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1 Kings 17:8-24
“The Bible is a communal library, filled with harmony and dissonance, hope and lament, faith and doubt, questions and answers and more questions to those answers,” says the Rev. Jim Kast-Keat.
The Bible “is myth and legend and poetry and prophecy and story and letter and authentic and forged and stories passed down and down and down and down and eventually written in stone or on a scroll.
“The whole Bible is true,” he says. “And some of it even happened.” 1
Now, I can’t prove to you that the prophet Elijah took the widow’s dead son, carried him up to his room, cried out to God in anger and grief, and then covered the child’s body with his own three times before praying again, begging God to let life return to the boy.
I don’t know for a fact that when the child began breathing again Elijah gave him to his mother, effectively saving the widow’s life.
I can’t swear to you that it happened, but I believe with all my heart that it is true.
And I can assure you that the Jews of Jesus’ day knew the story. And still, all those hundreds of years later, a widow’s life was as fragile as a bubble. The widow in Nain had just one son, just one source of financial support, and now he was dead. Her life, too, was all but over.
I don’t know for sure. I can’t prove to you that Jesus stopped death in its tracks when he touched the funeral bier. I didn’t hear him speak those words of life—“I say to you, rise!”—or see a dead man sit up and start talking. I can’t tell you what the pallbearers did or how the weeping widow responded when Jesus gave her son back to her.
But I believe it’s true—and that it’s good news for me and you.
From the first words of Genesis to the last words of Revelation, the Bible tells us again and again of a Loving Creator who is all about making, giving, blessing, redeeming, renewing, restoring, and transforming life.
Again and again we read stories that tell the truth of a God who loves not only all of creation but also each creature in it, especially the weak, the outcasts, the misfits, and the failures.
While we quibble over the details, what is provable and what is not; while we divide and judge according to whether we believe Jesus preached a social-political gospel or a personal gospel, our scriptures reveal a Creator God and a God Incarnate who has always been about both.
A God who restores, transforms and redeems the lives of various nobodies, one at a time, on the way to accomplishing justice and peace, healing and wholeness for all.
Did the prophet Elisha, as we read last week, heal a foreign general thanks to the engagement of his wife’s Israelite slave girl? That’s how the story goes.
Did Jesus, as we read last week, heal the unnamed slave of a Gentile with nothing more than a word? I can’t prove it.
Did God send the prophet Elijah to a foreign land, to the door of a starving widow preparing a last supper for herself and her only son? Did remnants of meal and oil feed the three of them for days on end until, out of the blue, the boy up and died? Because the widow’s life was at stake, because God’s name was at stake, did Elijah, with God’s help, restore the boy to life? So the story goes.
And did Jesus, his heart breaking for another unnamed widow facing destitution because her unnamed son had died, restore that man to life, with witnesses all around? Hard to believe, isn’t it?
But the life-given and life-restored threads run all through our scriptures, all through the the life of the church, all through human history, and all through our own individual lives.
The key factor in those stories and countless other biblical accounts of healing, liberation, return, redemption, and restoration is never theology. What turns the tide is not right belief or even right action; many of the people who turned out to be some of the Bible’s greatest heroes started out as scoundrels, jerks, and worse. So it’s not that they deserved a second chance; it wasn’t that they’d earned a shot at redemption.
The one constant, the prime mover in every case, was the extravagant love of a God who is all about the fullness of life. Not life abundant in some sort of grand theoretical or philosophical sense, but the fullness of your life. Life for the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing violence and starvation and risking drowning as they search for safety and home. God’s love seeks the redemption and restoration of your life. The healing and redemption of the homeless, many of them addicted or mentally ill, who seek shelter in our building. The God who is love wants the healing of whatever it is within you that is threatened by grief or bitterness, fear, depression or loneliness. The removal of whatever failure or regret, loss or disappointment weighs heavily on your heart, sucking the life right out of you. The resuscitation of your original blessing as a beloved child of God.
In what the Catholic mystic Rochard Rohr calls the “divine pattern of transformation,” God says, “Give me your failure. I will make life out of it. Give me your broken, disfigured, rejected, betrayed body, like the body you see hanging on the cross, and I will make life out of it.”
“Jesus came to raise the dead,” said the late Episcopal priest and author Robert Farrar Capon. Indeed, he said, “the only qualification for the gospel is to be dead. You don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to be good. You don’t have to be wise. You don’t have to be wonderful. You don’t have to be anything. You just have to be dead. That’s it.”
It’s all true:
“Jesus came to raise the dead. Not to repair the repairable, correct the correctable, or improve the improvable. Just to raise the dead, and nobody but the dead. Nothing is all [Jesus] needs for anything.”
Dead? I can do that—eventually. I have done that. I do it again all the time. And nothing? When I hit bottom, when I’ve tried and failed to save myself, when I’ve looked for and failed to find life in all the wrong places, surely I can give up and do nothing.
Jesus came to raise the dead. Jesus came to reveal the God of Life, to embody God the Lover, to walk beside us as God the Good Shepherd, to give his all as the Suffering God—and then to rise again as the God who not only defeats death but transforms it.
When spiritual death comes, when the struggle has ceased and the great storm is over, there is room for grace. There is room for the God of Life. There is hope not only for survival, not simply for existence, but for the glory of new life, life redeemed and restored, life transformed.
Jesus and his followers, Jesus and all who love you, can stand beside your funeral bier, pray in hope and waiting in trust.
You may have some sense of energy breaking through. A narrow shaft of light may break through your well-constructed mask. What’s going on? you may wonder. You are so comfortable where you are.
But from a distance you hear a voice.
“Rise!” it says. “Rise!” it commands.
Oh, there are many kinds of death, each one as real and painful as the next. There are countless forms of suffering, all of them true.
But do not despair.
Jesus comes in love for you. Jesus weeps for you.
Beloved of God, rise! Rise up and live!
1 You can read or watch more of Kast-Keat’s biblical reflections here: ThirtySecondsorLess.net