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Weekly Message 10-07-07: 3rd Sunday Of Luke

I guess you can call today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke a matter of life and death.  Personally, its one of my favorite readings during the year, when Jesus raises the widow of Nain’s son. 

As a funeral director, I can tell you with certainty that, in all of my years in funeral service, I have never seen a time when someone was raised from the dead by a funeral attendee.  In fact, if someone bet you it could be done, I would call it a sucker bet.  But, if you were a gambling man during the time of Jesus’ ministry, and someone made the same bet, I guess you could call it an even money bet, because our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, in addition to his own Resurrection, raised people from the dead on at least three occasions.

·       The Widow of Nain's Son (Luke 7:11-17)

·       (2)The Synagogue Official's daughter (Matthew 9:18-26)

·       (3)Lazarus (John 11:38-46)

I read about a funeral director in Washington who signs all of his correspondence, “eventually yours.” That is because death is the only certain part of life. You will die. It is something that will happen. Nobody gets out of here alive.  But, my brothers and sisters, don’t despair.  To help us be in the right spirit to hear a sermon about death, I ran across some people’s famous last words, uttered at the moment of their deaths that I thought I would share. Dylan Thomas, poet

·       “I've had 18 straight whiskeys, I think that is the record...” -- James French, executed by electric chair in Oklahoma in 1966

·       “How's this for tomorrow's headline: French fries.” -- Union General John B. Sedgwick in 1864

·       “Ha! They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist--” -- Oscar Wilde, Irish playwright in 1900

While we are making a little fun of death we are not treating it lightly. We realize that death is the great enemy of the human race. Everyone will die. So, this message today is of special importance to us all. I believe that we can learn some lessons for living our lives from this remarkable story of Jesus raising the widow of Nain's son to life. We are told that a large crowd was following Jesus and that a large crowd was in the funeral procession. Originally Jesus traveled with just His Disciples, and then others began to come along.  Some of the Disciples had families, and in addition, there were the women who assisted quietly in the background, taking care of domestic issues. So as we begin today’s Gospel lesson, the large assemblage with him today is made up of "his disciples" and "a large crowd." Entire cities would go out for a funeral in those days. So, there are probably thousands of people in this gathering of people between the procession and the followers of Jesus.

St. Luke makes a point of mentioning the crowds to us to establish that there were many witnesses to the miracle that was about to take place. St. Luke puts this minute information into his writing so that we can get a sense that despite all the commotion and distractions, Jesus arrived at a little village at just the right moment and was not distracted from His purpose. He was going to show His glory by putting His compassion and power on display for all to see. And this is an important point, my brothers and sisters, because Jesus is never too distracted to hear our cry. He will not overlook our pain or miss the chance to answer our desperate call for help. None of us ever walk through life alone!

As we read on, we see that this story is a great deal about the compassion of Jesus Christ. He is affected by the suffering of this lonely widow. Perhaps Jesus saw a reflection of his own mother in that widow, we don't know. Or a neighbor who had experienced what now faced her.  He knows exactly what she is going though. Note the insight that Jesus had the caused His compassion to come to the surface. He knew that this was her only son and that she was a widow. He notices that she is crying and tells her simply, “Do not cry.” What a powerful statement. In all my years of funeral service, I have attempted to comfort many, many people, but when I encourage them not to cry, I have no ability to solve the situation. I have compassion, but no power. This is not the case with Jesus! When He says to this lady, do not cry, there is power and comfort in those words. He speaks them with love, compassion, and authority.

The woman probably was immediately amazed and filled with a sense of wonder and hope. When God comforts us, He does so with the authority of a father who knows everything; when He speaks, He knows what He is talking about and He has the ability to change the situation. No one ever spoke words like this.

He walked up to a stretcher bearing the man’s body,  touched it and spoke to the dead man, saying, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”

Can you imagine this scene? Put yourself in the crowd that day. Watch a stranger come up and interrupt the funeral procession, speak to the mother of the boy who has died, and then touch the stretcher. He then speaks to the dead boy and the boy hears and responds. Dead limbs come to life! His heart begins to beat with the sound of Jesus' voice. He is compelled to obey the call to life and he responds! Then, the first order of business was to take this child to His mother and let her see him alive!

What if you had seen someone walk up to a graveside burial service, say to the loved ones of the dead guy, “Don't cry anymore.” Then, touch the casket, open it, and have the dead man sit up and come back to life? How would you react to it?  I’ll tell you the truth; it would scare me to death. Displays of God's glory are awe inspiring and they are intimidating. They can cause us to be afraid. They were not just afraid, for the Bible says that fear “gripped” them. They were consumed by their fear and they believed that God had visited His people.  Only the great prophets Elijah and Elisha had ever raised the dead, so it is natural that the crowd proclaims, "A great prophet has appeared among us." What an amazing story! Of course this kind of news would spread. They saw a Glimpse of His Glory. Only God speaks to the dead and they hear. Only God raises the dead! He alone has such power in His words!

The young man would one day know death again; his mother would again experience hardship; we don’t really know, but it is possible that, after being raised from the dead, the young man spent the rest of his life working and taking care of his mother until she died in the natural course of time.  But on this particular day they encountered the one Person who transcends all earthly suffering, who through His death brings life.

So you may ask, if Jesus raised him from the dead, and he is destined to die again, what is the point?  The answer is simple; Jesus makes death irrelevant.  Yes, we will all still die, but the sting of death is gone by Jesus’ own death and resurrection.  Dying as a true believer means that we will never be separated from the love of God, just as we read in our blessed patron, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 38-39) 

In other words, if you believe that death is not the end, it completely changes the way you look at LIFE.

As Orthodox Christians, we are a resurrection people, and therefore, it frees us from a great deal of fear. Not just the literal fear of our life ending, but also the fear of making the wrong choices, the fear of setbacks and tragedies, the fear of things not going our way, the fear of the unknown. We no longer have to be limited by the fear of losing everything, of death being the loss of everything, if we believe that Jesus' death promises us eternal life.

But a lot of people think this makes us a little weird. I think a lot of US think that this makes us a little weird. It is easier, frankly, to believe in death than in resurrection. Because, after all, we see death happen. It feels so final, and so painful. It is much more predictable because it’s a sure thing. 

But true belief in the resurrection, as strange as it may seem, gives us one thing that it is hard to get anywhere else - it gives us HOPE.

As a true believing Christians, we believe that death is just 'a major change of address.' But I think that this address change occurs not AFTER our deaths, but before. 

This change of address moves us to a place of abundance - an abundance of life means an abundance of love, of generosity, of compassion. If we don't have to fear losing our lives, then we are free to give of our lives and ourselves. 

This morning, we have the whole circle of life theme in our worship:  We celebrated a panachida before Liturgy and remembered the dead.  We read a Gospel of Jesus’ miracle of raising someone from the dead.

Our worship every Sunday is called “little Pascha” because it is a remembrance of Jesus’ triumphant Resurrection.  By His death, He trampled death, and to those in the graves He bestowed life.

 I read a poem some time ago that puts it all into perspective.  It’s entitled, The Cautious Man:

There was a very cautious man

Who never laughed or played.

He never risked, he never tried,

He never sang or prayed.

And when he one day passed away,

His insurance was denied.

For since he never really lived,

They claimed he never died.

Christianity IS a matter of life and death.  All of us are going to die.  It’s a part of the natural cycle. 

The question is, are we all going to live?  It’s something to think about.  Amen.

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