May 7, 2017 — Rev. Paula Norbert
It is a real pleasure and a privilege to be with you today. As I have come to know some of the members of Union Church in recent months, I have been so profoundly impressed by your love for this gathered community, your care for one another and your dedication to walking together on the journey of the Spirit. I am excited to imagine how we might continue that journey and discover all that God has in store for us and those whose lives we are connected to as a community of faith. “Happy are those whose hope is in the Lord, their God,” the Psalmist reminds us today. Sometimes we may forget that God’s healing love is boundless and that everyone is included. We may believe that those are nice words, but that somehow God’s love doesn’t touch our lives in ways that we most hope for. Let us pray, ‘Creator God, you feed us when we are hungry. Compassionate Healer, you offer us new life in the midst of despair and hopelessness. Beyond our dreams, beyond our plans, beyond our hopes, beyond our imaginings-you, loving God, are there, eager to share your wonders with us. May we be ready to receive them with gratitude and to share them. Amen.’
Years ago, on a service trip to Nicaragua with a group of college students, I had a wonderful and grace filled experience. Many years before when I was in that country for a language program for the summer, I met a dear friend who was a priest from the US. He remained in the country and ended up living and working in a rural community there. Through some generous donations, we had been able to provide funding to this community to help them establish a cooperative farming project and they, in turn, used some of their profits to support several promising young people from that impoverished community to attend the university in the capital city. And so, we had an ongoing relationship with the people there, from afar, and with the help of my friend Roberto.
We were a group of about twenty college students and staff who were in the country for a week and we were eager to visit the folks in this community and I was looking forward to seeing my old friend. I will always remember this day. We drove for what seemed like hours, riding in the back of dusty, uncomfortable pick up trucks to a destination outside a small town that I probably could never find on a map. Rob met us at the end of a dirt road and we followed him into their community. As we got closer, the children gathered along the sides of the road waiting for us with expectant faces and big smiles. And we smiled back.
They had a simple building in the middle of the town that served as a community center of sorts and so we all gathered in there for introductions and a welcome. They thanked us for coming such a long way. They thanked us for helping support their farming cooperative. And then we were treated to lovely hospitality. Some of the people had baked loaves of delicious bread which was still warm and they passed this around the room. We broke bread together. And then, in the heat and the dust, they passed around the most delicious, cool and refreshing tangerine refresco, as they called it, or juice to us. I can still smell the bread and that wonderful drink. Our senses were overcome with their kindness. It wasn’t a small thing for a truly struggling community to share their bread with us. We were a large enough group that I’m sure it was a challenge. They wanted to express their care for us. We were very aware of the simple surroundings and very grateful for their generosity. It was really beyond what we might have imagined. It was one the most precious experiences I have had of Communion.
We shared stories and music; our students tried to find some songs that they would all know to sing for those gathered as a way of expressing our great gratitude as well.
In the passage today from 1 Kings, we are introduced to the prophet Elijah, considered to be second only to Moses in his importance as a prophet. At the start of chapter 17, his story begins when he declares that there will be no rain for several years except by his word. He is sent by God to one place where he will find water, and when that water dries up, he is sent to Zarepath with the promise that a widow there will support him. This woman has one young son but not much else. At that time, a woman who did not ‘belong’ to a man was often ignored and forced to scrounge for even the simplest of support.
When Elijah who is hungry asks for a piece of bread, she responds with what little she has and that gift is transformed into life giving supplies. Later, when tragedy strikes her son, on whom she will rely for support in her old age, Elijah wants to help her. He argues with God, “Why have you brought such evil upon this woman?” he asks. When some would disregard a widow as a nobody, Elijah affirms her value by asking God to heal her son and it is accomplished; Elijah breathes new life into him. And the widow says, “Now I know this, that you are a man of God, and the word of God in your mouth is truth.”
The story shows that God’s compassion stretches beyond any societal boundaries and is inclusive of all, for this woman and her son would have been considered ‘foreigners’ and Gentiles. We may understand that God’s love is not limited to a chosen people but to all who are open. This is good news for any of us who may feel at times beyond God’s care and mercy; God’s love is limitless.
The Psalm reminds us that God has a passion for justice and offers food to the hungry. God offers us the true sustenance for all of our deepest hungers.
I am guessing that most of us don’t experience real physical hunger in a regular way. We are privileged if we don’t have to think too much about where our next meal is coming from. And yet, we know that there may be some among us in local schools and in our wider community who do have to worry about food in a regular way, who are ‘food insecure’ as some now say. When we do know hunger, it is sometimes helpful to remind ourselves that too many experience it as a daily reality and that so much more needs to be done to meet the needs of those who are hungry on a daily basis.
Hunger too may be a spiritual or emotional experience for many of us. We yearn to be filled with some kind of deep peace or receive a level of care and compassion that seems elusive. This hunger may leave us feeling hopeless or it can serve as a catalyst for us to seek out what we need to respond to those hungers. We are reminded that feeding the hungry, that responding to the needs of those who hunger for justice and love and compassion and grace, has been a recurring theme throughout all of scripture from the earliest stories to the present day. We are part of that story. What do we hunger for? Can we believe that God’s compassion and grace extends to us, that God wants to respond to our hunger on whatever level. How may we share our gifts generously with those who bring their hunger to us? And are we attentive to the times when God satisfies our deepest hungers?
One of the best gifts of our visit with the rural community in Nicaragua was that they fully understood that God’s love extended to them. No matter that they lived in a place that was so remote that one could hardly find it on a map or that the road into the town was so narrow that we could barely pass through; we did find our way with the help of a friend and we shared companionship and bread and hope.
I will close with a favorite poem by Roque Dalton of El Salvador…
Like You Como Tu
By Roque Dalton
Like you I love love, life, the sweet smell of things, the sky- blue landscape of January days.
And my blood boils up and I laugh through eyes that have known the buds of tears. I believe the world is beautiful and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
And that my veins don’t end in me but in the unanimous blood of those who struggle for life, love, little things, landscape and bread, the poetry of everyone.