Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Easter, "Resurrection Stories: Bless You," 2 Kings 4:20-35

Sermon 5/11/14
2 Kings 4:20-35

Resurrection Stories: Bless You

            If you’re thinking that today’s scripture lesson sounds a lot like last week’s scripture lesson, that’s good. It means you’ve been paying attention. Last week, we read about Elijah, who stayed in the home of a woman who had a son, who died, who Elijah then raised from the dead. Today, we’re reading about Elisha, who is staying at the home of a woman who has a son, and he dies, and Elisha raises him from the dead. A little confusing, right?
            Last week, remember, we talked about how Elijah’s prophetic words and actions weren’t very popular, since he criticized King Ahab and Queen Jezebel for their idolatrous practices. Eventually, Elijah is overwhelmed, exhausted from his prophetic work that keeps putting his life in jeopardy, and he turns to God for help. God tells Elijah that he’ll have someone to hand his work over to – a man named Elisha. For several years, Elisha journeys with Elijah as sort of a prophet-apprentice, and when Elijah prepares to leave earth, to be caught up into heaven, Elisha boldly asks for a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit. And it is given to him, just as he asks. What follows in the rest of the accounts of Kings is indeed, Elisha acting with a seeming double portion of Elijah’s spirit, and many stories of Elisha mirror and expand on things we’d read about Elijah.
            Today, again, our text opens in the middle of the story, so let’s back up a bit. Elisha is traveling one day through a town called Shunem, when he encounters a wealthy woman who urges him to stop and have a meal at her home. He does, and soon, whenever he passes that way, he stops for a meal. The woman suggests to her husband that they build an addition to their home, a small room, so that Elisha can stay with them when he comes to town. She does this, we read, because she believes that Elisha is a “holy man of God.”
            One time, while staying at the woman’s home, Elisha calls to his servant, Gehazi, and asks him to bring the woman to him. Elisha then asks her what she wants, as thanks for all that she has done for Elisha. He offers even to address the king on her behalf if she wants something. The woman, in response, suggests she has all she needs. So Gehazi suggests to Elisha that the woman has no son, and is unlikely because of her husband’s age to have one. Elisha then announces to her that she will bear a son, and she responds, “Oh no, man of God, don’t lie to your servant!” But, in time, she indeed gives birth to a son.
            Some years pass by – we’re not sure how many. But we read that “when the child was older” he complains to his father, “Oh my head, oh my head.” The child is brought to his mother to sit on her lap, and he dies in her arms. The woman doesn’t hesitate. She carries him and lays him down on Elisha’s bed – the “man of God’s” bed, the text says. She refers to Elisha this way throughout this scene. And she gets ready and goes to find him, “the man of God.” Elisha sees her approaching and sends Gehazi to ask if everything is ok. She says, “It is all right,” and keeps moving, until she gets close enough to the man of God to catch hold of his feet. Gehazi tries to push her away, but Elisha tells Gehazi to let her be. The woman says, “Did I ask God for a son? Didn’t I tell you not to lie to me?” So, Elisha sends Gehazi to go quickly with Elisha’s staff to try to raise the child. It doesn’t work. But meanwhile, more slowly, Elisha arrives with the woman, who has refused to go without him. Elisha goes to the child, prays to God, and performs something that might read to us like a medical intervention – almost like a version of CPR or mouth-to-mouth-resuscitation – although now the child has been long dead. But, sneezing seven times, the child opens his eyes. Elisha calls the woman in, and tells her “take your son.”
            As similar as this story is to the story we heard about Elijah last week, the differences are important. This story isn’t about idolatry, like last week’s story. The woman and her husband live in Shunem, a town in Issachar, a tribe of Israel. And the woman is married and wealthy, not a widow trying to scrape together enough food to live. So the focus of this miraculous raising of a child from the dead is different. We know what it isn’t about, but do we know what it is about?
            Like so many women in the Bible, this woman is never named for us, usually just described as “the Shunnamite woman.” But though we never get her name – or the rest of her family’s, for that matter, she’s the center of the story. She’s the one who recognizes Elisha as a man of God. She’s the one who suggests building a room for Elisha. She’s the one who scoffs at his announcement of her pregnancy. She’s the one who holds her dying child, who lays him in Elisha’s room, who commands the servants to ready her for travel, who pursues Elisha, who grasps his feet, who won’t leave without him, who holds him accountable, who demands action. Sure, Elisha performs the resurrection, but you almost sense he’d be in big trouble with her, the mother, if he didn’t. She’s confident. She’s bold. She doesn’t hesitate to go after what she wants. She calls out Elisha as a man of God, and knowing that, she knows what he can do and doesn’t rest until he does it.
