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Post-Vacation Gospel Reflections
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on June 9, 2013

Proper 5C 2013 June 9
I Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

Post-Vacation Gospel Reflections

I am always in awe of how many layers there are in scripture -- how may sermons can come from each passage, over so many hundreds of years. As I recalled sermons I have spoken on this particular passage, and set of passages, about the woman’s son that Elijah healed and the woman’s son that Jesus healed, I remembered how every time I hear these stories of miraculous healing, I squirm, and I ponder the question “why some are healed and some are not?”  “Why is one person’s faith is enough and another's is not?”  But when I read those former sermons and the study articles this week, a different thought occurred to me.

These stories are not really about miraculous healing at all.  They are not meant to be instructional to us.  They do not teach us how to get God to heal us or someone we love when they have died or are gravely ill.  They are not stories for the purpose of getting God to do our will -- not at all!  They are stories to get us to do God’s will, encourage us to step apart from the norm and see the world differently.  They are stories that invite us to be change agents.

It occurred to me, as I went deeper into them, that these are stories that show us something about who and what God values and, in that, they are very instructional -- for they challenge us to value the same things God values.  Elijah and Jesus healed the sons of widows.  Women. Those women, should they lose their son, would have been left bereft.  No status, no support, no place to live, no money.  To be a woman without a man -- a father, a husband, or a son -- was to be nothing.  There were no retirement homes or pensions or social security.  These widows had to scrounge and beg and live on the outskirts of society, looked down upon by everyone.  No rights, no privileges.

When Elijah and Jesus restored their sons to them, by God’s action of course (you did catch that it was God acting through them didn’t you?), God was saying “these women are important to me.” 

The way society was structured then, it appeared they had no value, were barely even human. But by the healing action of God, they were restored to a place where they could indeed be respected and have purpose and a place in society.

The inclination of human institutions and cultures is to value people differently – to create insiders and outsiders, the worthy and unworthy.  We make these determinations more by the changes and chances of life, simply by good fortune or bad.  However, people of faith are to step over such lines or divisions and recognize the value and worth of every human being.  We are to ignore what seems to be “the natural order of things” (but are really hierarchies and prejudices that our own culture and/or organization have institutionalized).  These lessons teach us not to do that, not to let such divisions happen, and to be agents of change when it does.

Now I know this comes as no surprise to you, this valuing the dignity of every human being, because whenever we have baptisms, we all promise to do exactly this.  When we fail to really see the hierarchies in which we live and benefit us and victimize others, it is, I would suggest, because we do not realize what we are doing.  We often have a good reason -- sometimes even a religious reason -- or a justification for our failure.  But the truth is all such excuses are really just that -- excuses.  Our failure occurs when we do not take time to be introspective enough to recognize our own weaknesses.

Jesus or Elijah did not directly call for political upheaval or government or religious overthrow, they just created it by doing God’s will.  The miraculous healing of the sons actually restored the mothers.   Sometimes subtle change is more powerful than an armed uprising.  Sometimes making a difference in the way things are, one widow at a time, one child at a time, one human being at a time, is more powerful than an armed division of soldiers or even waiting for God to miraculously heal.  

So, if we consider the larger picture of our own social and political context (something Jesus was constantly doing either directly or indirectly), instead of asking what do I need to do to get God to do what I want God to do -- how might our lives change?  How might the world around us change?  What subtlety is within our purview to reach across a social, political or religious divide to bring healing and restoration?  Restoration of the “miraculous” kind -- the kind that creates the justice these two women experienced? 

To answer that “how” question, which will have a different answer for each of us, I think we need to begin by thinking about, reflecting upon, praying about our own lives -- our busyness -- our important work -- how we interact with our families (or don't because we are too busy driving them or watching them play fill in the blank, or they we are at the point in their lives when that is reversed and they are too busy for us.) 

Think about the social and political boundaries and expectations around us -- our time, our money, our communities, our families, our prayers, our relationships with those we love, and most significantly, our relationship with God.  Reflect upon our political affiliations, organizational memberships. 

Whew!  That’s a lot to reflect on when we haven't much time anyway.  But it’s summer, and so hopefully we can find the time.  Because, I promise, as we think of these things, what should become clear to each of us is how we are letting the wrong things, from social pressure to demanding bosses to needing enough money to pay for our kids’ education and so on, keep us from seeing each other, seeing the widows of our day and time, keep us from forming deep friendships, prevent us from being in touch with God and God’s people.  It might become startlingly clear to us that our very lives, as we are living them, have us on a tread mill so tightly wound that we can’t see injustice, or beauty, or a friend ready to be made, let alone recognize the widows of our day and time.

I have been among you for about 6 months now, and I can say with absolute certainty that this is a wonderful congregation, and whoever comes to serve as your rector will be truly blessed to be among you. You are very special people -- very lovable and very hard working.  But I can also say that you are busy folks. You do marvelous things -- amazing things! But I am concerned about the culture by which you are surrounded.  Sometimes, when I catch the wave of your competency and drive and dive in with you, I realize that most of us are just plain too busy. There is no time to make room -- real room, reflective, giving room -- for us to be part of this community, let alone part of our own lives in a deep and reflective way, in a meaningful way.  

I am concerned about the priorities of busyness that we are setting, about how maybe, there is too much for us to do and not enough time to for us to “be aware” of all that surrounds us. Too much pressure to do the things that “get us someplace” and not enough time to do the things that most deeply serve God and each other. Enough time to make sure that justice is done, that we see the widows and care for their sons as Elijah and Jesus did, in a way that is countercultural -- care that changes the way things are in those subtle ways.

As you may have guessed, it was very good for me to be on vacation. Before we left I felt as though it would be indulgent time (on a safari after all!) -- being taken care of by drivers and guides and workers at the many luxurious lodges and camps we would stay in. But about 48 hours into it, I realized that while all those things were absolutely true, something more was available to me that I had not even foreseen.  Time. Time to reflect, time to think, time to pray, time to be. 

As others took pictures, I took deep breaths and must have said 1000 times a day, ”How beautiful this is”, or, “how amazing that we can see this”, or, “can you believe we are really here?”, or “I really love elephants”, or I was just silent -- in fact, mostly silent in the hubbub around me -- and I watched. 

No, it was deeper than that -- I observed.  I observed the people, observed the animals, saw the cultures of the countries we visited, was blinded by our own culture as it impacted who we are, our group, my friends.  I listened.  I heard stories.  But most of all, I had time to “see”--really see and really get to know the people who have been my husband’s friends for years. I had time, and I prayed deeply.  I prayed for you and for our bishops, especially +Tom who was diagnosed with cancer while I was traveling. 

And what I have come back to say is “Stop!”  “Stop and breathe!”  ”See what is around us.”  It’s just as glorious here as it was in the middle of the Serengeti. 

Love it, but see it clearly enough to change what needs changing.

It’s good to be home.  It’s good to be among you.  Care for each other and this wonderful church home.  Let go of the busyness and get on with the being aware.  Step apart from the world of your busyness and begin to do what God is really asking you to do instead.  Amen.  Amen.

Last Published: June 11, 2013 8:54 PM