Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mary, Martha and us.


 It was so difficult to know how to preach this passage from Luke. So many horrible things have happened in the last few weeks. God did give me the words for God's people at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran churches. Much thanks is owed to David Lose and his insights. The text was Luke 10:38-42. I preached this on Sun., 7/17. 

Does Jesus seem a little mean to Martha? After all, Martha was taking on the role that was expected of her in first century Palestine. She was being a good hostess. When we are hosting an important guest, don’t we want everything to be just so? After all, we want to make a good impression, don’t we? We want people to have such a wonderful meal and visit that they will want to come back.
Martha had become less concerned with Jesus, her guest, and more concerned with her tasks. It was not a matter of what she was doing, but how she was doing it. She became task focused rather than Christ focused.
Listen to Martha’s complaint to Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” Who is at the center of Martha’s words? Is it Jesus? Lord is only mentioned once. Is it about Mary? She’s only referenced twice. It is about Martha! Me and myself are prominent words in this complaint. There are three me-isms. Something is wrong with those proportions—Jesus once and Martha three times.
V. 38 suggests nothing negative about the nature of Martha’s welcome, it is with respect to her hospitality that she is contrasted with Mary. Service is normally something good, but hers was marked with distractions and worry.
How scandalous Mary’s actions were! Middle eastern homes of that time (and in villages today) were divided into different areas. There was a common room where visitors were received. That was the male domain. The women congregate in a separate area in the house. When I was a missionary in Palestine and visited homes of the local people, I was entertained in the common room normally reserved for men. I only got to be entertained there because I was foreign and with a group that included men. When we would eat together, the women were absent, except to serve. They did not eat with us, but ate by themselves in the kitchen.
By spending time with Jesus, Mary had done far more than breached the etiquette of her day. Mary had crossed the line. She was in a part of the house she should not have been. Mary was playing a decidedly male role by sitting at Jesus’ feet. Now that expression conjures up in my mind the image of the RCA dog who heard his master’s voice.
However, the fact that Mary “sat at [Jesus’] feet and listened” meant she was acting as Jesus’ student. To sit at the feet of a rabbi like Jesus, meant that Mary wanted to be a rabbi herself (N. T. Wright). Now that’s nervy! Remember that in our own denomination, women have only been ordained since1970. Think about a patriarchal middle eastern society in the first century and you can imagine just how scandalous Mary’s actions were.
No wonder Martha wanted Jesus to put Mary in her place. But there’s the problem. Jesus loves to turn everything upside down. Rather than calling Mary on the carpet, Jesus commends her choice.
It’s easy for us to look at Martha as a model someone who totally missed the point and should have been doing what Mary was. We see Mary as the example of a good Christian and the type of person Jesus calls us to be.
But that is not the point. God calls us to work and to pray and listen to God’s voice. It’s not a matter of either/or, but both. As St. Benedict taught, our work is our prayer and our prayer is our work.
Is God asking us to abandon hospitality, good works or the daily tasks of life that we must attend to? NO!!! God is looking for us to do what we have to, but not to let them be all consuming.
Writer Joel B. Green sums up God’s call to us in this way, “The welcome Jesus seeks is not epitomized in distracted, worrisome domestic performance, but in attending to this guest whose very presence is a disclosure of the divine plan” (Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, p. 434).
There is a song I heard many years ago in Jerusalem. I cannot find it on the internet to get all the words or to credit the song writer. But these are the words that continually ran through my head as I read and studied today’s gospel:
            One thing is needful and that’s to really know you.
            For without you Lord where would I go?
            What would I do?
            One thing is needful and I will choose that good part
            To sit at your feet and hear the words that you speak to my heart. 

