A Sermon for the Third Sunday After Pentecost
June 5, 2016
(1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17)
My Dinner with Anton, by Paul Wallis, is a fictional account of a contemporary meal shared between the author and Anton. Anton was a close associate of the Russian Orthodox monk St Seraphim of Sarov who lived between 1759 and 1833.
And St Seraphim’s life was riddled with miracle. So much so that accounts of him read like portions of the Acts of the Apostles!
During this surreal meal a number of these miracles are recounted. And Wallis’ repeated response to these accounts is both simple and profound: ‘That’s amazing!’
No more. No less. Initially there is no request for further explanation, no probings into how such things occurred, no seeking of a more rational interpretation. Yes, these God-workings inspire a search in Wallis – but not before they inspire his awe.
It is this beautiful response to these miracles that has stayed with me since reading the book: ‘That’s amazing!’
Our readings today tell us of three miracles: God’s provision of food for the widow of Zeraphath, her son, and the prophet Elijah; Jesus’ raising of the widow of Nain’s only son, and; the Apostle Paul’s account of his turn-around call to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus to the nations of the world.
Perhaps we might be tempted – as we hold these together today – to look for similarities. Two accounts include widows, but then there is Paul. Two accounts explicitly tell of witnesses responding with their praise, but no one plays this role for the widow of Zerephath. Two accounts talk of faithful and obedient actions, but the closest to this in the raising of the young man from Nain is that the pallbearers ‘stood still’. The widows seem uneducated, Paul and Elijah are learned and experienced leaders.
Such a survey serves to remind us only that each of these accounts is distinct.
God works differently in different situations. Perhaps there is only one real similarity here: God is at work!
God’s miracles are unpredictable. We are not able to hold together such stories and conclude that, if we just say the right prayer, or do the right action, God will act in certain way.
I am reminded of Moses twice striking the rock even though on the second occasion God asked that he speak to it. Even Moses – at least momentarily – forgot that he could not predict God. The Apostle Paul famously asked God three times to remove his ‘affliction’. The miracle-working God’s response: ‘My grace is sufficient’.
We can, of course, learn from these stories. We cannot, however, conclude that we can manipulate God. The variety of God’s miraculous acts is simply too wide for us to arrive at such a narrow theology.
God is, as CS Lewis’ Aslan insists, wild, free – and, precisely because of this, wonderfully attractive.
In a rational culture like ours holding these miracles together invites us to meditations that are especially important.
After all, each of these events is recorded and treasured precisely because they are seen to be out of the norm. People reading about an empty jug of oil that provides for ‘many days’ know that a single jug is a limited source. Those who consider the morphing of ‘Saul the Persecutor’ into ‘Paul the Proclaimer’ also wonder at such dramatic transformation. The crowds carry this child to his tomb precisely because they do not expect life after death.
Yes, these are stories told in the context of people who – like us – understand that life is essentially predictable. And it is precisely within this predicability that they learn that God is not!
So they unashamedly tell – and retell – these accounts. Why? Perhaps it is because – even in their rationality – they are humble. The proud cannot write of such things. The arrogant cannot celebrate that which they are unable to grasp. The know-it-all cannot praise while there are things still unexplained.
The humble, however, can enter wholeheartedly into this cosmic celebration of the wild God who intervenes.
It just may be that it is only the humble who can acknowledge, celebrate, and ultimately, ‘Praise the LORD’ as today’s psalmist exhorts. It is these who are able to say:
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
As a result of this seeing, it is these humble ones who celebrate:
The LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD!
May you find yourself, today, humbly open to the action of God and able to join in the chorus of the faithful: ‘That’s amazing!’