Always Giving Birth 3 Pentecost, Year C; Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sermon: Luke 7:11-17, I Kings 17 “Always Giving Birth” © Kate Heichler; Preached at Christ the Healer, Stamford 3 Pentecost, Year C; Sunday, June 6, ...
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Sermon: Luke 7:11-17, I Kings 17 “Always Giving Birth”

© Kate Heichler; Preached at Christ the Healer, Stamford 3 Pentecost, Year C; Sunday, June 6, 2010

Come, Breath of God, and fill these words with Your word; fill our lives with Your life. Amen.

I had the incalculable privilege of hearing Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak and preach on Friday. He was in Greenwich to help celebrate the installation of Christ Church’s new rector, and he was amazing. Such a holy, humble, joyful presence; such a gentle power as he speaks. And he’s funny. Every once in awhile he would crack himself up, and to hear the sound of his giggle – the giggle of a living hero, anti-apartheid warrior, Nobel Peace Prize winner… it’s a little like hearing an angel laugh. At some point during his sermon that evening, I thought, “God is always giving birth to the world, always bringing into being that which is not yet.” And then I thought about how the life of the three persons of the Trinity is such a maternal one – how each is always giving life to the other, and to the world. We may call the Father, Son and Spirit, but they are always giving birth to the new thing, the new song, the new soul, the new life. When we think of it that way, maybe these stories of people being revived after death isn’t such an odd idea. Today we have not one, but two stories about people who have recently died being raised from the dead. One is a boy who has just died, whom the prophet Elijah revives by prayer. The other has been dead several days, I imagine, while the wakes and vigils were sat, and now he is in a casket, about to be buried. This one Jesus revives simply by ordering him – or his corpse? – to “get up,” the same way he spoke to people who were lame or paralyzed. Maybe the young man’s spirit was still there, ready to be revived. It’s almost as if, to Jesus, death was just a more serious form of paralysis – not a great obstacle we can’t overcome. But then, Jesus was God. God is love. And love has always been stronger than death. We have two choices in hearing these stories: we can dismiss them as metaphorical fairy tales, told for some faith-building purpose. Or we can accept them as true events that happened, and were recorded and handed down. It may not surprise you to hear that I accept them as true – I believe God’s power is so great, and so available to us today, that it has, and on occasion still does, renew life in people from whom life has departed. I believe that God’s power was so concentrated in Jesus – and even in the prophet Elijah – that they could effect such a thing.

Sermon: Luke 7:11-17

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Kate Heichler

I believe that since Jesus routinely instructed his disciples to “Go and proclaim the Kingdom of God, heal the sick and raise the dead,” that he meant it. And yet, we have no records of the disciples doing it – at least, not until after Pentecost when the power of the Holy Spirit really came upon them and filled them. After that there are a few times when the disciples revive someone who has died. And the stories of Jesus reviving people are rare – there is a little girl, this man, and Lazarus. It seems Jesus did not routinely go around upsetting the cycle of life and death. When he did, he had a purpose – both compassion, in this case, and demonstrating to people the power of the Kingdom so they might believe he was who he said he was, the Son of God, so they might believe that the Kingdom of God was indeed near, that God was doing a new thing in their midst. In this story as Luke tells it – and Luke is the only one to record this event – we see two crowds converging at the gate of the town of Nain. We are told that a large crowd is with Jesus and his disciples approaching the town, and that a large crowd is with the widowed mother and the funeral procession coming out of town. Here at the town gate – the narrow gate? – life and death converge. Here at this place of entry and departure, Jesus sees an opportunity to restore life and hope. Here at this place between home and beyond, the impossible becomes the possible. Here at this threshold place, God’s power and love are demonstrated for all to see. The effect? A sad woman finds her life-line restored, and a very large crowd finds itself praising God, needing to come to terms with incontrovertible evidence of God’s power over death. Some probably put their faith in Jesus that day; some may not have done so until Jesus himself was raised from the dead, and they said, “Well, it’s not so far-fetched – remember what we saw him do that day in Nain?” Some may have seen with their own eyes, and refused to believe because “it’s impossible.” And some might have remembered only their own losses and the widows they knew whose sons were not restored miraculously, and focused all their attention on what they perceived to be God’s “no’s” and none on the “yes.” We always have a choice. Is it a fairy tale metaphor? Or is it the way God works? There is a spiritual reality that is different from our physical reality. In our second lesson, Paul is making a defense of his apostleship to the Galatians.