In light of all the events of this week, the killings in Nice, France and the attempted military coup in Turkey, as well as the events of last week, one may wonder how do we relate those events to today's gospel of Mary and Martha?
I believe that some of the protests we have witnessed in this country are a plea for segments of our society who have not been seen to be noticed by the dominant forces in our society.
And it doesn’t stop there. The massacre in Orlando, the resistance to admitting refugees to our country, the fear-mongering that has plagued this election, all of these are a result, in part, from our penchant to hold so steadfastly to our own cultural norms and expectations that we refuse to see others as God does and cannot see the new possibilities God is still unfolding before us.
What do we see? Whom do we see as worthy? How do we see ourselves? How do we see others? At times, even, do we see others at all? (These questions and themes resonate with our discussion of the parable of the Good Samaritan from last week as well, God is calling us to look upon someone as worthy and imagining a different way of regarding an outsider (David Lose).
When we start to draw lines in the sand, to divide groups into insiders and outsiders, much to our dismay, we will usually find Jesus standing behind the line with the group of people we have deemed as outsiders. In the words of the song, "Jesus, Friend of Sinners" by Casting Crowns, it states:
            Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away
            We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to 
            swing
            Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth's become so hard to see
            The world is on their way to You but they're tripping over me.
It is our role as a church and as Christians to eliminate the barriers between people, not to erect them..

Amen.

Friday, July 8, 2016

New Creation is Everything

This is the message I preached on Sunday, 7/3 at St.Timothy Lutheran Church and St. Mark Lutheran Church. The text is Galatians 6:7-16..

I'm not a big fan of a lot of jewelry, but I love the variety of crosses that people wear. The Jerusalem
Cross is near the top of the list. What's unique about the Jerusalem Cross is the four smaller crosses that are part of it. The smaller crosses stand for Jesus' wounds in his head, hands, feet and side.

And of course, being Irish, I feel a special affinity for the Celtic cross with all its interconnected knots. And in the middle is the symbol of the Holy Trinity, which is a triangle of inter-connected rings. These crosses are not only beautiful, but tell the salvation story.

Then we have the cross our Lord Jesus Christ died upon. There is nothing attractive about it. It isn't pretty like our jewelry. The wood was not smooth and clean. At times, so many were crucified by the Romans, thatthere wasn't time to cut the trees down, meaning some were crucified on live trees.

Christ suffered the least admirable, the most ugly, the least classy way to death, showing that he is unimpressed by any kind of boast.

If we want to better understand the Apostle Paul and his passion for the gospel, it can be summed up in this truth--Jesus died on a cross. It was the most humiliating thing imaginable. It is not an achievement, quality or possession. It is not beautiful or stylish. It is not even something about Paul himself. It is however, all that Paul wants us to know about him. It is all that matters.

Doesn't it seem strange to boast of a cross, the symbol of death and defeat? After all, kings sit on thrones. They are not nailed to crosses. Kings hold a scepter, not a reed. Kings drink wine from silver goblets, not vinegar from a sponge. No wonder they taunted this so-called king who was suffering a humiliating death.

The Galatian believers struggled with Jewish teachers who taught that the Galatians had to do more than accept God's gracious offer of faith through grace to become God's children. They taught that non-Jews had to be circumcised, like the Jewish people, in order to please God. What they were promoting was grace AND something else. God's work in Christ on the cross and faith in that was not enough. Earlier in Galatians, Paul states vehemently that those Jewish teachers were wrong, to the point where he wrote, "I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!" (Galatians 5:12).

Paul said, such proselytizers wanted to "boast about [the Galatians'] flesh," meaning to boast about their success in proselytizing. They also wanted to avoid being "persecuted for the cross of Christ (v. 12). Paul's attitude was of course, the polar opposite, not wanting to "boast of anything except the cross of... Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (v. 14).

The "world" Paul speaks of is not the created world, but the "present evil age" (1:4). Paul still had to fight with the evil age, but lived in a "crucified" relationship to it. He recognized that this order is passing away, for in the death and resurrection of Christ, a new creation has shattered the old order.

With all that Paul had done in teaching, preaching and bringing people to Christ, he did not seek praise or boast about all he had done. Paul warns here against spiritual pride. We can make the cross or faith in it, a matter of our own doing by turning faith into works instead of a gift. The only thing Paul wanted to boast about is the cross and its transformative power in his life.

Paul applies crucifixion language to himself almost as often as he uses it of Christ. In Paul's understanding of the world, we not only look back to Christ's death to find our identity, but we somehow also share in Christ's death in the present. Earlier in Galatians, Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" (2:19-20).

For Paul, "Three deaths have occurred: Christ died, the world died, [and] Paul died" (Craig Koester). "All of the old antagonisms and their bitterness stored up for generations: [are now] dead. All of the old ways of measuring ourselves and one another: [are now] dead. All of the fleshly definitions of who is in and who is out: [are now] dead" (Doug Lee).

