Sunday, June 9, 2013

3 Pentecost

June 9, 2013

Psalm 30; Luke 7. 11-17

+ I always have to be careful to do this. I always have to be careful any time I mention my mother in a sermon. She hates it when she’s not here to hear me do so. And I don’t want her to think we’re talking about her behind her back.

…let’s face it, she sure could be here this morning, so…

Fair game, momma.

(I’ll share this with her tonight at supper.)

This past week, she was talking to a woman who was an acquaintance. Later in the day, when I came over, she was acting kind of irritated. I said, “What’s the problem?”

She said, “that neighbor women referred to the two of us as ‘these poor widows’ living so close to each other.”

That reference to her being a widow really rubbed her wrong. She just did not like being referred to as a widow.

I said, “Mother, I hate to break the news to you, but you are a widow.”

At that point, I actually saw her wince. I don’t like seeing my mother wince.

We talked about it a bit more and then, she admitted this, “I don’t like being known as a ‘poor widow.’ I don’t like being defined by the loss of someone. I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me because I have lost someone I love. I am NOT a ‘poor widow.’”

And I think I kind of understand her on this one. I think I understand her not wanting to be known as a widow.  Let’s face it, being a widow—or a widower—is a hard thing. There are no classes, no self-books on living one’s life in  the wake of a spouse’s death. And no one, I would doubt, plans on widowhood on the day of a wedding. 

In our Gospel reading for today, we find another widow who also has a few things happen to her that were definitely hard. The story of the widow and her son makes very little sense unless we have some basic understanding of the culture in which it occurred.

From our perspective, it is a sad story in and of itself. A widow has lost her son.  She is weeping. Jesus tells her not to sorrow and raises him from the dead. But there is more going on here than what we might fully appreciate at first .

The fact that the woman is a widow is an important factor in the story.  Women, as we probably have figured out by this point, in that time and that place—in that culture—were not seen as equal to men.  A woman’s identity was not her own. The only importance a woman had was in relation to the males in her life—whether it be her father, her husband, her brother, or her son. A woman could not make money for herself. A woman could not work for money. Whatever money she had she received from the men in her life. A woman legally had no status in that culture. So, if a husband died, a widow was in trouble. Unless there was another man to take care of her—her son, her brother, her husband’s brother, her father, a new husband—she became destitute.

That is why this story is so important. That is why Jesus makes the issues he does here. With the death of this widow’s son, she would be lost in a sense.  She would have nothing.  She would probably be out on the street, begging for money.

Often we hear in the Church poetic language used about Jesus.  We often hear him described as “the defender of widows.”  It’s a phrase we don’t hear much anymore.  It doesn’t have the same meaning for us as it did in other times and places. And because it doesn’t have much meaning for us, for the most part, we don’t give a statement like that much thought.

“The defender of widows.”

But knowing what we know now, we realize how powerful a statement it really is.

“A defender of widows”

Jesus truly was—and continues to be—the widow’s refuge. Of course, in our day and age, widows for the most part are not by any means in the same predicaments as the woman in today’s Gospel is. Widows—women for the most part—are not seen as marginalized by our culture anymore.

If I died, my mother would be all right. She is not defined by the males in her life. Let me tell you, my mother would really hate being defined by the males in her life!

So, since widows in our day are not seen as marginalized as they were in Jesus’ day, does that mean this story and Jesus’ title as “defender of windows” have no meaning for us now? Not necessarily. I think the question needs to be asked: who are the widows in our midst today? I’m not talking here about those who have lost husbands and wives, because that is not the real meaning behind the story of the widow in our Gospel this morning. The widows in our lives are those living on the fringes.  The widows in our lives are the ones who wandering about, discarded by our culture, looked down on by most of us, the ones who are shunned and ostracized.  The one who, by themselves, have little or no meaning in our society.

So, who are the widows? Who are marginalized? Who are the forgotten, ones, the ignored ones, the invisible ones? Who are the ones on the fringes of our culture? Who are the ones on the fringes of our own community here at St. Stephen’s?

Because it is those people that Jesus is telling us, by his actions and by his words, to care for. It is those people our Baptismal Covenant demands we reach out and care for.  It is those people that Jesus commands us—he commands it of us—to love, as we want to be loved.

If we look around us, we might not readily see them. In Jesus’ day it was easier to see them. There was the widow, the leper, the Samaritan, the tax collector.

Today, they go by other names. You know what names they go by for you.  Take a moment to think of who the marginalized person is in your midst. The best way to find this person is to ask this question of yourself: who is the person I want least as my neighbor? Who is the person I don’t want living next to me or sitting next to me or sharing my table? Who is the person we don’t see in our midst? That then becomes the marginalized person in our midst.

And that is the person Jesus is telling us, throughout the Gospels again and again, to love as we would want to be loved. And this is the point we can take with us as well.

Today’s Gospel is really a beautiful one. Jesus has raised this widow’s son and, in doing so, he helps not only the son by giving him back life, he helps the widow as well by giving her life—or a better life—as well. This is what happens when we follow Jesus.  He pushes us outside our comfort zones and as he does, as frightening as it might seem to us, he gives us life as well. We might stand there, bewildered, in that place.

But we stand there renewed.

Like the young man in today’s Gospel, hopefully we emerge from our spiritual deaths able to make a positive difference in people’s lives around us.  Hopefully we, in those moments in which Jesus heals us and sends us on our way, are able to be a “widow’s refuge” to the “widows” in our midst. The message of today’s Gospel is not clear at first, but it becomes clear when we place it alongside our lives.

The message of today’s Gospel is this: Listen to the voice of Jesus. It saying to us, “be the widow’s refuge in your life.”  Let us look long and hard for the “widows” in our lives this day and this coming week. Let us recognize those people who are lost, afraid, invisible,  struggling because their support is gone. Let us look for those who are drifting, out there on the fringes.  Let us search out that person we never in a million years would want as a neighbor. Let us reach out with love and compassion for those who are snubbed and mistreated by the society in which we all live. Let us avoid the snubbing and the mistreatment of others in our own lives. Like Jesus, let us be the refuge and defender for that marginalized person.  

Jesus raised us up, like the young man in today’s Gospel, from the shrouds and the decay of spiritual death.  Let us go forth from our graves, singing the words of the psalm we shared today:

“You have turned my wailing into dancing;
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.”

And in living, in dancing, in that all-encompassing joy, let us be the refuge and defender for someone who needs us.


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