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June 9, 2013

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Third Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 5

Lectionary citations

1 Kings 17:8-16,(17-24) with Psalm 146
1 Kings 17:17-24 with Psalm 30
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17

Sample sermon on 1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)

Worship resources for the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found at Worship Ways.


Sermon Seeds

Focus Scripture:
1 Kings 17:8-16,(17-24)

Weekly Theme:
Daring Compassion

Reflection:
by Kathryn Matthews Huey

Our story begins with an evil king, Ahab; a false god, Baal; and a terrible misunderstanding about just who exactly is in charge of things. Ahab rules over Israel, the northern kingdom (Judah was the southern kingdom), and the text tells us that this king did more evil in the sight of God than any of his predecessors (16:30). He's married to a foreign woman, Jezebel, from Sidon, who has brought along her people's god, Baal, and just to make matters worse, she persuades Ahab to set up shrines where this Baal might be worshipped. This is a huge mistake on Ahab's part, and he should have known better: there is, after all, a commandment about having false gods before the one true God. Onto the scene strides the great prophet Elijah, who delivers that message in no uncertain terms; in fact, he tells Ahab that there will be no rain for a very long time, unless he says so – even though Ahab and Jezebel are worshipping the so-called god of rain, storm, and fertility. Elijah is declaring the power of the One True God, not Baal, to bring the rains and end the drought, a message that does not go over well with Ahab. So God gets Elijah out of town for a while, looking after him along the way by sending him ravens to bring him food, and leading him to a wadi that provides water for him to drink in the midst of the drought and the food shortage that must follow it.

The time comes when even these provisions are not enough, and when the drought worsens, God sends Elijah to – of all places – Sidon, the very place Jezebel came from. Our passage begins here, with God giving Elijah what must seem like an incomprehensible command, to seek help from a nobody who has nothing: the great prophet has to rely on the kindness and generosity of a stranger, a poor widow, a foreigner who, presumably, is herself a worshipper of Baal. But the Bible is full of such irony, of course, with God at work through the most unexpected people, in the most unexpected places. Zarephath was actually a town situated in pagan territory, between the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon, on the Mediterranean Sea, and we will hear all these names again in the Gospels, in lessons about the gracious love of God that crosses all human-made boundaries.

For example, hearing that Elijah went to Sidon reminds us of the story in the seventh chapter of Mark's Gospel when Jesus goes to the same area and meets the Syro-Phoenician woman, another foreigner driven by love for her child who opens up the compassion and vision of Jesus to share the "crumbs" of the children with "dogs," or Gentiles (a stunning and even upsetting idea to some when it was preached in the early church). And when Jesus' hometown audience in Luke 4 found it hard to believe that one of their own could speak so graciously, he brought up this very story, about the widow of Zarephath, and the amazing way God is at work in the most unexpected of places, with the most unlikely of people. Some of the best stories in the Bible, the ones that remind us of other really good stories in the Bible, seem to happen in those out-of-the-way, across-the-border places, with people who are on the margins and surprisingly important in the grand scheme of things after all. Even the second part of this passage from First Kings, about the raising of the widow's son, reminds us of the story in Luke 7 when another widow's son is raised by Jesus. We recall, too, another poor pagan widow, Ruth, in the Old Testament, also a foreigner, whose tender and unconditional care for her forlorn mother-in-law, Naomi, mirrors God's own love and faithfulness, a love made flesh in Jesus.

And so, while we know that Elijah was a particularly great prophet, and lots of wonderful stories are told about him in the Old Testament, his memory plays an important role in the New Testament as well: it seems that his name comes up often when people wrestle with who Jesus is (think, for example, of the crowd's reaction to his last words in Matthew 27:47). Like Jesus, Elijah's good news was particularly good for the poor, not the powerful and arrogant. While his preaching doesn't go over well with Ahab and Jezebel, Elijah does have a good word to bring to the poor but generous widow. He begins with that always-reassuring good news, "Do not be afraid." Angels and prophets and Jesus himself tell us not to live in fear, no matter how bad things look. The widow, preparing to die with her son, at the end of her rope, suddenly has salvation arriving at her door. Where there was scarcity, there is suddenly sufficiency. Terence Fretheim makes an intriguing observation here, about the way God is at work supplying what the widow needs just as God had provided what Elijah needed out there in the wilderness, when he fled the courts of the powerful, and the birds of the air brought him food. Fretheim draws our attention to the little ways and the small ones by which God sustains life, "through the birds of the air, small gestures, meager resources, feeble words, human obedience, and the witness of a poor woman" (First and Second Kings, Westminster Bible Companion).