The new creation is the evidence of the transforming power of the cross--the changed lives of people who have met the Christ of the cross, who by grace have submitted in repentance and faith.The new creation is the new community in Christ. It is a community that does good works--not in order to be saved, but to respond in love to the Lord who saved us. Living in the new creation in Christ is living the live of love.

Paul writes that works like circumcision, are nothing! "...but a new creation is everything!" Saul of Tarsus, enemy of the church, became Paul, the servant of Jesus and author of much of the New Testament. Augustine the intellectual skeptic and pleasure seeker, became a devout theologian and leader of the church through meeting the Christ of the cross. Francis of Assisi who was a wealthy playboy, soldier and merchant, became a pious monk and reformer of the church. The list goes on: Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. And Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All were transformed by the power of the cross.

So, how does this apply to St.Timothy today? Do we realize that God transforms our lives by the power of the cross? Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Galatians, "A new [creation] is one in whom the image of God has been renewed. Such a creature cannot be brought into life by good works, but by Christ alone."

Do we realize that in our baptism, we have been made new creations? Are we comfortable describing and sharing our personal transformative experience of Christ? If not, why not? Paul and the other apostles and Christians throughout the centuries have suffered and died for this faith. We do not suffer in such a way here in our land.

Do we have to know a lot to share God's love? No. As we live our lives in Christ, God will give us opportunities to share our faith. If we love our neighbors, they may just wonder why we are the way we are. That gives us the opportunity to testify about what God has done in our lives.

As a church, we are sometimes distracted by results. We wonder, what more do we need to do to bring people into our church? This is one way of reading what Paul means by "sowing to the flesh." Some churches today have become obsessed with their own efforts at creating an image that will produce success. If they are not growing into a mega-church, then they think they are doing something wrong. One could say that they are obsessed with quantity not quality. We should always focus on quality first. If we are doing the right thing, the numbers will come. And if they don't, so be it. It's God's will that controls the growth of our church, not ours. We are to continue to "sow to the Spirit" in faith and hope which is the only way to maintain a life of self-giving love over the long haul. In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote, "With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort" (1 Cor.15:58, The Message version).

That is the message for today!

Amen.

Google Images
 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Excuses, Excuses

This is the message I preached Sunday, June 26 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church, where we had a wonderful baptism service. A tweaked version was preached at St. Mark. The scripture was Luke 9:51-62.


In today’s gospel, Jesus has reached a turning point. Jesus being “taken up” refers to Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. In Luke’s gospel, everything is now directed toward that end. Jesus’ path to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world is set.
 
Jesus had a single-minded orientation. He knew that the way to Jerusalem meant the way of the cross and his death. Luke uses the expression, Jesus “set his face” to describe his determination. This expression is so important, that it appears three times in the first three verses of today’s gospel: Jesus “set his face” (51), Jesus sent messengers to Samaria ahead of him, which literally means “before his face” (52) and Jesus face was set toward Jerusalem” (v. 53). This expression is an idiom that speaks of a firm, unshakable resolve to do something.
 
Have you ever seen that kind of determination in someone’s face? You can talk to that person until you’re blue in the face and you will never sway them from the course he or she has decided upon.
 
Jesus’ course to Jerusalem and death was offensive to many, like the Samaritans. Jesus and his disciples arrive in Samaria as planned. His disciples had made the arrangements. Most Jewish people would have avoided this place, but of course, Jesus isn’t like other Jewish people. 
 
So what went wrong? Jesus was going to Jerusalem! As the woman at the well explains: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem." (John 4:20 NRS). “This mountain” is Mt. Gerizim, the place of the Samaritan shrine.

 For the Jewish people of that day, everything revolved around Jerusalem. Generations of animosity separated these two peoples. Jews looked down on Samaritans as half-breed heretics. Samaritans rejected the Jerusalem based salvation history. Jews and Samaritans had competing views of scripture, messianic expectation and what constitutes real faith before God (Joel B. Green, NICNT: Gospel of Luke). In short, the Samaritans cannot accept Jesus’ understanding and embodiment of the divine purpose. Samaria rejected Jesus.
But fear not, Jesus comes across some people that want to follow him BUT. The first man seems quite enthusiastic, but does he know what he would really be getting into? Following Jesus means persecution. Following Jesus means uncertainty about where one would sleep. Did he know what he was promising?
 
