Luke 7:11-17            “After the Missile”

 

            If you were here a few years ago, you will remember that one Saturday morning when the warning came to us that the island was going to be destroyed by a missile. We had at most twelve minutes to live. Knowing that I was about to die, I have to say that I was disappointed with my own response. My reaction when the world was ending in twelve minutes was to spend potentially the last ten minutes of my life trying to disprove the supposition. My last minutes were in essence spent trying to disprove the government warning. 

            After the missile, what happened? Nothing really happened. Did we go out with a renewed fresh appreciation for life? Did we suddenly call people we knew we had to forgive? Did we pay off our credit cards? It is to me amazing how it is that a missile scare of total annihilation has not changed one thing on our little island.

            This last week I was asked sincerely when I thought that Jesus would return and usher in the apocalypse. The answer I gave was that I did not know, but that I would have to live my life as if it could be in the next ten minutes or so. The fact that Jesus said he is returning should still mean something to us and to the world. Yet, we live as if it does not.

 

            What does this have to do with our reading for today? The town of Nain in the New Testament is the Greco-Roman name for the Hebrew name of Shunem. And, something happened in Shunem in the Old Testament that should have the people there a little bit more ready for what Jesus did in raising the boy from the dead. About 850 years before Jesus in that same town a prophet of God named Elisha prayed over a boy and brought him back to life for his mother. We can read this story in 2 Kings 4:32 and on. This story is the town of Nain’s claim to fame. That is what they were known for just like Waimea is known for Jojo’s shave ice.

            Now for a second time in their history, God is intervening in this miraculous way to bring the dead back to life. I am thinking that Jesus left Capernaum (where he was last week in our readings) to specifically come to this town where Elisha had done this similar miracle. This is not a coincidence for sure. Jesus is showing those people there that God’s miracles are not just something of the past but that they can happen at any moment—like a missile out of nowhere.

            I really want us to understand that Jesus’ showing up in Nain is really making the statement that you have to believe that God can do anything at any time. God is all powerful. There is nothing that God cannot do. If a miracle happened once, then it can happen again. Let us live today knowing that God can do miracles at any time for anybody. The miracles keep happening all the time.

           

In Jesus time, death was always very close. People lived much shorter and harder lives. There were no dentists. There were no hospitals. And, there certainly were not disposable diapers. When death came to visit a family in those days, they wept and they wailed. Still today in the Middle East that is the protocol for mourning.

            I am amazed actually in thinking about how it is that we in Western cultures just seem to get very quiet. If we have a funeral procession, nobody says anything. Nobody cries out in grief. In silence we process forward to the gravesite. This is considered respectful. People from a variety of other cultures deem our silence at death to be quite odd in fact.

            To be sure, when we hear from the Bible that a young man is being carried out of the town of Na’in in a funeral procession, we should not put our cultural overlay on that at all. We should see this procession as a form of a “Wake.” They would have been making the greatest amount of noise one could muster. They would be wailing and screaming in distress. They would do this in part to make sure the person who is about to be encrypted is actually dead. This was part of the process to make sure that no one was accidentally buried alive. How do you know the young man is really dead? We had the wake for him, but he did not wake! We waited three days, screamed as loud as we could, but he did not wake.

            Today, again, in our culture we know that someone is dead how?  Do we try to wake them up like in the old days? No. We know that someone is dead today because they are certified. It is the last certificate any of us will probably ever get. So, if someone (the attending doctor or hospice worker) signs off on us, then really that is all there is to it. WE are dead.   The signature proves it. Honestly, I like the old way better!

 

            So, we have to imagine that Jesus and his followers are heading up the road to Nain, having just come from Capernaum. This is a narrow path, for Nain is a small town to say the least. As Jesus is walking up the hill towards Nain, this screaming and wailing procession is heading down the hill. In other words, there is no passing by one another without engagement of some sort.

