Sunday, June 6, 2010

New life in a dry land, June 6, 2010

The following reflection was written for an outdoor service as part of Knox United's campout weekend at Rosebud Hall, which is an old school house and field north of Didsbury.

Texts: 1 Kings 17: 8-24        Elijah resuscitates a widow's son
Luke 7: 11-17                      Jesus resuscitates a widow's son

So, a few words about our Scripture readings this morning; and about the new life of spring that is all around us. And advance warning: I hope that this time of reflection will include more than just my voice. In a few minutes, we will be invited, young and old alike, to say a few words into the circle about experiences, feelings, or thoughts that come to your mind on the subject of new life. No one is obliged to share; but I hope any who want, might say a few words if you feel moved to do so.

I will begin by saying that I am really glad to have had this chance to stay in Didsbury this spring. I know that last year, May was very dry. But after a dry winter of 2009-10, we have had a fair amount of moisture this spring; and I love the beauty of Central Alberta when it is green and filled with buzzing insects and fast-growing plants . . .

Some connections that we could make with today's Scripture readings might include drought, which is often an issue in Alberta, and the theme of resurrected life. In the story about Elijah, which is set about 900 years before the time of Jesus, the area around Jerusalem is suffering through a drought. But because of the faithfulness of both the Hebrew prophet Elijah and the poor, non-Hebrew widow, who shares food with Elijah, God sustains them: the prophet, the widow and her son.

Today's story about Jesus from Luke parallels the one from Elijah. In fact, the story of Jesus showing compassion to a non-Jewish widow and bringing her dead son back to life is told only in Luke. The Gospel of Luke often portrays Jesus as a new and greater Elijah, just as the Gospel of Matthew often portrays Jesus as a new and greater Moses. One difference between the two stories this morning is that Elijah calls on God to raise the widow's son to new life, just as he calls on God to support him during the drought; whereas Jesus acts on his own. Jesus simply says, "Young man, rise!"

We might get stuck, I think, in wondering if these stories are literally true. Did God really allow Elijah to raise a dead boy to life? Did Jesus really resuscitate another widow's dead son 900 years later? Instead I believe that stories such as these underline our reliance on God's support in tough times like a drought. And they underline our reliance on God's Spirit for new life in the midst of pain or loss.

Our lives as individuals and as communities often have dry spells. Sometimes crops wither and food is scarce. We also often have times in our lives when we feel dead inside. They could be times when we are sunk in addictions or brokenness. Whatever the case, we are assured that God supports us. This support might not always mean a divine intervention that brings rain after a drought; or a miracle that brings a corpse back to life. But it means that there is always a spiritual solution to our troubles.

God's Spirit blows where it wills, and its warmth always offers us the possibility of new life. This might come from a community where people help each other through a crisis. And it might mean new life for us as individuals where, after hitting bottom, we respond to God's call and wake up to a born-again life in Christ.

When, with Grace, we receive new life after failure, loss or sickness, we also have energy to work for God's Kingdom. Indeed, Jesus urges his disciples to preach and heal. We are called to spread the good news and help bring new life to the lifeless.

So how do we heal and enliven the lifeless?  The Bible don't give us a precise recipe about how to accomplish this ministry, I believe. What it does give us is the model of Jesus. Jesus travels from town to town making friends with outcasts and poor people. He responds to people's pain and brokenness with compassion. He eats and celebrates with the people who flock to him. And he offers them an alternative way of looking at the world -- a born-again life in which conventional values are turned upside down, where the last are first and the first last.

We follow the example of Jesus as best we can on the path of faith, hope and love. We make friends with one another, listen to each other, eat and celebrate together, and try to love one another. With God's grace, we find new life.

Today we worship at Rosebud in the midst of spring beauty. Since there has been a fair amount of rain, it is easy to see new life all around us. Now matter how much society abuses nature, the life-force of plants and animals bursts forth every spring.

Of course, this spring news reports also present us with the destruction in the Gulf of Mexico: the broken oil well one mile below the ocean's surface  This event has become a horribly real symbol of industrial insanity.

Given the scientific, military, and industrial power of the U.S., I am stunned to see that, so far, it is beyond its ability to stop a gushing oil well.

Who knows how badly ocean life in the Gulf will be damaged before the gusher is finally capped? And who knows when our society learn to be more careful amid the competitive march of economic growth?

Getting outdoors to enjoy nature can be a small part of the solution, I think. On New Year's Eve, I spoke with a friend of my older sister's who is a teacher in Edmonton. And she told a story, which I hope that the kids here today from Didsbury cannot relate to. She took her class on a nature hike in a ravine in Edmonton last year, and  some of the children were afraid to be among the trees. Since these were wild trees growing untended beside a stream, some thought they might be dangerous!

It was a sad moment for this teacher because it showed her how disconnected many of us are from nature. Too much of our lives, I believe, now happen indoors. If more of us would just spend time walking under the open sky and reveling in the beauty and wonder of life all around us, then we might have a better chance to learn how to take care of the planet.

Well, we are doing our little bit this morning by worshipping outdoors at Rosebud and thinking about God's gift of new life . . . and this is your chance to chime in. In the midst of this beautiful spring sunshine and new growth, what comes to your mind when you think of new life? It could be new life in nature, or in your family, or someone you know, or in the community. Let's take a minute now to reflect about new life . . . and in a moment, I will ask if you anyone wants to share what is on their hearts and minds . . .  // . . . anyone?

 . . this led to sharing by Walter S. about planting the trees around this field 70 years ago, and how rapid the growth has been this spring, by Alice G about the death of her mother and the arrival of her granddaughter, by John L about the death of Shirley M, and by Maurice, Rev. Nancy, Nancy B, Bessie, and Janice.

New life comes to us in babies, in children who grow up to become the next generation. It comes to us when a person goes through a dark night of the soul after a loss or failure and emerges transformed on the other side. It comes to us in churches who welcome new people who have grown up in the community or who have moved here.

New life comes when a whole nation repents of a history of war or racism and instead starts projects of welcome and regeneration.

And in all these instances, new life is supported by God's world of natural beauty, God's Love shown to us in the life of Christ, and God's Spirit which leads us to our next steps down God's sacred path of faith, hope and love.

This morning, in this spring sunshine of new life and new growth, may we all accept God's gracious offer of new life.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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