Sermon Pentecost 3
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There is a scene in the movie, “Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood” where the children are all playing in the water at the beach. The mother has always been a very nervous person and she doesn’t really want to let them swim. She is torn between her fears, and letting them have a normal childhood. But she is so afraid that they will drown.
This mother deals with her fear by playing a game with her kids. In the game, mom asks one of the children to pretend to be drowning. Then mom dives in to rescue the child. The child plays along by going limp and only reviving when her mom gives her a kiss. The other children all watch and cheer for mom being a lifesaver. Then all the other kids take turns pretending to be the one who is drowning.
All parents are concerned about their children. We may deal with our concerns in different ways, but we all want them to be safe and have long, happy lives. We do everything we can to keep them safe because we love them.
In the time of Elijah, and in the time of Jesus, parents had even more reason to want their children to live.
In Bible times there was no such thing as social security or pension plans or IRAs. Your children were your only retirement plan. It was their obligation to care for you when you could no longer work and earn your own living. That was a big part of how they understood the commandment to honor your father and mother.
Widows without children were especially vulnerable. Women did not have many legitimate ways to earn an income. Their work was in the home and it was unpaid. Only a man could go out and earn the money the family needed to buy food and clothing.
A widow without children was dependent on the food she could grow for herself, farming with her own hands. When she wasn’t able to plant her garden or care for animals anymore, she had to depend on begging, on charity.
There was a drought in the land when the widow of Zarephath took in Elijah, the prophet, as a boarder. Elijah prayed and God provided food for the widow and her household.
Then, the only son of the widow became sick and died. The woman blamed herself.
We do that, sometimes, don’t we? We blame ourselves when bad things happen. We think we must somehow deserve them. We know we have sinned. We know what we have done. We know what we have left undone.
When the bad stuff happens, all the bad things we have ever done, all the bad things we have pushed to the back of our minds, rise up. They remind us of our guilt. They remind us that we really aren’t as good as we like to pretend we are. They make us anxious. They make us wonder about God.
That’s why this widow cried out to Elijah. She accused him of coming to her just to remind her of her sin and make her feel guilty.
Elijah taught that widow something about God that day. He taught her that the Lord, the God of Israel, is a God of compassion. Our God is not a mean god. God is not the kind of god who acts like a divine police officer hiding behind the trees with the radar gun just waiting for you to be going a little fast because you are running late today.
God is not sitting there in heaven adding up your infractions and then saying you were so bad that your child has to die. What kind of God would that be? A very, very, mean and angry god, for sure.
God does not sit up in heaven counting the angels and decide the cherub choir needs another little voice. God isn’t up there telling that angel choir director to go take someone’s child.
No, our God is a God of compassion. Elijah prayed to God and God gave him the power to revive the widow’s only son. She responded to the miracle by giving glory to God. I bet she told everyone she knew what happened. I bet they told everyone they knew. We know the story because people of faith have been sharing it for thousands of years.
When we share the stories of our faith, we learn something important about God. We learn that God is a God of compassion.
Jesus was approaching the gates of the town of Nain. Along with the disciples, a large crowd was following him. As they arrived at the gate, they met a funeral procession. The men were carrying the body of a young man. His widowed mother was crying over the death of her only son.
Like Elijah, Jesus taught the people something about God that day. He taught them that our God is a God of compassion. Jesus was touched by this woman’s grief. He told her not to weep.
Now, I would not tell anyone not to weep at the death of a loved one. I know that expressing our grief at funerals is healthy and normal. It is part of the healing process. I won’t tell you not to weep, but I am not Jesus, and I cannot do what he did next.
Only God can raise the dead. Only a God of compassion would raise the dead. Both Elijah and Jesus teach us today that God is a God of compassion and love. God hears our cries. God sees us weeping. God suffers with us.
At first, the disciples and the others with Jesus were terrified when they witnessed that miracle. Then they began to glorify and praise God. They thanked God for this mercy and compassion.
Then they told everyone the story. They spread the word throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. They told everyone that God is a God of compassion. God cares about the suffering. God especially notices the people who have no social safety net – widows without children, children without parents, the poorest of the poor.
Today, we see miracles in a different way. We get to participate in them. We are God’s hands. We show God’s compassion. Every time doctors and nurses help someone heal, they participate in a miracle. Every time hospital chaplains bring comfort to a family, they participate in a miracle.
Every time the members of this church work to feed the hungry children in this town, we participate in a miracle. Every time we send our children and youth to camp and they encounter God’s grace in creation, we participate in a miracle. Every time we tie a knot in a quilt or fill a school kit or a health kit, we participate in a miracle.
These miracles remind us that our God is a God of compassion. God is not a god who sends suffering on people to punish them for their sins. God is a God of compassion and love, a God who suffers with us.
We do not have a God who takes the only sons of poor widows, but a God who comes to us as the only Son. A God who dies in our place. A God who gives to all of us the gracious gift of eternal life.
This week when you participate in a miracle, when you see that our God is a God of compassion, do what the widows and the witnesses did in these stories. Tell everyone you know. Share the good news. Amen.