The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:

s177g10  Sunday 10  6/6/2010

‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’  Luke 7.14

This is one of those miracle stories that we find hardest to reconcile in our modern world view.   What is going on here?   Did this actually happen as it is written?   Or is it just a symbolic story from which we are to derive encouragement rather than anything else?   Or are we to believe, and because of our belief consider ourselves ‘better’ than other folk who are, not unreasonably, sceptical?

I begin by noting that Jesus came across this funeral procession ‘by accident’.   It was just there.   He did not know those involved and nor did they know him.   Therefore it was not because of some good life that the man and his mother had led that caused Jesus to do this.   Nor was there anything special about the mother’s relationship to her son.   It was ‘normal’ profound grief that every mother would have for the death of her child.   There is no element of repentance in the sense of being regretful for actions of the past.   There was no element of faith, no expectation of any blessing whatsoever.   It was entirely unexpected, entirely uncalled for, even by Jesus’ own disciples.   It came as ‘a bolt out of the blue’ to everyone.

I have more than once observed that when people meet the Almighty in scripture, they almost invariably fall on their faces, and invariably the Almighty lifts them to their feet.   Sadly the church has more being noted for keeping people on their knees, suitably subservient, suitably compliant.   Religion has been characterised by rewarding its adherents and damning any who would not follow, or who would follow differently.   Within ‘my’ Anglican Church the ‘evangelicals’ have damned the ‘catholics’ and the ‘charismatics’; the ‘catholics’ have damned the ‘evangelicals’ and the ‘charismatics’; and the ‘charismatics’ have damned the ‘catholics’ and the ‘evangelicals’.   We think we are so much better than terrorists, yet we are quick to invoke the name of our ‘god’ to dismiss as unclean women, gay people, non ‘christians’ (according to ‘our’ standards), really anyone who is different from us.   I mean WE go to church and recite the creed each and every Sunday, as if this is going to save us - and damn others!

We are so ready to deal out death, and deal out death in the name of our ‘god’.

Frodo, the Ring-bearer heard voices, quite identical to the voices that assailed Gollum in an endless internal debate, ‘quite plainly but far off, voices out of the past: What a pity Biblo did not stab the vile creature, when he had a chance!  Pity?  It was Pity that stayed his hand.  Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need.   I do not feel pity for Gollum.   He deserves death.   Deserves death!   I daresay he does.   Many that live deserve death.   And some die who deserve life.   Can you give that to them?   Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety.   Even the wise cannot see all ends.’ (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Taming of Sméagol p271).

In this miracle, Jesus allies himself with the creator, the sustainer, the re-creator, the One who brings life and the One who brings to life.   And this is what our task is, those of us who claim to follow Jesus and love God - to join in this task of bringing life and bringing to life - others, - all others.   And the question is - do we follow Jesus, or ally ourselves with discrimination, marginalization, alienation and ultimately death.

And I wonder if we are not so enmeshed in our death-dealing that we find this miracle so incredulous as to dismiss it as fable?   But if this is the case, the church has no reason to exist and there are many good reasons, like discrimination, marginalization, and alienation, why it should cease to.   If we don’t bring life to others, why on earth should we even exist?

The essence of our death-dealing is surely because we want to think that we are better than others, or want to be better than others, so that ‘god’ will favour us over others.   We might do this by our sorrow for past failures, gullibility in belief, our attendance at church, the orthodoxy of our faith or even our willingness or wit to ask for help.   But, as I pointed out at the beginning of this sermon nothing like these things figured in causing Jesus to raise this person from the dead.

He was raised to life simply because he was.

And there are so many, many people who do not call themselves ‘christians’ who seek to bring life to others, simply because they are, often in ways more effective and less ostentatiously than ‘christians’.   I still hear jibes (from ‘christians’) about politically correct terminology, yet I cannot conceive of a ‘god’ who would approve of language that excludes, marginalizes or alienates others, and particularly in public worship.   It shows again that often civil society has much to teach the church about God.

Over the years I have pondered and worried that there is so much violence in the bible.   If any think that the Koran is a book of terrorists, not like ‘our’ precious bible, then they haven’t read ‘our’ precious bible!    May I suggest a quick read of Judges 11 might serve to disabuse anyone of this fable!   Why is there so much death-dealing - even in our own sacred scriptures?

And a tentative answer has been coming to me, that it proves that our faith is no better than others.   Our faith is not ‘pure as the driven snow’.  Of course, nor is anyone else’s either.   We are all enmeshed in the desire for personal salvation and the divine call to put this aside and give life to others.   As I said some weeks ago, this would mean that God is condemning 5.8 billion people to eternal damnation in a total population of 6.8 billion people.

Lying behind the crucifixion was the desire of the religious to assert their superiority over others, the tax collectors, the prostitutes and the sinners, with whom Jesus so freely associated.   Death was the only option for this thinking.

Jesus comes to bring life, life in all its fullness.

So this is not simply a nice story that should fill us with praise that we have such an awesome god.   We are called to follow, to do the very same thing.   We are called to bring life where ever we can.   We are not called to make people sorry for the past, or to believe the unbelievable.   Both of these essentially diminish others who may be different to us.   Indeed we are not just to magnify the Lord, for implicitly this minimizes humanity.

It is quite true that we will not often have the experience of raising someone else from the dead, in the instantaneous way Jesus did, in the gospel story for today; but there is much that our simple companionship will achieve.

Which leads me to ponder what earthly good is it proclaiming the literal truth of the raising of the widow’s son, implicitly condemning those who do not hold such a literal truth to hell?   How does this raise OTHERS?   This is surely what the gospel story is told to encourage us to do!   Part of our raising others is acknowledging that our faith is not the ultimate - that we share with others the same foibles, the same temptations, the same anxieties.  

It will, of course, be quite impossible to form a church that holds together all people with such divergent views.   It is as likely as getting the other 5.8 billion of the earth’s present inhabitants to turn to Christ in precisely the same manner as me!   So I suggest that we don’t begin to try.   But I do suggest that our faith demands that we are no better than others and be open to the contributions others wish to make.

For me this acknowledgement of others is the essence of repentance as defined in Luke chapter 15.   It is responding to the invitation into the community of all.

It is life and it is people who are sacred, not rules, scripture, tradition, monuments, altars, or sacraments.   The concerns of all are important.

And finally, of course this is not all entirely pointed outward.   Jesus doesn’t want us to endlessly berate ourselves for past failures or believe the unbelievable.   It is not just others, but we also who are freed to live life in all it’s fullness, with others, all others.


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