Lutheranlady's Weblog


Restored Life: A Sermon on Luke 7:11-17
June 10, 2013, 8:10 am
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Grace and peace to you, people of God.

As I’ve talked to some of you, mostly those of you who are parents, I’ve heard that May and early June are incredibly busy times. You’re lives are a blur. There are awards ceremonies, preschool, kindergarten, 8th grade, high school, and university graduations, there are sports and events, and for some of you, many “last times” as this school year closes. For those of you without younger children, life may be consumed by many other things: appointments, meetings, events, gardening, and even though we should appreciate it after last year’s drought, never ending lawn-mowing. It can feel like you’re zooming through life.

For others, life may seem to have gone on for too long, and life isn’t as full as one would like. Life can drag on. Life’s forward motion is met with dread when each day brings you closer to one more deadline, one more payment that can’t be paid.

So where are you at today? Looking at life with exhaustion or dread? With anticipation or joy?

The God we meet in the Scriptures today is the God who gives life. But not just one day after another in a meaningless drone. God comes to you to bring abundant, joyful life. God comes to bring all the people of this world a full life of dignity and worth, for the here and now, not only for the hereafter to come.

We enter both First Kings and the Gospel of Luke and discover two strikingly similar stories. The only sons of widows have died. Men who have come from God witness the grief of these women. The God who sent them sends life to restore these sons to their mothers.

The Gospel of Luke recalls the earlier account of God’s work through the prophet Elijah. In First Kings, Elijah has been taken in by a poor widow, who had been on the brink of starvation. Before eating a last meal with her son, she first serves Elijah, the man of God. Instead of starving, her food stores do not run out while Elijah is welcomed in her home. But, in today’s reading, another disaster has fallen on the house. The son has become sick and died.

The mother is distraught, and turns in anger to the one who has come from God. Elijah has his own passionate discussion with God. God responds to Elijah’s pleas, and the child is restored to life. The woman responds with recognition of Elijah’s status as a man of God, who bears the word of the Lord.

Jesus is greater than Elijah, the prophet of God. Jesus is the messiah, the Son of God. When he sees a widow whose son had died, he also restores life. Yet his power is shown to be greater than Elijah’s, and his status as a one who comes from God is greater. A command from Jesus’ mouth is effective, where Elijah had to plead to God. Jesus is identified with the God who gives life. Those who witnessed this miracle praise God and begin to recognize Jesus more fully.

There’s another layer to this encounter at the town gate that I think is easy for us to miss. We miss it because we don’t live in the same culture as Jesus, the widow, and her son. What we miss is what the son’s death means for this widow.

Not only is losing a child a horrible thing, something no parent wishes to experience, but this son’s death has economic implications for the widow. She is likely in a bad spot.

In first century Palestine, women really needed men in their lives to survive. There were some exceptions, but mostly, women needed familial relationships with men. Men owned property, men could do business, men gave women a place in society, and men made women safe. This woman has lost her husband, and now she’s lost the only hope she’s had for survival: the son who was supposed to care for her. On her own, she really doesn’t have a way to keep her home and feed herself, other than by the charity of others in the community.

When we look closely at the text, we see that we’re supposed to notice what Jesus is doing for this widow, not only for the deceased young man himself. In verse 12, the description of the procession quickly turns from the “man who had died” to his relation as “his mother’s only son” and focus remains on her. “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” (13). When Jesus commands life to return to this young man, “Jesus gave him to his mother.” (15b).

 

Jesus’ act to restore the life of this young man not only restores the young man’s life, but it restores his mother’s. In many ways, her life may have been over when her son died. She is brought back into a life of worth and security. Jesus restores life not only to the one who had died, but the one whose life was made more precarious.

 

God continues to give life today. Jesus isn’t walking around as he did thousands of years ago, but if we take seriously Paul’s description of believers as the body of Christ, then we realize that we are part of Jesus working life in the world today.

It’s not often that we see people come back from the dead through our faithful continuation of Jesus’ work. But, there are times when we are able to restore what is necessary for stability, safety, dignity, worth, and meaning to someone who is without.

