Monday, July 22, 2013

We Are Not Alone

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C
21 July 2013 
The Episcopal Church of the Ascension
Deacon Christian

Lectionary Readings
Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

*Disclaimer:  The text below captures about 85% of what was said on Sunday morning.  I like to leave a little room for the Spirit to blow through in the moment, so there may be a few places where the audio and text don’t match up.  A special thanks to the women of the lectionary study whose content may not have shown up in recognizable ways, but whose inspiration is all over this text.  

Dante J Vaghi is a UFO expert.  His office is the Sycamore Diner in the sleepy little New England town of Bethel, CT.   If you ever happen to belly up to the counter at the Sycamore, Dante will waste no time in coming over to you.  He’ll smile and introduce himself as the local welcoming committee, and then he’ll lean in and whisper, “We are not alone.”   He’ll then straighten up and announce in a more declarative voice, “No sir, we are not alone.”  And so begins Dante’s epic story that chronicles his journey from an air force enlisted man, stationed in the deserts of Nevada in the early 1950s, to his current position as UFO expert dealing with abductions in New England.  Sometime in the first hour, usually about the time Dante explains how he came to have four kidneys, you’ll fall in love with his passion for telling his story.  
For above anything else, Dante lived for someone to listen to his stories.  he could care less about money, or food, or even his health, he just wanted his voice to be heard.  As Dante grew older he was less and less able to care for himself, but the people of Bethel loved their Spaceman (his local appellation),  so they rallied around Dante and helped to take care of him.  Local families would come over to his old homestead and cook him meals or clean up his garage or even do minor repairs on the house.  Yet most of these kind souls rarely stuck around to talk with Dante. They had lives of their own, and only a little time to help out.  Cleaning up the tripping hazards in Dante’s cluttered hallway took precedence over listening to stories they had heard 100 times before.  
However, there was one woman, Valerie, whose sole purpose was to address Dante’s storytelling needs.  Valerie would pick Dante most Saturday mornings and drive him to the Sycamore, where he could either share his stories with unsuspecting customers, or if no one presented themselves for enlightenment, Valerie would listen attentively for the 77th time of how Dante came to have four kidneys. Valerie gave Dante the gift he most cherished - someone he could share his story with.
Valerie understood what Mary understood from our Gospel reading today.  There is a basic human need to have one’s story heard.  Food, water, and shelter are of little concern if a person believes their story does not matter to anyone.  And so one of the greatest gifts we can give one another is to listen to each other’s story.  And I mean really listen to their story.  The kind of listening that requires our full attention.  The kind of listening that turns off cell phones, ipods, ipads, TVs, and radios.  The kind of listening that does not interrupt, does not make judgments, does not formulate responses, or anticipate outcomes.  It’s a kind of pure listening that shares in the life of the storyteller.  
Dori Laub, a holocaust scholar, calls this kind of listening, witnessing.
  In her research as a holocaust survivor with other holocaust survivors she came to recognize the need for witnessing before healing could begin.  My own work in trauma narrative theory, especially in working with fellow veterans, confirmed this notion that humans need attentive and compassionate listening before healing can move forward.  For witnessing is more than an exchange of information. Witnessing is an interweaving of story lines.  In witnessing, the  storyteller shares his or her burdens and the listener helps to bear those sorrows.  Likewise, the witness participates in the storyteller’s joys and celebrations.  In witnessing, a kind of mutuality occurs, and people share in one another’s lives.  
Too often we think this kind of listening is best left to professionals - counselors, clergy, or therapists.  But as studies progress, those same professionals are coming to realize that the best healing occurs when everyday community members witness among one another.
  Especially revelatory is the power for faith communities to heal through witnessing.  We are all healthier when each of us listens attentively to the stories of others.  The body of Christ grows strong when younger generations sit at the feet of their elders and listen to tales of riding through the holy land on camels, and the church is a healthier place when the elders sit at the feet of the youth and listen to stories of mission and the pitfalls of salads in Bolivia.  We are better followers of Christ when we pause to witness to each other.  
Which brings us to back to Mary in today’s gospel reading.  Mary is witnessing to Jesus. 
   We are so accustomed to seeing the Christ in Jesus that we sometimes miss it in others.  Here is one of those places.  Mary sits at the feet of a stranger and offers the gift of listening with her whole mind, body, and soul.  In witnessing to Jesus, Mary interweaves her story with his; Mary participates in the life of Jesus.  And in sharing in Jesus’ life, she eventually shares in his death and resurrection. Mary does indeed choose the better part because Mary chooses to join her life to Christ’s through witnessing.  
Today we get to see others joining their life to Christ in baptism, and we have an opportunity to follow in Mary’s footsteps.  During this sacrament Father Howard will turn to us, the body of Christ, and ask, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” To which I hope we answer, “We will.”  And I hope we continue to witness to these children and their families by listening to their stories as Mary listened to Jesus.  I pray they hear the Gospel in our attentive silence and know that they are not alone...that they know this body of Christ is serious about listening to their story, committed to helping them bear their burdens, and excited about sharing in their joys.  
And after the sacrament of baptism, we will come to this rail to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his story once again.  Curiously enough I suspect Jesus will tell us the same thing Dante has told people for 50 years, “We are not alone.  We are not alone. For as long as we witness to another in love, we are never alone.”  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pentecost III, Year C June 15, 2013
Episcopal Church of the Ascension The Reverend Dr. Howard J. Hess
Reconciliation: The Next Right Step

