Third Sunday of Pentecost (Year A)
June 9, 2013
16 Awestruck, everyone 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 region.
–Luke 7:16-17 (Common English Bible)
If you’re like me, you’ve been to a few funerals over your years. There really isn’t anything surprising about funerals. You expect to have a service where a pastor preaches, maybe some will do a eulogy talking about this person’s life and so on. After the service we might then go to cemetery to commit the body. Again, this is all the we expect. We expect to be sad. We expect to cry. We know what to expect.
No one expects a body to come back to life.
And yet, that’s what happens in today’s text. Jesus enters the town of Nain and he sees a funeral procession taking place. It’s the funeral of a young man and Jesus can see the man’s mother. In those days, women had to rely on a husband or some man to support them. We don’t hear about a husband, so we can assume this woman had no husband. This meant her son had to take care of his Mom. But now he was dead. This woman was now alone with no one to support her.
You can imagine Jesus locks eyes with this woman. He had compassion towards her and ends up bringing the young man back to life.
What I find interesting is not simply that Jesus brought this man back from the dead. What is fascinating is how the crowd of guests react. First it’s with a bit of fear (which makes sense. Ever seen a zombie movie? I’d be scared too.), but then it becomes excitement and praise. “God has come to help his people!” they say. Luke notes that the word of the miracle spread the region. The people of Nain spread the story of God doing a mighty work for God’s people.
So, how would we react? What would happen if we were sitting in a church somewhere with the casket up in the front of the sanctuary. What if a young guy in his thirties comes up, opens the casket and raises the person back to life? What would we do?
How do we respond when we see God acting in the world. Do we shrug or is it possible that we don’t even bother to see God acting in the world? Have we become blind to God and therefore not excited to tell others of the good news of Jesus?
Back in 2011, Methodist pastor Chad Holtz caused a stir when he wrote on his Facebook page that he no longer believed in hell. Long story short, he got fired from his job. A few months later, Holtz wrote in his blog that he was heading for treatment for sex addiction. Last year, he surfaced again after months of blog silence. His first post back showed a man who had “found religion” as they say:
I wasn’t feeling that the night of July 7, 2011, when my wife told me we were finished for good after discovering evidence of yet another adulterous affair. A 20 year addiction to pornography, chat rooms and illicit phone calls led finally to this. Amy, a shell of the woman I married 8 years before had had enough. A month later I received divorce papers and a month after that I was sitting in divorce court, contemplating ending it all.
My addiction and adultery all took place while serving as a pastor and going through seminary. I knew a lot about God but did not know God. I had no fear of God, denying that such a loving God could ever send a soul to hell. But if there was ever a person to whom our Lord would say, “Depart from me, I never knew you,” it was most surely I.
I arrived at Pure Life Ministries on Nov. 3, 2011 for no other reason than wanting to escape my misery. Any place had to be better than the roach motel that had become my home for months. I told my friend who dropped me off that my highest hope for my stay here was that I would come away with at least 7 months sobriety under my belt – more than I had ever had in my adult life. Of course, “sobriety” at that time was a very low bar: no pornoagraphy or affairs. The idea that I could be free from lustful thoughts, fantasies or self-gratification not only seemed impossible but hilarious…
One of several breakthroughs for me happened in late December when we were challenged to take seriously Charles Finney’s “Breaking Up the Fallow Ground” reading. I pressed in, and spent all of Wednesday writing out the many ways I have neglected God and sinned against He and others. I found myself prostrate, here in the chapel, crying out to God, undone by my own wickedness. I saw the cross for the first time as it truly is and wondered why on earth God would do that for such a wretch like me. I saw the price that Jesus paid not just for the world, but for Chad Holtz. And it cut me to the core.
As I repented I cried out to God for my wife, Amy. Her despair over our marriage and the 8 years of hurt I put her through left her clinically depressed, filled with anxiety and faithless. Watching her husband preach from the pulpit each week while being the only one who really knew me made her sick, and she told me one day that if God existed at all He never would have let her marry a monster like me. I pleaded with God to take from her all her pain and depression and unbelief and to cast it onto me. I deserve it all! I cried. Lord, if you do nothing else for me in this life let me bear her suffering! And in that moment Jesus whispered to me, “I already bore it.”
Jesus has done far more abundantly than I could think or imagine in this place. He saved me. I know today that I am free, redeemed, delivered, unchained. I know what it means to live at the cross and to walk in daily repentance. I know what it is to fear God and the joy of holiness. By God’s grace, what I thought 7 months ago was impossible and hilarious is now my testimony. The chains that bound me for decades are gone. The blood of Jesus has washed me clean! Hallelujah!
In my evangelical and black church upbringing this is what they would call a testimony. A testimony is nothing more than telling what we have seen God do in our lives, what we have seen God do in the lives of others.
The people of Nain saw something wonderful that day. They saw a man who was dead, deader than dead, come back to life. They saw this as God working in the world, and they would not, could not, keep quiet. They had to tell people.
Chad’s new found faith and sobriety is not because of will power. Chad can tell it was because of what God had done in his life through Jesus.
What about us? Are our eyes open to God? Are we wanting to tell others of the mighty works God has done? Does our faith matter? Does it make a difference?
God has come to help his people. Do we believe that?
Go and be church.
Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:
Frederick Buechner: You Do Not Need to Understand Healing to be Healed
Rick Morley: No Formulas
Lisa Scholl: How to Heal Like Jesus
Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.