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Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity--Oct. 8, 2000
Fr. William Sisterman
St. Dunstan's Anglican Church, Minneapolis, MN 
Readings: Ephesians 3:13-21 and Luke 7:11-17 
"As Jesus approached the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of a widowed mother." 

The little town of Nain is a place that you can visit in the Holy Land today. You have to make an effort, since it's about eight miles from the city of Nazareth, off the beaten path. It's located on the Plain of Esdraelon at the foot of a mountain called Little Hermon. 

Nain isn't much of a town. There may be two hundred people living there today and it's completely Moslem. If it were in the United States, you would say it's only a "wide spot in the road". But there they don't have wide spots in the road; the streets are narrow and the buildings are very close to each other. If you go into this little bit of a town, you can visit a church, a beautiful white chapel, that is maintained by some Franciscan Friars. It commemorates the event that we heard in the Gospel this morning. 

To understand just what happened there, we have to have a bit of background about the event. We also have to say, "What has this got to do with us? It's wonderful that Jesus raised this man from the dead, but it hasn't happened lately". But we must remember that what was written in the Scripture is for our benefit twenty centuries later. 

First of all, Jesus and His entourage of disciples were traveling across the Plains of Esdraelon. They had come from nearby the Sea of Galilee where Jesus had cured the son of the centurion. They met the funeral cortege coming out of the city gate. There was, as there still is in oriental funerals, a lot of din and wailing and crying. Much of it you would say appears contrived if you were to observe it today, but it's a part of the culture in that part of the world. Jesus sees what's happening and He is filled with compassion, the Gospel tells us; He approaches the funeral cortege and tells the widow, "Don't cry." He reaches out and touches the bier and the four men stop who are carrying the stretcher with the body wrapped in a shroud. Jesus addresses the body and says, "Young man, I say to you, arise." The man sits up and begins to speak. I wonder what he said. His first words were probably, "Get me out of this shroud." What a wonderful miracle this was! Jesus was not asked to do anything. He was filled with compassion and He acted! 

There are other events where Jesus raised someone from the dead but it was always because somebody asked Him for help. Remember Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that His friend Lazarus was sick. Jesus waited for a while before He made the journey to Bethany to do something. By the time He got there Lazarus was dead. "Lord, if You had been here, my brother never would have died," Martha says to Jesus. Jesus told them not to worry. Then He raised Lazarus back to life (John 11:1-44). His action was a response to Martha and Mary. 

Another incident had to do with the daughter of Jairus who was a leader in the synagogue at Capernaum. His daughter had died. "Do something," he pleads. So Jesus goes into the room where the little girl was laid out, takes her by the hand, and raises her back to life. He responded to a request. 

The raising of the widow's son is so different. Here Jesus takes the initiative. He raises this young man from the dead. It's interesting that He would do this without being asked; without really knowing anything about these folks. You have to understand something of the culture of that time. The death of her son would have been devastating for that widowed mother. She was dependent upon her son for her livelihood. Now he was dead. Not only that, the family line was at an end. There were no heirs. In that culture, when the family line is cut off and ends, it was considered to be a punishment by God. Amid all the din of the funeral, the widow knew that and when that din died down, there would be the whispers. The whispers would begin by saying, "She must have done something wrong to have this happen to her." Can you imagine living in that little town with all of those tongues wagging about what sin she must have committed to have this happen? But Jesus really didn't know any of the details. He just arrived at the town as they were carrying the body out. He just saw what was there. 

What He saw was the enemy. The enemy was death itself. This was a mortal enemy to Jesus. "The last enemy to be overcome is death itself," says St. Paul in First Thessalonians. It is the enemy because it is the result of sin. So Jesus saw the enemy and He reached out and defeated the enemy there as He would defeat the enemy ultimately once and for all in His own resurrection. As He would defeat it for each and every one of us. This is the first reason why He would take the initiative: to meet the enemy and defeat it. 

What has this to do with us? Our reaction should be much more than, "Isn't it marvelous that Jesus was so compassionate to this woman?" This is the compassion that our Lord shows us as well; something that you and I need desperately. It is, after all, "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever", isn't it (Hebrews 13:8)? He is the same today as He was on the outskirts of Nain when He worked this miracle. He is the same compassionate person. 

I'm afraid that you and I probably have a bit of fatalism about us. You and I look at contemporary society and say, "Well, that's the way things are, after all. We just have to take it." No, we don't! That kind of fatalism can lead us to look at the society and say, "It's bad and it seems to be getting worse and nothing is going to turn it around." That kind of fatalism is flawed. Why? Because Jesus Christ is Lord. He is the Lord of every person on this earth. He is the Lord of every situation on this earth. We heard a lot of fatalism recently after the shooting of a policeman in cold blood. "Well, this is the way things are now." Maybe that is true. But that does not mean that that is the way they must be now. Can the Lord be Lord of that kind of situation? Yes, He can. And if we don't believe that, then something is wrong. What we lack is the virtue of hope; to trust that our Lord can be master of any situation. 

It was no accident that Jesus was called Lord in this particular Gospel reading this morning. It wasn't a slip of Luke's pen when he writes this, "A considerable crowd of townsfolk were with her. The Lord was moved with pity upon seeing her and said to her, 'Do not cry.'" He didn't say, "Jesus was moved with pity upon seeing her and said to her, 'Do not cry.'" Luke uses the word that the Church used after Jesus' resurrection and that word was Lord because Jesus is Lord now. He is Lord over everything. And He has earned that lordship by His suffering and death and His resurrection. In the second chapter of Saint Paul's letter to the Philippians, we read the beautiful hymn to the lordship of Jesus Christ. You've heard it before. We sang it shortly before I came to the pulpit this morning. 

"Your attitude must be that of Christ: though He was in the form of God, He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate and it was thus that He humbled Himself, obediently accepting death, death on a cross. Because of this, God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name above every other name, so that at Jesus' name, every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father, 'Jesus Christ is Lord'."

Jesus Christ is Lord! If there is a flaw in the fatalism of this society, that flaw is simply this: we do not acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ. Because we don't acknowledge it, other forces win. Other forces bring themselves to bear in what we see and do and hear. Because of that, we say, "There's not much hope." Nonsense! If we are Christian people, then we cling to the hope that Jesus Christ is Lord and because He is the Lord, He can change things. 

We might be like that widow as we encounter the Lord. We might be carrying our dead hope out to bury it. Jesus tells us, "Don't despair." He touches us and He brings our hope to life again. He can do that because He is Lord. You and I have to understand that, believe in that, and hope in that. This is what identifies us as a Christian people: that Jesus is Lord. it might be good for each of us this coming week to be conscious of what we are thinking about; things that go on around us, the things that we hear and see and say, "Is Jesus really a factor in all of this? Is Jesus the Lord of this situation or not? Can He be the Lord of this situation or not?" 

Remember, Jesus took the initiative with the widow's son. There was no asking. He had compassion because He sees what the enemy is. He sees it more clearly than you and I do. Evil and sin have to be defeated - have already been defeated. The battles go on but the war is over. Jesus won! We have to believe that and we have to act and talk and be people of faith and hope. We are on the winner's side. We can say, "Yes, the Lord can be Lord of every situation, no matter what." 

We aren't fatalists. We aren't people that say we are subject to the whims of this society. We subscribe to one central fact in our lives: that Jesus was given a name. And that name is above every other name. That name is Lord. Jesus Christ is Lord!
 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Dunstanís Church and Fr. Sisterman.