a sermon on 1 Kings 17:8-24 and Luke 7:11-17
preached on June 5, 2016, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
As many of you know, about a year and a half ago the session decided to invest in an automated external defibrillator. An automated external defibrillator, or AED, for those who don’t know, is an electronic device that can revive an unresponsive person by determining if the heart can be shocked back into proper functioning and then providing that sort of shock. In the last few years, the technology in these incredible life-saving devices has become much more widely available, and AEDs can now be found in almost any public space, not just in medical facilities. In addition to the cost of the device, we are required to have our staff and volunteers complete training, so I and several other folks completed both an online course and a limited “compressions-only CPR” class from the fire department that we hosted here last year.
Now, after helping install our AED and going through the training myself, I can’t help but notice AEDs in other places that I go. I walk past one pretty regularly in the presbytery’s office building, and I have paid perhaps too much attention to the one in the main hallway at the church in Manhattan where my chorus rehearses. Last weekend, as I traveled to Tennessee to participate in my cousin’s daughter’s baptism, I paid close attention to the AEDs in the airport! The goal of this sort of broad installation of these incredible life-saving devices is to make them widely available for easy access in an emergency, but when I see one of these devices, I keep finding myself wondering if I would be ready to step in myself to assist if I encountered such an emergency. If someone actually needed the resuscitation that the AED can offer, would I be able to make it work properly? Would I mess it up somehow? Even worse, would I be too afraid to act at all?
All this talk about AEDs and electronic resuscitation comes to mind because our two readings this morning are stories of divine, miraculous resuscitation. These two stories from 1 Kings and Luke were first told long before the development of any formal CPR techniques or the invention of the AED, but the concept of resuscitation here is just as strong as here we hear of how God managed to step in and bring two seemingly dead men back to life.
First, 1 Kings tells us about the prophet Elijah’s visit to a widow in Zarephath, setting the stage for the incredible miracle of divine resuscitation. When Elijah first met this woman and asked her for a little water and bread, she was preparing to share one last meal with her son as they suffered through drought and famine. They were almost out of meal and oil, and she was out gathering what few sticks she could find to start the fire to prepare their final meal. But Elijah assured her that if she shared a cake of this with him, God would provide for them all through the drought:
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.
And it was as Elijah said for them. Even though they survived the drought, the widow’s son soon fell ill and died. She was furious with Elijah: “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!”
Elijah then took the son’s body, laid it in his own bed, and cried out in prayer to God: “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” God revived the son, and his mother was finally convinced that God had been at work in Elijah all along to bring them food in the days of famine and drought and restoration of life when her son was all but dead for good.
This story of Elijah’s involvement in divine resuscitation sounds very much like a moment in Jesus’ ministry described in our reading from Luke this morning. Jesus, like Elijah, encountered a woman whose only son had died, finding her as she journeyed alongside her son’s body with a large crowd from the town. First, Jesus had compassion on the woman, telling her, “Do not weep.” But these were not empty words. He then went up to the body, touched the stretcher on which the son lay as the pallbearers stopped, and told the son to get up. “The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”
Everyone around was amazed and a bit fearful, for Jesus had managed to overcome the seeming limitations of death. Not only this, Jesus had stepped into their world in a way not seen since the days of Elijah, for they surely remembered this older story of a widow and her son. So word quickly spread about Jesus “throughout Judea and all the surrounding country” as people began to wonder all the more who this Jesus was and what he was up to in his act of divine resuscitation.
These two acts of divine CPR through the actions of Elijah and Jesus are incredible moments of God’s intervention in the lives of people in the real world that we probably can’t expect to be repeated just like this today, but they can still tell us a few things about how God might be at work in our lives and world today.
First of all, these moments of divine CPR gives us a glimpse of God’s special care and concern for those who are traditionally ignored by the rest of the world. In ancient times, widows and orphans were the most vulnerable persons in society, the “poorest of the poor,” if you will, who were most likely to be ignored by those in positions of power. We hear over and over again in scripture about how God especially cares for just these sorts of people, so it is no surprise, really, that both these stories of resuscitation—two of only a handful in the entire Bible—are gifts of life back to those who would be made particularly vulnerable by these deaths. In the same way, then, when we wonder where God is at work in our world, we ought to look among the people who are most vulnerable today—the poor, the homeless, the outcast, the immigrant, the stranger, the excluded, the refugee, the vulnerable—for there God promises to be present and take action to open the way to new life.
Second, these two stories of divine CPR provide us an important reminder of the difference between resuscitation and resurrection. These stories from 1 Kings and Luke offer us visions of resuscitation, of God breathing life back into dead bodies, of a restoration of life back to the way it was just a little while earlier. These resuscitations stand in sharp contrast to the promise of resurrection, a way of new and transformed life first glimpsed as Jesus was raised from the dead and that is promised for us too as all things are made new in the wonder of God’s new creation at Christ’s return. By the miracles of modern medicine or divine power, a few of us may experience resuscitation to bring us back to the life we know now on this earth, but the promise in Christ is that we will all come to know a resurrection of transformation and new life in that day yet to come beyond this world and this life.
Finally, these stories of divine CPR ought to make us wonder about whether and how we are willing, able, and ready to participate in this kind of reviving work for ourselves. God is not just getting ready for one big massive resurrection at the end of time—God is constantly renewing and restoring things in our world, too, and God invites us to join in this challenging work each and every day. In light of all this, we ought to be asking ourselves questions like those I find myself asking when I see an AED hanging on the wall. Are we ready for the breath of God to come upon us to help restore and revive things in this world? Do we have the spiritual energy to join in God’s work of resuscitation and resurrection all around us? Are we ready to step in and act, or are we just going to stand back and watch? While it is quite unlikely that we will end up participating in actually bringing someone back to life, it is far more likely that we will have the opportunity to join in all that God is doing to bring life to the broken and fearful places of our world, to uncertain and downtrodden people who are the widows of our own time, even to the old and static places that need the fresh divine breath to revive them again.
So may God give us the wisdom and strength to join in this divine CPR, breathing new life into our weary world, sharing hope in every uncertain and challenging place, and reviving the wonder of the created order until all things are made new in Jesus Christ our Lord. Lord, come quickly! Alleluia! Amen.