Monday, June 10, 2013

Sermon given at United Church of Beloit, June 9, 2013

Psalm 146
1 Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
2 I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them―
he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The Lord reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.

Luke 7:11-17
Jesus Raises a Widow’s Son
11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out―the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 They were all filled with awe and 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 country.
Our story takes place in Nain, a smaller town near Nazareth, Jesus' home town, in a mountainous region of Galilee (a region of what is now the country of Israel.) it is known only because of this story which is only told here in Luke.
The tradition of the time was that when someone died, they were buried just outside of the city, so the funeral procession would walk to the site. Nain was not a big town, so one can imagine that there would be a crowd for the service, because communities do pull together in these times! Jesus and his followers have happened upon this procession.

This is one of many stories in the Gospel of Luke about miracle healings and of course this is quite the miracle! This story is different from some of the others, though! This healing is not about someone's faith is it? Many healings in the bible are because of the faith of the person involved. This is one of the stories that is different.

Jesus spoke to a dead man and he came back to life! But why do we have THIS story, surely there were other funeral processions when Jesus was traveling about! why this man, at this time? The key is in verses 12 and 13. “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.”...”When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Jesus raised the young man, because of the mother! He realized what desperate straights she was in. Notice that she did not ask for help! In fact, she wouldn't have even looked at him. In this culture it was inappropriate for a man and woman who were not married to each other to make any eye contact out in public! Yet Jesus knew her grief, knew how bereft she was. Perhaps he had a vision of his own mother Mary at that moment, and the anguish she would feel at the cross. “His heart went out to her...” Jesus understood at the deepest level, at the very core of his being, the pain of this woman's loss. Not only is there the incredible grief of losing a child, and losing a child, even grown child, is a loss no one should endure. In this time, a widow with no sons had no male protector. She wouldn't have a job of course, and most women had little or no money of their own, unless they were an only child of a wealthy family. This woman might soon find herself homeless.

So Jesus, not knowing her, not being asked, simply came over to the bier, and spoke to the dead man. “Arise!” and he rose!
{Now, just to clarify, I know the NIV translation that we just read says, Jesus said “Get up”. The NRSV pew bibles we have use the word, “rise”. The translation that I use at home, uses “Arise” and that just seemed to make a better sermon title.}

So Jesus said, Arise! And the man rose and began to speak! Notice that detail, not only did he revive but he spoke, he was well! And Jesus gave him back to his mother. This miracle was performed for was about caring for this lonely, grieving woman.

And the crowd “were all filled with awe and praised God.” Can you imagine it? Picture yourself in this scene! What would you do? And they called Jesus a great prophet in their midst.

They said, “God has come to help his people” the Jewish people of this time were living under the thumb of the roman empire. They were people proud of their heritage and some of the Roman leaders were tyrants. Rebellions against this tyranny rose up from time to time and were quickly and violently put down. Any peace there was was tenuous at best. And the Jewish people had not heard from an authentic prophet in 400 years time! So they were hungry for God. Yearning to know that their Yahweh still loved and cared for them. When they sang their psalms in worship there was probably an ache in their hearts...and this day, a crowd of people in an unremarkable little town saw an authentic miracle!

Our Psalm is one of many places in the Old Testament that refers to what God does out of love for God's people.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them―
he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind,
8 the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow,

God cares about all of creation, and especially those who are having a rough time. In our story, Jesus was not asked to help this little family! Jesus came to them, he spoke to the woman, and then walked over to the bier...purely out of his love and compassion. He did this not for Himself but to glorify God.

For God so LOVED the world, God GAVE.... Love spurs action. Love doesn't just sit there. Love wants to do for the other person, love wants to care for others. Especially when the other person is having a rough time. Love yearns to reach out and help! And believe me, you may be going through some stuff right now, but so is pretty much everyone else. That's why over and over the bible says we are to care for others.

