Church of the Resurrection, Omaha, NE.
1 Kings 17:17-24
Readings for the Day
May I speak to you in the name of one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
My mother grew up in a funeral home in Sampson County, NC, a fairly rural place in southeastern part of the state, in the county that produces more hogs than any other county in the United States. So for those of you that enjoy bacon, you’re welcome. Growing up I heard all kinds of stories about that funeral home that my Grandfather owned, as well as some stories picked up along the way. I heard about people who were overcome and overwhelmed and those who faced the death of their loved ones with a quiet and impassive stoicism. I heard about a priest, a man who turned out to be the first priest I ever told I thought I had a vocation in ordained ministry, who while doing a funeral, fully vested, fell right down into the open grave. Whoops. I heard about flower arrangements shaped like an old rotary telephone (for those of you who are old enough to remember those), made of daisies, spray painted black and it had a ribbon pulled across it that said “Jesus Called.”
One thing I never heard about was the cold, dead, corpse sitting up, talking an getting up and walking off.
Things like that just don’t happen. At least not with me. If it’s happened to you I’d like you to grab me after the service in the back, because we need to go on a trip together to check it out.
This guy coming back from the dead is a pretty big deal, but it’s probably not for the reasons you would think.
One thing I found immediately interesting about this reading is that it tells us that the man sat up and began to speak, but it doesn’t tell us what he said. When I think about how difficult it is to wake up, and how unpleasant I am when I’ve been woken from a nap or by an early alarm clock... Let’s just allow that it might say “He sat up and began to speak” because what he actually had to say was not suited for polite company.
But while I doubt this guy was to thrilled to be brought back into this brutal and broken world, a world that killed him too young, I’d point out, there was someone for whom his resuscitation was incredible news.
This man’s mother was a widow. Not only a widow but a widow who had just lost her only son, her only means of support in society at that time. Then, not unlike our uncomfortably recent past right here in the United States, a woman wasn’t able to own any property. If her husband died, she had to rely on her husband’s brother, or her son to care for her.
With her husband dead, and her son on the way to the grave, she would have lost her home, her means of support, her food, everything but the clothes on her back. She would have likely been left with no options but to resort to backbreaking labor, or worse, prostitution. She was staring not only into her son’s grave, but into an abyss devoid of hope.
Beaten down by the societal norms of her time, she was utterly defeated. Her son may have been the one who stopped breathing, but she was the one who lost her life.
And that kind of needless suffering at the hands of society was not something with which Jesus would abide. That marginalization was not something Jesus thought was OK.
Meanwhile, in our New Testament reading, Paul is ticked. You heard Fr. Jason last week talk about how this is the only letter in which Paul doesn’t offering his thanksgiving wish. In fact, Paul doesn’t offer any of the flowery language with which he normally opens. This entire letter is Paul at his most righteously indignant. Now, many biblical scholars will take the opportunity here to talk about Paul’s dark side, about how self-important Paul was, about how dismissive Paul was towards the disciples, how crazy Paul was, and that his ministry was based only on his own personal (potentially) psychotic visions, or any number of complaints frequently and unfairly leveled at Paul. (As a brief aside, y’all will probably figure out this summer that I’m a staunch defender of Paul as a feminist, a radical inclusivist, and one of the most important figures in helping bringing the world to Christ; and I’m more than happy to discuss him, warts and all. Just catch me at lunch or whenever!)
So it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that Paul was not too pleased with the Galatians when he wrote that letter.
But why was he upset with the Galatians?
He was upset because he they had turned from the Gospel he had preached to them.
He was upset not because he demanded their obedience to him, but because they were setting up barriers to following Christ. He was upset because through their wishy-washy wavering in their commitment to the Gospel he’d taught, they were leading folks astray, putting societal barriers between those whom they would evangelize and the fullness of life in Christ.
