Sunday, June 10, 2007

It's Sunday again

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Luke 7:11-17

“I say to you – RISE!”

The woman was drowning in death. It was as if the waters were closing over her head. Death was everywhere, all around, on all sides, smothering her. As she walked through the gates of the town, following the coffin of her only son, death was her only reality. She couldn’t think, couldn’t talk, couldn’t even breathe. If it had not been for her friends in the crowd, she did not believe she could have even put one foot in front of the other.

She had lost her husband a few years before, and that had been bad enough. A woman without a husband was a woman without hope. But as she followed her husband’s coffin through the gates of the town, she had given thanks to God that God had given her a son, a good son, a son who loved his mother and knew his duty to her. Her son had taken her home with him that day and given her the place of honor at his table. She had believed that, even though her husband was gone, she would survive. She had a son.

But now, there was only death. Her son’s wife had told her that morning that she and the children were moving home to live with her parents – there was no room in their home for her. She had no home now, no one to support her, no one to care for her, no one to care at all.

The strange thing was that on that day, and in that place, it didn’t even seem to matter. The presence of death was all there was – and she, she was drowning in it.

So deep was she in her sorrow and pain that she was nearly on top of the bearers before she realized that everything had stopped, that a hush had fallen over the crowd. “What now?” she thought. “Please, can’t we just get this over with? I cannot bear any more.”

But still the crowd was silent.

And then she felt a hand touch her cheek. She looked up, into the eyes of a stranger – a stranger whom she felt she had known her whole life. It was as if she were looking into a mirror, for in his eyes, she saw her own eyes, twisted with sorrow and grief, drowning in the presence of death.

“Do not weep,” he said.

And he turned to where her son lay on the bier and he touched him and spoke. “Young man, I say to you, rise!”

That’s where the story gets a little dicey for most of us, as it did even for those who stood around the gate of the town that day so long ago. Because of course Luke tells us that as Jesus touched the body and spoke, the young man who was dead sat up and began to speak and Jesus took him and gave him back to his mother.

Now, maybe we can believe that a good and loving God looks with compassion upon our sorrow. Maybe we can understand that Jesus, the teacher and preacher, took seriously the command of God to care for the widow and the orphan first, to wipe the tears of those who grieve, first. Maybe we can accept that Jesus, man of God that he was, could not, in fact, pass by the grief of the widow without acknowledging her and speaking to her and attempting to comfort her. Maybe we can even agree that in some fashion or other Jesus was able to help her that day, as even we would want to help her or anyone who was suffering such terrible grief.

But when it comes to this picture of the young man rising up from death at the sound of Jesus’ voice and the touch of Jesus’ hand, well, that’s where we and the witness of Scripture tend to part company.

It doesn’t happen that way in the real world, the world of our experience, the world which you and I know. People do die, no matter how much we wish it were not so. Too many of us have prayed until we could pray no more that some one we love would be delivered from death, only to have our loved one die anyway. Too many of us have walked through the valley of the shadow of death – and feared mightily. Death is the reality with which we live, day to day. Dying is the context for our living.

And our Scriptures know that. Anyone who thinks that the faith of Abraham and Isaac, of Mary and Mary Magdalene, is an escape from the reality of death in which we are drowning has just not read the Bible.

Nearly every page of our Book attests to the power of death. It was the power of death that stalked the Israelites in the desert, turning them against their leaders and their God. It was the power of death that sent the Hebrew people looking for salvation in all the wrong places. It was the power of death that brought Peter to deny his Savior and the disciples to flee and hide. It was the power of death itself that followed Jesus from Nazareth to Galilee to Jerusalem to the cross on Golgotha Hill and beyond.

And so we are willing to follow Jesus to the widow’s side, we are willing to weep with her and hold out the hand of comfort, we are willing to walk behind the casket in the crowd, but when Jesus whispers “Do not weep,” when Jesus touches the body, “Young man, I say to you, rise,” well, we say, that was then, and this is now – and things don’t seem to work that way anymore. We know the power of death. We have been to Golgotha Hill and beyond.

But, my friends, the Christian witness is that Golgotha and beyond are just exactly where God is most powerfully at work. Golgotha and beyond are just exactly where the power of death ended, once and for all. On Easter morning, in a cemetery, a place dedicated to death, the God of life said no to death, raising his Son Jesus from the dead and breaking the power of death once and for all.

Yes, we were there when they crucified our Lord – we know the power that death has to destroy all that we hold dear. But we were there, too, when the stone was rolled away from the tomb and once we have looked upon that empty grave, nothing is ever the same.

If you believe in it, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead changes everything. No longer can we look upon our lives and our eventual deaths with the limited perspective of those who live under death’s power. If you believe in it, the resurrection changes everything – reinterpreting our past in the light of God’s faithful love, freeing us to live in the present, blessed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and granting to us hope, life-giving, life-transforming hope for the future that God holds in the palm of his hand.

In the light of the resurrection, we stand in amazement and awe, suddenly realizing that there is more to this world of ours than what we can see with our eyes, touch with our hands, or dream with our imaginations. All our carefully laid-out categories, our certainty that we know the way things work, our ability to put boundaries and limits around what God can and can’t do, all that disappears in the light of the resurrection.

In the light of the resurrection, God’s people suddenly see what before was hidden to their eyes. The crowd around the widow that day saw only a prophet at work. In the light of the resurrection, the gospel writers knew that it was God who had been present in Nain, God himself who had touched the widow’s son and renewed his life.

In the light of the resurrection, we, too, can see God present in the midst of so much death. We can look and see God kneeling in the dirt to touch a starving child, God walking among the crowd at a funeral, God with the homeless in the cardboard boxes and on the steam grates, God touching the wounded and the weeping, the dying and the dead.

In the light of resurrection, we can see what is really true, that death, although powerful and always present, is not the ultimate power in the universe. God is. In the light of the resurrection, we can see the reality that what we call reality hides from our view – the gift of the life of God where before there was only death.

It’s never OK to tell someone who is sick or dying, someone who grieves for a loved one, someone who is in pain, to “buck up, bucko, God has it in his hands – and you have no reason to weep.” Of course, there are reasons to weep – loads of them.

It’s never OK to pretend that faith is an antidote to grief, that somehow belief is an insurance policy against the sorrow that comes to us all. The Bible certainly doesn’t make any of those claims. Grief is real and hard. The widow of Nain wept real tears as she followed her son’s bier.

But that’s why we live the resurrection out in plain view for all to see – now, before the hard times come. That’s why we witness to God’s gift of life now in the midst of the death that surrounds us.

That’s why we eat from the table of our Lord and remember his death – and the gift of life given through his body and his blood. That’s why we share the food from our table with our neighbors, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless. That’s why we live together and work together and play together in Christian love.

Every time we reject the harsh word and seek instead the good of our neighbor, we’re living the resurrection in plain view, witnessing to the presence and power of the love of Jesus Christ in the middle of the messiness of life. Every time we look for the better way, the way of love and understanding, of patience and forbearance, we are living the resurrection in plain view for all to see, pointing to God’s presence in the midst of death.

It’s not all that difficult, this witnessing to life in Jesus Christ, to God’s live-giving presence amidst the pain and suffering that surrounds us – it certainly isn’t rocket science. If you believe in the resurrection, it’s really pretty simple. It’s just a matter of stopping long enough to hear the word that the Lord speaks – “I say to you, rise!”

And then, of course, with God’s help, you have to get up – and live.

2 Comments:

Blogger Iris said...

Powerful sermon, Pastornines. I'm so glad that you are back!

11:29 AM  
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1:19 PM  

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