Luke 7:11-17 (NIV) Jesus Raises a Widow’s Son
11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
A young man walked into the lobby of a mega-church to attend the funeral of a high school buddy that he hadn’t seen in several years. When he approached the casket to pay his last respects, the young man met the pastor who would be serving at the funeral. The young man asked the pastor, “So, how did he die?”
The pastor replied, “He died in the service.”
The young man replied, “Which service, the 9:00 am or 10:45?”
What better way to begin talking about death and dying than with a joke, right? Actually, rather than talking about death and dying, we are going to talk about life and living today.
A few years ago, Country Music singer Kenny Chesney released a song with the lyrics, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go now.” And as sad as it is, that song pretty well summarizes what I want to say to you today.
We want to go to heaven when we die and those of us who follow Jesus are assured that through his life, death, and resurrection, we can be with Jesus for all of eternity. But I’m not in any hurry to get there. And I bet that unless you are suffering from a lot of pain or loneliness, you aren’t looking to go to heaven anytime soon, either. That’s why we go to the doctor when we get sick, we obey traffic laws, we take care of ourselves, and we even occasionally eat Brussels sprouts. We know that as good as heaven will be, this world still has something for us, and we still have something for this world as well.
Our text for today begins with the simple phrase “soon afterward.” “Soon after what?” you may be wondering. This text immediately follows last week’s passage where Jesus heals the sick servant of his enemy, the centurion. If there is any doubt as to if Jesus is a compassionate person, Luke wants to erase it.
But the person in need of healing today is in a little bit worse shape than the centurion’s servant. This guy is dead. We have no idea how long he has been dead, but it was probably a pretty recent thing. We find no statements about his stench, like we find with Lazarus.
What we do know about this deceased person is that he is the son of a widow, and he is her only son. And we must remember that women did not work outside of the home in Jesus’ day so women who were not married relied on family members to support them.
As if the story of losing a son isn’t sad enough, this woman also lost the financial support of her only son. It begins to look like she was destined to a life of begging in the street.
Then the compassion of Jesus is revealed again. Verse 13 tells us, “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry.’”
I’m sure the widow looked at him and thought to herself, “Oh, sure. I’ll just stop crying. Do you even know what I’m going through? Have you ever lost a son? Have you ever had to beg just to put food on your table at night? Yeah, I’ll stop crying, alright.”
Just then, Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the cot on which they are carrying the deceased person. He doesn’t even touch the young man, just the cot. And he tells the man to get up, and surprisingly, he listens. Luke then tells us that Jesus gave the son back to his mother.
One of the central beliefs of Christianity is that one day those who are in Christ will be raised with him in eternity. We use different words for this, but the most simple way to say it is that we will go to heaven when we die. My friends, that is good news. However, that is not The Good News in its entirety.
I believe that for too long Christians have made Christianity into a method of escape; this is how you get out of here when all is said and done. This approach makes me think of some really bad plays that I have been to in my life.
I remember sitting in a community theater one hot summer evening several years ago. The place was packed out – it was a benefit for a local woman with a significant amount of medical expenses. So we filed into this community center, herded like cattle, and sat patiently for the play to begin. Sonya and I sat right up front where everyone could see us.
As the play began, we soon found out that community theater in rural Virginia differs in a few ways from the very professional plays we have seen at the Blackfriars Playhouse. We learned to practice patience and endurance. And let me tell you, more than just the acting stunk that evening. There was an odor. Sonya blamed me, thinking the smell was my old shoes. But I knew where the stench was coming from: it was the actress playing grandma. Grandma had some bad b.o. and needed a good shower or two.
We knew that we couldn’t just get up and leave during the play. We were sitting in the front in the middle of a row. And the person who was being honored was there that evening, just down the row from us. So as tempting as it was to leave at intermission, we knew that we were going to have to tough it out. We were just hoping that nobody asked us how we liked the play afterwards!
As soon as the actors took their final bows, we were out of there. We got away from the heat, we got away from the bad acting, and we got away from grandma’s b.o.
This is how many Christians treat this world; we just want to get out of here like you might want to get out of a crowded theater on a hot summer day. But Jesus, in healing the centurion’s servant and raising the widow’s son, raising Lazarus, healing lepers, feeding the poor, loving our enemies, in all of these acts, Jesus shows that this life matters, these bodies matter, and this world matters.
I sometimes think that Genesis chapter one is one of the most overlooked passages of scripture in the Bible in the formulation of certain aspects of theology. This is a passage that we call the “Creation Narrative.” God creates the heavens and the earth, the land and the sea, the animals on the land, the fish in the sea, and the birds in the air. And after each day of creation God looks out on all that he has made and he says, “It is good.” When God forms man and woman in his own image, God says, “It is exceedingly good.” And remember, God told Peter in a dream once to never call profane what God has called good (or something like that).
Now the world that I see out there does not look exactly like the world that we find in the Creation Narrative. I know this and so do you. People choose to hate rather than to love, they choose to destroy rather than to create. People choose to tear one another down rather than to build each other up. And as was the case in the garden, people choose to listen to voices other than God’s. If the world as we know it does not look like the world of Genesis chapter 1, it is because human beings have chosen to make it that way.
