Claiming Life

Passage: Luke 7:11-17 and I Kings 17:8-24
Date: June 5, 2016
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Newman
Guest Preacher:

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What’s your comfort food?  I think of homemade chicken soup, piping hot with flavorful broth, hearty noodles.  Or warm toast with butter.  Or chocolate—in any form.  We eat for all sorts of reasons.  Sometimes we eat for fuel.  Sometimes we eat for comfort.

Before I went to seminary, I did a Master’s degree at the University of Chicago.  It was an exciting academic environment, but an intense and difficult experience. I was single, living in a postage-stamp size studio apartment.  I yearned for belonging and found the dating scene disappointing and confusing.  The noise and grit of Chicago was getting to me, and it became more and more difficult to get out of bed in the morning.  A turning point for me was one evening when I was supposed to meet my boyfriend for dinner.  When I should have been getting dressed up, I was in sweats, cooking up a big pot of pasta with parmesan cheese.    As the comforting warm steam from the pot bathed my face, an insight dawned on me, brilliant and clear:  I wasn’t eating because I was hungry. I was eating to numb my fear and loneliness.  I couldn’t see a future .   Food that was meant to give life was deadening my pain. 

There’s a difference between being alive and living.  Perhaps you've known a time when you were just going through the motions: too weary or too heartbroken.  Mentally or physically ill; exhausted and not sure how you can go on.  There are all sorts of reasons to feel that way:  depression, other mental illness, addictions, poverty, loss and grief.  A report this week said that for first time in decades the US mortality rate has increased.  During this election year, especially the problems we face are laid bare:  economic stress, international strife and lots of uncertainty.  I believe it is just in these times that we need one another to know that God is with us.  God’s love always holds us.  It’s in times of trial that we can most need and can help one another.  And sometimes, it is in our fragility that we are most open to that love.  Perhaps the first step in believing that God is present, is through the care of another person.  And when we are unable to hope, they hold hope for us.

This morning, we will all be invited to a symbolic meal.  We’ll meet at the communion table. This table reminds us that in our brokenness, God is with us.  When we eat together, we are claiming life. We are saying “yes” and allowing the possibility of trusting beyond ourselves:  trusting God and one another. 

So, today:  What do you hunger for?  Do you need belonging? Do you need comfort?  Do you need to be renewed?  Do you need all of that and more? 

What do you need to hear?  “Don’t weep?”  Or “I say to you, Rise!”  Perhaps both!

    One of the readings for today, from I Kings, tells of the widow of Zaraphath and her son in the midst of famine.  They were about to eat their last bit of meal and oil, and were prepared then to die of starvation.   But the prophet Elijah intervened, and with God’s help, they were saved. Then, there’s the gospel story of the widow and the resurrection of her son.  Picture it:  the funeral coffin carried by bearers, just outside the city gate, surrounded by a large crowed of mourners.  This funeral is interrupted by Jesus.  This healing is not based on the widow’s faith, or anyone’s faith.  This healing comes from Jesus’ compassion. He was deeply moved by her plight:  with no husband, and no son, she is vulnerable, and likely destitute.  She is now cut off from the family structure and a secure place in it.   She doesn’t belong.  “Don’t weep,” Jesus says.  And he gives her back her son.  He restores her to her place in community.  This story isn’t not about believing doctrine.  It’s about an experience of transformation and belonging.

    We really don’t know anything about the widow’s son-- just that he was dead.  And that defying religious purity laws, Jesus touched the coffin of the dead.  He said “Young man, I say to you:  Arise!”  The man sat up, began to talk .From death to life.  Don’t get caught in literalism as you hear this story.  Think about the situations in the world and in our lives that need new life.

    There’s a difference between being alive and living.  What feels beyond all hope and remedy?   What have you willed to numbness?  What needs new life?  Bill Wilson, who wrote the Twelve Steps used by Alcoholics Anonymous told his story:
“My friend sat before me, and he made the pointblank declaration that God had done for him what he could not do for himself. His human will failed. Doctors had pronounced him incurable. Society was about to lock him up.  Like me, he had admitted complete defeat. Then he had, in effect, been raised from the dead, suddenly taken from the scrap heap to a level of life better than the best he had ever known!  I saw that my friend was much more than inwardly reorganized. He was on a different footing.”
Father Richard Rohr expresses it thus: “Authentic faith leads you to a place that you know nothing about.  Once you know what you need to know, there is no other explanation except that there must be another Power at work in this world.  . . it's having an experience of being changed or moved to a new place, almost in spite of yourself. Sometimes no one is more surprised than you. All you can do is offer thanks. . .

We gather at God’s table.  And God says:  Give me your failure.  Give me your pain. 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.   It's the divine pattern of transformation.”

What needs healing so that you can consciously claim life-- and each precious breath? 

What broken thing in the world needs you to claim it, and work with all your might and passion to bring wholeness to it?

    One of my favorite artists is Jan Richardson. (Her website is )  I want to share part of her poem, based on the passage we read today.  
Blessing for the Raising of the Dead © Jan L. Richardson   
This blessing does not claim to raise the dead.
 It is not so audacious as that.

 But be sure it can come and find you if you think yourself
beyond all hope, beyond all remedy;
if you have laid your bones down in your exhaustion and grief,
willing yourself numb.

This blessing knows its way through death,
knows the paths that weave through decay and dust.
And while this blessing does not have the power to raise you,
it knows how to reach you.

 It will come to you, sit down beside you, look you in the eye and ask if you want to live.
It has no illusions. This blessing knows it is an awful grace to be returned to this world.
Just ask Lazarus, or the Shunammite’s son.
Go to Nain and ask the widow’s boy whether he had to think twice about leaving the quiet. . .
Ask the risen if it gave them pause to choose this life— not as one thrust into it like a babe,
unknowing, unasking, but this time with intent, with desire.
Ask them how it feels to claim this living, this waking;
to welcome the breath in your lungs, the blood in your veins;
to gladly consent to hold in your chest,
the beating heart of this broken and dazzling world.

Today, how will you claim life?  What will change?