I. Introduction. Reconciliation. At the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the quest for reconciliation. I believe that this is so because at the very core of our being is an undeniable need to be one with God and with his Son, and through the dynamic energy of the Holy Spirit, one with one another. But the quest for reconciliation is no simple process. It is filled twists and turns, unexpected bumps, losses, and re-unions, triumphs, and scars. And in the midst of it all there is the inexplicable person Jesus Christ. As clearly evidenced in today’s Gospel, when Jesus shows up, we are likely to be surprised, challenged, and changed. This morning I encourage us to focus upon the truth that each of us is on a spiritual journey, needing to discern and take “the next right step” on the path to reconciliation. The concept of “the next right step” is one I have learned from one of my spiritual directors. It is, for me, a very helpful way to focus on the present – the here and now – in our discernment in our spiritual journeys. We will come back to this in a few minutes.
II. We can see this invitation to discern and take the next right step spiritually in this morning’s Gospel. There is a “next right step” for the un-named woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair and her tears; there is the next right step for Simon the Pharisee; and there is the next right step for the bystanders at the dinner. I find it so striking that Christ is able to engage at the same time with each one of us in so many different ways. He was able to enter into a powerful encounter of affection and forgiveness with the un-named woman, while at the same time simultaneously using that encounter to teach and challenge Simon. Moreover, all of those present were exposed to a lesson about reconciliation and judgment if they had eyes to see and ears to hear.
At first glance, we may see this story as an affirmation of the woman and a rebuke of Simon. On one level, this interpretation is correct. But on a deeper level, what Jesus was offering both of them was the spiritual experience they needed at that moment. The un-named woman was unreservedly expressing her love for Jesus, and he both accepted her gift of washing his feet and assured her of forgiveness for her sins. Jesus discerned that deep within this woman, her act of kindness was an expression of repentance. Her need for an encounter with Jesus was clearly part of her spiritual redemption.
He did the very same thing with Simon, a man impressed by his own importance and prone to judge her and others as less worthy than he was. With Simon, Jesus intervened by telling him a parable about forgiveness and reversal. Who would be more grateful when a debt was forgiven? One who owed 50 denari or 500 denari? The point Jesus was making to Simon was inescapable – you need to assess your hardness of heart and see the power of this woman’s repentance and resurrection experience. You, Simon, can learn the spiritual lesson you need to grasp from her. Once again, Jesus was turning the spiritual table upside down – a great reversal. That which is high will be brought low and that which is lowly will be lifted up. Both of Jesus’ encounters in this Gospel were equally loving and equally based upon what the person with whom Jesus interacted needed.
III. Isn’t that always the question? What is it that we need to hear from Jesus Christ this morning and what is the next right step in our spiritual journey toward greater reconciliation with God and others? As I pondered that question for myself in writing this sermon, I was reminded of some lessons that my own father worked to teach me. You might find this hard to believe, but as a child I moved very quickly. In fact so quickly, that I often moved before I thought and ran into things, like radiators and brick walls. I didn’t leave myself enough room to stop, or to turn before impact. My father saw that and tried to teach me the wisdom of thinking before I acted and of slowing down before I made a decision. The spiritual aspect of this learning was critical. Sometimes one needs to wait for guidance and clarity before taking a step. Sometimes it is best to let the right time for an action to reveal itself before moving forward. What I remember about my father’s attempts to teach me this lesson, before his early death at the age of 50, is how gentle, yet persistent he was in working with me. This is one of the gifts that many fathers are given – the gift to discern what their child needs and the patience to teach consistently over time. One thing I would share with those of you who are fathers and grandfathers here this morning is how important it is to look for and savor the spiritual teachable moments with your children and grandchildren. And to remember that lessons taught at one time of life don’t always come to full fruition until years later.
