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
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
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
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
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.