2nd Sunday after Pentecost
June 6, 2010
2Pentecost2010 Luke 7:11-17 June 6, 2010
I trust some of you’ve seen (and smelled) the Corpse Plant at Chico State. It bloomed this week – clearly one of the largest blooms I’ve seen on a plant. They say it’s good it doesn’t bloom often because its odd smell can be smelled from 600 feet away. These plants are native to Sumatra and there are only a few in the United States. Of these few, each seems to have its own blooming cycle. The one at Chico State bloomed in 2004, 2007, and 2010. That’s a three year cycle and what that said to me, of course, is that another name for this plant might be St. Luke. According to the cycle of Gospel reading it blooms in the Year of Luke.
Today’s Luke story is of a funeral procession. A crowd is carrying the bier of a young man who had just died. He is his mother’s only son and she is a widow. That made her as vulnerable as one got in first century Palestine. Her grief would have been matched only by her fear. She had no rights and no one was obligated to her. Her husband’s and son’s deaths were basically her death certificate too.
But as the funeral procession moves out of the city gate, another crowd moves in. The two crowds meet at that crossroad. This story is about paying attention to who we meet at the crossroads of our lives. A crossroad is an image of transition. It’s a place where one road runs into another, or as Webster says, a “crucial point where a decision must be made.” Several decisions were being made at this road in and out of the town of Nain. Would this woman try to find a way to carry on? And would Jesus become that way?
Jesus was with the crowd coming into the city. He had enough to take care of with all their needs begging for his attention. This woman asked nothing of him; knew nothing of him; and was so distracted by her grief she even cared nothing of him. But the story tells us Jesus noticed her. The text says, “When Jesus saw her…”
Seeing is a big deal. So much passes us by. If we saw every need there was to see in the world we would be overwhelmed. But the good news is, Jesus sees. And not only sees, but responds. Jesus saw her and had compassion and his compassion moved him to break through the cultural barriers around death. Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you rise!” The man sat up and the people, filled with fear, said, “God has looked favorably on us.”
In this story, Jesus raises the dead, and the meaning is that this is the kind of God we have – a God who meets us at the crossroads of our lives and calls us to rise; a God who meets the Church at its crossroads, and calls the Church to rise. But what’s important to catch is the order of things. It starts with Jesus noticing and having compassion for this woman before she even does a thing. Jesus meets her where she is – as she is – in all her grief and terror.
That’s where the living Christ meets us – as individuals and as church – where we are and as we are. We don’t have to have all our acts together for Christ to come. Christ comes. The initiative is Christ’s. Ours is response. Will we rise as we are bid, or will we argue that it isn’t possible? The crowd around the dead man stood still in shock. How can the dead be raised? But Luke says: God raises the dead.
This story in Luke 7 takes seriously the resurrection of Christ, not just as an event that happened 2000 years ago, but as the event that shapes every day since. Christ meets us at each day’s crossroads where we have to choose whether to respond with cynicism, despair or giving up, or with trust, hope and gratitude. The daily question before the Christian is does Christ’s resurrection make a difference?
We say we believe it does, but trusting that when the crossroads are difficult is something else. Trust doesn’t come easy. That’s why we need each other. That’s why Jesus gives us gifts of bread and wine, water and word in community. We need to gather together around this promise of God’s faithfulness at the crossroads.
Baptism is our incorporation into the promise that new life awaits us even and especially when the chips are down. What could be worse than what faced that widow of Nain? The story asserts that nothing falls outside of the realm of God’s ability to breathe new life through it. There is always hope. That is Christianity’s pronouncement to the world. Hope, even when oil wells spew out for days upon end. Hope because we can respond and care. Hope even when a church is vandalized on the very day of their fundraiser to help improve their facility.
Perhaps you read the ER article: “Hate Crime at Chico’s Second Baptist Church.” This is Pastor Joe Kiwovele’s church. Pastor Joe was one of Pastor Elidard’s interpreters. Pastor Joe interpreted for Pastor Elidard at the Seniors’ meeting at Helga’s home and when Pastor Elidard served Holy Communion to Leta Cleland. Reg, Jim Henson and I shared dinner with Pastor Joe last Saturday at a fundraiser for the new building Second Baptist needs in the Chapman neighborhood.
About 9 p.m. that night they were bringing leftover food from dinner back to the church. They interrupted those doing the vandalism. One of the 15 year olds involved was brought by a friend to church the next morning and he apologized and was surprised when the congregation applauded him for apologizing. Pastor Kiwovele said he understood the police investigation would continue, but expressed his wish to work towards reconciliation with the perpetrators in the hope some good might come out of it. This is resurrection hope at a difficult crossroad.
I was moved by an earlier article in the ER about the 88 graduates from Durham High. (By the way, there are great pictures of Chris Kimmelshue and Shawna Hoffmann on the ER website. All the area High School graduations are highlighted with pictures on the ER website.) The article on Durham High tells about the response surrounding a student named Claire who was killed a few years ago in a car accident. She would have graduated this year and her fellow students carried roses during graduation in memory of her. Her parents awarded $1000 scholarships to 17 students who wrote essays about what it’s like to lose a classmate. They faced into that painful crossroad investing in the future.
Poet Wendell Berry calls us to continually find ways to “practice resurrection.” One way Faith Lutheran will be practicing that kind of hope this summer is by joining ELCA congregations from all over the country in participating in what’s being called “A Month of Potlucks.” As written in the May issue of The Lutheran all ELCA congregations are asked to hold a potluck in June with each person giving $1 for ELCA World Hunger. If 4.6 million ELCA Lutherans do this, guess what will be raised? Not just money, but hope. Our potluck will be Friday, June 18!
Children will be wrapping the shoes we collected for the children in Rwanda. Another church group is going there and will deliver them. There will be a bubble blowing contest and I’m hoping for a ping pong tournament if someone will lend us a table for the night. Challenge me to a game. And there will be Bunco for all ages under the leadership of Rose Marie Imhoff. It’s an all-congregational World Hunger potluck.
Then on July 16, our Faith 3rd-Friday Fun night will be an outdoor movie showing of “Up” along with S’mores and more… and the $1 donation will go to local hunger for the Torres Shelter or you can bring canned food for our Joseph Pantry. Resurrection hope! That’s what we want to be about this summer. Hope is also what’s happening this week through the combined youth and adult Mexico Mission trip with Faith Lutheran and from St. John’s Episcopal.
There are many ways to be about God’s purposes and it begins around water and word, bread and wine, the confession of faith and a community to help us live it. We love, because God first notices and loves. The question isn’t “can God raise the dead?” The question is will we have the humility and courage to respond when Christ notices and bids us rise into this day and all the days to come. May God give us hearts to believe these words are for us: “I say to you, Rise!”
+Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson, to the glory of God
Faith Lutheran Church, Chico, CA
+Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson, to the glory of God
Faith Lutheran Church, Chico, CA