Sunday, June 06, 2010

1 King 17:17-24; Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 6, 2010

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA

17After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” 19And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. 20And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” 21Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” 24And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” 1 Kings 17:17-24 (ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

We know what it’s like to lose a loved one. We know the heart ache of not having that one person to confide in, that one person we can depend on. We know the emptiness of the empty chair and the empty space in the heart that comes when a friend is gone. We know reaching for the telephone and realizing that we don’t have that person to call anymore. It is the way life is, friends leave... loved ones are lost… people die.

It’s because we all know what it’s like to lose a person who is close to us we can understand what’s going on with the widow in the readings for today. She is mourning the loss of more than just a friend. She is mourning the loss of a child. It’s not just any child either it’s an only child, in fact an only son. Not only did this woman lose a friend, a child, and a family, she’s actually lost everything. You see, in those days there was no welfare system, no society “safety net” for people to depend on. All that parents had to take care of them when they grew old were their children. So for a widow to loose an only son was for her to be without any means of support, more than just alone, destitute. Of course, she was also broken hearted. It is the greatest pain in the world when a parent looses a child. Our heart goes out to this widow sitting clutching her breathless child to her breast. We can feel the agony of the loss, the empty feeling in the heart. We know what it’s like to lose a friend. And yet this poor widow has lost so much more than a friend.

Leading up to this heart-wrenching scene the bible goes into great detail about the unfaithful kings of Israel. Right before this text is a litany of kings who “did evil in the sight of the Lord” by leading God’s people to worship other gods. As a reminder that God’s people are only to worship him, God sends a severe famine over the whole area. Elijah, God’s prophet to Israel, seeks safety in the house of the widow, a place to survive during the famine. Things seem to have been going fine between Elijah and the widow until her son suddenly takes ill and dies. That’s when she asks the same question that we seem to always ask when we have a great loss. “Why have you done this to me?” “Why are you against me? O man of God?” she cries. She had opened her house to him, given him a place to stay, even during the hardship of the famine. And for all her good, for all her trouble her son ends up dead. “You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” She’s saying to Elijah, “You’ve brought me back to God’s attention and because I’ve got sin in my life, sin in my past, God has struck down my son as punishment.”

And again isn’t that where we really connect to her? Isn’t that where we can really understand her feelings? Our first inclination whenever we encounter some great trouble in our lives is to think that God has sent it to us because of something we’ve done. Something has caused us to come to God’s attention and He’s seen our sin and acted accordingly. We know that our lives are far from the perfection that He rightly demands. But we often hope to hide among the masses, hoping that God won’t pay any attention to our individual sin. We know naturally sin puts us naturally at odds with God. Whenever we have trouble in our lives that seems to come from God we can see very clearly that sinful people are really His enemies. “Now Pastor,” you say, “I don’t feel like God’s enemy. I see God as my friend.” But I really wonder if that’s always true.

There are lots of examples for us in Scripture. Job is the first to come to mind. The bible tells us that he was blameless in the eyes of God, and yet God allowed Satan to take everything from him. Job lost not only his children, but his house, his health, and his wealth… he lost everything but his nagging wife, “just get it over with, just curse God and die!” she said. And Job’s friends gathered around him and told him that he must have done something really evil to deserve all this trouble. All Job could do was complain to God. “Why have you done this thing? Why am I your enemy?”

We know that sin puts us at odds with other people. We know sins separating effects. All of us have seen friendships that have shattered, marriages that have crumbled, and families that have been torn by sin. All of us have at one time or another been the cause of separation through our own sin. We know what sin does in our relationships with other people and we know what sin does to our relationship to God. Just think of the people you know who stay away from church because of some situation they are in, some sin that they live with every day. How many times do we say to ourselves, “I’ll get right with God then I’ll go to church.” Or “I’ll set my life in better order first then I’ll pray more often.” That’s the natural, sinful person in us knowing that sin pushes us away from God. The widow woman seems to have been in the same situation. “God had forgotten about my sin until you came and reminded Him of them. And now my son is dead.” She was hiding away from God because she knew she was a sinful person. She doesn’t say that she didn’t deserve the trouble.

This all points us to our need for forgiveness. We confessed together a few minutes ago, “we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean.” That’s what the bible tells us. The human race isn’t made up of people who are basically good and do bad things once in a while. We are all basically evil, full of sin, and sometimes we do good things. What we deserve from God is punishment, anger and wrath. We deserve to lose our children, families, homes, and jobs. Because of the sin we all have we should rightly be God’s enemies.

But the widow woman saw something different from God. When she complained to Elijah that he had brought her to God’s attention, she was right. When the prophet took the boy in his arms and carried him to the upper chamber the woman must have wondered what was going on. Why was he taking her child away? What did he want with her child’s body? We don’t know how long he was up in that room but it doesn’t seem very long and he returns with a living boy instead of a dead one. Her son was alive again. Her hope was restored to her. She was reunited with her loved one. God was telling her that even though she deserved punishment God forgives and restores. God was not her enemy God was her friend. She responded in joy. She responded in faith. What a joy it is to know that God deals with us that way, too.

We should have sung the hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus” today. That’s what’s going on here. Even though our sin should make us enemies of God, Jesus has makes us His friends. What God does for us is just like what happened to the widow. The son was dead and raised to life again. That death and resurrection of her son brought her to a reunion with not just her son but also with her heavenly father. Not only was her son totally restored to her, but her relationship to God was totally restored, too. She knew that God didn’t hold her past sins against her. That’s what the death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ says to us, too.

When Jesus broke the bonds of death, when he came out of the cold dark room of the grave, He promises to us that our sins are forgiven. All that we deserve for our sins, death, separation, trouble, punishment and God’s anger were put on Jesus on the cross. He suffered and died in our place. The widow believed that God struck down her son dead because of her sin. Jesus is struck down dead because of our sin. There is sin in your past that troubles you; sin that caused you to lose a friend; sin that ended a marriage; words spoken in anger that cut a family member to very soul; sin that troubles you in the darkness of your own bed; sin that should by rights make you God’s enemy; sin for which you deserve to die. When that sin came to God’s attention He struck down the Son. Jesus Christ crucified is God’s answer to your sin. The death of Jesus is the death of all the sin in your past. The death of Jesus is the death of all the sin in your future. And when breath returned to Jesus, life returned to you and me, through Jesus. His resurrection is God’s full restoration of friendship through the forgiveness of sins. You don’t have to hold on to the guilt of your sin. Sin no longer makes you God’s enemy. Jesus makes us God’s friends.

You know the widow responded in joy to the new life given to her son. We respond in joy to the new life given to us through resurrection of The Son, Jesus Christ. Sin and guilt don’t have to dominate our friendships. “In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for you, and for His sake God forgives you all your sins.” When we see what God has done for us through Jesus our natural response is one of joy, “What a friend we have in Jesus; all our sins and griefs to bear!” When we hear again what God has done for us in Jesus, we naturally turn to Him in faith, and hold on to Him in faith all the more. Because we know what God had done to take care of the sin that separates us from Him and other people, we naturally put our trust in Him whenever we run into trouble. We know God is faithful by what He has done, we know He is faithful in what He will do.

There is hope in the resurrection, not just for our relationships right now, but also for the relationships that have been broken by death. Those separations are the most difficult for us. They seem to us, in human terms to be the most permanent. The joy that the widow experienced will be our joy, too, when we gather in wonderful reunions with our family and friends who have believed in Jesus. We’ll grab a hold of one another and shout joyous praises to our friend Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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