            As with everything Jesus does, when the two crowds come together on that road, amazing blessings start to happen. With all the noise and clamor going on, Jesus raises his voice and tells the mother of the young man, who is a widow, to stop crying. “Weep not” he proclaims.

            The Bible makes the point of saying that the mother is a widow. This is also her only son who is now being carried in death. In those days, one needed a male heir in the house to provide for the women. So, when the son is dead, the mother would see her own life as hopelessly tragic now.

            If you all recall the story of Ruth and Naomi, it is very much the same concern that drives Naomi to go back to Bethlehem to seek a male heir. In Ruth 1:12 she tells her daughters in law, “Turn back, for I am too old to have a husband. . .or to produce new husbands for you. . .there is no hope for me.” Then, the whole situation is redeemed through Boaz and his love for Ruth. Back to the story in Luke, however.

            Jesus makes it clear that he will give the son back to the grieving mother for HER sake. In other words, the young man’s life is not his own, but it is for his mother. We can even see in the language that Luke uses, “Jesus GAVE her son back to her.” (verse 15)

            Every son and daughter in this room, that would be all of us, must take this to heart. Jesus wants us also to live—for others. We are given life, for others whom we love, and who love us! We read this and almost skip over the meaning that Jesus gives the son back to the mother! What he does in raising the young man back to life is for the mother’s sake—not the son’s.

            I think about the young man already up in heaven with God, looking down on the situation. “OK, God, let us do this miracle for Mom!” “Send me back.” “Let’s make it happen.” “I will see you again shortly.” The young man did not live forever. He had to die again. But, he lived his life again knowing already what comes at the time of death. That is an incredible blessing indeed.

            When Jesus says, “Rise up” to that young man. He is rising up to a different life than he had before. He is rising up to a life in which he has had first hand experience with God in heaven and with His Son Jesus Christ. He will know that his life is dedicated back to his mother. For her sake he will breath the air of this world again. For her, his heart will beat again. Happy mothers’ day almost! This sermon is really for next week!

           

            When the man sits up on the funeral bier, our text says that the people were afraid. Fear seized them all. I think they were afraid simply because they did not initially understand that this was from God. They thought they were seeing a ghost or the walking dead. Most of our horror movies today incorporate the use of the “un-dead.” Vampires and Frankenstein’s monsters horrify us.

            It takes them a moment to realize that this young man is not simply “undead.” He is alive in Christ. When I look at others around me, I too often times see the walking dead. And, I want to do that same miracle and wake them up. I want them to be alive in Christ.

 

            The people of Nain (I somehow want to call it the “Town of Naïve”) do not understand fully what happens when Jesus raises this young man. We know this for sure. Even though they are now glorifying God, they simply think that Jesus is a “great prophet.”

            Next week in our scripture, we will see that Luke brings up the topic of John the Baptist again. You see, John the Baptist was the Great Prophet that told of the coming of the Son of God. Jesus is not just a prophet. Jesus is God incarnate.

            To this day, this same error is being made by folks around the world. They talk about Jesus as if he were just another prophet from God. They think that Jesus was like Moses—someone who rightly did miracles and spoke for God. They think that Jesus is like the Prophet Mohammed, so that they might even be comparable, and because Mohammed came 600 years later, he should be the latest version of God’s prophet. Yet, all of this is strangely in error. This is because, simply put, Jesus is not a prophet.

            Mohammed never raised anyone back to life. Only God can do that. Moses never raised anyone back to life. In fact, Buddha never did that either. None of these others ever came back to life themselves. Only God has the power of resurrection.

            The word went out and spread that Jesus was a prophet. The Bible says that it went throughout Judah and the surrounding countryside. See the people were confused because the prophet Elisha had raised someone from the dead in their town before. However, Jesus is not merely a prophet that is rising up out of the people as Elisha did. Jesus is the Son of God who came down. Still God’s miracles are striking. Still their lives should be forever changed. But, we never here from the people of Nain again in the Bible. Maybe they just went back to the way their lives were before! But, we cannot do that. We should not do that. 

 

Amen.