Let God’s People Rise! ORLC Goodbye Sermon, June 9th, 2013
Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 9th, 2013 Goodbye Sermon
1 Kings 17:17-24 Psalm 30 Galatians 1:11-24 Luke 7:11-17
Let God’s People Rise!
It’s been such a privilege to be able to preach the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ for you the past four months. I am very thankful to Our Redeemer’s, for this congregation, to you for calling me for this short while, especially how you have accepted me and my leadership. So first a big thank you! We will have a Litany of Farewell at the end of the service, so now I will lift up what the lessons report about the marvelous things that God has done, so that you too can believe that God can do the very same for you. Lutherans believe that Christ is really present and “it is no secret what God can do, what God has done for others, God can also do for you.” Do you remember the song?
With arms wide open, God’ll pardon you.
It is no secret what God can do.
(from Whispering Hope)
When the starving Widow of Zarephath takes in the Prophet Elijah, she is pretty ambivalent. He is on the lam from Ahab and Jezebal. But miraculously, because she shares her meal and shelters this rather ornery man of God, her jar of wheat and her flask of oil never run out. This is a little children’s song I wrote to tell their story:
Elijah met the widow
Picking up sticks
upon her path.
“Bring me some water,”
“and don’t forget
to bake some bread.”
“The little I’ve left
will make one bread;
Then my son and I
will soon be dead.”
“Have some faith
and put God first
and God will fill
your hunger and thirst.”
“Your flour and oil
will never run out,
that’s what sharing
is all about.”
never have enough,
and those who share
have more to spare.
Those with a lot,
will always want more.
Those with a little
(usually) will help the poor.
Seek ye first
the Kingdom Above
and God will provide you
with food of love.
The food of love
Will never run out
Because that’s what
Sharing’s all about!
Well the same goes for you and me. If you share and feed and shelter the people of God in this place, God will see to it that your provisions never run out, because that’s what love is all about. But what’s more, God brings back life even out of the jaws of death. The sustenance that the widow miraculously received did not overcome her ambivalence. That can easily be seen by how her angry feelings come out when her son dies. Because she knows how easy it is for anybody to take away a life, destroy, and kill, but that only God can bring it back, – because God is sovereign even over death. Elijah’s resuscitation of her son overcomes her doubts and she confesses her faith with all her heart.
So the blessing that Jesus’ real presence brings for this congregation is the knowledge and the growing trust that whether we live or die we belong to the Lord, because that’s why Christ died and rose again, to be Sovereign over life and death. (cf. Rom 14:7)
Now the story of Jesus raising the widow of Nain’s only son even from a funeral precession underscores the life to our congregation that faith in the resurrection brings.
A woman had no rights in those days and the death of her only son spelled the fact that she would become destitute and reduced to begging. Children in those days provided for their aging parents. They did not have welfare and social security or any social safety net. Thus when her only son died, she lost all her provisions, her livelihood: all her prospects for food, clothing, and shelter. That’s why Jesus’ heart goes out to her, why he is suddenly filled with compassion and pity for her. As the Lord of love and life, he stops the funeral procession and raises the young man and gives him to his mother, like Elijah gives her son back to the Widow of Zarephath.
So we men have to understand that Jesus is giving us back to our mothers, to our wives, and to our sisters. We belong to them, while they do not belong to us, but belong with us, at our sides. Rabbis used to say that is why Eve was molded from Adam’s rib, that is, taken out of his side. So that means that we men have to be feminists and stand beside and stand in for the rights of women. We have to ask why we are deserting the women, who are demanding their rights and why 40% of households among us have single mothers without the help of a father. Why they are bringing up their children alone and with paychecks that are usually 15 to 20 percent less than men would earn for the same work. Remember my words from last time: when we eat a sumptuous meal, let’s remember to let hunger and thirst still stir in our hearts for justice. Our stomach is one thing and our hearts are another. Our hearts need to keep on hungering for justice. What is justice? It means having a sense of fairness.
For example, our corporations should not be allowed to outsource labor to the places in the world where workers, mostly women, are locked into factories making wages that would make slave-holders blush. A century ago in 1911 in the Triangle Shirt Waist Fire, women had to jump out of the ninth and tenth floor windows of a burning factory in Manhattan, because all the doors were locked. 146 workers died: mostly young women, some 13 and 14 years old. Now this history is being repeated in our global village. Over 1,100 people died in that collapsed building full of five clothing factories in Bangladesh and most of them were women. I have to question myself, too. I want to buy cheap clothing, but do I want the poor to pay for it with their blood?
We, the people of God have to hunger and thirst for justice as fairness, to put it the way the philosopher John Rawls defines it.
So that is how Christ brings new life. He makes men feminists, has them stand in for the rights of women and children. He says, let the little children come to me and forbid them not!
So you think that those who want to control, exploit, and abuse women cannot change? Those that perpetrate violence against women cannot change? Look at Paul. Christ stopped him dead in his tracks and made him do a 180 degree turn – joining the Christians he was persecuting and preaching the very Gospel that he had rejected. The great Saul had ambitions of becoming the high priest and was willing to walk over dead bodies to get there, – like some unjust prosecutors and powerful people in the government today. – But how wonderful that President Obama selected two women, one to chair the National Security Agency and the other to replace her as ambassador to the United Nations for those positions this week. And back to Saul: he was changed into the little Paul, who had to learn how much he would have to suffer for the sake of Christ and the beloved community Christ proclaimed.
Saul the wolf was converted into Paul the Lamb, who said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” To do the work of the truth, we have to become more humble than the dust. Christ is the truth and he can reform us into genuine human beings out of that humble dust. You heard the promise in the prayer of the day: “Compassionate God, you have assured the human family of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Deliver us from the death of sin and raise us up to new life in your Son.” This compassionate Christ can raise up this whole congregation out of the dust, raise it up like Elijah and Jesus raised those widows’ sons, giving them back to their mothers.
And when you believe that Jesus is really present in this congregation, like Elijah, in his real presence, Christ can stretch himself over this congregation three times and restore it to new life! Then with your new pastor, whose ordination we so much look forward to celebrating this afternoon, you can experience a renewal. When you believe in the power of the resurrection, then with the Psalmist you will shout: “We shall not die but live and declare the marvelous works of the Lord.” (Psalm 118) “You have changed my wailing into dancing; you have changed my complaining into dancing!” (Psalm 30) Then this congregation will overflow with children. You will have to recruit Sunday School teachers and run summer vacation church schools and day camps and other programs for the children. You will have to bring in more chairs because the people like baskets of remnants will be overflowing as the power of the resurrection overpowers, overshadows this congregation and brings in the abundant life that our Lord and Savior promised to all those who remain faithful. And what’s more, through it all you will be carried by God’s word.
That is my fond departing wish for you. Exercise your living faith in the crucified and risen Christ by loving God with all your heart, strength, soul, and mind and love that neighbor of yours the way you love yourself. For eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor a heart been able to imagine the wonderful things that God has in store for those who love him and are called to his purpose. Amen.