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Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: I Kings 17:8-24, Psalm 146:1-10 or Psalm 30:1-12, Galatians 1:11-24, Luke 7:11-17

First—an unpaid commercial announcement. The materials I prepared for our recent 24-hour prayer vigil have been posted on this website. On the home page is a button labeled “Prayer Vigil 2010.” Click and find some thoughts on the practice of prayer as well as links to various handouts that were made available to participants. Their relevance and use is not limited to that one 24-hour period.

Now some highlights form the Psalms for this week.

Psalm 145:3—“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” Power often becomes corrupted. Consider the present oil spill crisis, the failure of the Catholic Church and the scouts (and other organizations) to address abuses over the years, the stalemate in Congress, the intransigence of Israeli and Palestinian leaders, etc. Scripture calls us repeatedly to be vigilant, speaking the truth to power.

Psalm 145:7-9 speak of the results in terms of justice for the afflicted and oppressed. It is a vision that guides the truth we speak to power—“justice for the oppressed,” food for the hungry, freedom for prisoners, care for strangers, orphans and widows.

Psalm 30 is a Psalm of healing and restoration which reminds us that “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (vs. 5) Many of us have been through enough ups and downs in life to know that the “pit” is not the final resting place. When I was a kid, my mother and I went on a five-day bicycle trip in northwest Washington state with old single speed balloon-tire bicycles. At one point after miles of pushing the bikes up hill to coast down the other side, I said to my mother, “For every down, there’s another up.” At that time, I was thinking of the “up” as something I didn’t want to face. The “downs” were easy and therefore good. Whatever we call the “good” part, let’s watch for its coming every moment along the way. The Psalmist speaks of his personal resurrection to good health in terms of mourning being turned into dancing.” Can we be among the people who restore a spirit of dancing to life?

In I Kings 17, the Lord sends Elijah the prophet, hungry and thirsty, to a widow in Zaraphath to ask for food and drink. (I Kings 17:8-11) She says she only has a handful of meal and a little oil, just enough to make bread for herself and her son, “that we may eat it, and die.” (vs. 12) There is a cloud of death over the house, but Elijah tells the widow that “the jar of meal and the jug of oil will last for many days, which they do. (vss. 13-16)

We often have “enough,” even when we think we are up against the wall. I’ve experienced that several times in life. The story should not, however, be applied lightly to those who have literally come to the last crumb of sustenance. Elijah was recognized as a “man of God.” Perhaps this story is also a reminder of how “men” and women of God are called to help those in need stretch and supplement what they have, personally and through efforts to reform social policy.

As the story continues, we find that the widow’s son becomes ill until there is “no breath left in him.” (vs. 17) Elijah calls upon God to restore the boy’s life (vs. 21). When the widow sees that her son is alive, she says, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” (vs. 24)

The New Testament lesson, in a story that only Luke tells, is another story of a mother’s only son being resurrected–this time apparently an adult son, “a man.” (Luke 7:12) Luke tells us that this is another instance of Jesus’ “compassion.” (vs. 13) As in the Elijah story, the resurrection of this young man is followed by a recognition of Jesus as “a great prophet” of God, and words spreads about him “throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.”

In Galatians, Paul speaks of the change that God has brought in his life, dramatic enough that it might be called a “resurrection.” At the time of this writing he is still “unknown by sight to the churches of Judea.” He is known simply as “the one who formerly was persecuting us” who “is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” (vss. 22-23) It is a change that is so dramatic that it is hard to believe, so dramatic that it could have only come from God, whom they glorify “because of me.” (vs. 24)

So, what are we to take from these resurrection stories? To take the stories literally strains our credulity. I’ve never seen a person actually come back from death, at least in the way these stories are told. I’ve seen people go through a few “near-death” experiences and come back from brief moments when the monitor showed death or after long comas. I was called to the hospital many times over a two-year period for one of my parishioners who was about to die. He went home from the hospital and was alert and living when I moved on to another parish. So—I know something about living against all odds. In the end, however, they all died.

We can treat the stories as metaphors for the new life that seems to miraculously overcome the dark side of human existence. The change in Paul’s life is an example. Many of us have experienced “resurrections” in our lives. We have known moments when things that were weighing us down eased and a new chapter of life began for us.

Scripture is about the possibility of life in the face of death, about something at work in life that keeps us going, that fills us with hope, something that has a whiff of miracle in it. Jesus is seen as a life-giver overcoming the death-dealers, calling us not just to experience life in its fullness but to be forces of life in the face of death. The central message of resurrection in any form is that death is not the final word. It cannot destroy what is of value in God’s creation and in human existence. Many fear death and destruction, the loss of all that seems to give them worth or meaning. Will it all be simply blotted out as we sink into the darkness of a brain shutting down? The answer of scripture is an emphatic “No!” We cannot describe it, much less explain it. It is miracle and mystery. I’m glad we have such stories of miracle and mystery that live not just on the written page but in the living breathing Spirit in whom we live and move and have our being.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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