Later, when the widow's son lies dead, Elijah is summoned once again to be the means by which God brings new life. And, indeed, where there appears to be death, there is, amazingly, life! Small and powerless and yet full of insight, the woman recognizes that all of this is not magic, or the work of humans, but instead, it's the hand of the true God at work in her life, and she makes the leap of faith to trust the word of this God in her life.

That is a subtle but important point of this story. Tremper Longman III makes an interesting claim when he says that feeding the prophet first gives the widow an opportunity to show her faith in God (The Lectionary Commentary: The Old Testament and Acts). I find it a challenge to imagine that this poor, desperate woman has "faith" in any "God" (hers or Elijah's) at this point: after all, she is preparing herself, and her son, to die. I suspect that there are other things than faith at work in her at this moment, things we don't focus on as quickly or as easily in Christian writing (including our sermons), and hope is one of those things. A reading like this one, in the midst of drought and famine, thirst and hunger, poverty and despair, provokes reflection on the phrase, "desperate hope," for desperation, or despair, paradoxically, suggests hope-less-ness. However, at the worst possible moments, hope can still persist deep within our hearts, no matter what God or god we have been raised to worship and taught to place our faith in. Perhaps the word "desolation" fits the widow's situation even better, because it means "emptiness," and when there's nothing left, and you're totally empty, there is room for all sorts of grace to move in and grow. Could it be that surrounding ourselves with so many things, so many activities, so much noise, so many worries, makes it hard for us to open up our selves, our hearts, to God's love and grace to fill in the empty places underneath it all? I just wonder about that. It's not that we're not hungry, deep down in our spirits, maybe even starving, but if we fill ourselves with enough spiritual junk food, we may not even be around when the prophet bearing good news – and hope – arrives. (I recently saw a 3-minute video that reminded me of the way our senses and minds have become dulled, and how we need to nurture our capacity for awe: "Shots of Awe".)

The widow of Zarephath, however, is around when the prophet arrives, and she is empty, so she has room in her heart for hope. Perhaps out of habit or societal pressure (it was, after all, a core practice in cultures at that time), she acts out the rituals of hospitality and generosity, sharing the little that she has with a stranger, making room in the last moments of her life for another, but pondering her words as she gathers a meager meal for him. In doing so, she enacts what Walter Brueggemann calls "otherwise," in his book on the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Brueggemann observes that the story of Elijah (followed by Elisha) breaks into a long historical account of the kings leading up to Ahab (a rather grim narrative of successions and wars, infidelities and punishments, leading up to the disgrace that was Ahab and Jezebel). He contrasts this record with these stories about prophets, stories that dare us today to imagine a very different kind of world, not based on power and might and greed (Testimony to Otherwise).

Years ago, when I majored in history in school, I had to learn what the "important" people did and when they did it, as if this were the only thing that mattered, and as if this history were also something objective, something established in fact. I suppose such information is helpful in understanding the context, the setting, in which the really important things happened, even if those really important things were going on in remote villages and at the bottom of society, in encounters like those between hungry prophets and desperate widows, the kind of thing you don't read about in history books. For example, I confess that I was rather bored by the dry accounts of the formation of labor unions by the men at the top, instead of hearing the stories of the women who lost their lives in the Triangle Fire in New York City in 1911. Because of that tragedy, many significant changes happened, but I never heard that story in school. Years later, my personal reading is filling in the holes in my incomplete education, and I'm learning where the truly important and powerful things often happen, on the margins and in the most unexpected places.

That might be what Brueggemann is saying – and really, how much more important could an event be than bringing an only child back to life? Something important does happen when Elijah prays for the widow's dead son to be restored to life (an almost unimaginable thing to pray for), and Brueggemann calls this something new in the life of someone who is "not privy to much newness." That's what "otherwise" is about: the new, unimaginable, and very different way for things to turn out, instead of the worn-out, despair-producing, cynicism-provoking ways of thinking and acting that we believe to be the way the world has to work. It's no wonder, then, that Jesus stirred the memory of Elijah in his followers.  Brueggemann urges us not only to remember those great figures in history, like Martin Luther King, Jr., who have done the same, but to see our own lives differently as well, to live – or venture out into the "sacramental" practice of imagining a different world: a practice that is not only sacramental, but biblical as well (Testimony to Otherwise).

