Sermon: Pentecost V RCL C – "Do not weep!"

Luke 7:11-17


Soon after healing the centurion’s slave, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Walking up to a department store’s fabric counter, an attractive young woman said, “I want to buy this material for a new dress. How much does it cost?”… “Only one kiss per yard,” replied the smirking male clerk…. Not to be taken back by the harassment, the woman said, “That’s fine! I’ll take ten yards.”… With expectation and anticipation written all over his face, the clerk hurriedly measured out and wrapped the cloth, then held it out teasingly, leaning forward to receive his “payment.”… The woman snapped up the package and pointed to a little old man standing beside her. “Grandpa will pay the bill,” she smiled.

I suppose we all experience disappointment to one degree or another everyday… it might be something as trivial as not getting what we ordered at a restaurant.. or something more serious such as a setback at work or bad news from the Doctor.. or even disappointment in another person… 


Years ago in Germany, there was a young Jewish boy who had a profound sense of admiration for his father. His family’s life centered on the acts of piety and devotion prescribed by their religion. The father was zealous in attending worship and religious instruction, and he demanded the same from his children. … While the boy was a teenager, the family was forced to move to another town in Germany. There was no synagogue in the new town, and the pillars of the community all belonged to the Lutheran church. Suddenly the father announced to the family that they were going to abandon their Jewish traditions and join the Lutheran church. When the stunned family asked why, the father explained that changing religions was necessary to help his business. … The youngster was bewildered and confused. His deep disappointment soon gave way to anger and a kind of intense bitterness that plagued him throughout his life. That disappointed son, disillusioned by his father’s lack of integrity, eventually left Germany and went to England to study. He sat daily at the British Museum, formulating various ideas and writing a book. In that work, he introduced an entirely new world-view, envisioning a movement that would change the social and political systems of the world.  Drawing from past experiences with his father, he described religion as an “opiate for the masses” that could be explained totally in terms of economics and personal gain. … Today, millions of people still live under the system invented by this disappointed man, and millions more suffered under previous regimes that incorporated its values. His name, of course, was Karl Marx, and his idea was communism. And it all began with his father’s misuse of the name of God for the sake of profit and his disappointment in that.

Marx experienced disappointment that led to a great bitterness.. and that bitterness literally led to the murder of hundreds of thousands… but where does this disappointment come from… I would suggest to you that our disappointments are the direct result of our expectations – you order something at a restaurant.. and that is what you expect to receive… you do a good job..and you expect a reward… you put your faith in someone… and you expect them to behave according to your expectations… when it doesn’t work out that way.. we are disappointed… We even do this in our relationship with God…

When you say your prayers.. do you come with some sort of expectation.. some result that you expect to be accomplished by God?… Of course you do.. we all do… We know exactly what we need and we know exactly how we want God to handle the situation… when He doesn’t we wonder why.. and we are disappointed… yet God.. is not in the business of disappointing… for when we place our expectation – our hope – in God.. it’s not like we say our prayers with our fingers crossed for good luck… When we hope in God.. we come believing.. knowing that he will work in us those things that are best… 

As St.Peter writes in his first epistle.. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”… God has given us new birth into a living hope… that phrase “living hope” can also be translated as an “ever living expectation.”… it is a hope.. that no matter the outcome of our expectations.. we don’t have to give up or be disappointed.

Jesus makes this point to us in our Gospel reading today… We are told that Jesus went to the city of Nain.. and there.. at the gates of the city he meets a funeral procession… behind the young man that was being borne out of the city.. was a great crowd… their hopes and expectations for this young man have been dashed.. they had place their hopes in what they could see.. in what they knew.. in what they thought would come of him.. but now the boy was dead… yet.. we know that our faith that comes from Christ is believing in what we cannot see.. what we cannot know – as St. Paul writes, “We walk – we follow Jesus – by faith and not by sight”… our faith is in the Risen Lord.. and so.. it is into this parade of death.. this funeral procession that Jesus – the Risen Lord – comes… 

