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First Sunday after the Trinity, the Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 10th 2007

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First Sunday after the Trinity, the Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 10th 2007

1 Kings 17: 17-24 Psalm 30 Galatians 1: 11-24 Luke 7: 11-17

Jesus had compassion on the poor widow of Nain. In those days if a husband died and there was no man in the house, the woman, who had absolutely no rights, was lost. That is why the love story of Ruth and Naomi is so exciting. Ruth succeeded in getting Boaz, the rich farmer, to become their rescue or the two women would have been lost.

So here is a woman who is a widow and they are carrying her only son to the grave. The Greek word for compassion that Jesus felt was esplanchthisne. It is a visceral response, a gut-wrenching feeling of compassion. Jesus walked through the crowd and touched the bier.

Let’s back up a minute. It says that Jesus was with his disciples and a large crowd was with him as well. As you see, Jesus was not a monk alone by himself. Jesus was not a loner. He was full of love and a whole pile of people walked and milled and loved being around him.

Coming into the city gates, Jesus, in the middle of all his people, sees the heart-wrenching scene of the widow behind the funeral bier of her only son and she was probably crying as if her heart would break. Just think of all the mothers that are getting visits from a military officer who has to tell them that their sons were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. How many of these mothers become the casualties of grief? And now in the new army, women are dying in our war, too.

So it was a sad procession out of the town: the widow, the crowd, the casket bearers carrying the coffin. Jesus moves right through the crowd directly to the widow and says, “Don’t cry!” It makes me think of Bob Marley’s song, “No woman, No cry!” And being the Lord Jesus, the very life of God come to save us, he went to the bier and touched it and the casket bearers stood still.

Now touching any article in contact with a dead body made a person unclean. So Jesus’ touching the bier made him unclean. A rabbi or a priest was not allowed to touch the dead. Everyone feared infection back then and even today, and a contagious disease could have been involved. Jesus did not respect the conventional limits of the day. He even went up to lepers and healed them. Jesus became sin, so that he might forgive ours. He died so that we might live.

And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” And the dead man sat up and began to speak – he was evidently a talkative fellow, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

Fear seized all the people and then they glorified God saying, “A great Prophet has risen among us!”

Stories like this point to the Son of God coming to be with us in Jesus Christ. There does not seem to be any other way to explain the victory of life given us by this champion of heart-felt compassion and love, who could overturn the deepest, darkest, heart-breaking sorrow into the joy and celebration of new life: you have changed my complaining into dancing, my lamenting into rejoicing! (cf. Psalm 30:11).

More details of the features of the characters are given in the Old Testament story of Elijah the Tishbite and the widow of Zarephath. Elijah was being lodged and provided-for by her during the drought and resulting famine. More accurately, Elijah’s faith was really providing for them all. Because she provided her last morsel to the prophet, her jar of meal did not empty, neither did her jug of oil run out, according to the word of the Lord spoken to Elijah.

But the Lord tests his own severely. The widow’s son becomes very ill, stops breathing, and dies. She blames Elijah in her mindless grief: “What do you have against me, O man of God?” As if to say, because you are here God has seen my sin and that caused my son to die.

In the presence of holiness our sin stands out in bold relief. That makes us fearful of the light and we like to hide in the darkness. We like to hide our whole selves in the darkness of our ignorance, because where ignorance is bliss, t’is a folly to be wise.

A gangster asked his lieutenant, “How much is two and two?” He answered, “Four.” So the gangster pulls out his gun and shoots him.

“Why, did you do that boss?” another asks.

“Because he knew too much.” He answered.

Elijah takes her son from her bosom, carried him up to the chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He then cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?”

The widow blames Elijah, but Elijah blames God. But the prophet knows that God’s light does not only make sin visible, it also brings God’s love to bear, and God’s forgiveness surges into bold relief. We worship a wonderful God!

Notice the way the prophet prays. He not only reproaches God, first for the famine that brought him to the widow, but now even this, that it made her lose her only son. The prophet stretches himself upon the child three times and cried, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again!” Elijah seems to be doing a prayer while he enacts a resuscitation. And it says, the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah and the life of the child came into him again. He brought the boy back down into the house from his upper chamber and said, “See, your son is alive!”

The widow exclaims, “Now I know you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.”

The story that Paul tells in Galatians is also one in which he is raised up from the dead, in a manner of speaking. As Saul, he was ambitious and studying under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Today that would be somewhat like having a Harvard education. To prove his loyalty and to assure himself of a place in the hierarchy, perhaps even as the high priest, he persecuted the followers of Jesus, the people of the way. It was only later in Antioch, where they were first called Christians. Saul, as he was called before his conversion, arrested the believers in Jesus, knowing full well that they would be tortured and killed.

Franz Fanon was a psychiatrist who wrote The Wretched of the Earth. It tells about the way the French tried to subdue the resistance in their colony of Algiers. It was difficult when a torturer lost his mind and had to be admitted into the same asylum that was treating all his victims, all those who had lost their minds undergoing his torture.

When Jesus appeared to Saul, he fell down on the ground and became Paul, meaning, “the little one,” in Latin. Now Paul became one of the persecuted, one of the tortured. “The one who formerly was persecuting [Christians] is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.”

Paul had to first be struck blind before he could see what he was doing. And for him it could not be in a spiritual sense. When Ananias prayed for him, something like scales fell from his eyes. And Jesus said, “You will see how much you will have to suffer for my sake.”

What a resurrection when a person changes from somebody that makes everybody else suffer, who is willing to walk over the dead bodies of everybody in his way, to a person who suffers because of all the brutality and hard-heartedness of others. For a hard person life is soft and easy. For a soft person life is very hard. In some measure we have to know to whom we can safely share our vulnerabilities and who will use them against us. We have to know to whom we can be open and to whom we need to be closed. Then we have to choose our battles well for the sake of the cause of Christ.

Because it was not only the widows of Nain and Zarephath, who lost their only begotten sons, it was also the Father in heaven. And when in the darkness of our ignorance and sin, we crucified the Son of God, from the place where the uncreated Father resides, beyond our world, beyond the universe, the stars and galaxies swirling around their black holes, and all the dark matter that we do not even understand, the Father’s grief and horror showed in the darkness that came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed, and the curtain in the temple was ripped in two, the way a high priest would have torn his shirt into shreds to express his grief. As Jesus cries with a loud voice, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” And thereupon breathed his last (Luke 23:44-46).

Thank God Jesus had prayed, “Father forgive them; they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34).

So we do not serve an indifferent, detached, and remote God. No way. In Jesus he became flesh and blood. We serve a God made out of the deepest love and compassion, “far beyond our poor powers to add or detract” to use Lincoln’s words. God loved you and me so much that he did not spare his only Son, so that all who believed would be raised up from the dead in the Son, and receive the Holy Spirit to conquer sin, death, and the devil. Amen.

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Written by peterkrey

June 19, 2007 at 2:22 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

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