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Building a Fire

I.  Our story begins long ago, with a prophet of Yahweh. This prophet, by the name of Elijah, found himself attacked and hunted by the King and Queen for challenging their authority. On the run from them, hungry and desperate, he wandered far from home until he left the borders of his own people, and found himself in a foreign land. Here he came to the house of a widow and her only son. As he came upon the widow, she was gathering sticks. When the prophet asked why, she explained that she and her young son had no food, no ability to grow more in the drought they were experiencing, and so she was gathering sticks to build a fire to cook their last meal to eat it and die. The prophet, who was wise and trusted Yahweh deeply, made her a promise: if she instead made that meal and gave it to him, then she and her son would survive. In a considerable act of trust, she did what the prophet asked, and instead of running out of food, she and her son and the prophet miraculously had enough food to survive the drought, for years and years. And if that were not enough, when the boy, who was not as young any more, grew sick and on the edge of death, the prophet asked God to intervene and indeed he was restored to life. It is an amazing story of trust, of restoration of community, and of the healing power of God.

 

II.  Within a generation of the first miraculous story, another story of another miracle, and another prophet, took place. This second prophet was named Elisha, and he was a disciple and protégé of the first prophet Elijah. Likewise, he also found himself living in a time in which the political powers threatened him and his people. The general of that political power could command armies and chariots, but he could not control his own body. He suffered from a skin disease that caused him emotional and perhaps even physical pain. But in a turn of irony, it was his underlings—a servant girl in his house and his own entourage of advisors—who introduced him to and encouraged him to listen to this prophet Elisha. Against his better judgment, this powerful general humbled himself to listen to their advice, and dip himself in the muddy waters of the Jordan River seven times over. An in a story of trust, of restoration of community, and of the healing power of God, he came out of the waters with his skin as clean as that of a young boy.

 

III.  Our story continues with a third prophet. One with amazing power to heal and restore and bless and forgive. This third prophet lived long after the first two, but he and his people knew of these two prophets from long before, and knew of God’s power to heal. Yet, they wondered if God was still able to heal, and what that healing looked like. So, the prophet did as prophets do: he preached a sermon. And in that sermon, he assured the people that God did indeed continue to heal and restore, and that he, the prophet, in fact came to do just that. To bring good news to the poor. To proclaim release to the captives. To give recovery of sight to the blind. To let the oppressed go free. The sermon made it clear that all kinds of people were going to be able to receive restoration and healing from God! This prophet, who was known to them by the name Jesus, finished his sermon and amazed the people. They were overwhelmed with joy that God would bring healing and power to them! It is an amazing story of trust, of restoration of community, and of the healing power of God.

 

IV.  But the sermon continued. The people were excited for the healing and notoriety that he would bring to their town, to his hometown, but the prophet understood that he had come for all people. And so, the prophet continued to do what prophets do: preach, even if his message was not a popular one. In fact, part two of his sermon was based on the stories of our first two prophets. He preached, “remember the prophet Elijah, and how he healed the outsider, a widow and her son from a foreign land, and included her in the story of Yahweh? And remember the prophet Elisha, and how he healed a general from a foreign land, and included him in the story of Yahweh? My healing is the same. You will not like it, but I am here for all of God’s children, not just you.” And the people responded to the prophet as they often respond to prophets…they took him out to the brow of the hill to throw him over the cliff. It is a sad story about what happens when the people do not trust, and how it keeps them from restored community, and from the healing power of God.

 

V.  In fact, the people did not throw the prophet over the cliff. He left to continue his ministry. His preaching, and his healing. And before long, we see him reenact in real time the sermon that he had preached. There was a general from a foreign land, who could command armies and command chariots, but he could not overcome the power of disease and death. And so, when one of his slaves became deeply ill, he sent word to Jesus to ask for healing. Again, it was the underlings, the relatively powerless synagogue leaders who loved and respected this general, who came on his behalf and asked Jesus for a healing. In fact, when Jesus responded and came close to the house, the general sent him away, saying, “I do not deserve for you to be in my home. Just say the word and the boy will be healed.” But Jesus was amazed by this man’s trust, and healed the boy without even laying eyes on him. And Jesus proclaimed that “this guy gets it! Not even in Israel have I seen such faith demonstrated.” It is an amazing story of trust, of restoration of community, and of the healing power of God.

