June 6, 2010: A Meeting of Life and Death

The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Second Sunday after Pentecost

You’re at the corner of 12th and Main, about to step into the crosswalk when the most gosh-awful noise stops you. Down the street you notice, coming into town, just passing the “Welcome to Nain” sign, is a boisterous crowd of Bible thumping Jesus freaks laughing joyfully. From the other direction, on 12th Street is a bier-bearing funeral procession of wailing, dirge singing mourners carrying on like there’s no tomorrow, headed out of town.

Earlier at the coffee shop, you read the obituary. His only survivor is his mother. His father died some years ago. He’s an only child. That means his widowed mother will soon be out on the street – no male left to protect or preserve her life – no pension, no survivor benefits, and no income. She’s done.

We know who’s coming into town. We’ve heard about Jesus’ miraculous powers. But does she know who approaches her? We won’t know. Jesus’ urgent compassion overrides any question she might have. He addresses her, “Do not weep,” as if she can turn off her tears. Can any of us stop our grief and weeping on demand?

Jesus jumps right in – no comforting words, no check to see how much faith she has, no wait for a request of help. Jesus turns to the dead man, and talks to him like he can hear: “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The deceased sits up and starts talking. I wonder if the funeral home gives her money back. Too much Jesus could ruin their “money back guarantee.”

Fear, not joy, seizes the mourners. Can you blame them? If you saw a dead man sit up and start talking, would you say, “Isn’t this fortunate?” The dead are supposed to stay down and be silent. But soon their dirges and wailing change to Gloria’s and praises. The mourners suspect God’s showing special favor to them. Not quite – God’s undeserved favor falls on a lowly, desolate, soon to be on the street, widow, saying her life matters.

Aren’t we glad for this poor widow? Of course we are. But have you ever prayed for a miracle, yet Jesus never comes. Why does divine compassion and intervention pass by so many? Was the widow just lucky? Can we get God’s attention to reverse our pain and losses? I don’t think so. I shouldn’t tell you this, but even if we’re good, attend church, give some money for God’s cause, and receive the sacraments, in all probability we won’t get what we specifically pray for. Jesus doesn’t usually stop by our mournful processions and turn them into dances and parties – at least not yet.

Recently I talked with an elderly man who’s had a stroke, has diabetes, often can’t make ends meet, and no family close by. He’s just been given notice he’s being evicted from his subsidized apartment. That’s bad enough. But what started his uncontrollable sobbing – he tells me that a dear friend, a person who visited often, called him daily, and had promised to help him find a new place and help move his meager belongings, was murdered a few days ago. He asks, “Why does God let things like this happen? She was such a wonderful, positive person.” I thought about the widow in our story. For this man, Jesus wasn’t showing up. And I think of countless others, like a couple, just after Christmas one year, when their sick infant was transferred to the ICU in a major hospital across state. They sat by him for days. By New Year’s Eve we stood at a small grave to bury their child. I know Jesus was there, but not as we prayed he’d come. He was there in a different way.

Sometimes our backs are against the wall. But this poor widow has fallen through that proverbial wall – only her world gets turned right side up. She’s asked nothing. She doesn’t even thank Jesus according to Luke. She doesn’t say she now believes in Jesus, or wants to be saved, or will start going to church. This story’s miracle is not resuscitation of her dead son, as wonderful as that is. The miracle is grace; God offers free grace and love for all – even to a lowly widow.

Jesus’ compassion is all it takes, not anything we do. God is always there. So keep seeking, listening, praying – even when angry and confused. Grace that falls upon a lowly, non-person widow is grace that falls upon us. Somehow in our fears, pain and suffering, we will know that God holds us too, as we trust and live with our hands open to receive it. Sometimes Jesus comes by a funeral procession and turns it into a party. But all the time Jesus still is quietly with us, those we love, those who ask and don’t receive, and those who ask nothing.

We see grace’s work when a suffering soul still comes to Christ’s table, reaching for Jesus through bread and wine. The grace keeps them trusting, in spite of. I see the miracle of grace at work when people tenaciously hold on, even in their darkest hour, disappointed, scared, even angry, and still reaching out to God. And for those who give up, they also are netted into a miracle of grace. God will never give them up nor lose them. Nothing we can do removes God’s grace from us nor lessens Jesus’ compassion and love for us all.

How wonderful Jesus collides with this woman. God’s power of life meets death at Nain. We get to peek behind the curtain separating earth and heaven, to see the power of divine grace and compassion at work especially those who are excluded, lowly, powerless, and those falling over the edge. God hands out grace from the bottom up.

Filled with fear, then tentative praise and wonder, the final step – the mourners go share their experience of Jesus, a grace that catches them unaware, unprepared. That’s how grace works. It’s always there – waiting for us to receive. And like them, our mission of thanksgiving and praise sends us out to tell that same story: God gives us what we don’t deserve nor can earn on our own. God raises the dead. God simply waits for us to receive and welcome unconditional love and grace, and pass the story on.


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