1 Kings 17:17-24; Acts 9:36-43

May 8, 2022

  • what does it mean to be a people of life?

Today is an easy day to reflect on the gift of life.  Today’s connection to the remembrance of mothers and the fact that we are all here today, alive and kicking, makes it natural to think about life, even coming back to life.  This is a time of thinking about the connections we have through Jesus’ life.  We are in the Easter season, after all, by the grace of God in the life of our Risen Lord, Jesus the Christ.  We are here because we are children of the resurrection.  In light of all of this, however, these two stories that we are considering today are interestingly not about Jesus raising anyone from the dead but others doing the work in the family of God.

We have Elijah with the dramatic picture of his dire situation.  This was back when there was the drought in the land, and the greatest prophet of God, Elijah, was basically in hiding in a foreign land with a pagan family.  This story is really so shocking that when Jesus referenced it in Luke 4 in his first sermon in Luke’s Gospel, the crowd got so angry that they tried to kill Jesus.  It is a dramatic story that should not be ignored.

And much, much later Peter finds himself in a difficult, different situation.  Here a beloved sister in the Lord has already died.  This is somewhat reminiscent of Lazarus.  Everyone is upset.  Peter is summoned to do something.  It is not clear.  Maybe they meant for Peter to bring her back to life.  Maybe they just wanted Peter’s presence there as an early church leader.  We really do not know the intent, but he is brought to this woman of God who has done lots of good in the community, and Peter calls her back into life in this world.

Three qualities of life sing to me of God’s beauty in these stories.

First is the mother of the boy who died in Elijah’s story.  She exposes what is in so many hearts.  People have a tendency to suspect that God is out to get them when things go badly.  When things go south and life gets messed up, it is so tempting to assume that somehow God is punishing them for some sin they have committed.  Maybe that thought has crossed your mind or you have heard someone else echo these sentiments.  I know I have heard this.  We all carry sin and evil in our history.  When we find ourselves truly struggling beyond what seems fair or justified or normal, we can begin the blame game.  For those who know God exists but cannot see how God can still be good, we assume God must be out to get us.  God is finally giving us what we deserve in this life.  Even the Bible seems to indicate that God works this way.  The people of God are regularly beset by all kinds of problems because of their sins and wickedness.  Then, God unleashes punishment after punishment according to some passages.   After seeing Old Testament wrath, how can we think things are different now?   Certainly, the Holy and Righteous God is not going to let us get away with our sin.  Sooner or later, we are going to get punished.

That is except for the fact that life does not work that way.  We would not say God is different, but the way God relates to us is much more developed and much more forgiving than we feel.  God is not out to get us in the least.  I repeat: God is not nor ever out to get us.  I will not serve a god like that.  Yes, our actions can contribute to much of our suffering, but God is not unleashing any punishment you.  How can I know this?  Jesus has already saved me from my sin.  One day I WILL stand in the judgment of God through Jesus, but Jesus is also my Savior and Redeemer.  I bet you believe the same thing.  When we are overwhelmed with suffering in this life, God is not only NOT punishing us, but God is suffering with us and for us.  Jesus is our life, not our condemnation.

For my second point I thought I might consider the people who are in these stories, those who are being blessed with new life.  They are the ones who are afflicted and overcome with death only to be truly restored by life.  Notice that the folk who are being saved from death are just regular people.  How often do we see the little people the ones being helped?  All the time.  This is really good news for us.  Our resurrected friends were not the high and mighty.  There were just regular people: foreigners, children and women, just regular people in far off places.  They were not even necessarily good practicing Jews, not even proper Christians, but they were willing to do for others, for God’s children.  Tabitha and the widow’s son were just regular, simple God-fearing people who found themselves in a bad spot, but God was not done with them.

We are regular people, too.  If God’s heart is for the little, ordinary, regular folk, then there is hope for us all.  When we affirm God cares about us, it is not just lip service.  The passion of God is for the ordinary and regular folk first.  God loves anyone who help others.

The last point of life is also a shocking one because it is all about how the Bible handles the death.

This is truly interesting to me because both Elijah and Peter did something offensive. They dared to touch the dead.  Peter specifically reached out and took Tabitha’s hand seconds after she was dead.  Everyone knew she was dead.  The moment she died she would have been considered unclean.  No one had judged her clean, again.  Of course, people do not ordinarily find themselves in that situation with the dead coming back, but we do face choices to love or not to love, to give or not to give, to touch or not to touch.  Elijah goes all out.  In this bizarre example of his willingness to touch the unclean, he lays on the widow’s boy who has died.  Not only did he take the boy to his space but he embraced the boy’s state of death without reservation.

We are much more worried about the polite and proper and clean.  In the depth of this difficult, troubling, death dealing world, there is something stronger than our desire to remain pure or right.  When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, this same conflict is what drove the priest and the pharisee to the opposite side of the road rather than even go near someone who MIGHT be dead.  Avoid any semblance of contact with true life as possible.  Don’t be contaminated by what people think.  Live under the illusion that God will think more of you if you distance yourself from people in need.

These passages today blow that idea out of the water.  God’s holy service is to minister to the broken, even if we ourselves are tainted.  There are so many examples through the history of the people of God of those who entered bravely into unclean places to help those dealing with death.  Mother Theresa is probably one of the most famous examples, but anywhere polite society fears to tread, there is need for God’s good, life honoring help.  We saw this with the emergence of AIDS a few decades ago.  COVID is another way we saw people laying their lives on the line to help the helpless in the face of death.  How many stories did you hear about those without good protection continuing to work to save lives?  I know I heard many.

Our lives will never be the same, but life is never the same.  What is the same is the value of our life and God’s desire to treat life as a gift, to honor life with love, compassion, reconciliation, and forgiveness.  We have no enemies, just people who are not our friends, yet.  God is for us in this life; we should also be for each other.  To God be the glory.  Amen