sermon june 5, 2016

Luke 7:34 – 40

Movie director Woody Allen once gave the commencement address at Yale University. He stood and addressed the prestigious gathering: “Our civilization stands at the crossroads. Down one road is despondency and despair. Down the other road is total annihilation. I hope we’ll take the right road.”

Woody Allen is a pretty world weary, even cynical guy. 

On some things it is easy.   Ageing for instance. I have a birthday coming up later this month.  One with a nought on the end.  60.  I can hardly believe it.  Me turning 60.  The bank has not helped my mood about this approaching milestone.  They meant well I guess when they sent me a letter congratulating me on now being eligible for their seniors entitlements.   I do not know whether to be offended or appreciative.  Resigned or cynical.  At least they could have waited until after the event.

You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old. George Burns

I will never be an old man. To me, old age is always 15 years older than I am. Francis Bacon

Difference is that in today’s story we have a widow burying her son. This is a double whammy.  first her husband, at which point you may reasonably think death would move onto other targets.  But no,  having lost her husband now has lost her son to death.  Nothing more excruciating that a parent burying a child. And I know some in this congregation have had the devastation of going through that experience. It should be the other way around we all repeat to ourselves. 

I have not had many funerals of children.  But I still have seared in my memory a scene of a funeral in Geelong, my first placement and I was only a few months in and we had one of the saddest funerals and a picture that has burned into my mind’s eye of a bereft, destroyed father carrying the tiny white coffin tucked under his arm from the hearse to the graveside.

Anyone who dares to hope for a better world, for themselves and others – anyone who begins with aspirations and expectations at some time inevitably will face what this widow is facing. 

Probably many in that group going out of Nain were disillusioned, defeated.  I could do a real “D” thing here… noticed how many of these sorts of words start with D?

Disappointment, doubt, disillusionment, defeat, discouragement, despondency, depression, despair and death. 

But there are two groups walking in this reading aren’t there?  Two groups on a journey.  One group bereaved walking out of town and the other group that has gathered around Jesus that meets them coming into town.

Jesus not driven away by grief or despair.  This is no doubt the worst day of this woman’s life, she is destroyed, wailing and beating her chest;a widow and now she has lost her only other male member of her family.  They meet and Jesus, moved with compassion, addresses the woman, the mother, and again as he so often does in Luke’s gospel, perform a mighty act of compassion.

There are three “raising from the dead” stories in the Gospels where Jesus raised a person from the dead:

  1. the widow’s son at Nain;
  2. Jairus’ daughter;
  3. Lazarus.

Only Luke has widow of Nain story

We also notice that the three cases of resurrection reported in the gospels cover all the successive physical aspects of death. Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus when she was still lying on her bed, He raised the son of the widow of Nain while he was being carried out in a coffin, and He raised Lazarus who was already buried and decomposing. Jesus’s power over death is absolute.

It does us good to be reminded that our resurrection faith, our forward looking faith, our faith that arises from the death defeated grave, arose among those who did not have any reason for hope.  T

Here they are the funeral procession, the we remember the disciples after they had scattered, gone back fishing, or walking walking along the dusty roads to Emma’s in confusion and disillusionment. 

This is the gospel – the Lord was not driven away by their sadness, or their cynicism, or their lack of faith. Have a close look at this story.  One of the remarkable things abut it is that there is no mention of faith by anyone in this story.  In fact this story is rather remarkable for what it does not contain, no faith, no prayer, no requests, no thanks. This woman was not seeking Jesus to come and pray for my son. No, It is not a reward for faith, but a sign of the mighty grace of God. No, it was to this widow and her dead son that Jesus came unbidden.  That is my story.  When I became a Christian at two weeks before my 18th birthday I was not seeking God, or faith, or Jesus.  But I was found, I was called to spiritual life by Jesus.  It is all gift, all grace.

And so the most important thing is the hope of the gospel. Sometimes our job is simply to hang in there until faith can do its work, until circumstances change.

The good news is our faith is not just about an empty tomb – believing in an empty space has never brought life or hope to anyone. Resurrection and Easter is not about believing a body is gone but about someone who is present.

When we are talking resurrection power we are talking about a vast, untameable, elusive, explosive, fleeting power.  Sometimes resurrection power turns things upside-down. It breaks open tombs and rolls boulders away. It splits the sea in two and coaxes water from the rock.  Scripture is broken open so all may feed, bread is broken open so all may feed.   Lives are opened to the healing power of God. And some times resurrection power is a long and dusty winding road, full of unexpected and confusing turns and we don’t even know where the strength to put one foot in front of the other is coming from – but it is there for us.

Sir Winston Churchill took three years getting through eighth grade because he had trouble learning English. It seems ironic that years later Oxford University asked him to address its commencement exercises. He arrived with the usual props. A cigar, a cane and a top hat accompanied Churchill wherever he went. As he approached the podium, the crowd rose in appreciative applause. With unmatched dignity, he settled the crowd and stood confident before his admirers. Removing the cigar and carefully placing the top hat on the podium, Churchill gazed at his waiting audience. Authority rang in his voice as he shouted, “Never give up!” Several seconds passed before he rose to his toes and repeated: “Never give up!” His words thundered in their ears.

There was a deafening silence as Churchill reached for his hat and cigar, steadied himself with his cane and left the platform. His commencement address was finished.

Churchill’s three word directive is given sense and substance in Luke. His chapter 7 passage admits that life can be ugly and evil and wounding. But the story also acknowledges the involvement of God’s hand and even more of God’s heart. The message is clear: Because of God’s heart, you and I live in a world where resurrection takes place. Because of God’s heart, life will finally and forever win out over death. Already now the transformation has begun.