I have a few examples to help you to recognize how God is giving life in our world today.

Milwaukee Working is a program started and made possible by people of faith. One person who is receiving life from Jesus through Milwaukee Working is David. His life seemed to be headed on the right path until four years ago, when his drinking got out of control. He was convicted of drunk driving, felony charges, and ended up in prison twice. With a felony on his record, it’s hard to get a job. It’s hard to have a chance at a renewed life when there isn’t any reason to hope for the future. But he was able to receive a job with Milwaukee Working, maintain the computer system. Not only does he have a job, but he’s gained a mentor, and a community of people who have restored dignity to his life. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recorded him saying, “They have the ability to look at the person you are on the inside, not just what the paper says about you,” http://www.jsonline.com/features/religion/faithbased-groups-put-people-back-to-work-v08jgvi-189536861.html

 

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is an organization we make possible through the ELCA, in partnership with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. There are children born today in refugee camps all over the world. Their parents fled home because they were in real danger, and found a degree of safety and well-being in a refugee camp. Yet these camps are no home. Their conditions are mandated to be inferior to the local living conditions. There is little opportunity for school, and little hope for the future. Yet for those whose situation warrants it, an opportunity to begin life in a new home is made possible through LIRS. Churches in our community take on the joyful work of welcoming refugee families at the airport, preparing a clean and stocked home for them, and helping them adjust to a new life in this country. Those who once had no hope for the future, and a painful past behind them, are given the gift of new life through Jesus’ work carried out by many faithful and welcoming people.

Food sustains life and offers the opportunity for soul-feeding as well. We give life and dignity as we prepare meals for a family in need, or purchase extra food or clothing to share. When you serve at Bread and Roses or work in the food pantry, you not only continue the work of those who have given life through their donations, but have the opportunity to interact with people who do not always receive the dignity and worth their life deserves through Jesus. Looking someone in the eyes and recognizing God there, imbuing their life with worth, is a great gift.

God has chosen to include you in God’s work to restore people to fullness of life. You participate in God’s work through your support for the ELCA, your work in service in Jesus’ name, and your daily interactions with anyone from the grocery bagger to your family. God, who raised Jesus from the dead, will raise all who have died through Jesus into new life. This new life is not only to be lived after this mortal life, but is already breaking into our world today. God is restoring, recreating, and resurrecting life in our midst- working in your life and through you. God is with you, who are so busy, you who are bored with life, you who are overwhelmed and already suffering death. God is seeking to bring dignity and meaning to your days, and calling you to join in giving life to others, in any way you can. In joining in God’s work, your life is filled with meaning and joy.

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On the Horizon: A Sermon on Luke 7:1-10

Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.

I am so excited for those of you who are graduating this year. I envy you the adventures you are about to have. You might have plans or dreams for your future, maybe you’ve planned out the next years and are already envisioning yourself in a future profession. Maybe you have no idea what’s coming next, all you know is that you’ve completed one stage in life, and, ready or not, something new is coming.

On the night of my high school graduation, I wasn’t so sure I wanted something new. I had been at the same school since kindergarten. The people and work and rhythm contained in my circle of life were familiar and comfortable.

After stopping in at a number of parties, my friends and I found ourselves at a park on the lakeshore. We sat up on the hood of the car and looked out over the lake. Out into the horizon, clouds came together and lightening flashed. We sat in the calm safety of our present situation, fascinated by tumult of light and sound in the distance.

Calm and safe in the present, looking out towards an unpredictable show of energy, catching only glimpses of the shape of the waves and the clouds as they are lit by the crackling light.

Graduates, you’re there: facing down the path to your future, and yet still enclosed by the life you’ve known.

As a church, we celebrate this time of transition with you, proclaiming that God is with you through the changes in life, and calling you to join God at work where you are and where you are going.

But the reality is, each of us always lives on the cusp on the unknown. Many find that what they’ve always believed was most stable in life isn’t. From career, health, and family life to new callings in discipleship, none of us is certain about what will come next. We don’t know what will come when the horizon God has prepared comes closer.