A preacher might focus on religious imagination, then, or perhaps on the contrasts in this story, between power and powerlessness, hope and hopelessness, the "important" places in the center of things, and the really important things and events that happen out on the margins. Doesn't the Bible tell us one story after another about such truly powerful events and people? And that might lead us to contrast Ahab and Elijah, or, as James Newsome suggests, the widow and Queen Jezebel, distinguished by how much compassion they had in their hearts. And this compassion teaches us, Newsome says, about the love of a God who will not be confined to Israel and Judah alone, but embraces all of humankind (Texts for Preaching Year C). Karl Allen Kuhn sums up all of this by looking at the big picture, by contrasting "the forces that lead to blessing and the forces that lead to destruction" in this story (New Proclamation Year C 2010). Are you, and your church, "forces that lead to blessing"?

There are all sorts of wonderful things swirling around in this story: the power of God, the rains of mercy on parched earth and dried-up lives, the small ones lifted up, the generosity that transforms the direst of situations, the blessings of God multiplying in unexpected and unimagined ways. When we look around at our lives and the life of the world, and the life of our churches, what abundance is about to break forth because of unexpected generosity and surprising compassion? What hope do we dare to welcome, and to entertain, in our own lives? What dreams of God are we, too, willing to imagine?

I once saw a website of a United Church of Christ congregation that dares to dream of the kind of world we glimpse in the story of Elijah and the widow, and in the ministry of Jesus himself: "Imagine a church that cannot stay put, but takes God's welcome into the world. Imagine a church in conversation with other lives, other cultures, able to invite and be invited, to sit at other people's tables, to learn and share the inestimable riches of God, to build relationships outside its walls. Imagine a church where the hands, hearts and feet of every member, young and old, are shaped for service, and a church that does not lack imagination about ways to use them. Imagine a church compelled by the Spirit to travel with Jesus, healing, reconciling and doing justice, a church filled with the daring and delight of the children of God. Imagine a church on the open road, agile and able, willing to follow Jesus into life's margins, a church that gives itself away and asks nothing in return, a church mobilized for mission: Imagine First Church in Cambridge!" Amen, First Church in Cambridge, Amen!

What "otherwise" do you and your church dare to imagine, and to bring to life in the world, by allowing God to work through you in this world? How is God's work getting done, through you?

Sample sermon on 1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24):

I suppose every family has its sayings, words of wisdom or maybe just observation and insight from growing up together. There were eleven of us in my family, and one of our favorite sayings comes from the days of nine children getting ready for school in the morning – we were always running late, always sure we wouldn’t make to school on time this time, and invariably someone would say in the midst of the chaos, “This is the worst it’s ever been!”

Now, while we feared what the nuns in our parochial school might do if we were late for class, my siblings and I had nothing on Israel back in the days of the evil King Ahab and his notoriously wicked wife, Jezebel. Almost nine hundred years before Jesus, life was hard in Israel, with enemies all around, a climate that often produced droughts and famines, not to mention a host of afflictions like disease, poverty, and violence that made life miserable and risky as well. Perhaps it was only human that people tried to grab onto whatever appeared to have the power to protect them from all those threats, and King Ahab himself, weak and apparently not too bright, gave into the temptation when Jezebel suggested that he set up places where her god, Baal, would be worshipped.

Baal was the god Jezebel had brought with her from Sidon, in Phoenicia. You see, Jezebel and Ahab were no love match – theirs was one of those political, arranged marriages between nations, and when Jezebel packed her suitcase she brought with her a ruthless, ambitious personality and, to make it worse, she was a religious fanatic about her god Baal, the god of the storm, the god of rain, the god of fertility. We know how we feel when we go a few too many days without rain, how the lawns start looking a little wilted and everything starts to feel dusty and dry, maybe a wildfire or two breaks out. Can you imagine then how it must have felt, in an agrarian culture, surrounded by desert and trying to eke out an existence and a crop without rain? You can see why Ahab might have been tempted to cover all his bases by playing nice with whatever powers might make him look good as a king who took care of his people.

Well, Ahab should have known better. There’s a commandment, isn’t there, about such things – “Thou shalt not have false gods before me” – but the king made a huge mistake and gave in to Jezebel; the storyteller says that Ahab “did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.” Now this is not an award anyone in their right mind would want to win. When Ahab set up altars and worship sites for Baal and, as the text tells us, actually “served and worshipped him,” it was truly the worst it had ever been. And so, the story says, God steps in and sends the prophet Elijah to remind Ahab and Jezebel just exactly who is in charge of things. Elijah stands right in front of the king and queen and reminds them that the Most High God of Israel is the only One to be worshipped, and just to make it perfectly clear, Elijah tells them that there is not going to be any rain for a long time, “except,” he says, “by my word.”