Since my father first began to teach me lessons about patience and wise timing I have had many subsequent teachers. Each teacher has walked with me for a time, offering some new insights about myself and the world that have helped me discern next steps in my life. As is true for most, if not all of us, the need to repent and began again and to reconcile with those from whom I was estranged, have been themes. Sometimes I have eagerly embraced the lessons shared with me -- like the un-named woman in today’s Gospel embraced being forgiven. At other times I have resisted the lessons. Like Simon the Pharisee, I have sometimes thought I knew better than my spiritual guide and had already learned the lesson being offered.
But when I look back, I see that God has always sent me the teachers I needed at a particular time and place. They were part of a larger mosaic of spiritual learning and reconciliation that emerged from God’s wisdom, not my own. I have shared with you the long path toward reconciliation with my sister before her death in the late 1980’s. Recently, God provided me an unexpected second chance for reconciliation with my sister’s daughter, who has asked me to officiate at her wedding this August. The step of doing the next right thing in our spiritual lives is almost always taken without full assurance of the outcome. Surely, the un-named woman who washed Jesus’ feet could not have anticipated the way in which Jesus publicly affirmed her.
I firmly believe that each of us here this morning, whether or not we recognize and accept it, is simultaneously being sent teachers or spiritual guides and being sent as a spiritual teacher to others. For example, right now I am working with a spiritual director who is a valued teacher. She gently yet firmly keeps me on spiritual track; reminds me when I forget what I’ve learned, and encourages me to be open to the next step of my learning. Like all good teachers, she both challenges and affirms, but doesn’t try to control. And the irony is that the lesson she and I still often focus upon is one of the lessons my Dad worked to teach me – not to race impatiently through my life, but to be present in each moment and to think before I take a step. For example, to recognize that this moment here this morning, with all of us here together, is a profound, incalculable gift that will never occur exactly this same way again. Look around at who we are with and where we are. Let’s take it in, not rush off in our thinking to what will happen at lunch today, or at work tomorrow, or a worry we have about something next month, or even next year. Let us be fully present and open to the lessons of the here and now.
IV. Conclusion: I have a request of you this morning. During this time of reflection, please consider three questions: 1.) Who are the teachers and spiritual companions God is presently sending into your life? 2.) Are you open to their teaching as was the un-named woman, or are you, like Simon, resisting and arrogant? 3.) To whom is God sending you as a teacher and spiritual companion at this time? Inherent in my questions is the assumption that all of us are both being sent and receiving spiritual guides as a part of the Body of Christ. As you bring to mind those being sent to you as teachers and guides, explore whether you are open to what they have to offer you. Have you given them permission to share your path and revealed yourself to them? Are you open to being surprised about what they may have to offer you? And for those you are being given to teach, consider this: love and walk beside them, not ahead of them; be Christ to them and try not to control what you have to offer. Only love them.
We are on a wonderful spiritual journey. In spite of all the bumps and scars and our own desire to know the end of our story, God is not done with us yet. For that we can say, “Thanks be to God.” Amen.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Harvest is Plentiful

