Sermon transcript for June 16, 2013
Belmont UMC—June 16, 2013
Pam Hawkins, preaching
Sermon transcript for June 9, 2013
1 Kings 17:8-16; Luke 7:11-17
Belmont UMC—June 9, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching
To be a widow during the time of Elijah, during the time of Jesus and during our time means that one has endured significant loss and entered a period of grief. To be a widow during the time of Elijah and Jesus and experience the death of one’s only son added to the depth of grief, but it also signified a personal crisis, a crisis of loss of place in the community and the loss of financial security.
In the Elijah story the woman’s loss is compounded by a drought that has caused hunger and despair. Elijah asked the woman for something to eat. She replies, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” (verse 12) Listen to the incredible despair in this text. God provides enough food to share, multiplying what the widow has, but in the following verses, which we did not read, the boy dies, probably from malnutrition. Elijah is able to revive the boy, as Jesus does in the Gospel of Luke.
In the Gospel story Jesus comes upon a funeral procession for the only son of a widow. Jesus is moved by compassion and speaks to the dead man and the dead man rises up and speaks. Widows were in a precarious position in Jesus’ day. Widows, orphans and strangers are often linked as those who the most vulnerable, the poorest, and the powerless. Women lived under the protection of the father’s household and then their husband’s household. If a woman was widowed and had no sons, all personal property reverted to her husband’s family. Widows were often pushed to the margins of society, alienated from the community and forced to beg to survive.
These stories today, speak to us of life at its lowest, life in crisis, life at the point of despair. But God has a word for those who despair.
H. James Hopkins writes of his friend, Rufus Watson, who loved the story of Elijah and the widow. Rufus, the son of former slaves, lived to be 99 years of age. He had served in the military, pitched in the Negro professional baseball league. He had made a little money investing in real estate. He had witnessed lynchings and spent a lifetime wondering how people commit atrocities and still go to church and call themselves Christians. He found hope in the Elijah story and hope in God who meets us at the bottom of the barrel. He would say, “That’s where God meets us, Jim, at the bottom of the barrel. God meets us when we’ve gone so low that all we can do is look up.” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3; p. 103)
Well, I hope God meets us at better times as well, but when we or others despair, God has a word of hope and healing. This, my dear friends in Christ, is why we keep hearing God speaking, through the Hebrew Scriptures and into the New Testament of the religious community’s need to care for the widows, the orphans, and the strangers. God always cares for those who are the most desperate, the most vulnerable, and the most marginalized. God always speaks a resounding “No!” to despair. God liberates those who are imprisoned in places of despair. God brings rich hope to those who are on the brink of giving up, and for those who are already at the bottom of the barrel and looking up.
We are called to intervene in the desperation of other person’s lives. We are the ones God uses to bring the word of hope, healing, and liberation. And that seems like a huge calling at times!
I have a number of images in my mind this week as I worked on this message. One is from Barbara Lundblad (Festival of Homiletics, 2013). She reminded us again of the situation in Liberia in the early part of the last decade, where violence and hatred ruled under the unjust leadership of President Charles Taylor. But there were women, under the guidance of a woman named Leymah Gbowee, president of a Lutheran women’s group in Monrovia. In 2003 she joined with other women, Christian and Muslim women, to create the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET). “The women marched in the streets and held vigils in churches and mosques. They lay on their bellies on the runway at the Monrovia airfield where everyone on the highway could see them.” Leymah said, “Some say we are an embarrassment to our government, but the sun and rain are better than the bullets of war . . . We believe God’s hands are under us in this effort now. God has turned ears toward us.”
During the protests, President Taylor ordered armed men to whip the women. But as their movement grew he knew he could not stop them. Eventually, Taylor agreed to meet with the women. By 2005, after years of turmoil and violence, Taylor had left the country in exile and a woman was elected president of Liberia. (Marking Time, Barbara Lundblad, pp. 66-67) God had used these brave women to say a resounding “No!” to the despair of the country. God used them as liberators and bearers of hope.
Where are the places in our world, in our communities where this message of liberation and hope is needed so much?
I’ve been thinking about a lot this week about places of need, persons who live at the bottom of the barrel or on the edge of despair. I’ve been thinking about Edgehill children who are home now for the summer. For most of our children this is the time of fun, of swimming and of camping and sleeping later in the mornings. For Edgehill children it can be time of hunger for there are school lunches to fill their bellies. (Brighter Days summer program is creating places of hope for these children.)
I’ve been thinking about that young couple nearby who has a special needs child. They’ve journeyed through the long days of grief and disappointment. Maybe they would like to come to church on Sundays, but cannot decide if they can navigate their way to doing it. Will they be welcomed? Will someone help them?
I’ve been thinking a lot about military personnel. On my last visit with Bob Ziegler before he died, he tearfully said, “Please pray for our military men and women; they need our prayers so much.” These men and women serve in harms way in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and if they survive, many come home wounded physically and mentally. Since 2001, 2,700 service members have committed suicide, and that figure does not include National Guard and reserve troops who were not on active duty when they committed suicide. (New York Times, May 15, 2013) I’ve counseled some of those young men who have returned from war and the experience has completely changed them. They need our prayers and support.
I’ve been thinking about our Golden Triangle Families, from Burma and Thailand, who find life difficult and confusing in a different land with a different culture and language barriers.
As we hear God’s call to the ministry of being liberators and hope bearers, where are the places we can make a difference in the lives of others. Maybe those heroic, news- making stories, like the story of the women in Liberia cause us to think that this work is for others, persons more gifted and more courageous. But I believe that each of us, in some simple, down to earth way, can speak that resounding “No!” in the face of despair.
Several years ago I made an afternoon visit to the Mt. Juliet Nursing Home. One of the church members of Grace UMC had been sent there to recover from surgery. My assistant had given me the woman’s room number as I was leaving the office. When I reached the room and went in, I quickly realized that I was in the wrong room. There was an older woman sitting in a wheelchair. I apologized and said, “I have the wrong room number.”
She responded, “That’s okay. Won’t you sit down and visit anyway.”
I sat in the chair across from her and introduced myself. She introduced herself and as she did I looked up and saw a photograph of two women on the dresser behind her. The two women were members of Grace UMC and they were friends. I asked her, “How do you know these two women?”
She smiled and said, “They are my daughters.”
I responded, “Well, that’s interesting because I happen to know them and know that they are not sisters and that each of their mothers has died over the last few years.”
She smiled again and said, “Okay, they are my angels then.” She continued, “One day they walked in here and asked if they could be my friends. I am a widow and my only daughter died a few years ago. I’d been very much alone until that day. They come each week and visit me. They bring me flowers and treats. They come to celebrate my birthdays, Christmas and other holidays.”
Later I asked the two women about the woman I’d met in the nursing home. They had gone to lunch together as they did each week and had begun a conversation about people in the nursing homes who are forgotten, who never get visits, who have no family.
After lunch they drove to the nearest nursing home, walked into the office and said, “Who lives here who has no one to visit or care for them?” From that day they had come to the nursing home to give this new older friend a new life and hope, and to liberate her from the deep wells of loneliness.
There are those places where we are called, through courageous and prophetic actions, or through simple acts of kindness, to say a resounding “No!” to the despair we witness. We will be God’s hope bearers and liberators. It will be powerful and restorative—like Jesus interrupting a funeral procession and saying, “Rise up!”