RCL Proper 5C I Kings 17:: 8-24; Galatians 1: 11-24; Luke 7: 11-17
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin . . . .
Grace and peace to you this morning, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ—this lovely spring morning, and now a week after the Memorial Day weekend something of our first step into the summer season.
Felt like it this week with the humidity and those wild late afternoon thunderstorms. Pam and Vince Stassola were busy having their baby Wednesday evening, and they were thinking maybe they should name him Thor, after the Norse Thunder-god. Or in any case that his nickname will be “Storm.” Storm Stassola. Weatherman for Channel 2, or maybe he’ll skate for the Penguins . . . . In all that, with prayers and good thoughts that the season is and will be a good one for you and a time in all the busyness of our lives of refreshment and renewal. Whether that takes place at the shore or on the mountaintop or on the front porch. A season of rich blessings.
All sermons have three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. I guess this is going to be one of those sermons with a somewhat longer rambling beginning and then a shorter middle and an even shorter conclusion. I hope you’ll just bear with me. --
In the midst of what has been a heavy couple of weeks for us in our family, and with so much sadness, as many of you know of course, in the tragic death of Susy’s sister Marion, and everything that unfolds from that.
In all of that, the blessing that we have known of your friendship and love and prayers and such wonderful kindness that has surrounded us in so many ways. I remember a few years ago our Outreach Committee lifted up a mission statement and theme: “putting God’s love into action.” And that is certainly what all of St. Andrew’s has been for us.
And I would mention as well that Bishop Ken and Mariann Price and many clergy colleagues and their spouses and friends around the diocese and I would say around “both dioceses,” in our current untidy situation, have reached out as well with affection and care. All that has meant so much to us. Cards, letters, phone calls, words of friendship, good and caring thoughts. In the context of course of other losses so recently. Murray Rust’s dad; Mary Roehrich’s mom.
It is as the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins says, “the plight man was born for.” Certainly familiar in deep ways to all of us in the texture of our lives. Time like an ever rolling stream bears all its sons away.
So one of the things we have been doing the last couple of weeks in our family has been telling stories. One of the stories, of the Friday evening thirty years and two weeks ago when our families gathered with friends at the Johnson family Church, the Berkeley Evangelical Covenant Church, for the celebration of Bruce and Susy’s wedding.
Which was a great moment, believe me. Marion was there, of course. Six months pregnant with our niece Anne-Marie, who would be born with a lot of drama prematurely a week later. Anne-Marie and her new husband Joe just stayed overnight with us this past week on their way home to California from Massachusetts.
And in an amazing convergence—really that just kind of boggles my mind—we received at home this week a phone call from a young woman, Dawn Anderson Perkins, who is the daughter of the Rev. Dr. Craig Anderson, who was pastor of Berkeley Covenant and the officiant at our wedding and a wonderful friend and counselor in all ways. And Dawn left the message, “I’m married now, and my husband and daughter and I moved to Pennsylvania and are living in Strabane, and my dad is coming up to visit this week, and we’d like to come to your church on Sunday.”
Which was just wonderful news for us, of course. Though I want to say also a little intimidating for me, since Craig is truly one of the finest preachers and teachers, scholars and pastors, that I’ve ever known.
A wonderful parish minister and then a leader in wider Covenant Church. One of the people who was and actually continues to be very much an inspiration for me in my ministry. And I think to myself, what would Craig do with the Widow of Zerephath, or with these words of Paul to the Galatians, or with the story of Jesus and the Widow’s Son? And I know it would be a sermon I for sure would want to hear.
–Again, a little intimidating, even after all these long years! In any event, you'll need to settle for a few of my observations:
Begin by noticing that the Widow of Zarephath really has only the foggiest idea about this wild Israelite holy man who has wandered into town. Would we say she’s Lebanese? A little anachronistic. Perhaps she’s a descendant of those ancient Canaanites--but the point is, a different ethnicity anyway, different religion, different culture. She’s respectful, or maybe even more we might say she is superstitious about Elijah, and with some cautious reservation allows him into her home. You don’t want to get on his wrong side, that’s for sure. He might give you the evil eye or something. But the amazing situation of the flour and oil gives her something to think about in a good way. In a time of draught and famine, once he’s under her roof there always seems to be enough to get by. Definitely a powerful guy. But what is she to make of him? Still very much a mystery.
And of course Jesus, in the Galilee, in the passage from St. Luke that Jean just read for us. Who was he? What was he about? A celebrity, famous preacher, miracle worker. But is there more? And what to make of all these stories—especially when the local rabbis don’t seem to think much of him. What to make of him?
The Prophet of the LORD; the Messiah of Israel. The point for us to notice I guess, what I’ve been noticing this week, is that in both of these passages the identity and purpose and character and authority and validity, if we can use that word, the reality of God’s presence is made known and demonstrated not by titles and offices, diplomas on the wall, whatever, but by deeds of power. God himself made present in direct and compelling ways. Changing things. Making a difference.
Elijah is known not by his holy-man uniform but by the dramatic resuscitation and healing of the Widow’s son.
And where Jesus is, the dead can’t stay dead. Remembering the words from St. John’s gospel. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Not just words, but Word made flesh. Sacrament. Incarnation. God here and now.
That's the middle of the sermon. And now the brief conclusion: The good tree puts forth good fruit. Perhaps a little indirect. But I feel that this morning in your presence. Not just words, but what Paul later in this Letter to the Galatians calls the “fruit of the spirit”—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. In all the spiritual power of the life we share in this Christian community.
Not just to talk about Christ, but to know his presence, to shine with the light of his radiance. What brings us together week by week and day by day, in hope, and about these moments of eucharist, coming to the table this morning, when we taste for a moment the feast of the kingdom.
Knowing Jesus and the power of his cross and the hope of his resurrection to change our lives and to lift us into his presence. Putting the love of God into action. Forgiveness. Healing. New life. Not something we do or make happen, but what he is doing in us, through us. God at work. The living presence of Jesus, who said, I am the vine, you are the branches.
So Craig, thanks for the way you have been that for me and Susy and our family these many years. And thank all of you, again, for your prayers, friendship, encouragement and your inspiration. Christ working in us to do more amazing things than we could ever ask for or imagine.