First he goes to the mother of the boy and says.. “Do not weep.”… then he goes to the funeral bier and speaks to the dead boy… “Young man, I say to you, rise!”.. and the living boy sat up and began to speak.. and Jesus gave him to his mother.
The crowd.. the mother.. and even the boy himself.. had expectations for his life… and when those expectations were not met..there was disappointment… there was death… but it was into these dashed hopes and disappointments – into this death – that Jesus came and spoke “Life”…

The same is true with us… we have these expectations of the world around us.. of others.. and even of ourselves… and so often those expectations lead us to disappointment.. hurt feelings.. and dashed dreams… but it is at those times that Jesus walks into our lives and says to us, “Do not weep.”.. Do not weep!.. and then he proceeds to speak to us words of life… giving us a hope and a confidence that even though our worldly desires were not met.. that we are disappointed.. God’s perfect plan is still fulfilled.

That is our hope and our confidence… At the Annunciation, when the angel of the Lord told Mary that she we would give birth to the Son of God, she replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”  Our hope.. our confidence.. our faith allows us to speak those same words to Our Father.. let it be done to me according to thy will… it allows us to say to the world, “Bring it! I may not know what is coming or what will happen, but I know that no matter the outcome.. my Lord Jesus will speak life.. because not only is Jesus the way.. and not only is he the truth.. but he is also the life.”.. and he speaks his life into our greatest disappointments.. and allows us to live his most perfect plan. 

It doesn’t mean that we aren’t still going to be disappointed .. that we won’t be hurt.. that from our perspective, things won’t go horribly wrong… but God does say.. in the midst of those disappointments.. hurts and wrongs.. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you… I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”

Sermon: Pentecost IV RCL C – "Through Faith"

Luke 7:1-10


After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

The Greek God Dionysius found his old schoolmaster and foster father, the Satyr Silenus, missing.  It seems that the old satyr had been drinking wine and had wandered away drunk, later to be found by some Phrygian peasants, who carried him to their king, where he promptly proceeded to pass out in the king’s rose garden. Well.. turns out that the king recognized him and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for ten days and nights with politeness while Satyr entertained the king and his friends with stories and songs.  On the eleventh day, the king brought the Satyr back to Dionysus in Lydia and for a reward.. Dionysus offered the king his choice of whatever reward he wished for. The King.. asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold.

 
We know the king as Midas.. and Midas rejoiced in his new power, which he hastened to put to the test. He touched an oak twig and a stone; both turned to gold. Overjoyed, as soon as he got home, he ordered the servants to set a feast on the table. Ovid.. the author of this myth writes.. “So Midas, king of Lydia, swelled at first with pride when he found he could transform everything he touched to gold; but when he beheld his food grow rigid and his drink harden into golden ice then he understood that this gift was a bane and in his loathing for gold, cursed his prayer” Midas even touched his daughter and she turned into a golden statue.
 
Now, Midas hated the gift he had coveted. He prayed to Dionysus, begging to be delivered from starvation. Dionysus heard, and consented; he told Midas to wash in the river Pactolus… Midas did so, and when he touched the waters, the power flowed into the river, and the river sands turned into gold. Which explained why the river Pactolus was so rich in gold…
 
This is of course is where we get the phrase Midas Touch… In business.. it is always a considered to be a good thing to have… but after hearing the rest of the Midas story I wonder if that is so true… even so.. folks have always wanted the ability to transform what they have into something better.. the ordinary into gold.. the average into stunning beauty.. the dead into life.. It is the eternal plague of the grass always being greener… Yet, what most discover, even if they can do all these things, they are never satisfied.  Instead of becoming happy, they become miserable in their pursuit of even more.  I remember a song by the group The The.. the lyrics:
 
I’ve got my sight set on you
 And someday, someday, someday, you’ll come my way.
 But when you put your arms around me
 I’ll be looking over your shoulder for something new
 ’cause I ain’t ever found peace [with some girl]
 I ain’t ever found peace with the religion of the world
 I ain’t ever found peace at the bottom of a glass

We can find ourselves in the same place… I ain’t ever found peace.. I’ve never found happiness… Why?.. because we lack the humility and we fail to give the time necessary to pursue the one thing that will bring true happiness.  Not a momentary happiness that fades with the spark of a new challenge or pursuit, but a happiness… a joy.. that endures even through the most intense of storms… a joy that comes only from God.