Sermon: Luke 7:11-17

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Kate Heichler

He stresses to them that he did not receive the Gospel about Jesus from any human source, but from Christ himself. He said “I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” What caused Paul to believe the preposterous Good News that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and risen from the dead, was a miraculous encounter with that Christ, risen and ascended. We might say it was a figment of his imagination – but there is too much testimony to the very real power of Paul’s preaching and healing to pass it off so lightly. Something profoundly changed and empowered him, and the change had a huge impact on the world. We lose too much, and close off too much if we reject the supernatural and the miraculous workings of God. But we also lose too much if we miss the metaphors in these stories. It seems to me it doesn’t have to be one or the other – for us it should be both. If we focus on them only as extraordinary, true events, true miracles that display God’s power, we think such things can never happen to us. It stays just a story in a book. And if we focus on them only as metaphors – “God brings new life” – we also close off the possibility of the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit in our lives today. It’s still just a story in a book. We can go astray if we look at these stories only as literal truth or only as metaphorical fable. We need to stay on that continuum between the two, to live in that tension if we want to be most open to God’s activity in our lives. God’s Spirit is blowing new life into this world all the time, in ordinary and extraordinary ways. We better hope God is still raising the dead, because there are many people and communities in need of God’s reviving Spirit, like that valley of dry bones the prophet Ezekiel saw come to life in a vision. I have not seen a person who was clinically dead come back to life, though people who work in hospitals and on ambulances have been known to observe that. I’ve heard and read stories of such things happening through prayer in modern-day Mozambique and in South America, and even in Los Angeles. I have seen people healed physically of diseases that were supposed to kill them. And I have seen crushed spirits brought back to life. I knew a woman who was widowed in her forties, and she could not get past the grief. It did not lessen, it did not fade, it did not move into any kind of closure.

Sermon: Luke 7:11-17

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Kate Heichler

The wound was as open and raw five years into her bereavement as it was the first week. She wasn’t trying to keep it open; it was more like a part of her had died with her husband and she couldn’t really live anymore. She just existed. And with it died her faith and involvement in the life of the church. It just didn’t make sense; she just stopped going. But then she read about the Alpha course we were offering in Bethany, which invited people to come and explore the Christian faith in an open-ended setting. And she was hungry for a connection with God again. So she came; she said very little in the small group and was pretty withdrawn, but she came. And on the night we talked about healing and prayed in our groups for each other, she didn’t think anything would happen. But she felt something when the group laid hands on her and prayed. And the next morning, when she woke up, she said it felt like a hundred-pound weight she had been carrying was gone. She felt free. She didn’t miss her husband any less, but the crushing grief was finally gone, and in its place was a joy she’d never known before. Within a few weeks she formally joined our church and started contributing to common meals, and asked for a pledge card, and now she teaches church school and is a regular at the Tuesday night Bible study. And she’s enjoying her children and grandchildren and the life God has given her. God is still in the business of raising the dead. And we better hope so, because this church needs the reviving power of the Spirit. Some would already have seen us as dead and in the casket. We’re far from that. We could continue quite a ways as a purely human institution – we have resources, and a desire to hang out together, and love for each other. But if we want to truly grow as a family in Christ, we need the breath of the Holy Spirit blowing life into us. What we need to do is trust more. Trust that God is at work in us to grow us, that God’s power will fill us. Trust that the God we worship and love loves us. Trust that the God we worship and love is in the business of raising the dead – whether it’s a physical body, a broken heart, a depleted church. Death is no obstacle for Jesus – His way for us is life. It’s hard to believe it when we can’t see it or feel it. That woman whose son the prophet Elijah revived through prayer – she was already a religious woman who was supporting the man of God with her hospitality.

Sermon: Luke 7:11-17

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Kate Heichler

But after the miracle of her son being brought back to life, she went from being a religious person to being a believer. She said, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth." As generously as she supported Elijah before this, it seems she didn’t really believe that what he said was true. We need to see it, to feel it, to know it. Then we can keep believing, even when we don’t see it for months or years on end. But it’s got to start somewhere. If you have trouble buying stories like this, say to God, “Show me!” If you believe, “Sure it happened then, but how can it happen now?” pray to God, “Show me where you’re bringing new life into my life, into this world?” Every Sunday we meet here at this threshold place where heaven and earth converge. Here at this place of entry and departure, at the end of an old week and the beginning of new possibilities, at the end of our old life and constant birth into our new one, Jesus sees an opportunity to restore life and hope. Here at this place between home and beyond, the impossible becomes the possible. Here in this place, God’s power and love can be demonstrated for all to see. If we keep our eyes and hearts open, we too will be amazed. Amen.

Sermon: Luke 7:11-17

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Kate Heichler

Luke 7:11-17 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 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. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 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!" This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. 1 Kings 17:17-24 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!" But he said to her, "Give me your son." He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the LORD, "O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?" Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the LORD, "O LORD my God, let this child's life come into him again." The LORD listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." So the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth." Galatians 1:11-24 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. … Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, "The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me.