Why church? How are we to be church? Is church dying out or transforming? Which church has it right? These questions and other similar ones govern so many of the conversations among those in church leadership across denominations. Where do ecumenism and interfaith dialogue come in? Do we need a building? How do we raise money? How do we plan for a future that seems so uncertain? I’ve asked these questions and engaged others in exploring the answers. Sometimes answers come from very obvious places.
I am blessed to be part of an ecumenical text study. Each week we gather and discuss the texts and share our ideas on preaching. This week’s conversation completely shifted my understanding of this week’s Gospel reading. The brief story of a funeral procession for a widow’s only son provides answers to many of the questions surrounding church now.
First, let’s look at the widow. The death of her only son would have left her in peril. Without a man to support her, she could lose her home and any remaining status she had in society. She would go from being marginalized (a woman without a husband) to being an outcast (a woman without a man). However, Jesus saw her and he had compassion. He restored life to the man by coming forward and touching the bier. Jesus spoke words of life and the woman (and her son) were restored to community.
It’s a simple story, maybe even one that is overly familiar to some of us. However, when we focus on the resurrection part of it, we lose some of the power. If we want church to continue to be vital, then we must do as Jesus did. In other words, we must see places of pain and alienation. We must have compassion for people who are suffering. Then we must come forward and touch those in need of new life. If we’ve made it this far, then we must speak words of life and justice until all are fully restored to community.
This story isn’t so much about the miracle of resurrection for a widow’s only son as it is about resurrection for us, for the church. The story becomes too individualistic if we focus on the boy. But when we step back and focus on the larger dynamic of seeing, having compassion, coming forward, touching, and speaking the story becomes about community, about relationships with one another. My desire to be “good enough” for a miracle takes a far backseat to the restoration of community.
Each of us is part of something far greater than we know. All of us ought to be asking how we can bring new life into our communities. This simple story of healing provides the answer. When we are able to lift our heads beyond the immediate concerns of budget and attendance to the lives of people, particularly those on the margins, we embody Christ. We embody Christ by looking directly into the suffering around us and responding with compassion. This means that we push up our sleeves and get our hands into the work of healing that is much needed. We touch lives both literally and figuratively. All the while, we speak words of justice, love, and life. We, as church, then become the prophetic voice that will restore relationship and build community.
It’s the season of Pentecost more than it is Ordinary Time. There is nothing ordinary about the movement of the Spirit. She leads to new life if we are brave enough to follow.
RCL – Year C – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 5, 2016
1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24) with Psalm 146
1 Kings 17:17-24 with Psalm 30