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2/18/24 Sermon

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1 Kings 17:17-24

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18 She then 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!” 19 But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20 He cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22 The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” 24 So 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.”

Luke 7:11-17

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow, and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he was moved with compassion for her and said to her, “Do not cry.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stopped. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout the whole of Judea and all the surrounding region.

Acts 9:36-42

36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them, and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.


Pat and Amelia and Olivia are all going to be in “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Grand in April. Spoiler alert for anyone that has never seen it. In the movie version, as I remember it, Tevye, living on the edge of subsistence, bemoans the death of his cow, accusing God of being hardhearted and cruel, only to be told by God that the angel of death had come for his wife Golde, but out of compassion for Tevye, God took the cow instead. 

We have expectations – hopes and dreams of a long healthy life for ourselves and our loved ones – maybe – hopefully – we have those same hopes and dreams for everyone on the planet.

When death comes after a long life, we grieve but we are reconciled to the inevitability of death. We are grateful for the persons life, grateful to have known them. If we believe in an afterlife we are grateful to have their soul reunited more fully with God and with the communion of saints. 

What about when death comes to the very young or someone in the prime of their life? We grieve their lost potential, we grieve the frailty and uncertainty of life, all life. We are heartbroken and angry and we wail our anguished, “why?” to a God that at that point may seem distant and uncaring. None of us are free from this pain, this human privilege of knowing such exquisite loss. 

These three scriptures that we heard today help set the stage for understanding what is to come. There is nothing that God cannot do, nothing that God will not do, for the love of all creation. 

How do we reconcile our life experiences with these three scriptures? Even if we have been, or know someone that has been revived from the dead, why doesn’t God do this more often? Why doesn’t God do this always when it involves children, youth, young parents? 

And when I say God, I mean to include modern medicine. Why doesn’t it always prevail over death? Why are some overdose victims saved by Narcan and others gone forever? Is it random? Where does God fit in? There always seem to be more questions than answers. I believe that we are God’s change agents, but the change only happens when we act as Christ’s hands and feet. I believe that all things are possible with God, but not all things are probable. 

In Elijah’s time the belief in many gods was still prevalent. The people of Zarephath worshiped Baal, the storm god. Elijah was a prophet of God, a prophet sent to the Jewish people. Simplistically, this story as passed down through the ages represents the belief that the God of Elijah was greater than the storm god Baal, the god of the woman that God sent Elijah to for sustenance during the three year drought. Elijah’s God controlled not only the rains that restored life to the land, but Elijah’s God was capable of restoring life to the widow’s child. 

These examples of people dead being brought back to life were intended to bring people to faith, or to increase their faith and understanding of an omnipotent God. 

As Jesus walked the earth teaching and healing, these same miracles were again brought forth to exemplify God’s sovereignty over all other gods, to exemplify that all things were indeed possible with God. I, and likely some of you, sometimes get hung up on the details. Why them? Why not my loved ones? I catch myself at times thinking too literally about these things.

Understanding is possible when we shift our perspective from the individual to the universal. When we examine and question on a micro level, we cannot help but wonder why some are healed, some are brought back from death, while others remain sick or infirm, and remain dead after they breathe their last breath. When we hold the question on a macro level, the answer has been given in the Easter story. What is to come is eternal life for all, not only for some. 

There is much that we understand today about out world; our bodies, our planet, our Universe that was beyond comprehension then; and so, we hold these stories gently, as sacred myths.  

These scriptures helped make meaning then and they continue to help make meaning in our lives today, if we hold them with the reverence intended by our ancestors. 

I believe that when we read the Bible literally, we limit our potential for understanding. Today we have three scriptures that tell us of a child, a grown woman, and a grown man, all of whom were dead and were brought back to life; prayed back to life. Three different individuals were instrumental in these miracles, two of them “ordinary” humans, one of them the Son of God. 

What motivated these individuals to try to reverse the course of nature, to pray that life be restored to these lifeless bodies? The theme of compassion is a thread that runs through all three scriptures. Elijah, Jesus, and Peter were all moved by the grief they witnessed, and moved by the grief that they themselves felt. A very human response to the death of a loved one is to pray or to wish that it could be different, that they could remain alive and vital, remain with us in the here and now. Hearing these scriptures results in the hope that the same could be true for our loved ones. 

What is your experience? How have you reconciled untimely, unbearable deaths with a God that is loving and caring? 

I can tell you that I have had too many experiences of God in my life to ever think that God does not exist. So then, the hard part is attempting to understand God. And in that I am satisfied to concede that it is not possible to understand God, only to believe there is a God. It is enough to know that God is Love, and God is a mystery beyond comprehension. 

These scriptures can enlighten us. We get a glimpse of the faith journey of our ancestors. We are reminded of simple, sometimes mystical explanations for the unexplainable events that transpired in the world. We have examples of multiple miracles performed not only by Jesus but by “mere” humans.

We are also reminded that without Elijah, or Jesus, or Peter none of these miracles would have happened. What was true then, and is still true today is that God needs us to change the world for the better. God needs us as healers. God needs us to be people of compassion. God needs us to be the hands and feet of Christ. God needs us

These sacred stories set the stage for the Easter miracle. We have heard today multiple accounts of people restored from death to life. Soon we will remember and celebrate the death that restores all to eternal life, through Jesus the Christ.


Rev. TJ Mack – February 18, 2024

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