S. Pentecost 3.16 “What A Friend…” Luke 7:11-17

Elijah had a problem. Well, a couple of problems. Maybe several problems. OK. Among the many and diverse problems Elijah had, the Big One was that his friends kept dying. In fact, after a while, there just wasn’t anyone in Israel who wanted to be Elijah’s friend. It was simply too dangerous for most folks to chance. Why was this? you may ask. Well, that’s a great question. On one level, the answer is simple. The kings of Israel hated Elijah and so kept trying to kill him, and anyone around him. Because Elijah kept saying things the kings of Israel did not want to hear. But on a deeper level, Elijah discovered what St. Paul summed up like this: friendship with God is enmity with the world; as all the world is and has been in revolt against God since that unfortunate business with the apple in the garden of Eden.

It didn’t take long for most everyone in Israel to figure out that hanging with Elijah was a good way to get dead in a hurry. So most people gave that up, even though Elijah was quite an entertaining guy to hang out with. He not only told good stories—Elijah had powers. He could do stuff, like: divide bodies of water as Moses at the Red Sea, could heal the sick, raise the dead, make iron float, control wild animals; Elijah, in fact, could violate the normal laws of nature in all kinds of amusing ways. He could call down fire from heaven to burn stuff up. He even had a fiery, flying chariot for transport. Also, he had a smart mouth that constantly ran while he did this stuff—rather like the early Spiderman of the 70’s comics. I like him—a lot.

But to most of Israel, Elijah was an acquired taste nearly everyone did not acquire. Elisha would hang out with him, but only late in Elijah’s life, and because Elisha was kind of an acquired taste himself…

So, back to Elijah’s problems: his friends keep dying; and it gets to the point as today in our Old Testament lesson that he doesn’t really have any friends. Someone gave me a children’s book this week called “All My Friends Are Dead” (about a baby dinosaur) that deals with this problem in a way hilariously inappropriate for children. But while the baby dinosaur’s friends are victims of the extinction thing, Elijah’s friends are dying because of something he did—Elijah called for a 3 year drought causing famine, death, and widespread disaster. Uhm, awkward! (Did I mention one of Elijah’s powers was the ability to control the weather? Well, that was one of them). Anyway, Elijah has called the drought to teach the wicked rulers of Israel (Ahab and Jezebel; Boo! Hiss!) a lesson in theology. And they are slow learners. So God has sent Elijah out of the country to a widow in Zarephath near Sidon by the sea. She doesn’t know Elijah, so she is willing to be friends with him (because she’s out of food and he promises to provide an unlimited supply in exchange for cake and a drink of water. A very good deal, really).

But, right on cue, the widow’s son dies, as Elijah’s friends are wont to do. And she is testy about this. Because she has come to realize that Elijah is anti-sin, because he is so pro-God and since sin and death are rather closely connected, calling sin to remembrance is often the end of us, hence most of Elijah’s friends end up dead, sooner rather than later, so that the death of her son in some way ties back to Elijah’s presence in the house. She has been fooled, by letting this guy into her house. She should never have been friends with him because he’s a dangerous man and “All My Friends Are Dead” was originally a book about Elijah.

Elijah is not happy about this. Here’s his only two friends he has left (foreigners at that) and one of them is dead. He’s tired of this. He complains to God that this killing of his friends has got to stop! So he takes the boy into his upper chamber, prays, prostrates himself over the body three times and cries out for the Lord to let the boy’s life return to him. And it does. And Elijah brings the boy down to his mother and goes, “There! Your son lives!” And the woman goes “Whoa! You really are a man of God; and the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth!” And Elijah is like: “Well… duh.” 

Now, I hate to say it, OK, hate is too strong a word but I can’t resist: “What A Friend We Have In Jesus!” A friend very much like Elijah in many ways, and yet quite different in a couple important, but subtle ways…

All of Jesus’ friends are dead (or dying). None of us has any life in us, really. Not unlike friendship with Elijah, hanging out with Jesus kind of causes our latent sin to surface and death comes with that, so, yeah, it’s a risky business, hanging out with Him. Many people fled His company for exactly this reason. Many still do today. And you can’t entirely blame them, right? Except, like Elijah but much more so, Jesus also has power to raise the dead(!).

Now, Jesus is quite explicit to those who would be His friends: He says by all means come to Him, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and He will give you rest. But while that sounds great (who doesn’t like to do nothing and afterward, to rest?) you have to realize that Jesus calls death “sleep” or “rest” so there is a darkly humorous tone to this. Jesus tells His disciples plainly that all the world will hate us for being His friends and will kill us(!) And in fact, 11/12 of His early friends died violent deaths because of their friendship with Him. And St. John, who died of old age, had a pretty rough time of it before a peaceful passing…

But Jesus says we should not be overly fussed about this. He told them once “Don’t be afraid of those who can only kill you.” And the disciples are like “Only kill you?” That’s what we’re most afraid of!” And Jesus goes “Nah, you shouldn’t be afraid of dying, but of spending eternity in hell in the lake of fire with the flesh eating worm. That’s really bad.” And I don’t think they were completely reassured by this. He also says that if we come to Him as His friends, but do not deny ourselves, take up the cross and lose our very lives (for Christ’s sake!) we’ll never enjoy eternal life with Him. So being Jesus’ friend in some ways is even more risky than it was being friends with Elijah!

So why would you risk it? If all of Jesus friends die because of Him, why not find other, safer friends? Remember mom told you to be oh, so careful about choosing your friends? Well, here’s why, in our Gospel. Jesus raises the dead. He alone has this power. Notice that Elijah had to ask God to raise the widow’s son, but Jesus has this power in Himself, as Lord and God and Creator and simply says “Arise!” to the young man. And he does(!). This is the Word made Flesh, God Himself, Life in Person…

And Kierkegaard was right about this: fear and trembling is still the way to come into His presence. But come, anyway. Because Jesus comes today, for you, with His body and blood—with His powerful Word. Jesus will be the death of you before He is life to you; but the dying and the rising go hand in hand. And oh, the places you will go, the things you will see, with Him! And Peace surpassing understanding will guard our hearts and minds as Jesus’ Friends. Amen.