Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Arise! Lent Sermon March 29, 2017

Arise!  Sermon for Community Lenten Worship service at New Covenant Life Church in Beloit, WI. March 29, 2017

As some of us Pastors met and were planning this series of Worship Services and catching up with each other, a Hospice Chaplain was there and a couple of us talked about our experiences with Hospice, in our personal and professional lives. The theme of “healing stories” came up. In the bible, Jesus had many, many healing stories, and I believe they are there for many reasons. There are many kinds of healing, that all help bring us closer to the Kingdom! Remember, Jesus's message was “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!” and what is the kingdom of heaven? Where everyone lives in peace and harmony, with dignity, in safety, in health and wholeness. Where the deaf hear, the blind can see, and the lame walk and leap! The kingdom of heaven is God's perfect peace and protection, Shalom!

In many of the healing stories, Jesus says, “your Faith has made you well.” Our Faith helps us draw closer to God, to heal from the past; and to share our stories together. Stories help us get to know each other and to be better able to share our own stories. We need to share, by listening well, not only talking :)

Picture yourself in this scene! What would you do? What would you think?!

Luke 7:11-17
7:11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him.
7:12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.
7:13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep."
7:14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!"
7:15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
7:16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!"
7:17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Our Gospel 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.) 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 a small town, so one can imagine that there would be a crowd for the service, because everyone probably knew this family! 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? This story is different.

Jesus merely spoke to a dead man and he came back to life! But why do we have THIS particular story? The key is in verses 12 and 13. “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.”...

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her.

Jesus had compassion for her! In the original Greek, the word used here literally means to feel anguish in the gut, deep inside. Literally one's insides turn over!
This is a DEEP deep feeling...he took into himself the woman's pain and suffering!

I believe when he said to her, “Do not weep”, this was not chastising her for her tears, or patronizing, He said it as comfort and, as a means to help enable her to see and understand what was about to happen.
Jesus raised the young man, because of the mother! He knew 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 when out in public! Yet Jesus knew her grief, knew her gut-wrenching anguish. “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 an adult 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, widowed with no son, 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!
{to Clarify, some translations say “Rise” some say “Get up”. The one I use at home says Arise, and that makes 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 grieving woman.
One more thing occurs to me in this story. Jesus' deep compassion for the widow, grieving her son....

I believe that as the funeral procession approached, Jesus may have had a premonition of his own mother Mary at that moment, that he foresaw the anguish she would feel at the cross. On that cross, Jesus, filled with compassion even as he was dying, gave his mother to his beloved disciple and the beloved disciple to her...”Woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.”

And this story of course foreshadows the Easter miracle, the resurrection!

And the crowd “were all filled with fear and awe and praised God.” Can you imagine it? 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. (NOT Pastor Roman's 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 put down--quickly and violently. Any peace there was was tenuous at best. And the Jewish people were weary, 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 Old Testament Lesson is from the Prophet Isaiah, written about 600 years or thereabouts before the time of Jesus. This particular passage was written to comfort the Jewish people who were at that time exiled in Babylon, Their temple and city of Jerusalem had been overrun and turned to rubble. They were very much feeling that God was lost to them, perhaps forever. Isaiah and other prophets of that time spoke words of compassion and comfort.

Isaiah 40:28-31

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

In the original language, here the Hebrew word for “Wait”, means to wait with expectation, to anticipate, and also to wait with! So when we wait, anticipating The Lord's works, knowing that God is indeed never far...we are comforted! We remember that God is the one who was, and is, and ever shall be. The one who gives power to the faint, strength to the powerless. If we wait, knowing God is in control, we will be renewed like an eagle!

One winter day, one of those crazy windy days, I was driving across the Portland bridge. My car was shuddering from the wind... and as I left the house I saw a bird try to fly and get blown back and it gave up. But over the river, there was a bald eagle flying just as if it were a calm spring day! It was stunning to see, this huge bird, flying into the 35-40 mph wind, like nobody's business!

Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, and mount up with wings like eagles.

When we spend time with the Lord, in worship, around a table with other believers, working together with community organizations, and working together to bring God's peace, wholeness and healing to our city and beyond.
We hear each other's stories and grow in compassion. And our churches and community will arise and be renewed as well! When we wait with the Lord, the Lord is waiting with us, and the Spirit moves us to action.

Author Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil,
God wants all people to do well, to be whole, and to have dignity. All persons are made in God’s image – we can see something of Jesus in every person. Compassion is gut wrenching, we can’t do everything, but we can do something.”

In this morning's Upper Room, the devotional writer shared that his Grandson for his 8th birthday, wanted “A party with presents. Everybody brings a present, and then we will take all the presents to the homeless shelter for the kids who don’t have any gifts for their birthdays.” And that is exactly what they did. The boy said it was the most fun he had ever had on his birthday.
THIS is a story of compassion that heals. Helping each other helps heal others, and ourselves at the same time!

As the body of Christ, we can arise like eagles and accomplish miracles! We can help feed and clothe people. We can help families have a safe place to sleep and a good meal while getting back on their feet financially.
When we draw closer to Jesus and each other, we experience the love and compassion that is the hallmark of Jesus' life and ministry.

This Lenten season, we from many churches and backgrounds are coming together to worship, and we work together to help with Caritas and Hands of Faith, among other groups. We work to bring a bit of love and compassion, by sharing our time and effort and yes, our finances. Because we know how blessed we are! Many of us have been through incredibly tough times ourselves, and know that one sure way to help ourselves is to help another. Let's keep on sharing together, spending time in the word, spreading a bit of the Kingdom.

I have one more story for you.
There is a powerful letter written by a pastor in Africa some years back. It was found in his belongings after he had been killed for refusing to renounce his faith in Jesus. Quoted by Brennan Manning in The Signature of Jesus.

"I'm a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been
cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I'm a
disciple of His and I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or
be still.

"My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is
secure. I'm done and finished with low living, sight walking, small
planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane
talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.

"I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions,
plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, or first, or tops, or
recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His
presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit

"My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be
narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable
and my mission is clear.

"I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned
back, deluded or delayed.

"I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence
of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy,
ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of

"I won't give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored
up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all
know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He'll have no problems recognizing me. My banner will be clear!"

This is a person of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is someone who intimately knew Jesus as Lord. This is model of faith we can aspire to. Let us live by faith, lean on Jesus' presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit
power., to Arise and bring God's Shalom to our city and beyond!


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