The Rev. Robert P. Travis
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost Sermon – 8 and 10:30am Eucharist Services, Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN July 7th, 2013

Scripture Text: 2 Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, Galatians 6:1-16; Luke 10:1-11

Sermon Text:
Our mission team has returned from Bolivia.
And our mission there is becoming robust
as Fr. Brett has lead five mission teams there.
Our local mission work through Family Promise
continues to offer hospitality, housing and help
to those who struggle right here,
and we just finished hosting families this last week.
And our work with Fish Hospitality Pantries
continues to grow, which you'll hear about next week.

Certainly Ascension has come a long way,
and is sharing in the joy that we enjoy,
and we are being sent out to many places,
where the Lord desires to go.
As I read the psalm we recited this morning,
I was moved by how Ascension as a community
can hear it's voice in the words of the psalmist.
Not too many years ago, a priest at Ascension
was heard telling people they might as well leave,
that Ascension was dying.
But today that couldn't be further from the truth.
The psalm says:
you brought (us) up, O Lord from the dead;
you restored (our) life as (we) were going down to the grave.”

There was a time of weeping,
but now it seems that we have been living
in the joy that comes in the morning.
So now that we are experiencing that joy,
the natural thing is to share it,
and we have been sharing it,
and growing,
because who does not want to participate in joy?

We have been going about finding the places,
and the people to whom we're being sent,
by the guidance of the Holy Spirit,
and the connections that God has already placed in our lives.
Is it an accident that we have been going to Bolivia,
or that Fr. Brett was called here with Carla,
who is from Bolivia?
Certainly not.
I believe that was the Holy Spirit,
putting in our midst people whose call was clear.
Similarly, when we were coming to the end of our
last Alpha Course here in Bearden,
my wife started working at The Next Door.
I think I've mentioned it before,
but in case you missed it,
The Next Door is a Christian ministry,
helping women who are coming out of incarceration,
and struggle with drug or alcohol addiction.
So Jackie commented to me one night,
You know, the women at The Next Door
might appreciate an Alpha Course,
many of them have no idea,
who Jesus really is.
So I went to talk to the staff, to give them some materials,
telling them and fully expecting
that they would take a few months to consider
the course and then get back to me.
But in just hearing about it, they were excited,
as if the Spirit moved them,
and they asked us when we could start.
Now I did not have a plan for adding an Alpha Course,
at that time, while we were just finishing another one
but God certainly seemed to have
a plan for those particular women to be reached,
in this way.
And let me tell you the exciting result.
A few weeks ago we did our talks on the Holy Spirit,
and during our Friday night session,
the women were filled with the Holy Spirit,
many for the first time.
There were twelve women on the course at that time,
and I found out on Monday,
that four of them had gone to the church of one of their grandmothers that Sunday,
and they got baptized!
They were beaming the following week,
and so excited to tell us about it,
and saying “will this joy ever stop?”

And let me tell you one particular story,
from that group.
One of the women who was baptized,
she told my wife later,
That she received the Holy Spirit on the 21st,
and the 22nd was the anniversary of the date,
that she and her boyfriend had been arrested,
just one year before,
and on the 23rd she was baptized,
at her grandmother's church.
Her new life has really begun.
God had a plan to reach those particular women,
and not to wait until we were ready with our own plans,
to start something new.

Was it an accident that God placed my wife,
in a new job at that house, right when our church,
had such experience with Alpha?
I don't think so, I think it was part of God's plan,
these are places that “he himself intended to go.”
that we were just starting to see.

