HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
June 5, 2016
Luke 7: 11-17 (CEB)
A little later Jesus went to a city called Nain. His disciples and a great crowd traveled with him. 12As he approached the city gate, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her. 13When he saw her, the Lord had compassion for her and said, “Don’t cry.” 14He stepped forward and touched the stretcher on which the dead man was being carried. Those carrying him stood still. Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, get up.” 15The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
16Awestruck, everyone praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding region.
What is it that you most dread in this upcoming week, month or year? What is it in your life that has you feeling nearly crippled with fear? Maybe it’s something that you know is going to happen, like a traumatic move to a new house, or school, or job, or state. Or maybe it’s something you are always afraid of—a sudden accident or illness, a tragedy, a scandal. I know these aren’t pleasant thoughts, but whatever it is you are dreading right now, think on that for just a moment. Come into the middle of the situation, if you can, in prayer. Feel its sorrow and frustration, its bitterness and anger. Imagine the loneliness of it; the distress, the feeling of hopelessness, the doom and gloom, the weight of depression and desperation.
Now, imagine something a little different. In the midst of the fear and chaos, watch now as Jesus comes to join you in the middle of this thing you dread. Take time in prayer and let Christ approach, speak, touch, command. He may not say what you expect. He may not do what you want. But if he is present with you in the midst of the dread, that is what you need most. Once Jesus is in the middle of it all with you, you will be able to come through it. And not only that; you just might end up even better than you were before whatever it was fell down around you!
Does anyone remember that rather popular TV show from the mid-1970s called The Six Million Dollar Man? Some people refer to him as the bionic man. The show always opened with the same words, “Steve Austin, man barely alive. We can rebuild him. We have the technology to make him better, faster, stronger than he ever was before.”
Maybe you can relate. Perhaps you feel as if you are “barely alive” this morning. Or maybe you will find yourself in this predicament sometime in the future. It is a terribly frightening thought. But the good news of the Christian faith is this: Jesus is more than able to take the broken pieces of your life, and remake you into a stronger, more courageous, more joy-filled, peace-filled, and faith-filled person than you ever were before! Remember that. Keep that in mind. Meditate on it. Remember it when the storms rage and the difficulties of this life threaten your very being and ability to cope.
There have been several times in my life when I felt that I had hit “rock bottom.” I don’t know that I can count the number of times that dread was more than just a feeling; it was an actual state of being for me. But you know what I have found in the dreary darkness of the pit? I am never alone! Christ is there! And if Jesus is there, there is hope! There is salvation. There is new life! There is excitement. There is peace and even joy! There is no darkness too great; there is no crisis too big for our Savior! Because God does, indeed, raise the dead!
Imagine the distress of the widow in our gospel lesson for this morning. Her husband had died, and now this. All that she had left, her only son, was being carried out of town to be buried. As a single widowed woman, not only had her son died, her whole livelihood was gone. Just imagine that for a minute. Come inside the story and allow its force to sweep over you. Walk in the crowd a few paces behind the widow and her dead son. It’s undoubtedly a hot day in Galilee, and the bright sun sparkles on the tears which are streaming down the poor mother’s face. People are coming along with spices to anoint the body. The family burial plot will be a little way outside of town: probably a small cave in the side of a hill, where the husband and father had been buried some time before. That’s where the procession is going.
Then, quite suddenly, some strangers arrive; a man leading a small group of followers. He is looking at the widow and now doubly devastated mother, and something inside this man is stirring. As we are told in Luke, “his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry.’” And then, to everyone’s surprise and horror, he touches the stretcher carrying the dead man. Nobody does that—except the official pall-bearers. Touching a corpse or even anything a dead body had come in contact with, would make you unclean! But there’s more! The biggest shock of all—Christ tells the dead person, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”
And lo and behold, “The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.” At this, the whole funeral procession goes wild with astonishment, delight, and awe. They “praised God.” With inner conviction, ladled with a new hope and outlook on life, they proclaimed, “God has come to help his people.” And, “This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.”
It’s interesting to note in this passage that there seems to be something missing. For example, in the passage before this one, the story of the Roman centurion we heard last week, the centurion’s servant was healed because of his owner’s faith. Likewise, in so many of the healing stories of Jesus, Christ says things such as, “your faith has healed you,” or “Don’t be afraid, just believe, and she will be healed.” In this story, where is the faith? As far as we know, no one in this story had any idea of who Jesus was! Could it be that the only person who has faith that the dead man can be raised to life is Jesus himself?!? It may very well be. That would most certainly explain the complete surprise of the crowd when the dead man sat up and began to speak. But then again, when we really think about it, how many times have we followed the procession of a loved one to her burial site, and thought to ourselves along the way, “I believe Aunt Mabel will come back to life before we bury her!” We don’t even really have that kind of faith, do we?
And that brings up an age old question, “Are we saved by our faith or by the faith of Christ?” It’s kind of like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Think about your own faith journey. Was there anything that you did to deserve the blessed assurance that Jesus loves you, died for you and that you are his? Is there anything you have done in order to earn God’s love and forgiveness? Was it you who first loved God or was it God who first loved you? I think most of us know the answer to that question. And if we have any doubts, the answer is affirmed in 1 John chapter 4: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us”…and…“We love because he first loved us.” And in Ephesians, chapter 2 we are told that faith itself, through which we are saved by grace, is “not from ourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Whatever your predicament, whatever befalls, Jesus has the faith that you can be raised! For in Christ, God is with us! In Christ, “God has come to help his people.” Therefore, let us praise God and spread this news throughout our community and our world! When Jesus saw the widow who had lost her son, “his heart went out to her.” And this is what Jesus does for every single one of us as we try and deal with the heartbreaks and tragedies of this life. Jesus reaches out to us saying, “Don’t cry. It really will be alright.” And if we are willing, if our eyes are open to God’s never ending presence among us, if we look for him in the dim and mist of our confusion, hurt and pain, then we will see that Christ is right there with us. And when that happens, we are raised to new life! We are able to face the challenges of this life victoriously!
But it’s not just that we experience victory. Because, as we walk in the light of God’s love, as a healed and new people, we are able to help others who are experiencing some of the same kinds of difficulties we have faced. Because we have been there ourselves, we can relate, we can empathize, and we know who is able to get us through! And in doing this, we are, indeed, better, faster, and stronger than we ever were before!
This, my friends, is the Good News of Jesus Christ! We are not alone. God is with us! Even more than that, God is here to help us! Thanks be to God!