“We seek to reach out in Christian love with God's extravagant hospitality...” that is part of our covenant--Our promise to God and to each other. And to our community! God's love is alive and well, and telling us-the United Church to ARISE! We have some events again this summer, a missionary visit next week, coming up we host Hands of Faith, help with Meals on Wheels, our Vacation Bible School, and another Book Bag Bash in August. :) and I bet there will be opportunities to do even more!

OK, why do we emphasize reaching out. Yes we have stuff to deal with all our own. Some may say let's just get all our ducks in a row, then we can think about outreach.

There is something to that! But we are people of the Bible. Congregationalists and Presbyterians are people of the Bible, and the Bible says over and over, to care for others. God does, so should we. That is how we live our faith. That is how we provide the best witness to God's love. And God's kingdom is not like the earthly realm. When you honor God and live out that love, you become blessed in ways you can barely imagine!

This story from our Gospel lesson is dramatic. Most of us will never see this type of miracle. But....babies are a miracle! We have seen people who have recovered from illness that could have taken them out! I think it's a miracle that people stay married for 30, 40, 50 years! (I know I wouldn't stay married to me...)

2 mainline churches in an unremarkable midwestern town discovered a lot of commonalities and came together. It hasn't been perfect, but God is working through all our quirks and attitudes and Jesus said to each of these two churches, “Arise!” and we are doing great things, right here in Nain..I mean Beloit! and here we are-the United Church of Beloit!

God is doing new things every day. Saying to people and to churches, Arise! It's happening in both of our denominations. Both the Milwaukee Presbytery and our National Congregational Association are implementing new vision, new strategic plans, which emphasize communication and collaboration, both between the individual church & denomination and between local churches as well.

God's love changes things. I have seen it in my own life, I have seen it in the lives of friends and family. God's Love changes people, it changes lives, and it can―it WILL- change the world. That is why we are to reach out in love, reach just as far as we can!

I want to share a story with you. This was given to me by a missionary, Nancy Loveland, who works as a Bible translator. 2nd Congregational has helped support her ministry, since she began nearly 20 years ago. And she shared a powerful story from one of the other translators. Their mission is to translate the Bible, book by book, into every language and dialect in the world. They work with local people to do this. Then people can hear and read for themselves in the language or dialect with which they are most familiar...the language of their hearts.. about the love of God through Jesus.

Translator Lee Bramlett is a missionary to the Hdi (hee DEE) people of Cameroon, Africa. Lee was searching for the key to reach the Hdi for God, through his work. What clue had God planted to let the Hdi know who He is and how He wants to relate to them?
Then one night in a dream, God prompted Lee to look again at the Hdi word for love. Lee had learned that verbs in Hdi consistently end in one of three vowels. For almost every verb, they could find forms ending in i, a, and u. But when it came to the word for love, they could only find i and a. Why no u?
Lee asked the Hdi translation committee, which included the most influential leaders in the community, “Could you ‘dvi’ your wife?”

“Yes,” they said. That would mean that the wife had been loved but the love was gone.
“Could you ‘dva’ your wife?” Lee asked.
“Yes,” they said. That kind of love depended on the wife’s actions. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.

“Could you ‘dvu’ your wife?”  Lee asked. Everyone laughed.
“Of course not!” they said.  “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say ‘dvu.’ It just doesn’t exist.”

Lee sat quietly for a while, thinking about John 3:16, and then he asked, “Could God ‘dvu’ people?”
There was complete silence for three or four minutes; then tears started to trickle down the weathered faces of these elderly men. Finally they responded.
“Do you know what this would mean?” they asked.  “This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected His great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

One simple vowel, and the meaning was changed from “I love you based on what you do and who you are,” to “I love you based on who I am. I love you because of Me and not because of you.”

Because of this- the Hdi learned that God is far beyond spirits living in trees and water, that God is LOVE, God does not need to be appeased like an angry spirit, but honored, and the number of Christ-followers quickly grew from a few hundred to several thousand.

God's love changes lives, changes hearts, will change the world. That's why we Arise! and share that love.

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