Look at the Gospel from Luke.
Jesus appoints and sends out seventy of his disciples.
Luke writes,
he sent them on ahead of him, in pairs,
to every town and place where he himself intended to go.”
And Jesus said to them,
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

That has been our experience at The Next Door,
and in Bolivia,
and here in Knoxville.
God is doing amazing things,
and there is a great harvest of people to bring to Christ.
But the laborers are few.
So even when we go and participate in what God is doing,
we pray for more laborers to be sent into the harvest.
You know where I've heard this saying repeated the most?
By Bishops I have met from Africa.
Like Bishop Todd McGregor,
who we saw again a couple of months ago.
I learned from many people around the world,
when I went to the New Wineskins for Global Mission
Conference in our own backyard,
in North Carolina.
Don't tell the North Carolinians that I called it
our backyard.
But it seemed that way, that so close to here,
all these missionaries, Bishops, priests,
lay people from all around the world,
gathered for their triennial conference just a few months ago.
And I learned this startling figure.
1 Christian Workers for every 7 Christian people
in the evangelized world.
versus 1 Christian Workers for thousands of Christian people in the parts of the world being evangelized now.
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

When I heard that, it struck me that we have the ability,
to send more people out into the harvest.
While Christians around the world are praying
Lord we need more laborers
to go out into your harvest here.”
We have an abundance of Christian ministries and churches right here.
What if God is calling us to send more people out,
to minister in his name in places
where the harvest is plentiful,
but the laborers are few?

So just as much as we see God's hand in
Fr. Brett and Carla coming here,
and in Jackie started working at The Next Door.
We also see God's hand in how
we have been developing a relationship
with Bishop Todd McGregor,
now the Bishop of one of the newest
and fastest growing Dioceses
in the Anglican Communion,
the diocese of Toliara in Madagascar.
I got to go to one of his workshops in North Carolina,
and learn about his evangelistic method,
and hear other bishops and missionaries question him.
I found this this man is special.
He is doing something amazing,
in a place that the rest of the world has forgotten.
And it is clearly becoming a place in which God,
is reaching new people with the hope of Christ.

So at Fr. Howard's suggestion,
I asked him if he would like us at Ascension
to develop a relationship with a church in his diocese,
as a way to learn from each other,
and help each other with our respective gifts.
He said he would love that,
and when I asked him which church he had in mind,
he paused for a moment and then said,
Our Mother church in Ankilifaly.
He said he would like me to bring another person with me,
and come for a short time, to get to know people,
and to learn what our relationships might bring to each other.
And in his asking that I bring another,
I heard echos of our Lord sending out his seventy
disciples in pairs.
We prayed about it, and I asked a member of our vestry,
and longtime member of Ascension,
Mark Sanders, to join me on this preliminary mission.
I was delighted that Mark agreed,
even when he knows that it will be a big step outside his comfort zone to go with Ascension to Madagascar.
We will go after Easter in 2014.
And we hope to make this a shared experience even while
it is happening.
I hope that through our technology here,
we can connect with Ascension during the Sunday School
hour while we're there,
and bring you real-time, into the community of Ankilifaly.
This is a deepening of a relationship that started
between Bishop Todd, and Father Howard,
and will begin between Church of The Ascension
and the mother church in Ankilifaly.
I am certain that Mark and I will learn a great deal,
with Ascension behind us on this mission,
but I'm most excited about what you at Ascension
will gain by becoming
more deeply involved in global mission.

When Elisha told Naaman the Syrian to wash in the Jordan and be healed,
he at first balked and said “are not the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel,”
But God was calling him into this specific place,
to find the healing he sought.
Likewise, some might say
Are not the mountains of East Tennessee more beautiful than the desert of Southern Madagascar?
Why should we get involved with spreading Jesus Gospel halfway around the world, when there's plenty to do here?
To that I would say, we're looking for the connections
that the Holy Spirit has given us,
and trying to follow him,
into the place where he himself intends to go.

So let us listen to Paul's letter to the Galatians today,
let us not grow weary in doing what is right,
for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.
So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all and especially for those of the family of faith.”

Here is an opportunity to work for the good of the family of faith, that is growing by leaps and bounds
in Madagascar.
Let's take that opportunity together,
and see what we reap at harvest-time!


