1 Kings 1:8-24; Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

Proper 8 (13) Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 6, 2010 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 5C / Ordinary 10C / Pentecost +2 June 6, 2010 Textweek

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

We began this morning with a reading that speaks about two incidents in the life of Elijah and we are invited into the readings, to place ourselves in the story so that we can see if these stories can reveal the Divine to us and/or reveal ourselves in relation to the Divine. So they are not stories to be read as history from long ago, but rather they serve to excite us in the present moment.

The first incident begins: the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 9 "Go now to Zarephath....” and So he set out and went to Zarephath. When we hear the Divine word addressed to us, do we believe in the same way that Elijah believes and acts? In our contemporary culture do we even hear the “word of the Lord’ over the noise of the everyday – fridges humming in the background the traffic, television, talk-back radio, mobile phones. Do we even hear it any more? Or is that also by us condemned to history in the same way that many of the readings are?

Elijah hears the Divine Word and believes and that belief means setting out on a journey – moving from one place to another, going into the unknown with nothing but belief. This is not a call to us to leave home, nor is it an evangelical call to mission. But if we follow the movement in the narrative, it does have something very important for us to appreciate.

When he came to the gate of the town [v10]....This is where the action, the movement starts to take place. Remember he has been told by God “I have commanded a widow there to feed you”
So when he came to the gate of the town, Elijah himself takes the initiative – he does not wait for God – rather he actively participates in the unfolding of the word of God. ‘He called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink." It is an important movement. It is as if Elijah is not doing what God has told him to do, he’s not listening to God, for God said when you get there a woman will be there to feed you. He’s not waiting for God!
Rather he is aligned, through his belief, aligned actively WITH the Word of God, living out the promise of God. He hears it and aligns his life with it. It’s quite different to hearing it and sitting back and watching and waiting for it to unfold. If we put ourselves into the story – how many of us would have gone to Zarephath and would then have waited for the woman God had commanded to come along and feed us?

Elijah’s alignment with and participation in the Word of God are further illustrated by another movement. In v8 God speaks to Elijah,
In v16 The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah. The word of the LORD that God spoke by Elijah. There is a movement from hearing the Word of God, to speaking the Word of God. This is a movement “Beyond the Church”. For we have inherited a tradition of listening to the word of God, in fact the tradition tells us that we should listen to the word of God spoken by the priest. But this is barely the starting point, let alone an end point. The movement, the process that is begun when we hear the word of God is a call into an alignment that enables us not only to participate with the word of God but to then speak by the word of God.

There’s a second little story in that same reading, another little narrative. And in this narrative Elijah initiates the process of bringing life to the child who had no breath left in him. And in v22 The LORD listened to the voice of Elijah’. It is a stunning dynamic that is little taught and even less appreciated in our tradition. God speaks to Elijah, Elijah speaks the Word of God and God listens to Elijah. Perhaps this is the dynamic that will take us “Beyond the Church” and into the ‘Body of Christ’.

The second reading Paul, writing to the Galatians, speaks a gospel that is ‘not of human origin;’ Here’s someone who didn’t listen to the priest, but got a different source a different authority: ‘for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.’

Then verses 13-14 tell us of Paul’s background; ‘I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.’
Paul was faithful, he was believing, he was religious to the point of leading crusades. Then through the Word of God enfleshed, ‘through a revelation of Jesus Christ’, he, like Elijah sets out on a different journey, with a different alignment, with a new participation. It is the same movement. only in Paul’s time it would be ‘beyond the synagogue’. It is a movement into and beyond the word of God as we know it.

Verses 15-18 then identify that movement unfolding; it is a process that dispels the notion of evangelical conversion and that talks of a journey, a period of alignment. In our culture we look for the instant. We see Conversion, Baptism, marriage as a change of state – I went from unsaved to saved, from unclean to clean, from single to married, as if it’s done in the moment. And yet more truly they are symbols, marks of movement, of an orientation, of journeys. They are beginnings of a becoming.

When we get to the gospel it’s obvious these readings have been threaded cleverly together. The gospel is obviously chosen for the parallels with the first reading. Jesus is in Nain, near where Elisha, Elijah’s successor, raised a widow’s son. The body of a dead man is being carried out of the town, through the “gate”. This is the place where Elijah has come to. By touching “the bier” (v.14), Jesus makes himself ritually unclean. It’s as if Luke is underlining that this is man is ritually unclean, he’s not holy, this is not Divine act, for he is now unclean, he is no longer par t of the body, the church the synagogue. He must be outside it. The story so parallels Elijah raising a widow’s son that even the words translated “gave him to his mother” (v.15) are the same Greek words that are used in the initial translation into Greek of the 1 Kings reading. These stories are aligned quite deliberately by Luke.

Then Luke’s narrative concludes with an exclamation of what has been revealed in this gospel narrative: ‘they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favourably on his people!" It is an unusual story. for it might be used to show that Jesus is not doing anything new, He’s doing what has been done before at the hands of Elijah. He is not doing anything special; he is not using a Divine Power that is his because he is God’s only Son. He is doing what Elijah did and is called a prophet for doing it. And then the exclamation:
"God has looked favourably on his people!" It is an obvious end, but it is an equally viable translation is that the Divine favour is with all people.

When we started this morning I heard something, and I thought, ‘talk about missing the point’. This was the sentence of the day: ‘A great prophet has risen among us! God has visited his people.’ Two thousand years of church history, they’ve read the same readings that we’ve read, "A great prophet has risen among us! God has looked favourably on his people!", and brought that as the theme for the day, as ‘A great prophet has risen among us! God has visited his people.’ God has not visited his people; he hasn’t popped in for a Sunday morning. There is no such thing as God visiting his people. That’s why when we read these narratives we’ve got to get into them and realise them as process and movement that we are participants in.

God has looked favourably on his people; a great prophet has risen among us. The Divine favour is with all people; it’s not a case of magic tricks that God gives to his only son to pop in and perform magic before leaving again. The movements that we read about are movements in the every day. If we listen we can hear the word of God; if we choose we can begin the journey in the light of that word.

Even if we just pause this afternoon and think what are the movements that I participate in? Not movements outside, not sending our twenty dollars to Oxfam, that’s not movement. What are the movements - what drives my very being? What is my orientation, what is the movement that will take us beyond where we are, not only beyond the church but beyond where we are stuck? What’s called forth from us? What’s the movement that will take us into raising the dead; what’s the movement that will take us into bringing life? What’s the movement that will enable us, no one else, to feed the hungry?

They’re our movements; they don’t belong to Jesus; that wasn’t a visit, that’s not what the story is about. He’s not coming again, so don’t put the kettle on and wait. The movement is from within - the Divine is gifted, it’s here, we hold it. The prophet will rise among us, not come through the roof, it’s with us. We are the Body of Christ, if, if we are ready to participate in moving beyond where we are.

God has looked favourably on all people.

The Lord be with you
Peter Humphris


Peter Humphris