June 9, 2013
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I don't know if everyone knows it, but Lena and Katrina are not exactly spring chickens, and one day they were out driving Lena's new car. Having succumbed to one of the amazing features of aging, they could barely see over the dashboard. As they were cruising along, they came to an intersection. The stoplight was red, but they just went on through. Sitting in the passenger seat, Katrina thought, "I must be losing it. I could have sworn we just went through a red light."
After a few moments, they came to another intersection; the light was red, and again they went right through. This time, Katrina was almost sure that they light had been red, but was concerned that she might be seeing things. She was getting nervous and decided to pay close attention.
At the next intersection, sure enough, the light was definitely red and they went right through it. Katrina turned to Lena and said, "Lena! Did you know that you ran through three red lights in a row? You could have killed us!" Lena turned to Katrina and said, "Oh no! Am I driving?" The good news about that joke is having just one stop light in the county. If nothing else, I am hopeful that you will "notice" the link of that joke to this morning's scripture passage - eventually.
Before we get to the scripture, just a little catch-up. Last week we were in Capernaum - on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee, with a centurion with questionable self-worth issues asking Jesus to heal his servant, which, of course, Jesus did. Today's passage takes place twenty miles south and a little west of last week's passage.
As Al makes his way to the pulpit, I will remind all of us that while this may seem like a rather "tame" account by our standards, we have to remember that in Jesus' day, touching a dead person made a person ritually unclean and headed for the purification procedures.
Luke 7:11-17 NIV
11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
Thank you, Al. On a recent flight, Ole kept peering out the window. Since it was totally dark, all he could see was the blinking wing-tip light. Finally he rang for the flight attendant. "I'm sorry to bother you," he said, "but I think you should inform the pilot that his left-turn indicator is on and has been for some time. "
Like last week, there is a treasure trove of information in this passage that we can "notice." Just like us, when we are in situations of such sadness, it was easy for Jesus to say, "Don't cry." It is a simple example of Jesus' humanity in a passage that displays his divinity. Or maybe he said it because he knew what was coming - what he was to do. We say, "don't cry," because we want to take away the source of the pain, because things are not as they should be.
I've tried to be better about saying, "Don't cry." Sometimes we need to cry - sometimes the wayward tear that runs down our cheek, sometimes the big boo-hoo that comes from the bottom of our toes. It is an appropriate reaction, one that was designed for us, to heal us when we come up against things like the Newtown shootings and the Oklahoma City devastation, when someone dear has gone away. We cry when we understand all too clearly that this is not yet the place of shalom and flourishing that God has designed for us in eternity.
This passage comes to us on the third week after Pentecost, what some denominations call "Ordinary Time." As it happens so often, the places where the kingdom of heaven bursts forth are precisely in the everyday circumstances of ordinary folks like you and me. A little nondescript village appears out of nowhere as do the main characters in the story. They appear and disappear into the mists of history as soon as the story is finished.
It's an interesting passage because of what's missing: the mother's request to heal her child, or a prayer for that to happen. Which brings up an interesting topic: prayer - and what we want. It's a natural thing to want healing for ourselves and certainly for someone we love. Author Lewis Smedes suggests that there is danger in reducing the Christian life to mostly an exercise in seeking greater ease, comfort, and healing - that when we are comfortable and at ease, we are perhaps a little more blind to the unalleviated suffering around us.
And speaking of unalleviated suffering, even though Jesus resurrected this one man, what about all the other funerals taking place that day? Or the widows in that day that had no place in society, the crippled and impaired that had no way of fending for themselves? Jesus didn't make make everyone's lives better that day; just this particular widow. And raising her boy from the dead that day didn't mean that he would escape death down the road.
While all that seems so drear, Scott Hoezee says this: The miracles were foretastes of kingdom fullness, not the fullness itself. The miracles (or signs as John called them) were arrows pointing a certain direction, they were not the destination that was being indicated. Jesus' healing is not to make heaven right now, but to point to the place where there will be incredible healing and life.
Just because Jesus came to free us from the shackles of eternal death doesn't mean that we will have a perfect earthly life. But we have a Savior with the power to raise the dead. Other gods can't do that.
While all of this is "interesting" and maybe even helpful to one degree or another, it was a sermonette from a Lutheran pastor in northern Illinois named Janet Hunt that really caught my attention. It is her sermon title that I blatantly stole. And they are her words that I share with you, because she arranged them so wonderfully.
"I have to say I have no parallels for the story before us now. Never in my life or ministry have I encountered such as this. I have been part of hundreds of funerals by now and while there are some which have perhaps proceeded not quite as expected, all of them have ended in the usual way.
Not so in the remarkable account before us now. Death has been pronounced. The mourners have gathered. Words have been spoken and perhaps sung. The procession is making its way to the cemetery. The widow's grief is of course, as grief often is, complicated by what this will mean for her now. With no ready means of support, with no male voice to speak for her, from here on out life will be only hard. And then the procession is interrupted. She has been seen by Jesus. And all those gathered that day know that nothing will ever be the same again.
I have no parallel for the story before us now. But like this widow, I do know what it is to have been 'seen.' And I have a sense of what a wonder that can be.
It was the first day of January sixteen years ago. My dad's surgery had not gone well and his doctor was urging us to transfer him to a hospital where he could get more specialized care. The fog lay heavy on the ground that night, so he would be going by ambulance instead of helicopter.
I remember little of the hour's drive into the city that night. I do not remember parking the car once we got there. I can't recall the elevator ride up to the intensive care unit or even what floor it was on. What I do remember is this. The nurse who rode with him in the ambulance tracked us down that night. And while I did not, do not know her name and would not recognize her if I passed her on the street, I will never forget what she told us then: "I want you to know I held his hand all the way here."
I remembered this today as I thought about Jesus 'seeing' the widow in all of her pain. I remembered this as I thought of Jesus feeling that woman's loss deep in his own being. And I thought of a nurse whose name I do not know who saw my dad --- and even more than that --- 'saw' the rest of us, too, knowing that this difficult time was felt by a whole web of people, each one impacted by that hour's ambulance drive and all it meant. She must have felt that same kind of compassion for us then. Oh yes, I remembered this today and truthfully, I wept, remembering that 'seeing' and the act of kindness shared.
Every single time the 'seeing' results in even small acts of kindness offered. Every time we get a glimpse of at least the beginning of what it will one day mean when all of our funerals are interrupted - when our grief will be interrupted by joy once and for all. For the story before us today begins with simply being seen by Jesus." (end of sermonette.)
It's doesn't seem to be a common event, to "be seen." I wonder how our lives would be different if we lived out how it feels, what it means to "be seen" by God. What wonderful incentive for us - to pass on that moment of recognition, even if we don't know the other individual.
On her final "Oprah" show, Oprah Winfrey said "I’ve talked to 30,000 people on this show and they all wanted validation. Everybody wants to know, ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything?” Jesus' answer is always a strong and resounding "Yes, you matter more than you could ever know." Let us pray.
Gracious God of this world and then next, we thank you that you are not afraid of our humanness, and that at times, you come very near us - near enough to "notice" us, near enough to touch us even when we seem untouchable. For the help that you offer us in our day to day living, we are grateful. For answers to prayers we've not asked, thank you. For the signs that you give us - of that place where all our funerals will be interrupted - we are hope-full. For the times when it is hard, we are thankful that you give us tears to cleanse and heal our hearts and spirits. Help us to "notice" those that we might overlook, that even in a glance, we might bring them the kingdom of heaven, right here on earth. For all your glances, all your answered prayers and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.