Is Elijah the model of faith?

Or is it the widow, the one who recognizes possibilities, the one who is willing to feed the hungry even when she is in need, the one who is willing to tend to the needs of a stranger – an enemy?

But the miracles she saw continued as her story continues. Sadly, her son becomes ill and dies. The woman is angry at Elijah: “What do you have against me? You came to me to show me faithfulness. I helped you, and then my son dies? Why?”

The prophet does not understand why this son has to die. He cradles the dead son and prays: “Why O God have you allowed the son of this widow to die?” But Elijah’s pray changes. “Let there be life.”

Maybe that is how we are supposed to pray. Instead of praying for an end to the drought, an end to the famine, an end to the limited resources that seem to be shaping our life, perhaps we are to pray “Let there be life.” Instead of praying, “Why oh God?” maybe we are supposed to pray, “Let there be life.” Instead of saying death has power over us, maybe our prayers should be anchored in God’s power of life that is greater than death.

“Let there be life.” I think I will make that a new prayer for myself.

You see, the scriptures tell us that God answered this prayer. “The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.” Certainly a miracle to remember.

And now, I was going to the same place. I was following him, this new healer, teacher, miracle worker, prophet – whatever Jesus is. We were going to that place where the prophet had been. It still was not a Jewish area. They still worshiped different gods. But it was a chance to visit these miracle places plus it was a chance to follow him.

I didn’t know what to expect and never imagined I’d see what I saw.

Our crowd came near the walls of that city. We were laughing and singing praises to God, mixing our prayers with our steps, hoping we would see miracles. But coming out from the city was another group – weeping and singing laments, mixing prayers with their steps crying out to God at a time when miracles seem impossible. They were mourning at the death of a widow’s son. It was as though the old story of the prophet was being lived out in front of us. What a difference of attitude.

But Jesus seemed to hardly register what this crowd was going through. “Why do you weep?” he asks. I wanted to grab him and say, “Isn’t it obvious? This widow’s son has died! She misses him! She is worried about who will care for her! She has no money. Her entire life is changing, and you have to ask why she weeps?!”

But Jesus stepped up and touched the dead man. He’s not supposed to do that you know. But he does it anyway. And then he talks to the son as though he were not dead. Jesus touches him and commands, “Rise.”

Do not be afraid! Do not weep! Let there be life! Rise up!

And that is what the young man does. Everyone assumed he was dead, but at the command of Jesus he rises. And the crowds wonder, is Jesus really Elijah returned? Elijah, the one who is supposed to return before the messiah – is that who Jesus is? The crowd wonders “Are we seeing the promises of God fulfilled?” And another part of the crowd seems to answer this: “God has looked favorably on God’s people!”

Oh, there are so many more stories to tell, but this is a good place for me to ask you how you have seen God looking favorably on God’s people? If you are praying “why?”, will you consider praying “Let there be life?” Just what do you expect as you walk to follow Jesus? Like the prophet, I say to you “Do not be afraid.”

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