Proper 5c, June 9, 2013

June 24, 2013

Encore!
Luke 7:11-17

7:11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Honestly, it would be easier for me to preach a sermon on this passage of scripture if I hadn’t had conversations with two different people last week in which they told me of their attraction to their own death. They weren’t suicidal when they spoke to me, and they both are doing the things they need to do to get their lives on track, but they weren’t being flippant when they told me how they longed for the relief of death.

I think there are people who read this story and wonder why Jesus would go and bring someone back in to this world after their suffering had come to an end. In fact there may be a reason we aren’t told what this man started saying when he sat up. Luke says he started speaking, but we are left to imagine what he might have been saying. I think I know what my friend would be saying if Jesus brought him back from the dead, and I can’t repeat it in church. I mean, just think this guy had just begun to enjoy floating with the angels and he got pulled back under the force of gravity.

I’m not wanting to put a damper on this powerfully positive turn of events, but I think we all know how difficult this life can be. Many people find life to be an overwhelming challenge, and it’s hard for some people to see how it’s going to get better. I also understand the attraction of letting go of the burdens of this world.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a lot of good news to be found in this story, and I don’t presume to know how the man who was brought back to life felt about the situation, but I think it’s safe to say that Jesus didn’t make this happen for the son’s benefit. Jesus had compassion for the grieving mother and I’m guessing the son was happy to make his mother feel better, but Jesus didn’t do this on his account. He was a beneficiary in the sense that he was used by Jesus to reveal the life-restoring power of God, but you might say he got called back to work after his shift was over.

I’m sorry to come at this story in a bit of a twisted way, but I’m feeling particularly conscious of how twisted life can be, and how powerless I generally feel to help desperate people find their way back in to the light of life. And I’m a preacher! People don’t necessarily come to me expecting miracles, but there are these stories of miracles in this book that I promote. And it’s hard not to wonder why Jesus isn’t there to touch the coffins of our loved ones, to restore our sight and to heal our various forms of brokenness. Jesus didn’t bring every lost son back to life, but it’s hard for us not to ask why Jesus doesn’t seem to hear our wailing and be moved with compassion to touch us in a miraculous way.

Of course that’s the trouble with miracles. It’s hard to be content to let them happen for other people. We want our own miracles, and Jesus was aware of that desire. He didn’t want to be seen as some sort of miracle vending machine, and the truth is that he never was one to perform a miracle on demand. This story in particular points to the spontaneous nature of his capacity to work miracles. He was just travelling along when he came upon the situation of this funeral procession, and we are told that he became filled with compassion for the mother of the man who had died.

As far as we know Jesus had never met this woman or her son, and it probably was her anonymity that moved Jesus to do what he did. He was filled with compassion for her because she was a person who was perfectly disenfranchised. In addition to the grievous loss of someone very dear to her, she had also lost her access to any financial security. As a widow who had lost her only son, she was a person without any property rights or anyone to provide for her. She had become profoundly dependent on the benevolence of others, and that was the kind of person to whom Jesus was always the most responsive.

Jesus didn’t respond to her because she was the most deserving, but because she was the most distressed, and I think that’s a lesson to all of us. Jesus wasn’t just out to teach a lesson to his disciples, but certainly they saw who it was that moved him the most, and that’s information you don’t easily forget. And the truth is that a beautiful turn of events can bring hope to everyone who simply hears what has happened.

I heard a beautiful story on Snap Judgement the other day. It’s a radio show I like to listen to. And I heard a woman tell the story of how her son was brought to life by a stray cat. This was a woman who never intended to have a cat because her mother was a nut about cats. She said her mother kept nearly 30 cats in their house when she was a child and she felt like her mother cared more about her cats than her children. So when this woman got out of her mother’s house she never wanted a cat.

But she had a baby, and this baby was troubled. He was a miserable baby and he couldn’t bear to be touched. He never smiled and he would never even look at her. She said the only time she could caress him was when he was in a deep sleep. He never spoke, and at some point the doctors diagnosed him as having a form of autism. That was good to know but it didn’t help in regard to communicating with him. She came to accept George for who he was and she just dealt with it.

She spoke to him all of the time, but he never spoke to her until he was 7 years old and an injured cat came in to their yard. She told George that they needed to help the cat, and as she was reaching down to get this bloody cat George said, “Baboo”. And he just kept saying it. “Baboo, baboo”. This woman called her mother and other family members to come over, and they did come over because they couldn’t believe it. Her family members thought maybe she had lost her mind, but they were all amazed at what they saw and heard. George and his mother nursed the cat back to health and that cat became George’s first and constant playmate, who he named Ben. He would speak to the cat and he would tell his mother what the cat wanted. And of course the mother would give them whatever they wanted just to hear her son speak.

One day George noticed the cat rubbing up against his mother’s legs and he asked why he did that. She told him that that was how cats showed affection to their mothers, and George began doing the same thing to his mother. That was the first affection George ever gave to his mother. On another day George told his mother that they wanted a trampoline and she said Ben the cat would get on the trampoline along with George, and that was the first time she ever heard her son laugh.

There is more to this story, and it’s documented in a book called The Cat Who Came Back For Christmas. In the story I heard there was no mention of Jesus, but I feel that this mother treated her son and that cat in a very Christ-like manner, and what transpired was nothing short of a miracle. She would say that this cat brought her son to life, and in a powerful way he did, but none of that would have happened if she had not been so willing to love him in such a sacrificial way.

Sacrificial love doesn’t always produce documentable miracles, but I do believe it always touches people in healing ways. The exercise costly love doesn’t always change things immediately, but I do believe that it profoundly changes everything. I think it’s worth noting that this child was 7 years old before this cat came in to their yard and transformed their lives. Even miracles are slow in coming. I’m reminded of a Karl Hansen saying – He has been know to say that he can take care of hard things quickly, but miracles take a while. Miracles do take a while. Most of us are still waiting for one.

But I frankly am always happy to hear how something has miraculously changed for someone. It helps me believe that things can change for all of us. I don’t count on miracles, but I believe that miraculous transformation can happen for any of us. Miracles will always be rare, but I believe they are more likely to happen when we follow Jesus. I don’t believe we would have these stories of the miracles Jesus performed if some people had not found themselves to be miraculously restored to life by his touch.

Jesus doesn’t provide us with any kind of magic potion. At least he’s never provided me with any of it, but I trust that the more faithful I am to the way he taught us to live the more likely I will be to come alive. It’s easy to get down. And I don’t think it’s unusual for people to feel that their life is over. Certainly the widow who’s son had died had come to think that it was over for her, but Jesus thought otherwise, and he showed us all what he was thinking. She thought it was over, but Jesus provided an encore.

The circumstances of life are always changing for all of us, and sometimes it appears that our lives are getting worse. Certainly our troubles can compound, our hope can wear thin, and we don’t get what we need when we think we have to have it, but the message in today’s story is to trust that we do have a God who hears our cries. This widow’s son had died before she came to understand the power of Jesus to transform life.

George was seven years old before that cat walked in to his life. None of us have any reason to expect that the difficulties of our lives will resolve quickly, but we have a powerful reason to believe that we have a compassionate God who wills for us to find new life, and who somehow finds ways to produce beautiful encore’s out of seemingly terrible conclusions.

Thanks be to God. Amen

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