Colleen Hartung’s Homily, June 5, 2016

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We Have Raised Them Up

Homily

By Colleen Hartung

Luke 7:11-17

June 5, 2016

 

The first thing I am going to do is remind us, in the wake of today’s readings, that are not exactly celebratory, that our primary task and central theme for this day is the celebration of the Solemn Communion of Nancy Crawford, Katarine Miller, Mercedes Wilhelm and Orion Wilson.  One thing I’ve learned about all four of these SA members by doing lexio divina together is that they are careful thoughtful listeners.  If the scripture story makes them sad, they say so.  If it confuses them, they embrace their confusion.  If the story makes them happy, they let themselves feel happy. And in that spirit, we will enter into today’s stories and hopefully find our way into a moment that gives us cause for celebration.

Two of today’s readings are sad or at least begin in very sad ways.  In each story a widow, a woman who has already lost her husband, also loses her son.  And these women are desperately sad.  But there is also a hopeful element in today’ s readings.  Elijah, Paul and Jesus are raised up for us in these stories as prophets who bring people like widows a message about God’s love that makes their lives better.  Already in Luke’s Gospel before this story about Jesus and the widow of Nain, Jesus has gone out into the cities to help the people who were most often neglected, rejected and pushed to the margins of everyday life.  Jesus has already healed a man with an unclean spirit, a woman with a high fever, a person who could not walk and a man with sores all over his body.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is a healing prophet but even more than that, for Luke, Jesus is the one who comes to fulfill the prophetic tradition of Elijah meant to be good news for those like widows, who are rejected and left with no means of support for living a good life.  And so most people who read today’s scripture think that the people are talking about Jesus when they proclaim, “a great prophet has risen among us.”  But it is also possible to think about the dead man who sat up and began to speak when Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you rise,” as a prophet.

If we read Luke’s whole story carefully, including the Book of Acts, we see that Luke’s focus is not only on Jesus as a prophet but also on Jesus as a maker of prophets.  At the beginning of his ministry, as the author of the gospel of Luke tells the story, Jesus fills the boats of Simon, James and John with fish.  The men are amazed.  And so they are inspired to follow Jesus and proclaim his message of love and healing.  Later, Jesus chooses 12 disciples and sends them out to the cities around Judea “to proclaim the [reign] of God and to heal people (Luke 9:2).  And then Jesus appoints 70 more disciples and says to them, “cure the sick and teach them about the reign of God (Luke 10:9).  And we can’t forget about all the people Jesus heals.  To the man with many demons, he says, “go to your home and declare how much God has done for you (Luke 8:39).  There are the 5000 that were feed, the tax collectors and sinners he ate with and in today’s Gospel, the widow of Nain and her son.  In the Gospel of Luke, all these people are potential prophets who spread Jesus’ message of love and healing.

The people who first listened to all these stories from the Gospel of Luke knew what happened to Jesus.  He would be crucified and all his disciples, the people he taught and healed and feed and cared for would be called to carry on without him.  They would have to be the ones to share and embody his message about a reign of God where there is healing, and love and support for a good life even for those most neglected and rejected like the widow of Nain.  The Kingdom of God and Jesus good work depended on the prophetic actions of his followers.

And that is true still today.  Jesus lives in our times and the prophetic tradition of loving God by standing up for everyone, especially the most neglected and rejected continues to be fulfilled only as we raise each other up as prophets in the midst of this tradition.  And so today, in celebration of this continued unfolding and our recognition of Orion, Nancy, Sade and Katarine as solemn participants in our communion sharing, I would like to share a few words about the prophets who have been raised up in our midst.

From the beginning of her participation as a member of the SA, Nancy, even when she was still very small, took her responsibility as an active participant in the SA liturgy very seriously.  I will never forget the day she marched up to the altar, snapped open her collapsible stool and took her place beside her father to break and share the bread as a communion minister.  It was a transforming moment, at least for me.  If Nancy, a child, could break the bread it meant anyone, even the least of these, could be called to this central ritual gesture.  When Nancy assumed her role as bread breaker and communion minister, she broke our table open, again, reshaping and expanding our enactment of inclusive sharing.

Katarine is an enthusiastic participator in CLW.  Her reflections on scripture are thought provoking and her voice rings loud and clear when she serves as our reading minister.  A couple of Sundays ago when she was reading our story for Pentecost, we discovered that “Messiah” was a new word for her.  After we figured out, together, how to pronounce it, she chose it as her reflection word for the day.  When the time came to pray with our words, she lifted the candle bowl and proclaimed with absolute confidence, “Messiah”.  Without fear, she assumed her role as proclaimer of the Word.

When Sade was small you could see her hopping around, anxiously waiting for her mom or her grandma or her grandpa to include her in our sharing of bread or wine.  The bread looked good, she was obviously hungry and she did not want to be left out.  Sade’s family has changed shape over the years and in her turn she has welcomed new family members into our patterns of sharing.  During CLW, Sade is very intentional about including family members, friends and others who don’t quite know our patterns of praying.  She sits by them, introduces them, makes sure they have crayons and paper and nudges them when it is time to share their pictures and reflections.  She works hard to make her guests who are becoming SA members feel like they belong.  She is a gentle, loving facilitator and a hospitality minister par excellance.

Orion has celebrated the liturgy with us since he was a small boy rolling his match box cars into the center of the room toward the altar.  He has been here so long that he knows some of our patterns of prayer better than we do.  A few months back, Grace was not available to help with music for CLW and I was left to take on that ministry.  I was obviously struggling and all of a sudden there was Orion, standing beside me.  He said “I think you need some help.”  I said, “I think you are right.”  Not missing a beat, he sang out in a crisp, clear tone, “ Prepare the way for the coming of God, make a straight path for the coming of God.”  And we were all back on track.  Orion is an unhesitant, generous and compassionate teacher and a lover of a contemplative beat.

Katarine, Sadie, Orion and Nancy have all been receiving communion with us since they were small.  We’ve shared bread and wine together, hospitably making space for each other in ways that changed from year to year depending on each of their evolving physical capacities and abilities to comprehend.  But today is special.  Today, we recognize them and raise them up as old enough and more importantly wise enough to be aware of the prophetic nature of their participation in this community and our solemn sharing of bread and wine.  They know now, in part, because of their life experience of being welcomed at this table, that our communion sharing and their ministry as bread breakers, proclaimers, hospitality ministers and compassionate teachers leans us into a way of life that fulfills the prophetic teachings of Elijah and Paul and Jesus where all, even the least of these, are healed, feed, welcomed and loved.  And so today, I end with the words of Jesus from Gospel of Luke, “Young [women and young man], I say to you rise!!  ….And the people glorified God, saying, ‘Four great prophets are risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably upon his people!’”

 

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