 

VI.  Finally, the prophet continues to reenact his sermon in real time. As he continues on his way, he sees a funeral procession. The only son of a widow had died, which created tragedy upon tragedy. It was a loss for the family, for his friends, and for his mother, who now had no caretaker who would be able to care for her as she grew old. She would likely be forced to beg for scraps, living hand to mouth, the rest of her life. The community, understanding this tragedy, had come out to mourn the son, and carried his body to burial in deep grief. The healing prophet, touched by the tragic story playing out in front of him, walked over to the stretcher where the boy lay, placed his hand on it, called out to the boy, and he rose, alive and well. Once again, it is an amazing story of trust, of restoration of community, and of the healing power of God.

Imagine with me these stories each represented by a log in a fire. If you are a Scout or an outdoorsperson, you know of the efficiency of what is sometimes called a “log cabin”’ style fire. Logs criss-cross over each other like a log cabin, building a stronger and sturdier fire as each level burns. The metaphor works on a couple of levels.

First, if you are a Bible geek like I am, you see the incredible storytelling power here in Luke. We see Luke building these narrative layers in such rich ways. Prophet and outsider and prophet and outsider. Generation after generation, God invites and heals and restores. It is a beautifully written story.

But there is more to it than that. What holds all of these stories together? Perhaps it is an oversimplification, but what I hear over and again is this truth: we need each other.

The design of log cabin model fire is to build level after level, each level dependent on the next. Each piece dependent on the rest. What happens if even one of the logs was not there? Either the fire collapses on itself and is not able to breathe, or scatters and falls apart. Every log matters.

Just like Luke’s story of prophets and outsiders. Even those who we would rather not include in the story…become integral to the narrative of restoration and interconnectivity:

  • The outsider widow and Elijah relied on each other for survival, until God’s power became evident in all of their lives.
  • Elisha relying on Elijah to grow into ministry.
  • The general had to trust Elisha, had to trust the slave girl, and his servants, enough to dip in the muddy waters of the Jordan.
  • Jesus speaks of a great levelling in his sermon, in which not just the insiders are cared for, but all of God’s children, especially those at the bottom.
  • Just like Elijah, it is again the outsider, the vulnerable, the widow, who receives healing from the prophet of Yahweh. She had nothing, but was still deemed worthy by the great healer. And the boy, and his mother, and the whole community were restored by his grace.
  • Perhaps the hardest part of the story for me is the Roman general, the centurion. I want to fix Jesus’ theology here! To remind him that he cannot include a powerful, violent, slave-holder from an oppressive empire! But even this one is welcome. Even he has a place of honor in the Kingdom of Jesus.

Every log matters.
The powerless and the powerful.
The poor and the patron.
The widow and the warlord.

What this stacking of stories seems to tell us is that when God builds Kingdom, builds “Kindom,” it is a restoration of community and interconnectivity. We need each other. We need people who can speak into our lives. We need people who can hear our hurts. We need people who can hold our anger or our fears. We need people to laugh beside. We need people to challenge our assumptions. We need people to ask us hard questions, and stay there through the hard conversations.

When we lose someone who does that for us, it takes the air out of our fire. It hurts. It is scary. Jesus seemed to know this intimately. It is why he chose apostles to share the journey with. It is why he found himself around the poor and the powerful. It is why he wanted those apostles next to him in his darkest hour. And it is why he got angry when they let him down. Jesus in his humanity knew the power of being together. As did Elijah. As did Elisha. As did all of God’s prophets. They might have been lone wolves from time to time, but they always came back to this impenetrable truth: we need each other. “God with us” knew of the power of community to understand that “God is with us.”

This season, I am struck again by that truth. When a pandemic threatens to divide and scatter us, it is ever more important to understand that every log matters. That we need each other. That the power of God to heal and restore comes in community. That to be a part of the Kingdom is to be a part of that community. To invite. To welcome. To accept. And to receive with grace the invitation of others. We are healed together. We receive grace together. May it be so.

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