Jesus faces excuses with the next two men. The first wants to wait to follow Jesus until after burying his father. This was an obligation that was binding upon all devout Jews. They were required to care for their parents for the rest of their lives.

 Doesn’t Jesus’ response, “let the dead bury the dead,” seems harsh? Jesus’ words are better understood as, “Let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead. ”Those who were not following Jesus could discharge that responsibility.
 
The next man wants to say good-bye to his family. That seems fair, doesn’t it? Jesus warns that excessive concern for family ties (looking back) will [diminish] the priority of God’s rule in one’s life. The image is graphic, for who can plow straight ahead toward a goal while looking back? Discipleship cannot be double-minded  (NET notes).
The kingdom of God, God’s rule in our lives changes everything. As we saw with these excuse-filled would-be followers of Jesus, former allegiances are reorganized. These two men called Jesus “Lord,” but by attempting to delay obedience, we see the hollowness of their affirmation.
 
God’s call to discipleship is a call that supersedes all others. It’s a matter of priorities. Whether the concern is care for self, care for the dead or care for family.
What prevents us from wholeheartedly following Jesus? I dare say it’s not a matter of us struggling to choose between good and bad. Our problem is choosing between what’s good and what’s best.
 
Is Jesus saying he doesn’t care about our family obligations? No! But the issue is if they become more important to us than our relationship with God. Good things that take the place of God in our hearts are idols. God wants us to set our faces to fulfilling God’s purposes for us.

Lutheran pastor David Westphal expresses it in this way:
Jesus’ choice here in this passage is so important. Because he goes to Jerusalem, we don’t have to. He goes, dies and rises that we might not only have life, but to clear the way for us. It’s not that our choices don’t matter. They do. What it means, however, is that without the power of Christ, given through the Holy Spirit, our choice is just that: Ours. Only through Christ crucified can our choice also be God’s choice for us; and it is only God’s choice for us that ultimately matters. 


How does this apply to us at St. Timothy/St. Mark? Earlier this morning at St. Timothy, we had two baptisms. We are renewed each day in our baptismal promises. When someone is baptized, we can answer afresh the call to commitment to follow Jesus with all our heart. Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard said that Jesus wants followers, not admirers.
When Martin Luther struggled with the devil and other issues, he would say, “I am baptized!,” as often as he needed to. Because baptism makes us the Lord’s, we too can be reassured of God’s care for us because we belong to him.
Amen. 
Sources
Feasting on the Gospels--Luke, Volume 1: A Feasting on the Word Commentary (Kindle Locations 9832-9836). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

Søren Kierkegaard, sundaysandseasons.org
David Lose, workingpreacher.com 
Michael Rogness, Commentary on Luke 9:51-62, workingpreacher.com

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When Pigs Fly

It's been a while. I was off on the 12th. Now I will be posting the sermon from the 19th today and from the 26th tomorrow. This is the sermon I preached on Sun., June 19 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church and St. Mark Lutheran Church. The scripture text was Luke 8:26-39.





Look at this gospel passage. It's full of all kinds of images that are hard to understand, let alone believe: a man with demons, living naked in a cemetery, demons going into pigs and pigs jumping off a cliff into the Sea of Galilee, which is a little bigger than our Lake Chautauqua.

As we should all know by now, our Lord Jesus is always going into odd, forbidden places so that outsiders of the faith become his followers. In this lesson, Jesus, is breaking down boundaries that keep people from faith and healing.

Jesus' very presence in the area of the Gerasenes was just one of the boundaries broken. The residents were people that the Jewish people had little, if anything to do with. So, why would Jesus go there in the first place? Jesus went to Gentile places because God called him there. It also shows what the nature of God's kingdom would be like. It would be a kingdom of love including all races and sexes. No one would be excluded in the future ministry of God's church.

The next boundary Jesus broke was that of demons. In ancient times, maladies were attributed to demons. When we read scripture with a 21st century lens, that concept is hard for us to swallow. If we have pain or another physical malady, don't we get on the phone to make an appointment with our doctor? We may knowingly look at this and other passages of scripture with incredulity.

Demons--isn't that something we see in movies like "The Exorcist?" Of course there are lots of shows about vampires and evil as well.