And then God tells Elijah to get out of town, quick. He survives out in the wilderness when ravens bring him food and a little wadi provides water for him to drink, until the drought gets so bad that God tells him to move on, and to go to, of all places, Zarephath, an exurb of Sidon – Jezebel’s hometown! That’s not all – God tells Elijah that a widow there will feed him. How odd – you can't get much closer to a nobody than a woman (nameless, as we women usually are in Scripture), and a widow at that! Widows lived right on the edge of survival. If a woman in that time didn't have a husband or son or father to protect and provide for her, she would have to turn to prostitution or begging or, if she was lucky, the community would provide for her. God is telling Elijah to go into a land that has traditionally been enemy territory, and to depend on the generosity of a stranger, a poor widow, a foreigner who presumably is herself a worshipper of Baal. God has commanded Elijah to cross all sorts of borders, but isn’t it true – and ironic – how often God is at work in the most unexpected of places, with the most unlikely of people?

As soon as Elijah arrives in Sidon, he sure enough finds a widow there, on the edge of town, gathering sticks, and he asks her to bring him some water. In those days, hospitality – and especially the offer of water – was a core value of cultures in that part of the world, and the widow leaves her work to get this stranger his drink of water. But that’s not enough – Elijah calls after her to bring him some bread, too, “a morsel of bread.”

Okay. Now he’s gone too far. The widow explains that she’s down to her last handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug, and she’s gathering these sticks to make a fire to cook one last meager meal for her son and herself, before they die. Really, now, this is really, truly the worst it’s ever been. And that’s when Elijah says that thing that angels and prophets and Jesus himself often say in the Bible: “Do not be afraid.” No matter how bad things look, do not be afraid. Elijah tells the widow to go ahead and make a little cake and bring it to him, and then go and make some more dinner for herself and her son. It doesn’t sounds like a reasonable request, until Elijah says that where there is scarcity, the Lord the God of Israel will provide enough: there will be enough meal and oil in the days ahead for the widow and her son. And indeed, there is food for the widow’s household, including her guest, the prophet, who stays on for awhile.

That would be amazing enough, except there's more to the story. The son of this widow – all she has in this world – suddenly gets sick and dies. Elijah is summoned, and the widow is understandably upset with him, thinking it's his fault that her son has died, that Elijah brought death rather than life with him. I get the feeling that Elijah, from the sound of his prayer, is kind of worried about that, too. In a way, as he prays, the prophet challenges God, but more importantly, he trusts God, and he prays hard, and there we have it – another resurrection story. From scarcity and lack, abundance, and from death, life.

While I was studying this text, I read something very interesting by a scholar named Tremper Longman III, who said, “The demand that the prophet be fed first allows the widow to demonstrate faith in God.” Well, now, that didn’t quite make sense to me. How would a pagan woman have faith in a God whose prophet arrives in town and asks her for her last bit of food? Had she heard any good preaching about this God she didn’t even know? Had she been to bible study recently, had she seen any great miracles or even heard some really good, convincing testimony about this stranger’s God? No, I don’t get the faith thing here at all – I find it a challenge to imagine that this poor, desperate woman has "faith" at this point in any god or "God," hers or Elijah's: after all, she is preparing herself, and her son, to die. I suspect that there is something else that gets this woman to share the last little bit that she has with this stranger. And that something is, surprisingly, a deeply human movement of the heart that is just as important as faith and, I believe, has just as much power as faith or love to inspire generosity. That movement of the heart, my sisters and brothers, is hope.

We hardly ever talk about hope, do we? Not like we talk about faith and love. And yet, a woman on the edge of death who decides to let go of the little that she has because there might just be the possibility of a different ending to her story, or better, of a new beginning to her story, she teaches us something about the power of hope, even desperate hope, and the way it can persist, even when things appear to be the worst they have ever been, no matter what God or god we have been raised to worship, and taught to place our faith in, no matter what god or God we have been taught to  trust. No matter what church we have been raised in, no matter what fears have been put in us, no matter what scars we bear or what worries afflict us. When our minds may be confused or full of doubt, still, our hearts hope.

What would happen in this world – this broken but beautiful world that God loves – if Christians shared their hope as much as their faith? What if we were so full of hope that we ourselves would present the world – by our actions as well as our words – with something that the great scholar, Walter Brueggemann, calls “otherwise”? What if we were people who so deeply hoped for a more peaceful world that we ourselves would strive to bring to life a more peaceful way of living, first in our families and our churches and our communities and then, in our nation and in our world? When the world says that overwhelming power and force is the way to go, what if our hope for a more peaceful world inspires us to live lives of generous sharing, gentle humility, and open hearts? If the world thinks that war is the only option, what if we share our hope for otherwise?

