A Reading from the Book of Jeremiah (2:4-13)
Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? They did not say, “Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit. Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord, and I accuse your children’s children. Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.
Psalm 81:1, 10:6
1 Sing with joy to God our strength *
and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob.
10 I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said, *
“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
11 And yet my people did not hear my voice, *
and Israel would not obey me.
12 So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts, *
to follow their own devices.
13 Oh, that my people would listen to me! *
that Israel would walk in my ways!
14 I should soon subdue their enemies *
and turn my hand against their foes.
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, *
and their punishment would last for ever.
16 But Israel would I feed with the finest wheat *
and satisfy him with honey from the rock.
A Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (13:1-8, 15-16)
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (14:1, 7-14)
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
by the Rev. Deacon George Snyder
May the words of my mouth and the meditation in all of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord! You are our strength! You are our redeemer!
In the reading from I Kings today, we hear the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, which dramatizes the miracle of divine compassion. Divine compassion—now that is something that we all need, and we all want.
This story of Elijah begins when Ahab was king of Israel. Before the episode in today’s reading takes place, the prophet Elijah confronts King Ahab. Earlier in I Kings, we hear that Ahab “did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel before him.” God sent Elijah to Ahab with this message. “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” So a drought beset the land of Israel; the food supply was drying up as much as the land. At this point God sends Elijah to a widow in the city of Zaraphath; God tells Elijah that the widow will feed him and care for him. Elijah goes to Zaraphath and finds the widow outside the gates of the city; she is trying to gather enough sticks to make a fire to bake some bread. Elijah asks the widow, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” That is not a big request—except, remember that these people are in the midst of a drought. She is about to bring the water, when he says, almost casually, “bring me some bread.”
This is when the woman makes Elijah aware of how little she has; she says to Elijah, “As the Lord your God lives, 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.” The widow and her son have so little and have had so little for such a long time, that they are about to starve to death. She intends for her son and herself to eat the bread as their last meal, dying as a result of the drought caused by King Ahab’s evil ways.
Elijah responds 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 to the earth.’” God supplied the widow with everything she needed to survive. God gives life back to the widow and her son.
It is not long after this that the son becomes terribly ill and dies. Did her son make it through the famine and the drought just to die? The widow must have railed at Elijah; why should God take her son after He had just restored the two of them to life with the bread that they needed to survive? Elijah takes the dead son into an upper room where Elijah had been staying, and lays him on the prophet’s own bed. Elijah cries out to God, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying by killing her son?” Elijah stretches himself out over the body of the dead boy and prays, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” The scripture tells us that God restored life to the boy, and Elijah takes the child and carries him and gives the child back to his mother.
We see something very similar in today’s Gospel lesson. As Jesus and his entourage enter the city of Nain, a funeral procession was coming out. A nameless man was being carried to his grave, and his nameless mother was following her son’s body. “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Jesus approached the litter that was being used to carry the dead man, touched it and said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
My wife Diane and I had been married nineteen years when she died at the age of 37. Our son was 12 years old. Chris and I had a wonderful support—my sister and her husband, friends, and our church family. About six weeks after Diane’s death, I gathered that group—about twenty people–in our home for dinner. Before we ate, we all gathered in a large circle, and Chris and I thanked them for their love and their support. One thing I said to them was that if I could survive the pain of Diane’s death, I knew I could survive anything. I thought about that statement for several weeks afterwards until I decided that I was absolutely wrong. There was something that would be worse: the two mothers in our reading from 1 Kings and the Gospel of Luke face that—the death of a child. I never lost a child—thanks be to God! Maybe some of you have. Even though I have not been through that, I can imagine that a mother’s—or a father’s—grief would be debilitating.
The loss of a child to a widow in biblical times was worse than it would be today. Not only did these two women lose their sons whom they probably loved more than anything on earth, they also could have lost the means of their own survival. When a man died, a brother often married the widow and took ownership of all of the dead man’s property, for a woman could not only property. If there were no brother or the brother did not marry the woman, sometimes the widow would go back to her parents’ house and live with them. Many times, though, the family was so poor that they could not possibly take care of another mouth. Often times, neither of those scenarios were possible for the widow; in that case, she ended up on the streets with no means of supporting herself or any younger children that she might have. With the death of the women’s sons in I Kings and in Luke, this was the situation that the mothers faced. The death of the son could well mean that the mother would die, too.
Society did not jump in and take care of the women—they were worthless; they were of no value to anyone since they had no money. They would have been a burden on anyone who took them in; so, usually no one took them in, and they began to live on the margins of that society. This is why during Jesus’s time and the early Christian era that Jesus and the church paid particularly attention to the widowed and the orphans. These people were on the margins of society—on the margins of life itself; they needed for Jesus and the early Christians to take care of them.
We hear so often in stories about Jesus and his disciples that they are tending to the needs of the sick, the orphaned, and the widowed. The compassion that Jesus felt toward the widow of Nain would not allow Jesus to do anything else. Otherwise, it could mean her death, too. Both God, through Elijah, and Jesus show their compassionate nature when they restore the dead sons to these two widows. In both stories we see the working of a compassionate God who not only restores life to those who have died, but also, by that restoration, goes deeper and prevents even more suffering.
In I Kings, we see a God who is angry enough to punish King Ahab for all the wrongs that he committed against God and against his own people. However, we also see a God who loves his people so much that he restores life and hope to those who have been shunned by society. God can be an angry God, but He also can be a God of the deepest compassion. He is a God who can take the shattered world in which we live and make it whole again; His love for His children is that powerful.
What has happened to us in our lives that causes us to need the compassionate nature of our Lord? It may be the death of a loved one. It may be difficult financial circumstance that throws us for a loop. It may be a separation—a rift between us and someone we care about. It may be poor health that debilitates us. Maybe it is the lack of a job. This list could go on and on. It doesn’t matter what it is. We each have something that bothers us so deeply. What wounds each of our hearts varies from person to person. But, we are all wounded. We are all in need of God’s compassionate nature. We long for that compassion to make us whole.
God understands our needs more than we do ourselves. And, even more importantly, He is there ready to give us that compassion. He stands there when we are in the moments of deepest despair; He is there with us when the flour is ready to run out; He is ready to fill our jugs with oil that will never cease.
Psalm 100, which is part of the Morning Prayer service, says,
“Know this: The Lord himself is God;
he himself has made us, and we are his,
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting;
And his faithfulness endures from age to age.
When we are in need of God’s compassionate nature, we need to take ourselves to Him; we need to call His name. No matter what our need is, God will be compassionate. Now, I did not say that He would give us everything we want; but, He will give us what we need. That is what He longs to do for us because He is our God, and we are His people. Being compassionate to his children is His nature. Call upon His name.