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Youth Sermon

June 9, 2013
Lauralei Kraski

I was very blessed, it seems, to have been given the readings that were dealt to me about the widow of Zarephath and Nain (NAY-IN), you see, they have very symbolic similarities. In both the Old Testament reading and the Gospel, we see a widow facing suffering and even death, yet she is saved by the grace of God in her darkest hour. Why? That is the question that we as Christians, as humans, are always asking, isn’t it? Why? Why did God choose to help these widows and their sons? Why not help someone else? Why did they deserve that compassion? There are so many obstacles that we face every day; so many seemingly uphill battles. And we have so many questions regarding these battles! Why do we even try? Why are we here? Why? I can see you all now looking up at me, silently pondering, “Does she really have the answer?” Well no. No I don’t. Well then, why did I waste my time with that string of rhetorical questions? I believe that With God, every answer- every non-answer- is worth the question: the simple act of asking defines us and can even shape our lives.
So… why did God choose to help the widow in Zarephath and the widow in Nain and their sons? Historically speaking, it is common knowledge that women were not highly regarded past the concept of motherhood. They gained value through marriage; a husband meant survival even if it also meant living essentially as a piece of property. Also, looking at the sons’ positions; they were not really respected either. They were, after all, children who were not always loved and cherished as they are today. They were a financial and time-consuming burden. The sons were no better off than their widow mothers. These widows were at a societal low: female, no husband, no money, no nothing. In terms of our human definition of importance, these women were not worth a sideways glance; but God felt compassion for them. Why?
When I first read these passages, I immediately thought of a lesson that I have learned well this past year. Everything is connected. Some people call it Karma, some call it fate, some people call it my obsession with the movie V for Vendetta, I call it God. “What goes around comes back around” is only a small part of this lesson; the lesson at surface value. ‘The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.” God sees all the connections of life; like a builder of a domino line. Many of those connections involve regular people; even people who are not what we consider important. No matter what status in life each domino comes from, they are all aligned together to make a pattern. We, as the dominos, can not always sense the trigger that lies farther up or down the line; we can only see what is immediate. But God sees the design and places us accordingly. Yes these analogies are all well and good, but how do they apply in real life? One example that I lived where I saw the domino effect on a small scale occurred about 2 months ago. It was a rainy school morning and I was waiting anxiously in the car for my little brother David; we were ALMOST running late for school. He had just recently broken his wrist and was clumsily learning the awkward ways of the cast as he was locking the front door and taking forever to do so. I was sitting in the car watching him fumble about… I could have gotten back out and taken 30 seconds to help him myself. But Id idn’t. He finally got in the car and I drove us to school; I was cautious due to the rain but I was not cautious enough obviously. We got into an accident that morning; no one was hurt, it was very minor! Once I cleared my head, that little voice that comes up in those moments when you know you have done something wrong started talking to me; not about the wreck itself but the real reason it happened at all. Yes, I could have looked more closely and been more tentative in my decision-making that morning; trust me I am not avoiding my fault in the accident! But there was something more. If I had gotten out of the car to help David lock the door that morning and thus delayed us by 30 seconds, we could have avoided the wreck and all that trouble! If I had done the compassionate thing, even though it was an act that seemed at the time inopportune and unimportant, the dominoes could have fallen differently. Later on, as I had more time to ponder over what had happened, it got me thinking about something else. What if my being in that minor accident kept me from a much more dangerous accident… or someone else from a dangerous accident? If I could see farther down the line of dominoes, I would be able to tell you. It got me thinking… how far does my influence carry as one domino? What if I unknowingly altered someone else’s life? Why me? I know this seems silly that I am blowing a tiny accident into a philosophical argument; call it my own personal coping mechanism, but again, with God every answer or non-answer is worth the question. The point; however, is not that I am special, that I am God’s favorite, that I am the key to life in Knoxville, but that, like the widows, I am part of the design. We all are. So it was not that God chose to relieve these women because they were perfect or because they were royalty, but because everyone matters. Everything has a purpose, no matter how small.
