RISE! (with Audio - Part One of Three)
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RISE! with Audio - Part One of Three
(for Part Two and Three please go to https://www.blythwood.org/index.php/sermons )
We’re looking at God bringing life. “God has looked favourably on his people,” is what the people say. God has brought life. This is what we’re taking time to sit with this morning. A matter of life and death, no less. This is important stuff! Aren’t you glad you’re here so that we can look at what it means that Jesus brings life?
This is what Jesus does. The sign outside our church says “Continuing Christ’s work in the world.” What is Christ’s work? We talked about what Jesus said his work was last week. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” For Jesus, it’s a matter of proclaiming and a matter of doing. Jesus’ work is a matter of both words and deeds. Our work is a matter of both words and deeds. Bring the good news. Be the good news. Speak the good news.
Right after the story that we read this morning, messengers from John the Baptist are sent to Jesus. John is in prison. This is one of those key passages with which we should be familiar. The question comes from John the Baptist “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?” Are you the one who is the answer to everything we have hoped for? Are you the one who is the answer to the question “On what or whom should I base my life?” I often talk about how Jesus often answers a question with a question. Later on, in Luke he’ll answer the question “Who is my neighbour?” with a story and finish it with another question “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Here he answers with these words – “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Go tell John what is going on, in other words. The dead are raised. In Christ Jesus, the dead are raised.
Do you know this? Have you known this? In Christ Jesus, what is dead is brought to life. Do these words remind us of anything?
I hope they do. What have we seen? What have we heard? To follow Christ is to bear this message, the same way that those messengers from Jesus’ cousin John bore the message back to the Baptist. This message is for everyone. In the story that begins chapter 7, a Roman centurion in Capernaum sent representatives (again) to Jesus. These were Jewish elders whom he knew and loved. “He loves our people” is what they tell Jesus. The centurion built their synagogue for them. He had a servant who was sick. As Jesus went toward his house, the centurion sends some more representatives. Friends this time. They tell Jesus “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof (this would have not been kosher for a Jewish rabbi). But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.” The soldier knew what it meant to act under authority. Jesus is amazed. What a wonderful thought that we might amaze Jesus! The servant is found in good health. The promise was for everyone, not just for the people of the promise.
Of course, the promise was also for the people of the promise. Jesus approaches a town called Nain, thought to be just southeast of Nazareth. His disciples and a large crowd are going with him. As they approach the gate of the town, they encounter a scene of pure pathos. A man who had died was being carried out. Burial rites of the time meant that a corpse was wrapped in cloth and carried on a kind of stretcher to the family burial plot outside of town, generally on the same day the person died. Nothing so unusual in a funeral scene, though, as we know, each funeral carries its own kind of grief. There is something particularly sad in this one though, as the man who had died was his mother’s only son. Bad enough when we bury our parents, but there is something particularly sad about a parent burying their child. There is something even worse about this situation in that this woman is a widow. Being without a son means that she’ll be without support, without protection, without care. As someone has put it, “A son was a mother’s lifelong protector and her ultimate social security.” There was no such thing as a social safety net. This woman’s life is a wreck. She’s weeping.
Her life is a wreck. This might be reminding us of something – of a story about another widow who was met by a man of God at the town gate. This town was called Zarephath and we read about it in 1 Kings 17. Elijah met the woman there at the town gate. Later her son becomes ill to the point where there is no breath left in him. Elijah stretches himself upon the child three times and cries out “Oh Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.”
If we know the story we’ll be reminded of it. If we didn’t then now we know it. The child is revived and Elijah brings him down from the upper chamber in which he lay and gave him to his mother. The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
God has always been about bringing life.
When things are wrecked God is about bringing life. This man of God – this Jesus - is not simply a prophet that brings the word of God as prophets of old but the one who is the Word of God. The bread of life. The breath of life.
Repairing what has been wrecked. Jesus comes across a scene of death. “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her.” He is moved with compassion first of all. Suffering with. Something has gone wrong here. This is the thing about death that always strikes me. The unnaturalness of it. I have found that I can’t help but think when I in the presence of death that something about this is so very wrong. It’s wrong.
Jesus makes it right. He doesn’t have to stretch himself out three times as he is the prophet par excellence. The one to whom all the prophets pointed. He comes forward and touches the bier. Not something a devout Jewish rabbi would be allowed to do but Jesus is breaking down barriers.
Even the barrier between life and death. “Young man, I say to you rise.”
And the dead are raised.
This should be reminding us of things. It should be reminding us of lines like “But we had to celebrate and rejoice because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
This should be reminding us of something because new life is not just for the end of this story. We’ll be talking about new life at the end of this story for sure. Easter Sunday we’re going to be talking about new life. This episode happens right in the middle of the story though. The dead are raised. The dead are given life.
We’ll be talking about new life when our lives come to an end. We hold a service and we proclaim at that service that in Christ there is life. We proclaim that death is not the end of our story in Christ.
Life in Christ is not simply about life after death though. As this episode occurs in the middle of Jesus’ earthly story, so we too find life in the middle of our earthly story.
Have you found this life?
In Christ there is life. What do we do with this information? The answer comes from the crowd who responds in faith to the life-giving action of Jesus. “A great prophet has risen among us!” This is not to say that Jesus’ only role was a prophetic one. Church tradition has named him prophet, priest, and king. The OT prophet, as someone has said: “Spoke for God and brought the word of God to bear on the life of the people.”
God has looked favourably on his people. To continue Christ’s work in the world is for us to bring this word in our actions and our words. New life in the Spirit. To reach out in compassion to those who are wrecked. Not to give life – we can’t save anyone or give anyone life. We can point to the one who can. This is the one we know. This is the one with whom we’ll soon turn toward Jerusalem and all the events that will take place there.
This is the one who brings life. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.