June 5, 2016

3rd Sunday of Pentecost

1 Kings 17:8-11, 17-24
Psalm 146

Luke 7:11-17


When I was still a student, doing my training as a Candidate for Minister in the Uniting Church, I lived off student financial support provided by Perth Theological Hall. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to pay for my room and to do my weekly shopping and to pay for my bus/train fares. And there were no taxes or bills to pay (how I miss those days). So I was quite happy with what I got. But I had to be quite frugal with the way I lived. I remember having to wait for two years before I could save enough money to travel back to visit my family in Indonesia.

But, during these years, God always reminded me of His providence. One day, when I came back to the room that I rented, I saw a white envelope lying on the floor. I was quite surprised because I didn’t get many mails in those days. And what I found within the envelope was even more surprising. One of the Uniting Church congregations in WA had sent me money as a gift. The money was enough to purchase a computer that I needed at the time.

The thing was I didn’t know much about this particular congregation. I never worshipped there and I never met its members. The only connection that I had with this congregation was through a fellow theological student whose husband was the Minister of that congregation. She never told me, but I suspect that she must have told her husband about me and he must have asked the elders of that congregation to help me. Whatever it was, I truly felt that God was looking after me; and he looked after me through the generous hearts of the people whom I never met before.

Friends, God indeed works mysteriously through different people and avenues. The two passages that we have from the first book of the Kings and the Gospel of Luke also tell stories about help that came unexpectedly.

We hear in both passages a similar situation that affected two different families with similar make-up. In each family the only son of a widow passed away. In ancient time, becoming a widow without a male relative (a husband or a son) was like being given a death sentence. In a patriarchal society, it was really hard for a woman to survive without the help of a male relative. That was why there were actually two people who ‘died’ in each family: the son and his widowed mother.

But the widows in both families did not ask for help. When the widow in Zarepath talked to Elijah, she didn’t ask him for help; she complained to him instead. She blamed Elijah for her son’s death because she believed that his presence in her house had brought God’s attention to her sins; and now she was being punished because of them.

Yet Elijah was not offended by her comment. He took the initiative to help her instead. He took the boy to the upper room of the house and there he prayed for him, taking his mother’s complaint to God himself. Soon after that the boy came back to life.

A similar thing happened in our passage in Luke’s Gospel. Just like Elijah met the widow at a town gate, Jesus met the widowed woman with her dead son at the gate of the town of Nain. And just like the widow in Zarepath didn’t ask Elijah for help, the widow in Nain didn’t ask Jesus for help. She may have not been aware of Jesus’s presence nearby or she may even have not known who Jesus was.

But that didn’t stop Jesus from helping her. Luke told us that when Jesus “saw her, his heart was filled with pity for her.” (Luke 17:13 - GNT) No, Jesus didn’t worry about the dead son; he worried about her. He knew about the bleak future that she would face without her son. So he took the initiative and brought her son back from death.

Indeed Jesus’ action was not the result of what the widow said or did; his action was born out of his nature and character. Jesus’ compassionate heart was moved by what he witnessed, whether or not the widow said or did anything to him.

Indeed, friends, God helps us out of God’s compassionate nature and character. God would do something beyond what we could imagine even before we ask for it. And God’s action is often independent of what we do or say. God would act mercifully and lovingly because it is in God’s nature and character to do so.

We hear about this in our reading from the book of Psalms. The psalmist of Psalm 146 declares that God acts justly and mercifully towards the weak in the land. He gives sight to the blind and food to the hungry. He sets the prisoners free, lifts those who have fallen, and protects the strangers in the land. God does all of these because it is in God’s nature to favour the weak and vulnerable. And the only appropriate response that we can make, according to this Psalm, is to praise and trust Him.

So the key here is trust. We need to trust that God will provide us with what we need even before we know that we need them. In the words of the psalmist of Psalm 100, we need to trust that God “is good; his love is eternal and his faithfulness lasts forever.” (Psalm 100:5 - GNT)

When she was only five years old, Christine Nakelema lost her parents from AIDS. So she and her seven-year-old sister and four-year-old brother had to look after themselves because most of the adults in their village in Uganda had also died of AIDS. For two years they had to scavenge their own food in the countryside. Fortunately a local priest found them and he took them under his care.

In the meantime, in a faraway land called Australia, a young teacher named Julie Ann DeBattista decided to sponsor a child through World Vision - an international relief and development organization. She was matched with Christine. Julie Ann sponsored Christine throughout her childhood and high school years and even when she went to the teacher college.

Christine and her sister are now teaching in a school in Bokeka, Uganda, where she grew up, educating the next generations. Reflecting back on her life, she said, "If it were not for God's love, and our church, and World Vision, you know, I would be dead. If I had survived childhood, I would have probably been forced into prostitution as a teenager, only to die of AIDS before I was 20." But that never happened because God was indeed good and He sent people like the local priest and Julie Ann to care for her. When Christine and Julie finally met in Australia, she called Julie as the only mother she had ever known.[1]

Friends, God is not asleep and God will take the initiative to send people with generous hearts to help us even before we ask for it. What we need to do is to put our trust in God because such trust in God will give us hope and courage in the present to face the future.


Rev. Toby Keva

[1] The Rev. Dr. Stephen Hayner, The Turning Points, on http://day1.org/1970-turning_points (June 6 2010)