But here is The Good News, as I understand it: things don’t have to be like this. Through Jesus we can be reconciled, not only with God, but also with one another. Things can be better if we choose to follow Jesus rather than the things that cause destruction.
If you have an escapist mentality, if you believe that Christianity is only about your personal relationship with Jesus and going to heaven when you die, you are missing so much. Sure, it is easier to just believe in that form of Christianity, but Jesus compared following him to carrying one’s cross.
An escapist Christian doesn’t understand why we seek to do things like love our enemies. I’m going to heaven when I die, so why bother feeding the hungry or gathering 1,200 rolls of toilet paper for the Valley Mission? Why work for peace, why try to clean up the environment, why bother serving at the Relief Sale, Ten Thousand Villages, or care for the elderly? I’ve got my ticket to heaven punched, so why would any of that matter?
Because this life matters to Jesus, these bodies matter to Jesus. He wouldn’t bring back the son of the widow if they didn’t.
I struggled a bit this week as I tried to pick a scripture to preach from. If we are not doing a sermons series I often like to preach from a tool called “The Revised Common Lectionary.” The RCL provides a passage from the Old Testament, one from the Psalms, a Gospel lesson, and an Epistle, like the letters of Paul. I like the OT passages and they can make good sermon material when they are stories with applicable meanings. But I preached from this week’s OT passage three years ago, and I wanted to look at something different. The Psalms are difficult to preach from, though I think that they are very helpful for personal prayer and reflection times. This left me with the Gospel text, which we have been looking at, and the Epistle, which is Galatians 1:11-24.
Galatians 1:11-24 tells of Paul’s transformation from a zealous and devout Jew who persecuted the early Christians to one of the greatest champions of the faith.
I would have no problem talking about Paul’s transformation on a Sunday morning. And we can surely come up with others that we know personally who have made major changes in the trajectory of their lives as well.
So as I considered whether to preach on valuing this life or the conversion of Paul, I realized that I really didn’t have to choose between the two. Paul’s conversion and his post-conversion life show that this life matters. And Paul is a pretty good example of what one can do with their life when they realize how much it matters.
In the church we often hear people talking about “gettin’ saved.” That is a biblical term, and I don’t have a problem with the phrase, per se. What I struggle with is the limited understanding of what it means to “be saved,” because far too often we talk about what we are saved from rather than talking about what we are saved for.
Paul has no problem proclaiming both. He clearly articulates that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, he has been forgiven for his mistakes, his sins against God and against others. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to write about how we are to use these lives. He talks about ethics and he talks about vocation. Paul not only speaks about being saved, he talks about what we have been saved for.
Check out Galatians 1:15-16a: “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles.”
Paul knew that he was not just saved from his old way of persecuting Christians. Paul knew that he was saved to make more Christians.
Unfortunately, we don’t all have as clear of a calling as Paul did. And while I might be able to help you walk through some of the questions that you have about what God has saved you for, I can’t just come out and tell you because I don’t know. But what I do know is there is more to this thing we call Christianity than getting out of this world. We are all called to make this world a little more like the world God created. We are all called to take the time to appreciate what God has given to us.
The other day I was trying to get a little exercise in before heading off to another day in the church office. Like always, I was in a hurry. I needed to get back home to help with the children so Sonya could leave for work before I left for work. This is our life right now: schedules, busy-ness, appointments, meetings, work, etc. So I was in the park going for a little run before we officially started our day.
As I was running I noticed a woman, probably in her 60’s, just out for a stroll. She was alone and was quick to offer a smile and a kind “Good morning” as we passed. If you are not familiar with our Gypsy Hill Park, it is set up with a 1.33 mile loop around the outside. So if you are going one way and another person is going the other, you will see them twice as you complete one loop.
As I am approaching this woman for the second time, I notice that she is stopped and looking at a bush. She plucks one of the flowers from the bush and she begins to suck on the flower. As I got closer, I realized that she was looking at and eating from a honeysuckle bush.
How many of us remember being a little child and playing by the honeysuckle bushes, taking breaks to enjoy the sweet nectar of the vine? It is one of the small pleasures that comes with the spring each year. Oh it is nothing but a drop of sweetness, to be sure. But there is something about stopping and tasting the goodness of that which is around us.
When was the last time you took the time to squeeze out that goodness? When was the last time that you paused long enough to appreciate that which God has placed before you?
This is what surprised me so much about this woman in the park. I was in a hurry. I had so much to do, so much that needed my attention. I couldn’t just stop and squeeze the honeysuckle. And that’s a problem. Sometimes we need to just slow down and remember that there is a lot of good in this world. We just don’t take the time to see it.
I’m pretty sure that when Jesus raised the widow’s son from the grave, that young man had a better appreciation of this life. He probably went on a few more walks, spent a few more nights in conversation with mom, and stopped to taste the nectar of the honeysuckle. And I’m going to guess that he also spent the rest of his life on earth seeking to better understand the reason God had called him back to life and saved him from death.
This life is a gift, not just something to endure until the good Lord calls us home. This life matters. These bodies matter. They matter to God, they matter to Jesus. Let’s live like it and not just seek to escape it.