Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 6/6

      Those who pay attention to such things would say that this is a tough time to be graduating from high school or college, probably worse from college, but even from high school, there is a lot of uncertainty out there.  Four of you will be attending college and the colleges you’ll attend, dependent on state funding as they are, are struggling in a weak Michigan economy which means they’ll probably have to increase tuition which increases the likelihood that you’ll have to take out more loans and graduate deeper in debt and who knows what the job market will be like four or five years from now; there is uncertainty, there’s fear that there’s not enough, not enough money, not enough jobs.  For someone headed for the military there’s always uncertainty; there’s more than a few hotspots around the world that are pretty volatile and could make your life interesting over the next few years and that uncertainty can’t help but create a little fear of a different kind. 

      According to those who watch the world and track the economic numbers and make predictions there continues to be uncertainty at best, for some even pessimism and fear about the future.  That’s why it’s good that you’re here today, because here, in church you should get a dose of something different, a word that dares to defy the world’s uncertainty as God’s word always has.   

      You’ve all been around church since you were little kids.  When I got here you were just starting sixth grade so I’ve known you since then (with Kristina it was a year or two after that).  But you’ve been around, you’ve been in church, you’ve been around and in church even after confirmation.  What that means, is that you’ve heard the stories.  In Sunday School you heard the stories, in Confirmation, in Sunday worship, you’ve heard the stories of our faith.  But there’s something about those stories that I want to make sure you’re clear about as you prepare to move on to the next phase of your life. 

      The message of Christianity tends to get misrepresented a lot of the time.  It can be made to seem overly moralistic, just a list of behaviors to be avoided or that one must be for or against in order to be a good Christian.  Christianity can be made to seem like it doesn’t have much to do with real life at all but that it’s just a way to head off fear about the afterlife, what happens when you die.  Sometimes Christianity gets identified a little too closely with what are perceived as American values, something of a support structure for our political and economic system as we kind of drape the cross with red, white and blue.  Sometimes Jesus gets talked about like he’s our super hero buddy who we expect to fix things or as something of a lucky charm to carry around with you. 

      Now there’s truth in all those representations of Christianity; it is about living a moral life; it is about our eternal salvation; liberty and justice for all are pretty consistent with the Bible and Christianity; we do understand Jesus to be a real presence with whom we can have a relationship.  There is truth in all of that.  But the truth I want you to hear this morning as you graduate in what are rather uncertain times, is a truth that I don’t think gets proclaimed as loudly as it should.  That is the truth that the Bible is filled with stories of hope being brought into situations that appeared to be pretty bleak, pretty settled without much possibility for change, and yet, by the grace of God, change takes place, something new emerges.   

      A consistent theme throughout the Bible is that the God we worship is not bound by conventional limits or by the facts on the ground as we say, but that something new is always possible.  This God is always ready to surprise us with second chances and new possibilities regardless of how far we’ve strayed or how bad things look  Because of that, the primary truth claim of Christianity is one of hope.  As Christians we are people of hope, not airheaded hope that pretends that there’s nothing wrong, or that says if I do all the right things nothing bad will ever happen, but hope that trusts that God is still around and is still involved.   

      That’s what I wanted to say to you this morning and the lectionary also cooperated by providing part of the Elijah story in the first lesson.  Elijah is an important part of the tradition in Judaism and in Christianity, kind of a mysterious, prophetic figure who did some amazing things and didn’t die a natural death but disappeared into heaven in a whirlwind, alive so that Jews look for his return expecting him to play a role in the final victory of God.  At Jewish Seder meals during Passover they set a chair for Elijah just in case he shows up.   He was seen as a forerunner of the Messiah so that when characters like John the Baptist and Jesus showed up, both were compared to Elijah or were thought to be Elijah. 

      In the stories we get in 1 and 2 Kings, Elijah just kind of appears out of nowhere into the world of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.  Ahab and Jezebel are kind of shady characters who represent the settled and accepted reality of the day, a world of conventional power arrangements where the powerful and the well to do mostly look after themselves and their own interests, afraid that there’s not enough of anything to go around so they make sure they take care of themselves and if that means that poor widows in Zarephath don’t get their share, so be it; that’s life. 

      But along comes Elijah, sent by God to this poor widow who according to the facts on the ground has no basis for hope.  She has no means to support herself or her son and to further complicate things, they’re in the midst of a famine; talk about uncertainty.  But the Lord told Elijah to go to this woman because she was going to feed him.  Logically she protested when Elijah asked her for something to drink and little something to eat. “Just leave us alone so we can die in peace,” she says. 

      But Elijah didn’t pay attention to that; he wasn’t part of this doomsday reality.  “Do not be afraid,” he said to this woman who had every reason to be afraid.  “The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.”  According to the perceived reality of the situation, what Elijah said made no sense.  But like I said, the Bible is full of stories where people of God speak words that don’t make sense thus challenging settled realities, words like, “Do not fear,” or “Your sins are forgiven,” or “You will bear a son and name him Jesus,” or perhaps most absurd of all, “He is risen.”  None of it makes sense, but for those who pay attention it redefines situations of hopelessness and despair with an alternative truth that transforms reality. 

      The second part of the Elijah story is closely linked to the gospel as both Elijah and Jesus bring the son of a widow back to life and in both cases we are perhaps inclined to say that just doesn’t happen; dead is dead; none of us has seen such a thing.  But you see what happens when we say that?  As soon as we say that, as soon as we think that we confine ourselves to the world of Ahab and Jezebel and Pharaoh and Caesar and Herod and all those in our world who say that everything is settled and closed, that nothing new is possible, that this is the world you live in and it’s not going to change so deal with it.  When we deny the possibilities found in stories like today’s, we miss the message God wants us to hear; we confine ourselves to a world without imagination or hope.   

      But prophets like Elijah wouldn’t accept that.  Against the odds, by the power of God they proclaimed and enacted a different reality and of course that’s what Jesus did too. Even in what appear to be the most hopeless of situations, the most broken of situations, the most deathly of situations, the God we proclaim and worship provides people or angels who speak words like “Do not be afraid,” and “He is Risen,” words that don’t seem to make sense except for the fact that the God who speaks them is present and has acted for life and for an alternative to that which seems unchangeable.  Time after time that’s what the Bible stories tell us; starting with the promise to Abraham that he would have offspring as numerous as the dust of the earth despite the fact that he was old and his wife was barren all the way to the new life of resurrection after the cross and death of Friday these stories remind us of a different reality which is God’s reality. 

      That’s what I wanted to say to you today.  You already know there are lots of versions of “the truth” out there, even lots of versions of Christian truth.  What I offer you is a truth rooted in the Bible, truth of the God whose stories are told there, truth rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.  It is a truth of hope and possibility.  It’s not truth that promises that everything will be easy or that promises to fix everything and make it like it was, but rather a truth that challenges us to look for and be part of God’s future that promises something new.  That’s a truth that will sustain you in whatever uncertainties life sends your way, and that you can be certain of.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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