The man told Jesus that his name is Legion, meaning he was possessed by many demons. A legion was a  Roman military unit comprised of five thousand to six thousand men. The man experiences his life as a veritable mob of conflicting forces and has lost his personal identity represented by his own name. In Luke's gospel, the point of the name Legion is concerning the size of the demonic horde that has invaded the poor man.

As much as we treat the perceived demonic maladies of Jesus' time as strictly medical in our own time, evil, demons and the like are real. I don't mean that we should go looking for evil spirits as some Christians do, but we should take the words of St. Paul to heart, "For our struggle is not against enemies of [flesh and blood,] but against ... rulers, against ... authorities, against ... cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). If we doubt evil exists in this world, just look back at the tragedies of the last couple of weeks or longer.

Talk to almost anyone who has been a missionary and ask them if demons are real. You'll get quite an earful. When I was part of a missionary group in Palestine, there were times we stopped everything we were doing and started praying because of a sense that something awful was about to happen. We would look out our living room window and see a very familiar scene--tires and dumpsters being gathered into a heap, with residents of the El Aza refugee camp burning these items in protest, followed by the arrival of Israeli soldiers shooting canisters of tear gas or bullets. Inevitably, someone would be hurt or killed. At other times, as we prayed, we could see the protest fizzle, no soldiers arriving and no one hurt.

According to Jewish law, going into places of death, such as cemeteries, makes them ritually unclean. The man with many demons no longer lived in a home with his family. He lived among the tombs in a cemetery. As tormented as he may have been, this place of death had become home. Living with the dead was familiar to him. It's ironic that the man chose a place of death as his home. Not only was he surrounded by death, he was living death with the many demons inside of him. Jesus broke the boundary of death.

Jesus was not put off by the man's residence in a cemetery. Nothing could stop Jesus from delivering him from the demons and restoring him to life. Jesus, the Lord of life, entered the forbidden place of death and conquered that which had imprisoned the man for so long.

When Jesus has broken all boundaries, he heals and delivers the man from his multitude of demons. The one who initially begged to be left alone, was now well. We see the boundary breaking/healing Jesus at work. Jesus sends the man home with the instructions to "declare how much God has done for you."

The man took Jesus seriously and could not keep quiet. So how did the people react once they heard the story told by the man Jesus healed? They were outraged and afraid. They were outraged because he let the demons possess the pigs and jump over the cliff.

How would you feel if someone took your herd of pigs? Healing is all well and good, but why did Jesus have to use the farmer's pigs? I suspect most farmers would have a fit if someone trespassed on to their property and took something of theirs.

The people were afraid! They were afraid because someone who had been possessed and who had been considered out of his mind, was now healed and acting as normal as anyone else in the village. This was beyond their level of understanding. The people from the surrounding areas asked Jesus to leave. This healed man, in his right mind, was disconcerting. It shook up the status quo. Even when people live in painful circumstances or have physical issues, experience discrimination or abuse, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know." These people wanted the status quo and feared change.

We often do not want to leave the familiar to journey to the unfamiliar. I once worked with a man named Jerry. We worked together at a part time job. We could always count on Jerry to bring humor into our conversations. One of his pet sayings was, "Change is bad!" Don't we sometimes feel that way? Change is often good, but at times, it's also difficult.

What boundaries enslave us? Is it discrimination, pain, apathy or a host of other things? We may not be able to break free, so our Lord of life wants to free us, not for our sake alone, but so that we can worship and serve God uninhibitedly. That is one challenge for us today. God wants to free us. Are we willing to let go of those places of death in our lives that interfere with our ability to live as God desires us to live?

The theme of this year's Synod Assembly was In Christ One New Humanity. For the first time, the assembly gathered around the challenging topic of racial justice and race relations in our congregations and communities. The assembly sought to take the first step in a conversation about race relations. While it was only the first step, it was an important beginning.

When we are free to serve God, what boundaries can we break down? This passage of Luke teaches us that the most important lesson is to go beyond the barriers that have been erected between races and classes. Let us not be discriminatory about who we think needs the gospel and who doesn't, who is too far gone, or who is ready. In Christ, everywhere we go we bring the light and power of the gospel, which not only breaks down barriers, but completely eliminates them. What would happen to our church if we went out into Bemus Point/Mayville and proclaimed how much Jesus had done for us?

