Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 9, 2013
May the Holy Spirit of God rise up before you, the friendship of our brother Jesus be within your reach, and God, the loving Parent, meet you and hold you fast. Amen.
A distraught senior citizen phoned her doctor. “Is it true,” she wanted to know, “that the medication you prescribed has to be taken for the rest of my life?” “Yes, I’m afraid so,” the doctor told her. There was a moment of silence before the elderly lady replied, “I’m wondering, then, just how serious my condition is…because this prescription is marked ‘NO REFILLS’. Better check your medicine bottles when you get home today!
The readings from Scripture today tell similar stories in which the dead are restored to life. In both accounts, these are not the deaths of elderly folk that may not be totally unexpected. The readings tell stories of two young men who have died, the sons of women both who are widows.
There’s a deeper level of meaning in these two stories. In ancient Israel, women whose husbands had died lived a precarious existence. Women were considered to be second class citizens and women whose husbands had died were especially marginalized. They had no inheritance rights and were dependent on other family members for survival.
I can certainly understand that predicament. My grandmother was widowed before she was fifty and left with seven children. It was a hard life for her keeping house in Jersey City, New Jersey and caring for the family while my grandfather worked long hours as a longshoreman in Manhattan. After his sudden death from a heart attack, she had to go to work to support her family. She took a job as a cafeteria worker in the public school system so that she would be home in time for her kids who were still of school age. The day-to-day existence of widows and their children can be very shaky.
The two back-to-back accounts of these widows witnessing the miracles of their dead sons coming back to life are certainly wonderful illustrations of the hand of God at work, of God’s consummate compassion in the face of pain and loss. In the case of the widow of Naim, we find a profound example of how much care and consideration Jesus has for someone who not only has lost a son but is facing a life of great hardship, isolation, and poverty.
These are not just stories about an exciting and extraordinary miracle—one that defied natural law. They are stories about justice for the underprivileged and have-nots and healing for the broken-hearted and abandoned.
In Luke’s Gospel we hear that Jesus even violated Jewish purity laws when he touches the funeral bier of the dead son. Jesus acts boldly on behalf of the widow because Jesus always identifies with the marginalized people of the world.
And Jesus identifies with you and me because in one way or another all of us deeply need and want his compassion and care. There may be some part of our life where death has occurred—perhaps a physical death or perhaps a metaphorical one. It might be in the loss of a friendship, relationship, employment, health, even our faith. There may be some place where we desperately need Jesus to call out to us: “Do not weep. I say to you, Arise!”
This community has had its share of widow Naim moments in the past several months—the loss of dear ones. Sad news this weekend as well. This morning, Mother Cindy is in Chicago keeping vigil at the bed of her father who is dying. I received an email early today from Dean Kaufman. His spouse, Jose Rodriguez, drowned in the pool yesterday and is on life-support with no neurological function discernible. Dean served as our treasurer for almost ten years and Jose was active in many ministries of the parish. We pray fervently for Dean and Jose this morning asking that God may visit them with the same mercy of which we read in the scriptures today. In Dean’s own words, “We need the prayers of our home of homes St. Paul’s.”
The power to bring healing and solace and wholeness to those in need did not cease to be in the first century of Christianity. God continues to empower God’s people with that gift and the ability to channel God’s grace. In his book A Room Called Remember, author Frederick Buechner says that we have it in us to be Christ to each other and maybe in some unimaginable way to be God too.
We have it in us to work miracles of love and healing as well as to have them worked on us. We have it in us to bless with him and forgive with him and heal with him and once in a while maybe even to grieve with some measure of his grief at another’s pain and to rejoice with some measure of his rejoicing at another’s joy almost as if it were our own.
Jesus did not spend a great deal of time talking about the trinity or sin or the incarnation, topics which have preoccupied later Christians for centuries. He talked about seeking and building the Kingdom of God all around us and he went around doing good and showing compassion. That is a prescription for which all of us need many refills.