By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
June 6, 2010
Read: Luke 7:11-17
Today’s gospel story is a story about collision and intrusion, among other things. What do I mean by that? Well let’s picture the story. Jesus was on his way to a city called Nain and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. It was a grand procession of sorts. As they approached the gate of the town they collided with another procession. A funeral procession. 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. Two large processions collide.
And then Jesus intrudes. Here was a woman who was in deep grief. She had lost her only son. And she was a widow. In those days, women needed a man in order to survive in the world. She just lost her son and her status in society as she knew it. She was facing the loss of all she had and was. And this man Jesus, steps up to her and tells her, of all things, not to weep. “How rude is that? He essentially stops the funeral procession, he intrudes, tells a grieving mother not to cry and walks up to the bier to touch it. Of course, the bearers just stood still wondering what this man was doing. And Jesus says, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” and the dead man sits up and begins to speak.
Jesus gives him to his mother. He gives him to his mother. Jesus did this because he saw the widow, the grieving woman, understood what this all meant for her life and he had compassion. The greek word for compassion here literally means “intestines”. It is a compassion that is felt deep within, inside you. In your gut. It is a deep empathy.
Why does Luke tell this story? What is Luke’s gospel telling us about the nature of Jesus? The nature of God?
What do you think about when you think about God? What word comes immediately to mind when you think about God? Is it judgment? Is it justice? Or is it mercy? Or is it grace? Luke is presenting a picture of a deeply compassionate God. A God who cares so much that he collides with our ordinary life, that he intrudes in our life’s journey. Luke is showing us a compassionate God.
Jesus sees the widow and the plight, not so much the dead son. Without being asked, he stops. In doing so he reorients her entire life. This moment is really her salvation. This moment of being cared for is a moment of restoration. Luke is showing us the intrusive nature of God’s grace. Luke is showing us that God sometimes pushes in when we least want to be interrupted.
Philip McLarty, a colleague, shares this story about his wife and miracles:
“When my wife, Donna, was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer, we prayed for a miracle. Well, that’s an understatement. We prayed for a miracle every day for three and a half years.
And we weren’t alone. Countless others, many we didn’t even know, prayed with us. Yet, in spite of all the prayers, Donna still died.
On the one hand, you could say our prayers weren’t heard. Or that God said no. I prefer to think there’s a bigger picture than this, one we can never fully comprehend or explain. And in this bigger picture of life, we see that God is faithful, even though there are questions we’ll never be able to answer and ambiguities we can never explain.
And this is the thought I’d like to share with you: Praying for a miracle, even when it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, can open up a whole new dimension of God’s grace and love.
It helps to remember that healing and wholeness and salvation are first cousins. They’re closely related. To be healed is to be made whole, and to be made whole is to be saved. God doesn’t heal the body apart from the mind and the soul. What would be the point of having a healthy mind, if you didn’t know the love of God? Or a healthy body if you weren’t willing to serve others to the glory of his name?
The human spirit is much like a spring garden. If growth is to happen, it too must be made ready. The human spirit must be opened up if God’s goodness is to grow there. Open minds and hearts are ready to receive the abundant life God constantly offers.
This kind of opening up is at the heart of the Easter story. It begins with a wide-open tomb. Beside it stands a messenger of God asking compassionate women to open their inner selves, encouraging them to not be afraid. As they listen they hear a profound and startling message. “He is not here, for he has risen…” As their minds and hearts struggle to accept this tremendous surprise they are like gardens being readied for watering. The women open their hearts to the great announcement, receive the word of resurrection like thirsty soil, and hurry away to share the marvelous news with others.
Not all those who had walked with Jesus were ready to receive this incredible news. The soil of their hearts was not receptive. Jesus appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, but they did not recognize him. They were too caught up in their own pain and dashed hopes of what they thought Jesus would do for them and their world: “Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free”. Events had not happened the way the disciples thought they should. “Their faces were downcast”. The Jesus came along and began to open them up with his questions. Gradually they let go of their preconceptions. Luke tells us it was only after Jesus explained the scriptures to them and broke bread with them that “their eyes were opened and the recognized him”. Their spirits were watered with his loving presence.
In their grief and sorrow, these people found it difficult to believe the Easter story. This same thing can happen to us when we experience situations close to us. We can make judgments about our own lives and about the people and events around us out of closed minds and closed hearts. We, too, can have preconceived notions of how things should develop.
Being open to change and surprise is to live as an Easter people. It takes trust to open up and to be receptive to Easter moments. In our personal experiences of resurrection, there is the element of surrender and of vulnerability. We are required to let go of our own agenda. We would like to plan this watering and refreshing of our souls ourselves. Just as surely as we find the date for Easter on the calendar, we want to know when our hearts will be filled with joy again. Surprise encounters, collisions, God’s intrusion in our lives can be transformational, healing, the way toward wholeness and salvation.
Joyce Rupp shares a tender moment of God’s intrusion in her life when she was least expecting it.
“I had just arrived at a hotel in Honolulu after a very long and tiring flight when I received a message that there was a family emergency. The phone call left me stunned by the news that my dad had died of a heart attack. I rushed back to the airport to catch the first flight home. I was alone as I waited in the long ticket lines. My pain was overwhelming. I could not stop crying. I was overcome with grief and didn’t know how I could ever endure the night and day journey back all by myself. In my deep grief I had forgotten how God seeks us out with great love.
I boarded the plane and had just gotten seated when the flight attendant came down the aisle with a tiny Japanese boy about six years old. He looked very frightened as she buckled him into the seat next to mine. He, too, had tears in his eyes. I wiped my own tears and said hello to him. He looked away in fear and shyness. But as the hours slowly went by, this little stranger began to speak with me and to ask me questions.
This small child was a wonderful gift from God. I helped him with his meal. I read stories to him from his little fairy tale book. I listened to his questions and smiled at his wonderings. All the while this child was unknowingly tending to my grieving heart. He kept me from being overcome by my own pain and helped me put my dad’s death in momentary perspective. I have often looked back at that sorrowful plan ride and rejoiced at how God’s love and compassion sought me in such an unexpected way”.
To feel the wonder of God in the fury of a storm, the gentleness of God in the touch of a child, the grace of God in the generosity of others, the love of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is to experience a power greater than yourself and know that your life is secure in God’s hands.
And so, I’m here to tell you, I believe in miracles– but most of all, I believe God is at work in every aspect of our lives, pouring out his love for us, revealing his majesty and inviting us into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. God is with us in the ordinary. May we open our parched and thirsty souls to the healing water of God. Amen.
The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.