June 5, 2016
You know, most things in this life just don't fix themselves. Some examples—the file cabinet in the basement that holds our session records somehow got locked. We discovered it last Sunday and we could locate no key. When I came back to try it later in the week...it was still locked. It didn't unlock itself. I pick up a lot of nails and such in the tires on my mail car. Last week I had a slow leak in the right front tire. It caused the low tire warning light to come on. I knew it was a slow leak so I had Dwight put air in it before I reported to the post office. But as I drove from Lorenson's to the Post Office, that light was still on. Did some more checking, the right back tire was leaking as well. So that day I paid for two tires that kept leaking very slowly, but they weren't going to fix themselves. Oh, and we had several grandkids stay overnight for Memorial Day. That brings to mind another thing that doesn't fix itself; a dirty diaper. Although I have noticed if I ignore it, somehow it seems to get changed.
Things that don't fix themselves. We read perhaps the clearest example in our gospel, death. A young man had died, they were carrying him off for burial. Dead people don't fix themselves, get up out of their coffin and carry on with life. It doesn't happen. And he was his widowed mother's only son. That meant that she was in line to spend the rest of her life in poverty. There were no social services. She would be dependent upon the goodness of others. There was no fix for her situation.
A dead man and a desperate widowed mother; who can fix that situation?
I take from this that Jesus sees and knows our deepest troubles before we even ask for help. How many of you have been so grief-stricken or confused or fearful you didn't even know what or how to pray? Jesus knows before we even know how to ask or what to ask for.
I also see Jesus giving us an example of how we are to act when we witness someone in trouble. He shows us that when life is hard, when others are suffering, it is right and good to look upon them with compassion. Don't look the other way, don't harden your heart, don't judge them for their troubles. Follow the example of Jesus, let compassion be your guide and act.
Now the people of Nain saw this whole story a little differently than we do. Notice what Luke wrote, they acclaimed him as a prophet... but not as God. This was early in the ministry of Jesus, he was a stranger to most of them. But according to Biblical commentators, for the people of that time and place, God wasn't seen as a compassionate God. God was viewed as one who sat up in heaven, observing us, but separated from us. The teaching was that if God could feel empathy or sadness or joy or compassion, then mere humans could have an influence over God. And that was considered impossible.
But then Jesus came to earth. He taught us that when we pray, God listens. He taught us that God cares for each of us, God loves us. He not only taught this, he lived it out. Jesus listened, Jesus cared, Jesus loved and as we read today, Jesus had compassion on those who were hurting. Emmanuel, God with us, lived in such a way as to demonstrate the care God has for us.
But it can be hard to live in this world where there are so many tragedies, so much grief, so little compassion. When we witness a tragic death, we don't see an outcome like in that city of Nain. We don't see death reversed on the way to the cemetery. Things just don’t fix themselves that way. And God normally doesn't step in and change the natural course of events. Dead people are not brought back to life. God isn't performing this miracle as a general rule. So our gospel lesson is not about God working miracles today; they happen but not as the rule. The lesson today is that God is loving and caring and powerful. The Lord showed compassion on the widow and her son. And, Jesus demonstrated his power over death that day. But that was not his ultimate victory over death. That would come on Easter morning when he arose victorious over eternal death. That young man in Nain would die again. But through Christ, we have the promise of eternal life. William Barclay, bible commentator, wrote this, “Jesus is not only the Lord of life; he is the Lord of death....who himself triumphed over the grave and who has promised, because he lives, we shall live also.” That is the power of this gospel account, not that from time to time a miracle of healing may take place, but that Jesus has triumphed over all aspects of death for all of eternity.
This story matters for us as we live our lives of love and compassion; its an example and inspiration. But it also matters as we are reminded of our own mortality. It is not a topic we like to dwell upon, but it is a fact that death is coming for each of us. Our scriptures speak to us of the hope we have beyond the grave. In our Psalm, Old Testament thinking, the Psalmist wrote of what happens when a person dies, “Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them. When they breathe their last, they return to earth, and in that day their thoughts perish.” The powers of this world do not have the power over death. Jesus does. We are made alive by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Jesus came not that we might live forever on earth, but forever with God.
C. S. Lewis was a brilliant professor who became a Christian apologist. I want to share a quote of his, “(Jesus) wept at the grave of Lazarus...because death...is even more horrible in his eyes than in ours. The nature which he had created as God, the nature which he had assumed as man, lay there before him in its ignominy; a foul smell, food for worms. Nothing will reconcile us to (death's) unnaturalness. We know that we were not made for it, it crept into our destiny as an intruder; and we know who has defeated it. We know that on one level it is an enemy already disarmed; but because we know that the natural level is also God's creation we cannot cease to fight against the death which mars it.” The people of Nain who witnessed this resuscitation knew death only as an enemy. They did not understand who Jesus was or what he would do, but they did glorify God when he raised the young man to life. We are gathered here because we understand that Jesus is God's Son and has the power to raise us all from death to life eternal.
As I said at the beginning, most things do not fix themselves. Death does not fix itself. But God in Christ has fixed it so that death is not the end, but the beginning of an eternity in fellowship with our Savior. In this life, we are to live with the assurance that God cares, God loves you. We are to live with the understanding that Jesus is our example and we are to act with compassion towards those in need. We live with the assurance that because Jesus lives, we can face each day with confidence that the future, in this world and the next, are in his hands.
Hymn Because He lives Insert