To the widow who was starving in Zarephath, who had accepted her closeness to death with her son who was also starving, God sent Elijah. He didn’t send him with bread in his hand nor water to give to the widow; Elijah came empty handed and offered nothing except the blessing of God. In that moment, when Elijah said: “Do not be afraid, go and do as you have said, but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me…”, the widow could have done one of several things. Like many of us today if faced with a similar situation, she could have said, “Leave me alone, creep and let me die in peace.” Or she could have said, “You know what would be great? If you gave me some money and I bought us some food and water with that!” Or she could have done what she ended up doing; going as the Lord asked and doing the compassionate thing. She shared her last bit of food; a difficult task at an inopportune moment with nothing but compassion and love. Elijah was a domino; had he ignored the Lord’s request to go to Zarephath, the widow and her son would have perished. The widow was also a domino; had she ignored Elijah’s request and God’s mercy, she and her son both would have starved to death. The reading ends shortly after assuring us that the meal and the jar of oil never failed. It is up to us to imagine what good things that widow and her son did as a result of their salvation. Did they go proclaim the word of God and his mercy to others? Did the boy marry and raise an entire family of good people who loved others and opened up new ways to love Christ? Did the widow find peace in her life through her faith in God and a new companionship with grace? We can only imagine.
To the widow in Nain who lost her only son, God sent Jesus. He could have seen the grieving mother and town around her and simply walked on with the excuse “The boy is already dead, there is nothing I can do.”. Instead, Jesus stopped and felt compassion for the widow. We don’t know if she was sad due to the misery of losing her son or due to the fear that as a widow and no son to care for her, she could slip into poverty and die alone. No matter what the reason, Jesus told her just as Elijah did, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus brought her son back to life. Again, the story ends before we can see what the widow does with her gift from God. As a domino, she could have triggered a new wave of faith in God, in life, and in love that would travel throughout the town. Her son no doubt brought his mother happiness again; as he may have to others as well! We can only imagine. Why did God choose the widows? No matter how small, insignificant, or unimportant, each of us is a child of God with a purpose.
But those why questions keep ringing in our ears; those unanswerable questions that have plagued us for centuries. why do we even try? Well, I attended church last week and upon hearing the Bishop’s wonderful sermon, I found part of the answer. In his sermon, the bishop last week said, and I am paraphrasing, “What if our entrance into heaven was dependent on the word of the grocery store cashier, or the waitress at a local restaurant? Would you still get in?” We should try because we should love every single person; no matter how unimportant they may seem. As for the question of why are we here?... Could it be, unselfishly, that we are here for the sake of others? Is it not true that when you have a line of dominoes, and you remove one from its space, the effect, the falling, the design, fails? Sometimes one domino changes everything for the others. We see this when someone we love becomes very sick or even in the gravest of circumstances dies. AS a church, we have experienced loss in the recent weeks in this manner. We say in those times that we feel there is a hole in our hearts; we feel incomplete for a time. God’s design, God’s plan lives in each of us; it tells us what is right, it is the little voice that arises when you know you have done something wrong. It is our memory, it is our life essence. Removing one domino; creating that hole, yes can be frightening to face. When we experience a loss that is ground-shaking enough, we feel that nothing can fill that hole. I debated inserting this next part into the sermon at all because it is very personal and I am not normally one to come out with such things in front of others. But that little voice in my heart has been saying since I began this process, “You never know who could be listening and what they may need.” When I was younger, my father passed away. He was an idol to me and I found that I was incomplete for many years. There were times when I did not want to continue living; the feeling of him being gone and never coming back was too much. Then I started dancing more; I joined the dance company that I am in now; and though it is unbelievably difficult sometimes, it became my home. I met new people in new places. I found new talents I never knew I had. I experienced a very abnormal life! That hole that occurred when my biggest domino left my life was filled! What if I hadn’t gone on living? I would have missed out on so much. In the time since my dad died, I have danced for 12 years, travelled to Bolivia with my church, taught children, taught adults, survived high school, met someone who showed me what true love really looks like, and found beauty in the world in far away places. So, I know why I am here and I know why I try. “Love thy neighbor as thyself”- we are taught this because every domino is important. In the greatest design, we all fit and we are found and we are healed through the goodness and grace that we pass along to the next domino; a chance encounter; a coincidence; all fabricated together into you and me and all of us. Uniting us as a common people and uniting us with God.