Scripture: Luke 7:11-17
I do not know if you have noticed, but we live in a dark world. It is rare for our news programs to have good news. It almost seems as if reporters are looking for the touch of gray in every silver lining. I cannot blame the reporters; the problem is that we like to consume bad news. We thrive on it. I do not know why we do this. It seems as if we desire to see the devastation of others so that we can feel better about our own lives. Unfortunately this tends to lead us into an area of darkness as well.
We cannot read a passage that has much more darkness than today’s scripture. Jesus leaves Capernaum and goes into a town named Nain. In Capernaum Jesus said a word and healed the Centurion’s slave. Now in this new town Jesus is immediately faced with one of the most heart wrenching scenes there can be, a funeral procession.
This procession is not just a normal procession. This is a procession mourning the loss of the only son of a widow. We do not know the age of the man or his mother but I want us to consider something for a moment. First Luke tells us that he is a man. You may not think this is much, but it says quite a bit. We can know some things for sure; this man is over the age of 13, because this is the age that a boy is seen legally as a man in their culture. The next thing that I notice is that the only loved one mentioned is this man’s mother, there is not a wife or children, I may just be reading something into this that is not there but the lack of other loved ones alludes to the possibility that this man was a young man that had yet been married. Making this man a young man probably between the ages of 13-25ish.
Now let us focus on the mother. In the first century Jewish culture women were not as liberated as we know now. Their entire status in the community was attached to the men in their lives. Luke tells us that she is a widow. In the first century women would marry early in life, they are considered adults at the age of 12, and would marry soon after that. For women they move from their father’s house into the husband’s house. When a husband dies they are left in the care of their adult children, if they have them. Luke tells us that she only had one son. This one man had sole responsibility for the care of his mother, and he too died.
This is a very dark story. This woman has lost everything. This march to the cemetery is the last sure thing that she will know. Everything in her world has fallen apart. The place we find her in is a place of total hopelessness. She has lost her husband, her son, and her security.
Jesus meets her in this place. This woman is as low as a human can be, and Jesus sees her. Jesus sees her. Community is important to our spiritual and emotional wellbeing. We as humans cannot live to our fullest potential without community. But when we are griped with fear and hopelessness one of the first things we do is withdraw from the community. We begin to shut ourselves in and put on masks and build walls so that those around us cannot see just how hopeless our life has gotten. We want people to see us as strong and in control, because if they were to see us as vulnerable we fear rejection. Jesus sees this woman. Not as the strong woman that has it all together, but as she truly is. The hopeless widow who has no idea where or what to do next. He sees her, and he has compassion.
The one thing that we cannot have without a community is compassion. We need others around us in some degree to move through the rough times we face. We need friends to share the burden because without that the stress in out lives would break even the strongest of us. The community laughs with us and mourns with us; we share the joys and the sorrows. Jesus saw her and had compassion. He shared her sorrows, and he understood what was at the root of that pain. The risk of love is that the love we share will not be repaid.
Jesus saw her, had compassion for her, and spoke to her. “Do not weep.” From the woman’s perspective this is nearly a heartless thing to say. But Jesus can say this because he has seen her in her condition, and has had compassion. The platitudes we often share when we try to comfort others have little affect because often those expressing them do not see us where we are. They may have compassion, but their compassion misses the heart because they do not see where we are. I have been a recipient of these platitudes, many of us have, and unfortunately I have shared them as well. Jesus understood the great sorrow of love being shared only to have that love rejected or lost. He understands the emotions and the seemingly hopeless situations.
But He did not leave the woman in despair. He saw her, had compassion, spoke to her and he knew what the source of her hopelessness. She had nothing. Her husband died, leaving her a widow and her son an orphan. Now just when she was beginning to think that maybe her life seemed to turn around, and the floor drops again and her son dies. How can she not weep?
Jesus walked up to the bier, and said “Young man, I say to you, rise.” The man sat up and began to speak, and everyone there began to glorify God. They had heard stories about things such as this, stories of what the prophet Elijah had done for the widow in Zarephath. They had been waiting for a day such as this, the return of Elijah. And word spread rapidly about Jesus.
Jesus does not leave us with out hope. The Apostle Paul says in Romans, “…that all things work together for the good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) That verse is often used and can become a platitude. But just prior to this Paul says, “ …the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27) In our lowest point God knows what we need. He is working through the situation with us and for us, to bring Glory to him.
God is at work, even in the darkest times of our lives. God is working to bring things together for the good of those who love Him. We do not always see the good as we are walking through the valley of shadows, but even there a glimmer of light is present. God himself is groaning with sighs too deep for words, searching our hearts and knowing what our spirit needs to bring glory to him.
The passing of my sister brought great changes in my family’s life. We had to come together in ways we had not known, and good did come out of that. Her life had ended but through her other lives were extended. The great pain of losing a sibling urged my older sister into the vocation of counseling where she now encourages others to see each other where they are and to have compassion. That darkest day that I have lived through also drove me to explore life with God, which ultimately lead me to become a pastor. God worked things together for the good. Did it lessen the sting of loss, no but I know that God met me in that pain, and lifted my family and I out of it.
Each of us could tell stories of how God has helped us through dark days and how we came out on the other side. We can tell stories of healing and of sorrow, love lost and love gained, but in all of them I hope we can see God and glorify him.
We live in a culture that is drawn to the darkness because in that we can hide. We watch the news filled with scandals, lawsuits, tornados, hurricanes, and other terrible things. We cry out to God and we pray for His quick return. We feel as if we have nothing to offer, but we do. Through Jesus we can offer hope to the hopeless if we only open our eyes to see. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we can offer a world without hope, light. We do this by letting go. Letting go of our control over people and things, letting go of the grudges and pain, letting go of honor and pride. By letting those things go we allow God to replace it with something new.
Today we mourn with friends as they mourn the loss of a child. We see their pain and we have compassion. We mourn the loss of what could have been and a relationship we will never be able to nurture. We cannot express words to bring comfort. As we mourn we also rejoice because through Kimberly others have an opportunity live. We rejoice because through her donated organs those people may have an opportunity to honor and glorify God. Through her gift of life to another the Spirit of God could intercede in lives all around and a community may be restored and lives with out hope may see the light.
As we prepare for the time of open worship, the time where we as a community sit together to commune with each other and God in holy expectancy, and as we honor the life that brought hope to others. I want to read Psalm 30.
I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the pit. Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face’ I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!” You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks forever.
We have hope because our God loves us enough to come live with us, to teach us how to live and how to live with others, He sacrificed himself to pay our debt, even while we still rejected his love and grace, and he rose again to give us hope and victory. And he ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us, and in that place we will know the fullness of life with God, that we only taste now. In that place we will again have fellowship with all the saints that have gone before us and all those saints that have yet been born.
As we center down on that great hope, let us remember those days we spent in the shadows and how even there God has been with us, and let us encourage one another to not dwell in the darkness but to dance in the light of Christ.