Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, Connecticut
The Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 6, 2010
Two weeks ago when I got word that I was to preach today, I looked up the readings, printed them out, read over them and stuck them in my backpack where they would be easy to retrieve for further consideration. Nearly every day since then, I’ve hauled them out, re-read them and made notes in the margins….and I’ve gotten more and more frustrated.
You see, while I’ve been trying to understand the healing stories in both of our lessons, I’ve found myself waiting for news of healing – waiting in the Emergency Room, waiting for the ambulance, waiting outside the Cardiac Care Unit, waiting for lab results, waiting for appetites to return, waiting for good news of healing here and now that just didn’t seem to come.
Instead of good news, it seems that lately there’s been an inordinate amount of bad news – simple procedures accompanied by complications that made expected overnight hospital stays stretch into days, weeks and even months for several members of our parish family.
For the most part, I consider myself a pretty hopeful person – but not lately. Instead of expecting the best, I have been feeling the ache of hopelessness around the issue of healing. And frankly, reading about the two young men whose lives were restored has seemed more like salt than salve in this wound. Like our old friend Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof”, I’ve found myself shaking my fist toward heaven.
In our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures, we meet up once again with Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. You’ll remember that Elijah went from meeting with kings to near starvation when he met this widow who, along with her son, was also experiencing abject poverty and the prospect of starving. In their mutual need, they shared what they had – she a morsel of bread, he a prayer to the God he still trusted. And they survived… for a while anyway.
Today, the story continues with the death of the widow’s son – a death that meant deeper dependence, further alienation, the end of hope in the future for this woman – to say nothing of the terrible grief associated with losing a child.
She seems to be flooded with feelings of anger, resentment, and guilt. She lashes out in accusation at the man of God whose prayer literally saved her and her son from death. But Elijah takes the body of the lifeless child and approaches his God. Acting as a conduit of divine power, he desperately seeks the child’s healing. And in what sounds like a rather strange sequence of events, the child begins to breathe, his life is restored, and he is given back to his mother.
In the New Testament reading, it is Jesus himself who restores life to another child. Again – it’s the son of a widow – a woman without status, without power, without hope. Here, it is Jesus who seems to understand the depth of sorrow experienced by this nameless woman. In love and without fear, he reaches out to touch the coffin – allowing himself to become ritually unclean. Jesus’ compassion for this woman mingles with the creative power of the Divine to restore a life that was lost. And another child is returned to his mother.
So we have these two stories of powerful resurrection and yet our experience is often just the opposite: disease and pollution, depression and darkness swallow us up until we come to believe that only death is inevitable.
But is it? Are we left to wallow in the mud of confusion, despair, disappointment? Or is there more to ponder – more to tell – more to expect?
C.S. Lewis once said, “Only a fool confuses the highway sign for Chicago with the city itself.” What if we understood these stories of resurrection as highway signs – signs pointing us in a particular direction – rather than anomalies that do little more than point out the fact that we are most probably lost.
There are two interesting similarities in these stories. The first is that it was the most socially marginalized people that experienced these resurrections – these healings. Elijah and Jesus are not afraid of hanging out with the kind of people others run from. I think that’s important. The road sign points to compassion toward people that for the most part have been neglected, cast aside, forgotten.
Secondly, in both of these stories, the resurrected children are immediately handed back to their mothers. Healing and resurrection in these stories seem to point toward reunion. That which was torn apart, is brought back together – important relationships are restored.
If we understand compassion for the marginalized, resurrection and restored relationships as road signs – where might they be pointing us?
Could it be that all of the signs are pointing to the Kingdom of God? That ultimate reality when all of creation becomes what was intended from the very beginning? That place where all are gathered as one, equal in divine love, graced in equal measure – moving like the tide in a sure and steady stream toward the Creator? Moving from broken places toward wholeness? Moving from death to life?
If the words of C.S. Lewis contain any wisdom (and they usually do!), perhaps we – I – had better keep looking for signs – and then move in the direction they point.
While it is true that our lives can be frustrating – our hopes dashed, our patience worn thin – there are signs pointing to the Kingdom every day. Cycles of poverty are broken; chains of addiction are loosed; ignorance is replaced with wisdom, greed with compassion. These are all signs pointing in the right direction – the direction to which God calls each of us today and every day.
May God give us eyes to see them, the courage to believe and share them, and the will to follow where they lead – until we become signs ourselves – pointing to and moving ever closer to our Healer and our Hope.