Gospel of Luke 7:11-17. Reading for Sunday, June 9 2013.
11Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12As 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. 13When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." 14Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" 15The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!" 17This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
Think for a minute about the most vulnerable person you know right now. Think of someone at risk. It could be someone in your family or neighborhood. It could be someone elderly or very young. An infant or child, living in unsafe or precarious conditions. It could be a senior adult living alone. It could be someone suffering from an illness or an addiction. In the summer time a lot of kids become more vulnerable. When school is out and parents are working, what happens? Some children, whose families count on free school breakfasts and lunches face the problem of food insecurity and hunger. Children, hungry, in this town. You know it’s true. Think of someone vulnerable. How well do you know them or their story? Enough to want to do something to bring them hope, reduce their fears, increase their chances? Have you been moved to tears or anger or a feeling of paralysis or despair by their circumstances? As adults we are aware of vulnerability. The threats of life are more real as one ages. I will be 39 this week. I’m older than I was and younger than I will be. Not the oldest or the youngest person in the room. In the middle. But I have experienced physical vulnerability and my own mortality. And I have been moved many times by the suffering and struggles of others in this congregation, in this community, in the world.
As a Christian person, as a church, we are called to recognize vulnerable people and serve them. And we do. Through Peter’s Porch and global ministry partners, we reach out. I am thankful for your service. Bishop Hoover gave a shout out to my congregation (Zion, Akron, PA) in his last sermon as Bishop presiding at the annual synod assembly this weekend. His sermon was about risk-taking as gospel servants and he named this congregation as one of the examples of this synod of a congregation taking risks to meet physical needs of people in our community. Do you see our ministry as a risk-taking mission?
One day Jesus sees the most vulnerable person in his circle of encounter; a woman, weeping, behind the funeral procession of her only son. She has already buried her husband and now she must bury a son. Because there was no government safety net, no social security or Medicaid, this woman’s future is also at risk. She could very well face her own death. She faces her own decline and suffering, while she grieves her losses. You know this happens every day in this world. Every day. We hear stories. Sometimes we are close enough to encounter, as Jesus does. When he does, he is moved to compassion. In the original language, Jesus has a physical reaction, his guts tighten, at the sight of this funeral. He says to her “Do not weep.” He enters her circumstances and raises her dead son. Fear and amazement go viral. What were they saying? “The child lives.” “He’s alive.” “Jesus raised a dead boy and restored the hope of this poor woman.”
A colleague says that we are called as a church to get close enough to our neighbors to hear their weeping. It is only when we risk this kind of proximity that we truly follow Jesus in mission. And we know that privacy and personal discomfort prevent us from doing this. We turn aside, remain silent, passive, and ignorant of people’s stories. We fail to connect. We experience our own vulnerabilities, our own anxieties that drive our behavior. We professionalize ministry, expecting that the Pastor is the one who does this kind of work. We feel weak, over stretched. I suspect that we relate with the widow more than with Jesus. As a congregation on Main Street, we have become more vulnerable. The next generation has been lost to us. They are not here. We lament our future. How long can we sustain this congregation full of widows and senior adults?As a church, as a congregation of Lutherans on Main Street, we hear GOOD NEWS. Jesus raises up the next generation. There were over twenty high school youth at assembly. I saw several new, young pastors at assembly. I am not the youngest leader in our synod, in our church. This is a hopeful sign. Jesus enters our story and promises new life will emerge. He comes near to us in the bread and cup, in the story and song, in the broken hearts and hopeful joy we share. BUT, we are called to a new boldness. We are called to risk entering into the stories of those who are vulnerable around us because we are human, we are vulnerable too. Jesus knows our vulnerability, because he too was subject to the same weakness. He suffered and died to know our suffering and death. And he was raised so that we might know HIS life-giving Spirit dwelling in our hearts through faith. So let us take risks for the gospel. Let us sing a new song. Let us risk being joyful in the midst of suffering. Let us risk hearing the stories and offering hope, restoration, and life where there is grief and hardship and pain. We are being raised to life, so that God's power and love might be proclaimed and praised by the people.