A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
There they are. Two people moving slowly towards one another. One emerges from the wilderness in search of food. There’s a purposefulness to his gait. God has sent him on this journey assuring him a widow will provide. The other walks slowly to the edge of town. She, too, has a purposefulness to her movement. Yet hers is more tentative. No assurances from God to her.
He sees her first. There she is—hunched down under the weight of her burden. There she is slowly placing one foot in front of the other. The weight of each step almost too much to bear. What thoughts cross her mind as she makes her way to the edge of town?
--The look on the face of her boy as his belly swells and his cheeks turn hollow?
--Memories of better days.
*Times when the flour jar was full and the oil jug over-flowing
*The smell of his baby skin when she bathed him
*The sound of his laughter
Perhaps. But I suspect she has no time or energy for that. She’s caught up in the pressures of the moment. Maybe she’s casting about figuring out what to say when her son asks for more to eat. “That’s all there is.” How hollow those words are. No solace there.
Lost in thought, lost in pain, suddenly she hears the stranger’s feet crunching the stubble in the fields. Focused on her grim task, she feels him coming toward her long before she sees him.
He stops. He calls to her, “Woman. Bring me water that I may drink.”
She breaks her focus. Stopping her work of looking for sticks, she turns and goes towards the well. She can’t refuse a drink of water. That’s no way to treat a stranger.
Then he calls again. He’s asking her for more. Not much. Just a morsel of bread. But far more than she can provide.
Wearily, she stops and turns to face him. “I can’t do that,” she says to the stranger. “I have barely enough for one last meal for me and my son before we die of hunger.”
In that moment, in the silence that follows her words, everything changes. The ground beneath them shifts. The prophet Elijah hears not only her words but also her need and her pain.
It’s her deep need and gnawing pain his words now address. “Do not be afraid,” he says to her. “Bring me a little something to eat. Then fix something for you and for your son. God will provide. The jar of flour will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not run dry.”
Scripture tells us, “She went and did as Elijah said....” Taking the risk. Trusting that God—a God foreign to her—would provide. A gamble that saved her life and Elijah’s as well.
Elijah’s words, the nameless widow’s risk; his faith, her scant resources. The two—Elijah and that nameless widow—bound together in need, bound together in hope. Think of it—it took both of them, working together, to ease her pain and to save their lives. Two people bound together in need. Two people bound together in hope. How different from the prevailing spirit in our day—a spirit that says, “My way or the highway!” A spirit that says, “Me first.” A spirit that says, “I’ll do it myself.”
And yet we can’t really go it alone can we? We need one another. The Christian life—and I would venture to say simply life—is not a solitary journey. It’s journey we make in community. It’s a journey we do together.
Today we are baptizing two people—a newborn baby, Harper, and a grown man, Scott. In a few minutes I will ask you, “Will you do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” I hope you’ll replay with a loud, “We will.”
Authentic Christian life is hard. We can’t do it on our own. We need one another. We need Harper’s voice—her gurgles, her shrieks, her cries of pain and hunger. We need the sheer joy of life we feel when we see her face. We need Scott’s searching questions. They push us to think more deeply about why we’re here, who we are, and what we’re called to be. We need his tender earnestness about this new life he’s entering. Scott and Harper need us too. They need our love. They need our faith when theirs begins to lag. They need our stories of life along the path of faith. We need each other to grow more deeply into the body of Christ.
In his book, No Future Without Forgiveness Desmond Tutu writes, "My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours." We belong in a bundle of life....A person is a person through other persons." Harper and Scott, “We belong together in a bundle of life. Our humanity is bound up in yours. We are because you are. Welcome to this bundle of life we call the Christian path.”