This is my last sermon for this church, as I move in less than three weeks' time: there will be another goodbye, to the other 3 churches, next week!
1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24) and Luke 7:11-17
We have heard three amazing stories this morning.
First the story of Elijah & the widow of Zarephath.
I love the story. The widow takes pity on Elijah (who is in the middle of a battle of wits with King Ahab) and uses the last of what she has to feed him - but then find that her oil & flour lasts all three of the – the widow Elijah & her son, for many days.
Then in the second story, the son dies. The widow wonders whether she is being punished for some sin, and feels that the presence of Elijah has brought her to God’s attention in an unwelcome way. So Elijah takes the boy, prays for help from God, and he is restored to life and given back to his mother.
And then the third story our gospel reading of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain by Jesus.
So what do we make of these stories?
On one level the Elijah stories could just look like 'you scratch my back & I'll scratch yours'.
The woman has cared for Elijah in the famine & now he cares for her by raising her son.
Then the message of those two stories would be to be nice to people in case they are God’s messengers and can do you some good in return.
But that seems a bit feeble, and is ignoring the power and will of God in the whole thing.
The fact that she is named as a widow (and actually that’s all she’s called – we are not told her actual name), give the story more depth.
God's concern for a social justice that extends especially to 'widows and orphans' is well attested in the Old Testament. And what can be more heart-rending than a woman who has not only lost her husband, but also her son?
So God's justice & God's kingdom demands action.
Elijah is moved to pity for the woman of Zarephath - and that is when God's power breaks into the story - the power of life beyond death: and the son lives. Elijah shows that God’s will is for good, not ill.
The woman fears she is being punished for some sin and that that is why her son is ill: God acts to show that is not the case. God wants life, wholeness, peace for all his people.
In just the same way, it seems, Jesus is moved to pity for the woman of Nain. This young man becomes one of only three people raised to life by Jesus, along with Jairus' daughter (Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44).
It is hard not to face the challenge 'why these people & not all the others?'. Why didn’t Jesus spend his time on earth bringing lots of dead people back to life?
And yet such a physical raising is only temporary and Jesus wanted to show people a way to life that was about permanent change, about life he called ‘eternal’ life – life that was at peace in this world and accepted that God’s love will carry us safely through to be with him forever.
It seems that Jesus acts in this case – and in the case of Jairus’s daughter & Lazarus – for the sake of the grieving relatives. But for the people who have died themselves there is no sense in which Jesus is ‘rescuing’ them, because they are already at peace. Otherwise, if the dead people themselves had been in danger, surely Jesus would have raised more people back to life?
So I wonder how these stories are speaking to us today?
I am very aware that this is my last Sunday here.
I hope I’m not being melodramatic when I say something is dying – or at least ending.
We all feel sad at the parting of the ways, and maybe we would like to pray for God to bring it back to life – turn the clock back, give us all 6 more years together.
And maybe we fear that as we part, as this life dies, as things change, we might find that God has abandoned us.
But the power of God to change things is as alive as it was for the widows of Nain and Zarephath. God’s will is to bless with life, not punish with death.
And so wherever, whenever, whoever we are God promises that his food will not run out: this bread and wine is always available, and through it God feeds us with his very own life, as we remember Jesus. Through this communion we are promised new life, eternal life, God’s peace and wholeness.
So may we be fed and strengthened for the future God has in store for all of us – and may we know God’s power and peace, today and always.