Posted on Sun, Jun 5, 2016
June 5, 2016
Third Sunday in Pentecost
Gospel Text: Luke 7:11-17
Jesus Raises the Widow’s Son at Nain
11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 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. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 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!’ 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
Two stories about resurrection, one a boy, and another a young man, both the only son of their mother; both mothers are widows. The first story involves a prophet sent by God to preach God’s word of sovereignty, justice and mercy, and after receiving generous hospitality from a widow’s poverty; the prophet raises the widow’s only son from the dead. The second story, one in which the writer surely wants us to recall the first story in 1 Kings, involves the very one Chosen by God, the Christ our Savior, to again raise the only son of a widow. Two stories about resurrection, two stories that are founded completely on God’s compassion for the suffering. Two stories that show us God in action in the midst of suffering and grief.
Both stories come to us in the lectionary at a time when our community has suffered much loss, and is now experiencing many different stages of grief and mourning. The passing of loved ones has been too recent, and for many of us our nerves are just too raw. But we have also just celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on Easter morning, so amidst the suffering and pain we may be feeling, there is also this promise of resurrection still permeating the air. There is a thread of unbreakable hope connecting us through a common belief in the resurrection. Even though we feel the genuine pain of loss, our faith is still drawn to the Good News of resurrection. Our faith always looks to the Truth of the Resurrection Promise in order to help us find God’s hope and joy, given to us through the death and RESURRECTION of Jesus, amidst the reality of our loss. Our faith comes from God, so our faith is in constant pursuit of its source, our faith is always looking for the love, joy, mercy, and justice of God in everything at all times. Faith is not something we can control or even manage, faith is given to us so that we can feel or know that in all times, especially for the ones in pain, God is here, and God is working. That is what faith does. You don’t need to ‘ask’ for more faith, as if were a liquid we could pour into a tank, through the Holy Spirit, you already have all the faith you need; the issue is just to open your eyes and be aware of this amazing gift that has been bestowed upon us.
Jesus seems to have just entered a village, but nobody seems to have noticed him because the village is going through collective mourning. People are not interested in welcoming the great teacher because they are in the middle of a communal funeral march. As Jesus looks over the marchers, he sees the recently passed son on a stretcher being carried by grieving friends, family neighbors… but Jesus’ focus of attention is not on the son, it is on the suffering of the mother, Jesus had compassion on her and her loss. Jesus see’s her pain and immediately stopped the stretcher-bearers and touched the stretcher, and not the body of the young man, and called out, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” And with that, the boy sat up and Jesus returned him to his mother. Only AFTER the boy is alive does Jesus touch him… Then the people react how any of us would have reacted if we had witnessed such an “unnatural” scene, they react with immense fear and amazing joy! Fear because what Jesus did is not of human doing and they could never expect to witness such a thing, and joy because this child of the community, the beloved of his mother is alive again. It doesn't really matter ‘HOW’ Jesus raised him from the dead, the fact is that Jesus DID it.
Imagine what it must have been like for the people to witness this young man come back to life right before their eyes! It was only within the prior 24 hours they saw him alive. Regarding this incident, it is not surprising that Luke writes, “This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.” They couldn't be quiet about this amazing event…
But what could this promise of resurrection mean for us? How come we aren’t jumping for joy, but only sitting here like quiet as mannequins? Is this just another story we have heard over and over? What did we just celebrate a short while ago? Easter! The day we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, who gave His life for the forgiveness of our sins! Our faith caused us to proclaim, “Christ has risen, He has risen indeed!” On that day, our faith caused us to sing and dance and feel a real sense of God’s presence and joy! We are “Easter People,” living within the promise of resurrection, even when there is suffering, sadness and pain. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't feel pain, it only means that the pain we feel does not define whom we are!
When Mary came to the tomb on Easter morning, she demonstrated amazing courage and strength, even though she witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus, she still came to the tomb carrying a load of grief we can only imagine. She was so loaded down with grief that she didn't even recognize Jesus when He approached her in the garden, and she only thought He was the gardener… but with a simple word, she was healed. When Jesus called out her name, “Mary,” she knew that the promise of resurrection was real and her hope was restored; No, it was more than that, SHE was restored. And oh how the lives of the disciples changed when Jesus came to them while they were hiding behind a closed door. Even though they were witnesses to Jesus’ teaching, healing and prayer, they were transfixed because of fear! Can you imagine if they would have just stayed behind that closed door forever in fear of their own similar demise? NOTHING IN THE WORLD WOULD HAVE HAPPENED! There would be no church, there would be no worship, there would be no Gospel, and there would be no service, justice or even an example of unconditional mercy to believe in. There would be no story of resurrection and healing. Jesus had compassion on them as they hid in fear, and said, “Peace be with you.” And for HONEST Thomas, Jesus said, see my nail scarred hands and put your had on my pierced side… Jesus told them they had faith and sent to them the Holy Spirit; do not doubt and you will be able to move mountains. After Jesus’ resurrection and their restoration, that is exactly what the disciples did. They traveled the world, proclaiming Christ crucified and resurrected. Within 300 years, even the Roman emperor would be worshiping Jesus!
I have was recommended the book, “This changes everything,” ‘unleashing the power of the resurrection in your life.’ And as I thought about today, and the emphasis on living within the promise of resurrection, Ray Johnston had some great comments: Martin Luther was in a rut. For days he sulked around the house, lost in depression. Finally, one morning his wife had enough. She came downstairs dressed in black, looking ready for a funeral.
“Who died?” Luther asked.
“God,” she replied.
Luther rebuked her, saying, “what do you mean, God is dead? God cannot die.”
“Well, by way you’ve been acting I was sure He had!”
Brennan Manning at a conference once said, “If you have the joy of the Lord in your heart, please notify your face.” Too many Christians look the poster children for the book of Lamentations!
I am not trying to make light of our grief or pain, but I often have to stop myself and remind myself of my Baptismal Promise, the words of the 23rd Psalm (Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me.), the words to countless hymns proclaiming that Jesus walks with me, and especially the simple song, “Jesus Loves Me!”
Have you ever read the Paul’s letter to the Philippians? It is a great ‘manual on joy!’ It was one of the darkest times in his life and he keeps repeating to the church in Philippi to “rejoice” and to be “be joyful!” yet, all the time he wrote these words he was in prison, locked up for preaching Christ crucified and resurrected!
In a time our faith is looking for healing and joy, I have four points I want to share:
God finishes what God starts. Trust God!
“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
God’s forgiveness and reconciliation is complete. Believe it!
“…Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14
Worry is destructive. Release it! Let it go!
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6
Gratitude is healthy. Express it!
“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” Philippians 1:3-5
You are the church, called, enlightened and sanctified. You are the Body of Christ, Let the Spirit flow through you, and be the crucified and resurrected Good News for all to hear and see! Amen.
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