June 5, 2016
Gramdma Erma, The Rev. Fred Kinsey
He, “gave him to his mother”. First it was Elijah, then Jesus. Two similar stories. Two raisings. Two widows restored. They gave the son to his mother.
I knew one widow, Grandma Erma, who had two sons. One son was nearly blind from macular degeneration, the other son was known as the friendly town drunk. Needless to say, neither son was much support. The son who was blind lived too far away to be able to help, day to day. The son who was the drinker, was full of promises to his mother, yet on snowy days, I always saw Grandma Erma shoveling her own front step, and unloading her own grocery bags from the car. Thank goodness for Medicare, on the one hand, and Grandma Erma’s unflappable optimism, undergirded by her rock steady faith. She had the fortitude of the 10 next strongest people, and the generosity of more than one saint.
What she always told me was, that it was her church family, the gathering of her friends in Christ that meant the most to her, and were her support and life-line which was reassuring to hear, because by all accounts, what I saw was her unfailing service to others. At church, Erma was the coordinator of the 3 Circles that served lunch at church for funerals, baptisms, and other occasions, which she always did with great compassion. She knew everyone in the gathering of the faithful at Bethany, and everyone loved her. They couldn’t “give her sons back to her”, healed and whole, but in their relationships and their support, the people returned to her the life we are promised in Christ, a gift and restoration, none-the-less.
In Elijah’s day, it was pretty desperate times for Israel. King Ahab and Jezebel were the bottom of the barrel, in terms of leadership – demagogues. Not only were they corrupt and unfaithful, but they were really good at it! They were holy terrors, and surprisingly, much of Israel was willing to follow after them. It was a dangerous time for the country.
So Elijah was forced to find the faithful, those hungry for salvation, outside of Israel, on the margins. In the town of Zaraphath in Syria, Elijah meets a widow whose son is starving to death, in the midst of a great famine in the land. When his breath is gone, Elijah takes the widows son to his own bosom, and cries out to the Lord for justice. After three times holding him close, the Lord listened and breathed new life back into him. When Elijah presented her restored son to the widow of Zaraphath, it says, “he gave him to his mother”. And she praised God to Elijah, praised this foreign God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whom she had not known until that day.
And so, when we get to the gospel, we already know how the good news works! Jesus goes to the marginal town of Nain, and with a large crowd in tow. There, at the city gate, he meets a funeral bier in procession – no hearse, but a simple pallet, on which is laid the son of a widow. And Jesus has compassion for the widow, sentenced now to a life of poverty. But this is not the first, nor the last time, he shows this emotion for the marginalized, the unclean, or rejected. In plain view of the whole crowd, Jesus says, “young man, I say to you, rise!” And after the young man sits up and starts speaking, Jesus, “gives him to his mother.” In awe, both Jews and Gentiles glorified God, and praised Jesus as a great prophet, the Lord, who brings life out of death.
Where is the power to raise up new life in our gathering? Who are the widows, the marginalized, the poor, in our neighborhood?
In Jesus time, there were no Medicare or Social Security programs. Women were economically dependent on either a husband or a son. And for the people of faith, there was no separating out losing one’s dignity because of the loss of a breadwinner in the family, from one’s grief and shame. Jesus responds to it all, her faith, social and economic status, in this one act of “giving him to his mother.” As a widow who had lost her son, Jesus had compassion for her, even this outsider of a different faith, and responds as an agent of God’s Holy Spirit, transforming what was dead into new life.
In stopping the funeral procession, Jesus protests the injustice of death for the poor, healing the pain and transforming the penalty, overturning its sentence, gifting her with a new day. And through the people of faith, we continue to call on the Spirit to bring new life. We did this, for example, a few years ago when we stood with other Edgewater neighbors in solidarity with the folks about to be removed from Sommerset Nursing Home, protesting the loss of their dignity. And so, raising up our sons and daughters can take on a variety of forms and shapes.
In the gospel stories we hear this summer, throughout this green and growing Pentecost season, Luke will continue to develop the theme of the lowly being lifted up and the mighty being brought low. Luke will continue to assert that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob shows compassion, that widows and the marginalized will be vindicated, and those who worship Mammon and wealth, will be brought to justice. And this, “justice with compassion,” shines through in the Lord Jesus, more and more, on his way to Jerusalem and the cross, in the one who brings life from death.
Where is the power to raise up new life in our gathering? What does a healing justice look like in our neighborhood? Who shows us compassion, and how do we share it with others?
Grandma Erma found new life in the body of Christ, in the people of her neighborhood parish. There, she was a respected leader, her compassion and wisdom found a home in her congregation, a dignity that raised her up, that her two sons could not give her. And, is this not the equivalent of the body of Christ saying to her, “here is your son?”
In our gathering here at Unity, we continue to fill up our Care for Real basket, confident that its collection will raise-up those who hunger, sharing and communing with those hungry for meaning, justice and dignity. And here at our table, we eat the bread and drink of the cup, which are raised up for us, a sacrifice of thanksgiving from Jesus, a gift from God, that satisfies our hunger for righteousness and salvation. And filled with good things, we share Christ’s compassionate healing and wisdom in all we do throughout the week, finding ways to lift up, the Grandma Erma’s in our neighborhood.
The power of new life, is in the body of Christ. As the people of faith who are sent out to tell the story of Jesus’ great love and acceptance, justice and peace, we have the power to restore new life, in his name. And, like Jesus and Elijah, we gladly share the gift of life we have received. “Here is your son,” is a word of restoration and hope, that God is the source of life for all. ‘Here is your life!’ ‘Here, put on your dignity!’ Whoever has been marginalized, be raised up, be healed, and live.