1 Kings 17:1-24
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
When people ask me what it’s like to live in the San Francisco area, I tell them about the wonderful things: the weather, the mountains, the ocean, the city. I say, “I can be at the beach or in a grove of redwoods or in one of the most wonderful cities in the world in 45 minutes.”
But I also tell them I’m afraid that our region is a canary in the coal mine for income disparity in America.
One night about a year ago, when we were renting a place in Redwood City, I put fussy Hazel in a stroller and went for a walk. It was a pretty nice neighborhood we were living in. But I remember noticing some people and places I hadn’t before.
I walked past a house with a beautifully redone garden, all pavers and drought-resistant plants. A couple were laughing and drinking wine in the brightly lit living room. Just next door was another house, windows lit, shades open. Every room had at least two bunk beds: a house packed with migrant workers, the men who trim our orange trees, and do our renovation work.
A few blocks later, on a stretch of sidewalk with a hedge overgrowing its yard, a woman with her entire life loaded onto a shopping cart walked toward me. Before we meet, she apologized in broken English for taking up too much space, as if the baby in the pricey jogging stroller was more deserving of the sidewalk than she was.
And just a few blocks from our rental, in the community center parking lot, there was just one car left: an older model, two-door sedan, dented and dusty. I walked past and noticed: the seats were reclined, and two people were curled as best they could into the car, their bed for the night.
I know you’ve all seen this. I know you all have hearts that take in the world with compassion, eyes that notice this sometimes. I suspect you’re all like me, too, and have times when you need to ignore it because it’s too much, too overwhelming.
The stories we read today remind me of one of the names given to God in Genesis. This name is given by one of the people who is often unseen and forgotten in the story: Hagar.
Hagar is Abraham and Sarah’s slave, and when Abraham and Sarah despair of ever having children, Sarah’s plan is that maybe Hagar can have them for her. But Sarah, even though it was her idea, winds up jealous, and she mistreats Hagar and Hagar runs away to the desert. God finds Hagar there, and tells her everything will be OK. And Hagar says, “You are the God who sees me.” I love that. Hagar, the one who was the least and lost and one who was used and abused in Abraham and Sarah’s household? God sees her. What a name Hagar gives God here: Lhai Roi the Living One who Sees Me. (Not just the God who sees. The God who sees me.)
This is a truth that comes up over and over in the Biblical stories:
God sees those who are unseen.
And the apex in these ancient cultures of being an unseen person?
The widow, the orphan, and the alien.
In these ancient cultures, a woman had to be under the care of a man. First your father; then your husband; then a son. To be without any of those three meant you had nothing. No safety. No security. No place. No people.
And to be an alien, a stranger in a strange land, was to be cut off from your identity and your place in society as well.
So we hear the reminder, over and over, in the Hebrew Scriptures: care for the widow, the orphan, the alien.
The least and the lost
Those who are sick and those who are tired
The used and abused
God sees those who are unseen.
I imagine that Jesus was often pressed on every side by crowds, that it was a hassle to walk to a different town because he was hemmed in on every side by people who needed him. I imagine that Jesus had a big heart, that he felt for people, that he felt with people. I imagine it was exhausting for him, to walk with these crowds, and to see and hear and understand the suffering of people.
But Jesus was also the God who sees.
And when Jesus and his disciples approached this city of Nain, grief crossed their path: the funeral procession of a young man.
Jesus was moved. And not just on the surface. The word Luke uses for Jesus’ compassion? The closest thing we have in English is “gut-wrenching.” That’s how strongly Jesus felt the grief of this dead man’s mother. Jesus saw, and even reached out to touch the funeral bier, a move that contaminated him with death.
He saw, and reached toward the grief and sadness instead of recoiling.
And what he saw was not just the sad fact of a man dying young. Jesus saw someone who was made invisible by this death: a widow, now completely unmoored from society by the death of her son.
Honestly, that seeing is the greater thing to learn from this miracle. I do not know, often, how to square myself with the idea that Jesus did miracles and healed so many people, and the heartache it causes when we pray and pray for a miracle and it doesn’t happen.
But the seeing, and the compassion, that I understand.
And the power of what Jesus does after the miracle? The text says: he gave him to his mother.
This was not just a miracle of life and death. It was also a miracle of justice. In that moment, this woman was seen, and her own life and security was restored to her.
In fact, this is exactly what happens in 1 Kings as well. Elijah revives this boy, and gives him back to his mother. It’s another story where God sees, where there is compassion; and where justice and security are restored.
Theses are miracles of restoration: these sons are restored to life; these mothers are restored to security.
The world is restored to the wholeness that God intended in creation; and that God still intends for the New Creation.
God sees the unseen. And God moves us to see, too.
I’ll be honest: sometimes I think it is a necessity of our lives to not see everything. We can be overwhelmed by the weight of the world, by how much hurt and injustice surrounds us. We are not, in fact, Jesus, and we cannot simply say the word and know that the world will be healed.
But for many of us, being able to turn off our awareness that the world is an unjust place is a great privilege. We can retreat to our mostly secure lives. Other people cannot do that. We need to own up to what a privilege it is to be able to take a break from the troubles of the world.
But the Christian life, this life where we have died and have risen with Jesus, is a call to see, to see with God’s eyes, and to be moved to act for justice. We cannot ignore.
There’s a hymn from Cuba that says this so well:
Sent by the Lord am I;
my hands are ready now to make the earth
the place in which the kingdom comes.
The angels cannot change a world of hurt and pain
into a world of love, of justice and of peace.
The task is mine to do, to set it truly free.
Oh, help me to obey; help me to do your will.
It’s a weighty task to which we are called.
But, again, we are called by the God who sees.
And here’s where I find comfort in that. This is also the God who sees us, sees every one of our griefs that remain unseen. This is the God who intimately knows our hurts and pains, the things we bury too deeply for others to see.
This is the God knows and understands what it is to human, what it is to experience gut-wrenching pain.
This is a God who can reach out to the most grief stricken parts of our lives, who can say a word, and comfort us, and heal us.
Friends, we are blessed to be a blessing.
We are brought back to life that we might bring life.
We are called to look at the world with the eyes of our God.
Thanks be to the Living One who Sees.