Amen!

Sources

M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People's New Testament Commentary



The New English Translation, notes.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Two Parades

This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches on Sunday, 6/5.

How many of us enjoy going to a parade? Did you go the Memorial Day parade? Doesn't being at a parade make us feel like children again?
Today's gospel describes a meeting of two parades—one of life (Jesus, and the crowd of followers) and a parade of death—(the dead man, his mother and the grieving crowd). Just what happens when these two parades meet?

The parade of life  was on the move from Capernaum to the small town of Nain. Before they made their way into the town, they could hear the commotion before seeing the parade of grievers. Middle Eastern people do not mourn as we do. Their mourning is loud and passionate and may well be healthier than the way we try to be strong and not let our emotions get the best of us.

One would think that in the parade of mourners, which is a funeral procession, the focus would be on the loved one who died. Of course, our Lord Jesus is never conventional and can be counted upon to do the unusual and unexpected. Rather than focusing on the man who died, Jesus' focus is primarily on his mother, a widow.

In Jesus' time, being a widow meant that the woman was now socially alone and without protection. Besides that, she has lost her sole means of support financially. Without a husband and now without any son to support her, she would become destitute. As crass as this may sound to our 21st century ears, people's children were their retirement. A son was a mother's lifelong protector and her ultimate social security. Jesus' restoration of this widow's son may have meant the difference between survival and destitution.

What has transpired reveals the reign of God in which Jesus, transforms mortal existence into new life. Jesus raises the widow's son from the dead. That is one miracle, but there's much more.

Jesus paid the most attention to the widow, who was now an outsider. Jesus had compassion for her and told her not to weep. The Greek word for cry means loud wailing or lamenting typical of first century Jewish mourning. The woman was beside herself.

When I was in seminary, one of the first things we learned in pastoral care is that you never tell someone who is crying, "Don't cry. Is Jesus being insensitive? Didn't he know how important it is to be a non-anxious presence when someone is mourning? Jesus could say "Don't cry" because he knew what was going to happen next.

After talking to the widow, Jesus touched the bier, which was a stretcher or wooden plank to transport the corpse to the place of burial. The act of touching it made Jesus ceremonially unclean. However, that did not diminish his compassion and that didn't stop him from healing the man.

The translation we are using says, "Jesus gave [the man] to his mother," but a better translation is that Jesus "gave back" the son. This underscores her restoration and return to a place of protection. The renewal of her future became a time of opportunity instead of misfortune.

How did the crowd respond to the miracle? Their first response was that of fear. I'm not sure about you, but my first reaction to this is that the gospel writers paint a much calmer picture than what may have actually occurred. I don't think when people see someone who is dead, sitting up and starting to talk, they simply stand there and say, "Oh wow." I think there could have been a bunch of people running for their lives. Perhaps in all the commotion, those who remained, were fearful and filled with wonder.

They glorified God and said that Jesus was a great prophet and that "God has looked favorably on his people" (v. 16). That sounds nice, doesn't it? A different way this could be translated is that God is "present" with his people, "with the implication of concern-of being able to help, to be on hand and to aid." Jesus' healing actions point to God's restoration of his people. The hope of resurrection is not grounded in the fact that the widow's son came back to life, but in the fact that the One who had compassion to bring back the woman's son has himself triumphed over death.

Other healing stories in this gospel attribute healing to the person's faith.There's nothing about faith in today's story. Maybe this story is all about grace--pure, unadulterated, unearned, un-asked-for grace. The healing does not happen because of a mother's faith or her son's worthiness. It happens because of Jesus' compassion.

When grace comes into our lives, it requires nothing of us but a choice--to receive it or not. As Christians, we are called to be God's presence and conduit of God's grace in our world. Sometimes that means that we will be with people of light and at other times, people will be in very dark, scary places and we are called to be God's light to them. It may be that we bring hope to the family of someone who died, help a sick person or are a non-anxious presence amidst the commotion,  and at other times, we are the light battling the forces of evil through the power of God's Holy Spirit. 

The question for us to ask ourselves when we are faced with the difficulties of life, is how are we going to react to those situations? Do we trust in God or do we try to go it alone? With Jesus, you never know when a funeral parade just might turn into a street celebration.

May God give us the wisdom and strength to choose wisely.

Amen.