If we read statistics about poverty, if we work with and for the poor, and we get discouraged at the suffering of the world, what if we are so filled with hope that we can see another possibility, a world in which everyone has enough to eat and clean water to drink, and good schools, and safe neighborhoods for their children to play in? If the world tells us that the earth itself is for our use, not for our care, and it’s just too bad if that beautiful earth has to pay the price for the things we want, what if we understand our role instead as stewards of creation, of caretakers of the gifts of God, enjoying the blessings of nature and all that the earth provides but taking good care of what we are responsible for so that generation upon generation after us will enjoy those same blessings? Can we offer an “otherwise” to ecological disasters, the extinction of species, the depletion of resources, the suffering of wildlife? Can we offer hope to a world that seems to have given up on “otherwise”?

Hope United Church of Christ. What a wonderful name for a church, and what a blessing you are to the world!  In your ministry, your warm hospitality and your inclusive vision, your witness for justice, and your hope-filled generosity, you are bringing to life in this place the “otherwise” of the gospel – you are living in hope and inspiring hope in others. In the face of cynicism, greed, and despair, you, Hope United Church of Christ, you are imagining and bringing to reality a different way of living, and that is a gift to every single person who comes through your doors, seeking a new church home, a gift to your community here where you are in ministry, and a gift to the whole wide world that longs for good news, a world that has filled itself too full with spiritual junk food, and hungers now for the gospel that fills your life, the gospel that you share. I think it was Henri Nouwen who claimed that Christians "keep saying that a new way of being human and a new peace are possible." You can say that because you are a people of hope. Out of that hope will spring generosity, a generosity that will share what you have been so abundantly blessed with by God, so that Hope United Church of Christ will flourish and be a vital, thriving place of ministry and good news here in Alexandria, and far beyond, in ways you can hardly begin to imagine, and yet you dare to hope for.  Amen.

This sermon was preached at Hope United Church of Christ in Alexandria, Virginia in 2010.

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Lectionary texts

1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24)

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you." So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink." As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." But she said, "As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die." Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth." She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!" But he said to her, "Give me your son." He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?" Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again." The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." So the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth."

with

Psalm 146

Praise be to God!
   Praise God, O my soul!

I will praise God
   as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God
   all my life long.

Do not put your trust in nobles,
   in mortals, in whom there is no help.

When their breath departs,
   they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help
   is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Sovereign their God,

who made heaven and earth, the sea,
   and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed;
   who gives food to the hungry.

God sets the prisoners free;
   God opens the eyes of those who cannot see.

God lifts up those who are bowed down;
   God loves the righteous.

God watches over the strangers;
   and upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked
   God brings to ruin.

God will reign forever,
   your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise be to God!

or

1 Kings 17:17-24

After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!" But he said to her, "Give me your son." He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?" Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again." The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." So the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth."

with

Psalm 30

I will extol you, O God,
   for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes
   rejoice over me.

O God my God,
   I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.

O God, you brought up my soul
   from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those
   gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to God,
   O you God's faithful ones,
and give thanks to God's holy name.

For God's anger is but for a moment;
   God's favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
   but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
   "I shall never be moved."

By your favor, O God,
   you had established me
      as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
   I was dismayed.

To you, O God, I cried,
   and to you I made supplication:

'What profit is there in my death,
   if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
   Will it tell of your faithfulness?

Hear, O God,
   and be gracious to me!
O God, be my helper!'

You have turned my mourning
   into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
   and clothed me with joy,

so that my soul may praise you
   and not be silent.
O God my God,
   I will give thanks to you for ever.

and

Galatians 1:11-24

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.

Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, "The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me.

Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!" This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

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Liturgical notes on the Readings

In ecumenical liturgical practice, there are normally three readings and one psalm at each Sunday service, in this order:

First Reading: Hebrew Scripture
Response: Psalm (or Canticle) from the Bible
Second Reading: Epistle (or Acts or Revelation)
Third Reading: Gospel

The first two lessons are normally read by laypeople, the Gospel by a Minister of the Word or a layperson. In Roman Catholic, Anglican and liturgical Protestant churches, it is uncommon for an ordained minister to read all of the lessons.

The psalm is not a reading but a congregational response following the lesson from Hebrew Scripture: it is normally sung with a refrain or recited by the congregation as poetry. Occasionally, a canticle is appointed in place of a psalm; it is sung or recited in the same way. The New Century Hymnal provides a complete liturgical psalter with refrains and music.

A hymn may be sung as an introduction to the proclamation of the Gospel.

During Ordinary Time (seasons after Epiphany and Pentecost) two alternative sets of OT readings with responsorial psalms are provided. The first option is a semi-continuous reading through a book of Hebrew Scripture; the second is thematically related to the other readings.

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