 
Wilbur Rees writes of one person who says… “I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.”
 
To say, “I want $3 worth of God” is to say, I want just enough of God to hopefully get into heaven.. but nothing more… I don’t want my life transformed… I’m not interested in serving others… my life is my own, satisfying my own purposes… “It’s all about me.”
 
That type of life is shallow and meaningless… and it will not bring joy.  Midas had the ability to get anything he ever wanted.. but to what end… he lost his daughter.. and he nearly lost his life… he had his gold.. and it was death.
 
But.. consider someone like St. Francis of Assisi who gave up everything for God.  The prayer he wrote is one of our most famous… Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; / where there is hatred, let me sow love; / where there is injury, pardon; / where there is doubt, faith; / where there is despair, hope; / where there is darkness, light; / and where there is sadness, joy.
 
Lord.. make me an instrument of thy peace.. Lord.. transform my life, so that I might help transform others… where there is hatred help me to transform it into love… transform me.. so that where there is doubt.. I might show faith….. This is not a shallow and meaningless life… This is a life filled with the Spirit of God.. this is a life filled with that true and lasting joy.
 
How do we get from one to the other?  How do we go from the shallow and meaningless to the true and lasting joy?
 
In our Gospel reading.. Jesus enters Capernaum.. there he is approached by some of the Jewish leaders who have been sent on an errand by the local centurion.  The centurion is a Roman commander, generally hated by the Jews because the Romans are occupying the land.  However, in this case it would appear that the centurion is someone who is liked and respected – he even built the local synagogue for the Israelites.  The centurion has a prized possession – a slave – who has fallen ill and having heard of the miracles Jesus has performed, asks if Jesus will come and heal the slave.  What struck me is how the centurion has himself introduced… For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and the slave does it.”… In a sense, the centurion has a Midas touch.  He speaks.. and whatever he desires is done, but to what purpose?  Who does it profit?… Himself.  Yet, even with all this authority, he still lacks the ability to grasp what he most desires.. which, in this case.. is the health of his prized slave…. I can say ‘go’ and they go.. I can say, ‘come’ and they come.  I can say, ‘do this’ and it is done…. However.. I can say to my slave, ‘be well’.. but his condition only becomes worse.
 
Yet, there apparently was something that the centurion had that Jesus had not seen in all of Israel… “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found.. such faith.”  In his knowledge, the centurion knew that he had authority, but in his wisdom, he knew that this authority – this Midas touch – extended only so far.. therefore, in his humility, he knew that he must also rely on faith… and it was this faith that gave him that which he most desired.. “When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.”
 
The Lord – unlike Midas – can take all that we are and all that we have.. all of the pursuits and worldly desires.. the good, the bad, and the ugly.. the power and authority, the addictions and shortcomings, and even our unfaithfulness and sinfulness.. he can take it all – and if we have faith.. faith as small as a mustard seed – he can take it all and say, “Behold, I make all things new.”….  How do we go from the shallow and meaningless to the true and lasting joy?  Faith.  Faith in the one true God.  Faith in His Son Jesus.  And faith in the workings of the Holy Spirit.
 
Do you believe this?.. do you believe?… Through your intellect, you may answer, “No” to that question, but I don’t think you would even be here if, in your heart.. in your soul.. you couldn’t answer, “Yes.”  Therefore.. the next question is: “Will you let Him?”… Will you allow Jesus to take all that you have.. all that you are.. and all that you desire… and transform you?  Put another way, are you happy with three dollars worth of God.. or.. like St. Francis.. are you prepared to say.. “Lord make me an instrument.. Lord transform me”.. Lord – through faith – give me that true and lasting joy.”