Paul was concerned because others were coming in and trying to convince them that you couldn’t be Christian unless you were circumcised. You couldn’t be Christian unless you met this purity guideline, or that dietary law. Because getting circumcised didn't just mean getting circumcised, it meant taking on all 613 commandments in the TOrah. And these interlopers were winning. The Galatians were attempting to set up something on their own that others would have to struggle against, requiring a law that others could not achieve in order for them to find the love of Christ.
Just like the woman who would have been cast out of society through no fault of her own with no chance for re-entry, the Galatians are setting an unreachable bar for entry into the community that gives life.
What we see here are two instances of groups asking the impossible, two groups that are unfairly discriminating, two groups that would deny, in the widow’s case a life with some human dignity, and in the Galatians’ case eternal life in God through the Gospel of Christ.
What we see is the Gospel coming up against two stumbling blocks.
And what we see in our readings today is that God does all God can to overcome those human stumbling blocks.
We see that Paul going into prophetic and apoplectic rage because people are shutting others out of the love of God, and not only from the love of God, but from the salvation offered by God in Christ.
We see Jesus, God incarnate, making himself unclean by touching the dead or the bier that carried the dead, which itself is a very big deal. God and unclean are words that would never go together for the Hebrew people. And not only does God in Christ make himself unclean, he brings a man back from the dead. God brings a man back across that deepest of chasms, back through those gates which offer no exit, to ensure that a widow will be afforded some basic human dignity.
And this is not the last time we will see something like this happen.
This message of radical inclusivity is important, because what we find is that we are the Galatians. We are the people who would deny that woman’s place in society. We are the ones setting up barriers. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, in things we do or in things we leave undone, we set up hurdles for people who are searching for human dignity in a brutal world and an often cold society. We are the ones preventing people from coming to God through our demands or our actions.
We are the ones who set ourselves as gatekeepers.
But we can’t help it. It’s beyond our control; it’s just what we do. We’re human. We’re fallen and broken. And we need the touch of Christ to help restore us to that new life.
See, in this story, Jesus doesn’t just love the man on the stretcher and his mother. Jesus loves all the people around there. He not only helps the woman, he shows the crowd what the redemptive and restorative love of God can do. He shows that in him comes life, even out of death.
Jesus loves the Galatians, too. And Paul knows that, and that’s why he is so passionate about correcting them. Because he knows that the Gospel of Christ, the Good News of Christ, is so important that they need to try and get it right, even though they will undoubtedly stumble and fall along the way. And Paul knows that it’s so important that any stumbling block, any barrier that keeps “the wrong kind” out simply will not do.
Today we hear in stereo that Jesus wants to draw all of us into his love. Jesus wants to draw all of us into a life-giving, restorative, and redemptive relationship with him.
And we hear that all it takes for that to happen is for us to hear and receive the Gospel of Christ.
And we know the essence of that gospel: “This is the first a greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. And the second is like unto it, love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) and additionally “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.”
All else is folly.
Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians with “...God forbid that I should boast about anything except for the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through him, and I have been crucified to the world. Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t mean anything. What matters is a new creation. May peace and mercy be on whoever follows this rule and on God’s Israel.” (Gal 6:14-16)
We are people. We’re human, and imperfect, and fallen, and we, as humans, are broken. We do bad things to each other from time to time. Jesus knows that, and if we repent, and aim higher, we try again, Jesus forgives us and welcomes us back with open arms, ready to restore us to new life. When bad things happen to us, when we are tempted, scorned, rejected Christ is there to restore us to wholeness.
We all, and I most of all, should examine ourselves to see what barriers we are setting up to God’s love, to see in what ways we view other people as objects or as means to an end. And then we should think about the love of Christ, the love offered to us in spite of our sins and failings, the love offered unconditionally to us even in our brokenness, even in our repeated rejections of God, and how we can best convey that unconditional love to others.
Because the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is one of radical inclusion. It’s one of welcome. It’s one of love. And all it asks of us is to share that love with the whole whole world.
“Brothers and sisters, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Amen.” (Gal 6:18)