Reading the four gospels, I find it curious that each portrays a Jesus in different degrees of omnipotence, different stages of knowing. The biggest difference is between John and the synoptic gospels: in John, Jesus seems to be more aware and confident of his mission and the part his death plays in continuing that mission. I say this because in today’s reading from Luke, we hear that Jesus is amazed. Jesus is amazed at the faith of the Centurion.

In this scene, we find Jesus surprised by what he encounters on earth. Perhaps even his thinking is changed, his vision expanded, by this unexpected interaction: a faithful response from an unexpected direction. As we continue in Luke, we’ll see Jesus’ understanding of the fullness of the scope of his mission grow, as he encounters God working and God calling him to work outside the boundaries of the Jewish community.

We’ll get a better sense of what’s so surprising about this situation if we step back and explore the literary context of this passage and the historical context of these people.

We’ve picked up the Gospel of Luke in the seventh chapter, and we’ll be continuing a series of reading from this center of the gospel for much of the summer. We’re jumping in right after a long section called “The Sermon on the Plain” which includes Jesus teaching things like,

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (6:27-28)

35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit;

This is important to know when we come to our reading for today because all this talk about enemies and who can do good is being lived out in the interactions of the people whose stories we’ve just read. Jesus, and all his people, the Jewish people, have been promised a kingdom and a holy land from God. They’re living in the land, but it is certainly not theirs to rule. Israel is part of the Roman Empire, and while the Jews have some ability to govern themselves, it’s the Roman officials who carry the power. The centurion in the gospel is one of the leaders of the occupying force controlling Jewish land. He, and all his people, are the enemy.

Now, he’s a smart man. Maybe he was just a nice guy, but I think he knew how to be political and win the favor of the people. He’s worked the system of patronage, building a Jewish synagogue for the local people, earning their thanks and good will. He’s used his finances and influence to build what they want and earned more influence and favor.

One the day we meet the centurion, this man who has 80 men under his military command, has no power to heal his favored slave. He’s heard of Jesus, and his reputation as a healer, and he addresses him as a fellow man of power, whose word affects reality: making things happen even from a distance.

Jesus is amazed to find such a level of trust coming from this centurion.

This centurion is outside the boundaries of the community for whom Jesus saw himself working. He’s not a Jew, although he seems to be interested in learning more about the God they worship and this one who comes from God, Jesus. His uniform sets him squarely outside the circle of Jesus’ community, outside the place where God is expected to be working. He’s not one of Jesus’ people, he’s one of the enemy.

It is precisely in this enemy, in this outsider, in this stranger from the unknown, that Jesus, the crowd, and we see God already at work. God has already placed a recognition of and trust in Jesus in the centurion’s heart.

God asks you, through this text, if you’re open to being amazed by how and where and in whom God is working. God is already working outside our boundaries, among people we’ve assumed to be apart from God. If we look, if we enter into relationships, we may find that we will be surprised by encountering an example of faith where we least expected it.

Graduates, I’m excited for you and the adventures you’re about to have, the spaces you’re going to be exploring, and the new ways you’ll meet God.

You’re about to be thrown out of the routine you’ve known. The jarring of this change, although it may be easy and wonderful for many of you, forces you into exploring the world and your life with fresh eyes.

Many of the rest of us don’t really have that external push. We’re not going to be forced out of our known life and community, we’re not going to be stretched out of our comfort zone, we’re not going to encounter God in new ways… unless we become committed to seeking out that experience.

I give thanks that God is at work here, as we gather, and in your lives. But I find the truth that God is at work outside of this place, among people I don’t know, whose lives look different from mine, to have life-changing potential. If God isn’t just about me and my people, but is actively healing and bringing life to the whole world, then I am called to live in a way that reflects God’s care for each person, of every nation.

At the far edge of the horizon is the dawn of the new kingdom God is bringing. When we enter in and look around at all who are included by God’s welcome, I’m thinking “amazed” is going to be an understatement. For today, may we be open to the glimpses we receive of the wideness of God’s work. And give thanks.