June 7, 2010

Sermon 6/6/2010


SERMON FOR PROPER 5 C
June 6, 2010
Michael Coffey

Texts: 1 Kings 17:17–24, Luke 7:11–17


Two stories about people who suddenly had no future:
With my apologies to the two sons
in our two biblical stories today:
These stories are all about the widows,
not the sons who had died and were revived.
It was great news for those two sons
to encounter the healing and life-giving power of God.
But the texts pay them little attention.
It’s all about the widows.
These widows, you see,
are women without a future.
And where there is no future,
there is no hope,
and where there is no hope,
there is no life.
You can imagine her plans:
Her husband had died, leaving her with little,
but she had enough.
She knew her son would grow up to be a fine man,
who would work hard and make a living
and take care of his own family
and his widowed mother
In her world, it was her only hope.
And now her son is dead.
And her future has been taken from her.

Have you ever been at a point in life
where you felt like you had no future,
where the realities are life got so stacked up against you
that you couldn’t see any way of moving forward?
That might be because of great injustice or misfortune
that truly robbed you of your future,
or it may just be your fear and anxiety about life
that makes you feel that way.
It doesn’t much matter either way,
when it seems that there is no future for you,
you have no hope, and no life.

The widow in the story of Elijah
and the widow in the story of Jesus are very similar.
First, obviously, they were widows.
And widows in ancient culture had lost not just their true love,
or their companion,
but their very means of security and identity in the world.
A woman who lost her husband
was vulnerable to the whims and malice and neglect of others,
and dependent on the care, compassion and decency of others.
But these two widows had something to live for:
They each had a son!
And in their time and place,
a son meant they had a future.
Today we would surely include daughters!
Their sons could support them,
protect them from injustice and misfortune,
give them a home and a status in society.
Their sons gave them hope, and if they had hope, they had life.
But, the stories tell us, their sons died,
and with them the future died, hope died,
and the widows were as good as dead.
I have been watching the news about the Gulf coast oil disaster
and the images coming in of oil soaked birds
and tarred beaches
and the ongoing gushing of petroleum under the sea.
It has started to become clear, or should I say murky,
that the future of the Gulf coast ecosystem
and the livelihood of those who depend on it
has become impaired.
It is a stark reminder
that we have the industry and technology
to do great things, and with those great things,
the potential to rob the planet of its own future.
The growing sense of despair and grief
over the environment and the life of the planet
is a source of great concern and anxiety for us.
In addition to all of the questions we are asking
about what to do, and how to live,
and what needs to change,
we also have to ask and wonder:
How will God work in the face of our ecological dead end
where the future is murky and hope is fading?

I have been watching my Facebook page this past week
as the end of the school year arrives
and many teacher friends express great joy and relief.
I have read a number of postings from teachers
who work with at-risk students in challenging settings
talk about students who came into the school year
with no sense of a future.
These are young people who live in a meandering hopelessness
who don’t have the support and social status
and structures in place
to give them a clear path to a future.
These young people often live with no future,
and so they live with no hope.
I want to come back to those teachers I have been listening to in a minute,
but first I have to ask again:
How will God work in the face of social, familial,
and economic dead ends,
where these young people’s future is uncertain?

In our two stories of widows with sons who died
Elijah and Jesus both respond first
with a profound sense of compassion,
compassion for these widows who have lost their future.
Elijah gets angry with God
for allowing such a disaster to visit this widow
who had fed Elijah and allowed him to do God’s work.
Jesus, in his great compassion
moves in close to the man’s body,
touches the bier, the funeral cart that carries the casket,
and shocks everyone by getting that close to death.
(Had I written a different sermon about the son,
I could have called it “Who touched my bier?”)
In both of these stories,
the compassion of Elijah and the compassion of Jesus
becomes the compassion of God.
And in great compassion and power
God restores the sons to life.
But like I said,
and with apologies to the sons,
these stories are about the widows:
What God did was restore these widows’ future,
their hope, their very lives.

And so our question:
How is God working to restore the future
to all the persons, people, and places
where the future has been robbed
and hopelessness destroys the ability to live?
We can see all the places where the future is gone
and hopelessness rules through despair
and violence, and hatred, and greed.
But that can’t be all there is for us,
for those of us who live weekly by gathering around
the word and bread and wine of resurrection.
Our very nature as church
is to gather in the face of the hopelessness of the human world
and proclaim the future kingdom of God,
the resurrection power of God to restore life
where death has robbed so many of hope.

One Lutheran theologian, Ted Peters,
calls our faith in Christ a proleptic faith.
Proleptic is a twenty dollar word
meaning seeing the future before it arrives.
Peters says that in the resurrection of Christ,
we see and know the future that God is bringing:
Life out of death, justice out of suffering,
restoration out of destruction,
ecology out of decay.
And the church is the people
who dare live with and spread throughout the world
a sense of trust in the good future in God
we already know now in Christ Jesus.

If you have known times where the future seemed taken from you,
times of grief, confusion, failure, sin,
I’m guessing you have also known times
when the future was restored to you,
when your hopelessness gave way to hope,
when your fear and anxiety gave way to trust and acceptance,
when your sin was overcome with abundant grace,
when your doubt gave way to faith.
God creates a future for us.
when God works through the Word,
and the bread and wine,
and the power and presence of the Spirit,
and the hands and hearts of others
to restore us to hope and faith,

I have been reading those Facebook status updates from teachers.
I have heard about students who started the year
cursing and hurling negative feelings all around,
challenging authority,
and barely competent enough to get through the academic year.
And I have heard these teachers
talk about ending the year with a note of thanks,
and an unexpected hug,
and test scores that surprise and delight.
These teachers, some of you,
teach in some of the most hopeless places in our society.
And what have they done?
They have given a future to the hopeless.
In the face of many hurdles,
and social injustice,
and family messes that can’t be fixed,
these teachers have been a part of creating a future
for those who had none.

What is God doing to restore life among us?
What is God doing to bring a future to those who have none?
What is God doing to bring hope to the hopeless
and end the pattern of despair and anger
and violence and suffering
that those with no future are caught in?
In the story of two widows
we can see that it is God’s work and will and compassion
to bring about life and hope and healing.
As we gather in the presence and face of that compassion in Jesus,
let us first have our hope restored,
hope in a future we can trust,
hope in lives that are filled with goodness and love.
And let us find someone else in our daily walk
who has lost this hope,
and be a part of God’s future-granting compassion.
The future is God’s gift to us in Christ
a future wrought out of death and resurrection.
The future kingdom of mercy and justice
is ours to live now
by trusting in the good news of God in Jesus,
and showing exceptional compassion to the hopeless among us.

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