            On this Mother’s Day, I can’t help but think of this mother and her determination and think about my own mother, and other mothers you know who might have acted like this woman. My mother is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. This week I presented my Doctor of Ministry paper in Ohio, and over the course of the quick two day trip I took there and back this week, I think she told me she was proud of me literally at least twenty times. I tease her about that, but if your worst quality is boosting someone up too much, really, you aren’t doing too bad. She’s the kind of mom that everyone thinks of as their mom. Really, even strangers seem to see her, and immediately want to share with her their life stories. She’s just inviting like that. But she can be fierce – don’t be fooled. Woe to you if you hurt one of her children! A few years back, I was dealing with a rather mean and cranky landlord, and when I was moving out, he gave me a hard time about everything. My mother came with me for my final inspection, and she only spoke a few words, but if looks could kill…let’s just say, my landlord became much more agreeable in my mother’s presence. And she can be fiercely protective when she has a child in danger. When I was in eighth grade, I managed to pin my leg beneath my family’s mini-van in a grocery store parking lot. How I managed that is a long story where I come out looking rather foolish, so we’ll call that part not important. But when my mom discovered me, pinned under then minivan, she, not seeing any available help, just pushed the minivan off me. Talk about adrenaline! When her child was in danger, she was totally confident and capable of doing what was needed – getting me to safety.
Mother’s Day isn’t a liturgical holiday – it isn’t a part of our church calendar. And I am so deeply aware of all of the mixed emotions all of us bring on a day like this. Some of us have mothers like mine – loving and kind. Some of us have lost our mothers. Some mothers have lost children. Some mothers were not kind or loving. Some of us were surrounded by other strong women who love us like mothers. Some of us were adopted or adopted to become mothers. Some of us have wanted to be mothers, but haven’t been able to. Some of us love mothers, without ever wanting the role for ourselves. But thankfully what we see to admire in this fierce, bold, confident mother in our text today is something we can all emulate in our lives. Because as much as she was motivated to act because of her love for her child, because of her desire to protect him by going to whatever lengths necessary, even demanding that he be brought back to life, I think her primary reason for her actions is because of her faith in God and her confidence in who Elisha is and who he represents. Seven times in this story alone the woman refers to him directly or indirectly as the “man of God.” She quite literally makes room for God in her house, building an addition just so Elisha will have a better place to stay when he’s in town. She is totally confident in Elisha’s ability to restore her child’s life. Her actions suggest entire confidence, complete belief that Elisha, with God’s power, will make her child live. Her faith, her confidence, her actions, her trust in God – that all transcends her role as mother, a response she makes as a faithful disciples, one who believes entirely in God and God’s resurrecting power.
How confident are you in God’s resurrecting power? How bold does your faith in God make you? How much are you sure that God is truly powerful, truly loving, truly acting in the world, truly holding the power of life, hope, resurrection? How much room have you made for God in your life, trusting in God’s power to impact your life deeply? On this day, as you reflect on some special women in your life who have been your advocates and supporters, your encouragers, going to battle for you, confident in you, proud of you, loving you, and on this day as you, men and women, everyone, as you seek to be these loving figures in the lives of others: on this day, know that you can put your faith in God, our loving parent, bold in claiming us as children, fierce in seeking what is good for us, moving heaven and earth to draw new life from us, even when we feel empty and hopeless and lifeless. Confident in God, trusting in God’s promises, don’t just sit timidly back, waiting for resurrection to find you. Seek out resurrection. Grasp onto life. Trust that new life is for you, offered by God. Be bold, and receive the gift of God. Amen.

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