Old Testament: I Kings (17:8-24)
Then the word of the Lord came to [Elijah], saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “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, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
The Response: Psalm 146
Praise the Lord, O my soul! *
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
2 Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
for there is no help in them.
3 When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
and in that day their thoughts perish.
4 Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
5 Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;
6 Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
7 The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; *
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
8 The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
9 The Lord shall reign for ever, *
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.
The Epistle: Galatians (1:11-24)
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.
The Gospel: Luke (7:11-17)
[Soon after healing the centurion’s slave, Jesus] went to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Many times over the years, I have been asked by people who take an intelligent and critical approach to the Bible and to their faith in general, how they can respond to family members or other people who hold to a fundamentalist point of view. I have often shared with them something that I learned many years ago: when somebody starts a supposed discussion with the words “You can’t tell me that,” they are correct. You can’t tell them “that” or anything else that is going to make a real difference. Their minds are closed. Period. End of story. All you can do is “shake off the dust from your feet as you leave” (Mt. 10:14) and pray for them.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people go through life acting as though they had the absolute and unchanging answers to life’s real questions and problems. It has to be obvious to any honest person that we know very little about the physical world in which we live, about other people, and even about ourselves – much less about the transcendent God and the mysterious ways of God. We are always in need of learning, of changing, and of conversion.
This morning’s first and third readings are obviously about healings and about the restoration to fullness of life. But all three of our readings are also about conversions: about the need of all people for an ever-changing, ever-deepening entry into the life of God.
In our first reading, the unnamed widow of Zerephath comes to believe in God’s presence and work in the prophet Elijah, when he provides her with meal and oil through a time of draught and famine. But when she is faced with her son’s death, and Elijah restores him to life, she finds her faith transformed and deepened in a new an unexpected way. She had already accepted him as a reliable provider of food; but now she is converted and sees in him something far greater. “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”
Our second reading provides us with the only account of Paul’s conversion that actually comes from Paul. The other three versions are all in Acts. And here, Paul describes his own, no-doubt, deeply held, former conviction that following zealously all the precepts of Torah was the way to be faithful to God and to live the life of God. But in his life-changing encounter with the risen Jesus, Paul found himself profoundly changed. He, too, was converted, or maybe converted once again; and it wouldn’t be the last time!
And in our gospel story, when Jesus, taking on the role of Elijah, raises the son of the widow of Nain from the dead, the people in the town find themselves converted. This is not only a teacher and a wonder-worker from Nazareth. Here is much more. “A great prophet has risen among us!” they exclaim; and “God has looked favorably on [or “visited”] God’s people.”
As we enter into June and into the summer months in general, many of us are looking forward to journeys of various kinds. Some of us will be staying close to home. Others will be traveling great distances. And, especially, for longer journeys, we tend to put in a lot of time planning and preparing for them, as well as looking forward to them.
But what about the greatest journey of all? What about the journey of our lives? How much planning and attention do we give to that journey?
Unless we spend our entire life in an infantile state, that journey of our lives necessarily includes a whole series of conversions or transitions. We have, of course, the obvious transitions from infancy, to the life of young children, to that of older children, to our teenage years, to a life as young adults, to middle age, to old age. But that journey, that series of conversions, that series of transformations, is not just about the passage of time. It includes changes in perspective, in outlook, in our sense of what is most important in life, in what is worth living for. It involves, one hopes, not just an extension of life but also a deepening of life.
All too often, we as religious people tend to define “conversion” as a transformation from something negative or evil to something positive or good. But by and large, the conversions that we experience in life are, like those experienced by the people in today’s readings, conversions from something good to something even better.
The widow of Zerephath’s faith in Elijah was profoundly deepened. Paul’s dedication to God was transformed and deepened to such an extent that it changed his entire life. And the people of Nain, presumably faithful to the God of Israel to begin with, came to experience God’s immediate and full presence in the teacher and life-giving healer from Nazareth.
In reflecting on the nature of conversion in the Gospel According to Luke and in Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, Joel Green (Conversion in Luke-Acts, pp. 67-8) observes the way that people in both works discover that “A change is required, and this change is not simply from one state to another, but from one kind of journey to another. That is, conversion signifies a continued journey in the right direction down a road under reconstruction.”
The road of our lives is always “a road under reconstruction.” Until we take our last breath, not only isn’t the journey complete, but neither is the road on which we journey complete. The same God who touched and transformed the lives and the life-journeys of the characters in today’s readings, is constantly at work in us, reconstructing the roads of our lives, inviting us into continued conversions, and leading us always into a new and deeper life.
But in order to continue that journey with and in and to God, we have to be open to that continuing reconstruction of the road. That is something that those who take a fundamentalist approach to scripture and their life of faith as a whole are not willing to do. After all, if you think you already have the absolute and unchangeable answers, you don’t need to change; in fact, you can’t risk changing.
Yet even for those of us who are open to a lifetime of learning and relearning and being transformed and converted over and over again, that change is often not easy. And yet it is absolutely necessary if we are intent on becoming what God calls us to be. As the great, 19th-century English theologian, John Henry Newman observed: “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”