Sunday, June 10, 2007

Luke 7:11-17

Jesus Shows Up; Luke 7:11-17

Life is full of wonderful discoveries, unexpected surprises. Like, a parent discovering an infants first teeth coming in. And then a few years later that child discovers a tooth missing soon to be replaced by a bigger tooth that wedges its way in there and look so awkward in that tiny mouth. And then comes the discovery of the tooth fairy- kind of. Or how bout when you discover Santa Claus for the first time. Or when you discover the truth about Santa Claus.

It was just after Christmas when I went away for a week, only to come home and discover that Trasie had gone out and brought Brinca home to be part of our household. And it was this morning when I got up and discovered that Brinca had chewed up another of our coasters.

Discoveries are a part of life. Wouldn’t it have been cool to have made some really cool discoveries: like some ancient ruins, or electricity. But it’s also cool to think about smaller everyday type discoveries like the way bee hives operate (my dad and I raised bees as a hobby growing up), The ruling queen bee who bosses all those worker bees around…or the dance of the worker bees when they want to tell their buddies where a sweet source of really good stuff is. Their buzzing by my ears is like music to me. And think about discoveries in music, like an old recording of that song you remember hearing on one of your first dates. Or hearing a song over and over again and then one day it surprises you and speaks to your soul, like one of my favorites by grupo mana que se llama cuando los angeles lloren—when the angels cry—the heavens cry about the tragedies we have to face in the world; the heavens cry over out pain and suffering due to death and separation.

The heavens must have cried the day this young man from the town of Nain died. He was his widowed mother’s only son. The crying continued as the funeral procession is making its way toward the family burial plot a little way outside the town. The bright sun sparkling on the tears streaming down everyone’s cheek’s--Mourners and wailers, friends and relatives, and the poor mother; crying their hearts out.1 As they approach the gate they discover a man leading his small band of followers. Maybe some recognize him, but others most likely ignore him. But this man sees the widow, and something inside him is stirring—compassion, he experiences her suffering, he feels her pain and identifies with her pain deep, deep within in the depths of his very being—she’s a widow - already buried her husband; she’s a mother experiencing every parent’s nightmare, burying her child whom she birthed and nurtured. Compound this tragedy with the reality of what lies ahead for her, a future of destitution in the man’s world she lives in. Compasion, suffering with her, the leader of this group says something to her—and then, to everyone’s surprise and horror, he touches the bier—(Something no one would normally do since this would make him unclean). He tells the young man to get up…and he’s getting up and talking. He finds his stunned mother and embraces her. What has just happened? How can this be? Who does the crowd look at: the no-longer-dead boy, his amazed and ecstatic mother, or this miracle worker. How does the crowd respond: "A great prophet has risen among us!"; "God has looked favorably on us!"

Jesus, the prophet, represents a visitation from God. As you heard the Elijah story and this story in Luke, did you notice any similarities? The mother is a widow; the prophet meets her at a city gate; and after life is restored, the prophet “gave him to his mother,’ an exact quote from the Elijah passage.2 Huh. Well, Gee. How ‘bout this miracle of Jesus, pretty amazing, but Elijah’s been there done that? Luke the author, knows this very well, it is no accident that this story echoes one quite familiar to his audience. Jesus raises a widow’s boy from the dead—sounds awfully familiar. Like an old story everyone is fond of but this time in a new light-with a ring of new truth, a new reality. Is this a prophet, this Jesus? Is this God’s new messenger? Many Christians aren’t comfortable with calling Jesus a prophet or messenger, at least not at first. That’s the way Muslims describe Jesus; and those liberal protestants think Jesus is “only a prophet”. But for this crowd, and for Luke, calling Jesus prophet is no casual nickname, slapped on his on his chest—like a name tag, “what’s going on prophet? Like Elijah, Elisha, and Moses—Jesus is God’s voice who would enact the word of God to bear on the life of the people. Jesus has raised the boy from the dead; God has visited the people!

And how desperate this world is for a visitation of God. The passing of everyday and every week reveals a new tragedy experienced. The heavens must have cried when an Afgan journalist—a woman who had opinions—was found killed in her home, leaving behind two young children. Who will care for and protect those little ones? The heavens must mourn over victims of rape and murder. Cry over the reality of homeless teenagers around the world and in our city. Maybe the children are dead to their parents, or maybe the parents are dead to the children. Can Jesus still raise people from the dead? Can we, who would follow after Jesus as disciples, empowered by the promised Spirit of God, bring back the dead to life through prophetic (not pathetic) acts of kindness and mercy and compassion.

Ron Clemens lived a life on the streets of Chicago. He was young when he left his home, and got caught up in gangs, dealing drugs, a fast life of theft and violence. He’d been in and out of jail many times in life, and he’s my age. But, this last time in jail, things were turning out differently. In Illinois, a program implemented in 2004 seeks to actually rehabilitate criminals, a novel idea of bringing the dead back to the land of the living- through education and job training, drug rehab, daily induced soul searching, and lots of support.

Clemens, after 20 months in the program had become a role model to other inmates. He never dreamed of being a positive role model to anyone. He’d been shot, stabbed, had a gun pointed at his head, he’d pointed a gun at his own head; before this he saw himself as a dressed up garbage can, dead to the world. But this program and the people involved in it have brought him back to life. When he got out of jail, he was surrounded by a support group helping him transition to the world outside the fences and away from drugs. The first time he goes back to his old stompin grounds; he sees the places where he did his dirt, and ran into all kinds of trouble. Neighbors don’t see the old drug dealer, but welcome back this once dead boy. He decides then and there, “I’ve taken from the hoods, now it’s time to give back.” It’s time for me to be there for my family.” The work of compassion there is redemption: resurrection.

I really think Jesus shows up in some pretty strange places, in strange ways. It’s always amazing to discover God with us, to experience God’s compassion in terrible situations. Go back to the event of Jesus and the widow at Nain. But this time, instead of it being a funeral procession in a small first-century Galilean town, make it the moment you most dread. Maybe it has happened recently, maybe you dread it happening this next week or next year. Maybe it’s something that you know is going to happen, like a traumatic move of house or job. Maybe it’s something you are always afraid of, a sudden accident or illness, a tragedy or scandal. Come into the middle of the scene sense the sorrow and frustration, its bitterness and anger. Then discover Jesus, as he meets you right in the middle of it. Take time in prayer and with whatever faith you can muster, maybe none at all, let Jesus approach, speak, touch, command. He may not say what you expect. He may not do what you want. But as his presence comes to be with you there—to bring life and healing to an otherwise grim situation—that is what you need most. Once he is in the middle of it all with you, you will be able to come through it.3

Praise be to God for the prophet that has come among us. Praise be to God for the prophets, even here who make up this community, filled with God’s spirit to live lives of compassion for those in need.

1 Some of this imagery in this paragraph and the next is borrowed from N.T. Wright’s, Luke for Everyone, 82-84.
2 A quote from the LXX.
3 N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone, 82-84.