Imagine the hot and sticky day this story in Luke took place. Imagine the people who are in mourning over the death of this widow’s only son as they exit the city’s gate on their way to the family burial plot where this young man will be laid. Imagine the sadness and the grief of everyone in attendance, because the grief is indeed shared by all.
Imagine now as Jesus and his followers show up at the city gate, hot and tired themselves after their travels from Capernaum, to this neighboring town of Nain. They hear the weeping and wailing of the funeral procession, and know immediately what is happening. Jesus sees the widow in her pain and shares with her words of compassion. Those bearing the dead boy stood still and Jesus raises her son from the dead. Jesus has done what the prophets of old, Elijah and Elisha, had done, called upon God to come be with them, to visit God’s grace upon them and to be with them in their pain, and suffering, and grief.
In Luke’s gospel today we have a clear picture of who Jesus is. Essentially, Jesus gave this woman new life. When we ask the question what does this Kingdom look like? When we ask the question what does it mean to be a new creation? What really is new life? The answer lies right here, and in other stories like it. The people who lived when Jesus lived saw Jesus give this woman back her life. Without a son and without a husband, she was as good as dead. That is the reality as she lived it. Jesus changed everything for her, that’s what the Kingdom is about. What was lost is found, what was dead is alive, the son who went away returns.
This is not just Good News, it is revolutionary. In the 1st century Mediterranean culture in which Jesus and his friends lived, a person's worth was measured by the household he belonged to. A woman in that culture had status and protection only if she was married or had male children. The woman in our story had neither once her son had died, she would be absolutely and completely vulnerable, therefore as good as dead. By restoring her son to life, Jesus restores the woman to life. By restoring the woman to life, Jesus once again calls down upon himself the anger of the powerful that are interested in the status quo, not in someone talking about and demonstrating how life is in God’s kingdom.
The Kingdom that Jesus proclaims and that Jesus embodies is a reality that empowers the powerless, that brings to the center those who are on the margins, that gives voice to the voiceless. And Jesus says, go and do the same.
Our question, as usual is so what? So what does this story told more than two thousand years ago have to do with us today? This story is important to us on at least three levels. First and foremost is that the evidence shows us that God did indeed act, and continues to act in the lives of the Hebrew people, with the prophets Elijah and Elisha. God did indeed act and continues to act in and through Jesus, in living, loving, suffering and dieing, and in the resurrection. I truly believe that something amazing happened then, and continues to happen today, in the resurrection. God began this new creation in Jesus, and invites us to be agents of that new creation, and in fact gives us the responsibility of being citizens in the new kingdom. It is true that we do not earn God’s love, but it is also true that we have work to do.
Secondly, is that Jesus challenged the status quo, Jesus shows the people of the 1st century and continues to show us today that the same ol same ol is not the way life should be. Jesus shows the new way business is being done in the new kingdom. What happened then, and what continues to happen today matters. It matters that Jesus gave this widow new life, and her son as well. And how we respond to that matters.
And just as importantly is that this widow encounters hope and compassion that transforms her life. When I say we are agents of new creation, this is what I mean. You and I are called to bring the hope and compassion of Jesus into every corner of our lives, in our work and our school and at play, and transformation happens.
Today we are celebrating Amber Brant’s graduation. Amber has been an active member at St. Andrew’s her whole life, except for the few years she and her family lived in Las Vegas. Amber was just confirmed, she runs our nursery, she leads our youth group, she helps Dave with Sunday School and Sonshine Saturday and VBS, and she’s on the vestry. But that’s just a piece of who Amber is. Amber brings the hope and compassion that transforms lives into everything she does. Amber volunteers in the Habitat for Humanity office, and she has volunteered at the Black Hills Humane society. This hope and compassion that Amber brings to her school, her work, and her play, is practiced in her family, by her parents and her sister. This hope and compassion that Amber brings into everything she does is formed by her baptism, and is a result by her being marked as Christ’s own forever.
I believe that young people are not our future, but are our hope and compassion right now. We have so many who have graduated from high school and gone on to college who carry God’s hope and compassion to all the corners of their lives. Amber shows us that today. Amber will be heading out to Northern State University in the fall, leaving a piece of hope and compassion with us that will continue to transform us.
I challenge each of you to be agents of God’s new creation, agents of Jesus’ resurrection, I challenge each of you to bring hope and compassion into everything you do, and we will transform our world.
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.