Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sermon for Proper 5, June 6

With the recognition that a sermon is not the written word, but what happens in the midst of the interaction between preacher and community, here's last Sunday's sermon (which is as close as I ever really get to preaching from a manuscript).

The Gospel text was Luke 7:11-17.

she’s all alone in the world ~ at least she will be in a day or two
for now she’s surrounded by mourners, the funeral procession making its way down the street

the widow’s dead son takes our minds immediately to the Elijah story
(even if you aren’t familiar with it, this story is our first reading)
where we’ve encountered another widow
who also has only one son, and whose son also dies,
leaving her alone
knowing that in the reality of her society, she’ll have no way to provide for herself
but here at Nain, though she might have held out hope for a time
she had no prophet living with her to heal her son
while he still lay on his deathbed

now they’re on their way to the cemetery
and tomorrow, or the day after, she’ll become a nobody once again
and then even more of a nobody than she was last week
tomorrow, or the day after, once the mourners are gone,
she’ll be a widow without an heir
and having no one to care for her, she’ll be pushed even more to the margins than she has been
today, through her dead son, she’s at the center of the community
today, at least for one day, she’ll be noticed
after today, she likely won’t be noticed again until her own funeral … if there even is one for her

but here in the middle of the road,
while they’re on their way out of the city
they meet Jesus and his entourage,
who are on their way into the city
here at the gate, Jesus stops the funeral procession,
he blocks their way

the story makes a point of calling him ‘The Lord’
now the idea of ‘Lord’, kyrios in Greek,
is often tied to oppression
to a commander,
to someone who is the boss or master over others
they certainly would have been familiar with this term
because of the Roman soldiers who occupied their land

in taking that title within the text, Jesus ties the title ‘Lord’
not to oppression but compassion
he takes it on not as a commander, but as a servant
not a boss or master over us
but a boss or master under us,

eventually turning the world upside down on the cross
he does not command us to go while he stays behind
but calls us to follow where he leads
he turns that idea of Lord around so much,
that even now we regularly sing Kyrie Eleison ~ Lord, have mercy ~ to our God who we know as merciful
and whose mercy we have seen on the cross

before we even get to the cross, though, we’re at the city gate
Jesus, the Lord, showing compassion
(we know, but they don’t yet),
interrupts them in the midst of their grieving
now having an interruption in the middle of a wedding isn’t desirable, but it might be fun
an interruption in the middle of Sunday worship isn’t high on my list, but we can work with it
to have a stranger interrupt a funeral
really throws an undesirable wrench into a sacred occasion

I tend to think of Jesus’ actions being welcomed
by most people he encountered
sure, the Pharisees and Sadducees had issues,
and sometimes the disciples might be embarrassed by him putting them in their place, but we understand that
I can’t imagine this widow being too happy
with this interruption in her grief, and in this final day where she gets to be close to the center of attention

but then, when her son rises up from the coffin and starts to talk
and we are taken once more back to the Elijah story
where the son of the widow of Zarephath was raised from the dead
the despair and hopeless that both of these women experience
is replaced with at least the temporary alleviation
of the pain of the death of their child and livelihood

it’s more than just a miracle ~ water to wine was nothing compared to death

when her son rises up from the coffin and starts to talk
everything changes
Jesus interrupts her day, but interrupts with mercy
granting her son new life
granting her new life
and granting us all a brief glimpse of the Reign of God
where the power of death is drained of all effect

this is good news to the widow,
and is certainly good news to her son

but honestly,
it doesn’t do squat for all the other widows whose sons died that day
it doesn’t seem to help any of us who have experienced the death of someone close to us

but there’s a deeper truth here
the deeper truth, when we dig for it, is that it does help us
Jesus interrupts her,
and the interruption isn’t trivial
you know she had other problems in her life
just like we all do
but the one she faces here is the one that is the most significant
it’s the one that trips us up, the problem of ultimate importance
the problem that we can’t get away from
she’s facing death ~
the death of her son, and to some degree her own death as well

and Jesus steps in, inconveniently interrupting the funeral
interrupting her grieving
interrupting her death
Jesus steps in and reorients her entire life
restoring her familial relationship
and her relationship with the almighty

Jesus steps in, inconveniently interrupting our lives
interrupting our grieving with resurrection joy
interrupting our troubles with the people of God, the body of Christ
interrupting our loneliness with baptismal belonging
interrupting our hunger and thirst with the bread of life and the cup of salvation
interrupting our death with new life

this is how we experience salvation
we experience salvation in the restoration of relationship
of the mother and the son together
in our broken and mended relationships with one another,

and most notably, we experience in our salvation
restored relationship with our God
who meets us in death, that most mortal of experiences
and who loves us through death and into new life.

For what it's worth.


  1. beautiful words - if only we would learn to be grateful for those times when we are "inconveniently interrupted"

  2. ok - got it all this time - thanks!