June 5, 2016

Third Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer

Sisters and brothers in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you.  Amen.

Over the course of a few short weeks last fall, four people I knew died in quick succession: my 100 year old aunt, a beloved choir director from my college, a neighbor about my age, and a 21 year old kid, who had played with my son on a few baseball teams over the years. Each death represented the loss of amazing talent and love and strength, and for each of them I felt a sense that the world had lost someone important.

But even though I knew him the least well of the four, it was only that one young man whose death made me really wish for a miracle. If I could have turned back time to change the outcome for one of those four, it was his accidental, premature death that I’d undo. Hearing that he had died in his prime, with so much potential and future hit me hard. Seeing the grief on his parents’ faces was even worse. We learned it was the second of their four children to have died so young. It made me sick to my stomach.

When Jesus saw the funeral procession of the young man in our gospel lesson, he felt sick, too.  He doesn’t seem to have known that boy at all. But somehow it was obvious to those with him  that the young man was the mother’s only son, and that she was a widow. In biblical times, this meant that he was all she had. Not only would she grieve what any of us would in losing a child, the love and promise and potential of a young life. But for the widow in first century Palestine, her only son would have been her last connection to the future, her insurance policy, her only legacy

Luke’s gospel tells us that when Jesus saw her, he “had compassion” for her. As I’ve discussed with some of you before, the Greek word for “had compassion” used here is splangchnizomai; it literally means “to feel from the gut, the intestines.” It’s related to the Hebrew word, rachamim,  which refers not just to the gut, but actually to the womb of God. To “have compassion” is to feel the physical pull of a mother to her child, to be sickened as one is in labor, to long for healing for another from one’s innermost core.

When Jesus sees the funeral procession for the widow’s only son, he feels the love of God for an only child, and he feels it in his gut. He feels the need to labor with her, to once again coax that child into life.

We don’t learn why he responded to this widow, and not others. She didn’t beg him for a miracle. We don’t learn that she had great faith, or that she was even somewhat deserving. In fact, we don’t know anything at all about her. All we know is that the large crowd of her son’s funeral procession meets the large crowd following Jesus and he enters her town, and that as he saw her, Jesus was moved from his inner being to raise her son.

Miraculously, Jesus tells the young man to “Rise,” and he does. Oh, how we would love to have that miracle of compassion in our lives today!  What would move Jesus to raise up life in us? If the young man represents this widow’s legacy and future, what is dead in our lives that Jesus would be moved by compassion to raise up?

Has something died in us? For some of us, we reach a point in our lives where we no longer feel creative or spontaneous. Life has become a repetitive act of going through the motions. We may have lost hope and no longer have a sense that our lives have meaning.

For some of us, love seems to have died. Our relationships no longer give us joy or satisfaction. We’ve grown weary of those who share our stories. We admit to taking one another for granted and of ignoring each other’s pain. Resentments, bitterness, and a lack of understanding one another have choked the life we once shared.

For many of us, the political landscape appears to have atrophied. Where we once worked for change or justice, we have begun to wonder whether anything we do can really make a difference in a climate like this. Violence and vitriolic speech fill the airwaves, and we tire of the debates and decisions that perpetuate divisiveness and inequality.

The environment seems to be choking on our waste and our toxic misuse of resources. Flood waters drown areas that have never seen so much rain, while decades of drought threaten scenic landscapes just a few states away. We grieve the land on which we live.

Daily life can sometimes just make us sick. Somehow, I trust that if those situations feel like a kick in the gut for us, they do for God as well.

I believe Jesus is still moved by compassion when he sees our funeral processions. When stopped by the crowd of our hopelessness and despair, the death of our dreams and aspirations, the deterioration of our willingness to work for the good of others, I believe God’s own womb is moved, and labors once again to coax us back to life.

And as Jesus did to that young man, so I believe God is calling to our broken hearts today, “I say to you, Rise!” Here’s the miracle of the Christian Life. Every morning, we rise again. Martin Luther is said to have started each morning of his life by making the sign of the cross over himself, and in the name of the Triune God, remembered that he was baptized.

He reminded himself that he was alive again by the grace of God. He reminded himself that God was not only waking him from sleep, but was day after day, raising him from death, forgiving his sins, restoring him to hope, coaxing him back into a world, a community, a church that needed him.

Christ is still compassionately moved to call us back into life, too. God is still laboring to bring us to birth, washing off our complacency, renewing our joy, raising us up to work once again for understanding, and justice, and reconciliation.

Here on this corner of Highland Park, we’re taking a stance for the future. We’re repairing parts of the building that have deteriorated. We’re catching rain water and holding it in new gardens. We’re protecting the rivers from runoff, and the ground from erosion. We’re investing in the next generation of people who will worship and build community in this place.

This morning we are congratulating young people who are leaning into their future. We are celebrating with them the new opportunities they have to make a difference, to care for others, to use the gifts God has given them. We’re giving thanks to God for them, and entrusting them to the future. They remind us that God is not finished with this world.

Today little Charles Gavin will be washed into that future. He will be baptized into Jesus’ life, and be raised to live every day.

Ramadan will begin at sunset tonight for our Muslim neighbors. They will enter a time of fasting and mark it as is an opportunity to become empathetic to the struggles of others, to differentiate desire from need in their lives, and to more deeply recognize the blessings they have known. Perhaps God is raising them to a new appreciation for the life of peace they are called to live.

Perhaps God is raising us up to new life, too.

A few days ago I ran into the father of that young man who had died last fall. We greeted each other, but I’m not positive he remembered me or realized I knew his story. We were both with other people and I didn’t want to interrupt his conversation. But he was smiling. Somehow in the midst of all that he has lost, he still is putting one foot in front of the other and making sense of life.

Here we are again, too. In spite of all that slows us down, that feels lost and hard for us, God still woke us up this morning, and called us to life. God still invites us to greet our neighbors, to embrace each other in peace, to come here to this table and to be refreshed with the gifts of love and peace.

The widow’s legacy was on that funeral bier. She grieved her future, and Jesus had compassion for her.

Here is our legacy – the love of God in Christ Jesus is alive for us, and for those who follow us. The love of God in Christ Jesus is restoring creation, bringing joy to the grieving, reviving the lost. In great compassion, God is giving birth to all of us, and coaxing us to life in fullness again and again. Thanks be to God. Amen