Friday, July 2, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 5

Anything can be

Listen to the MUSTN’TS,
listen to the don’ts—
listen to the shouldn’ts
the impossibles,
the won’ts—
listen to the never haves,
Then listen close to me.
Anything can happen,
ANYTHING can be.

That is part of a Shel Silverstein poem.
This poem fits well with our scripture readings
for this (Saturday) Sunday,
because these readings are filled with impossibles.
These readings are filled
with God making the ANYTHING come true.

Our Old Testament and our Gospel readings tell similar stories—
someone who is dead is brought back to life.

The prophet Elijah brings the child of a widow back to life.
Jesus tells the son of another widow,
“Young man, I say to you rise!”

And in both stories the dead sit up, get up
and are alive once more.

These readings have troubled me this week.

How do you preach about the dead being brought back to life
without raising the question,
“So, Elijah! Jesus!
Where were YOU
when the breath left the one I loved?
Where were you
when my heart was broken?”

The truth is
there are no answers to those questions.

We can read the stories as miracle stories.
Indeed, raising someone from the dead back to life
qualifies as a pretty major miracle.

We can read these stories as being told to confirm that yes, indeed,
Elijah truly is a great prophet.
Yes, indeed,
Jesus is also a great prophet.
Who else could do such impossible things?

But perhaps these stories are here
not to focus on the ones who are dead
but to focus on the ones
whose lives are so deeply touched by those deaths,
that they themselves felt dead.
The mothers.

Elijah is an important man.
A revered man
Yet he listens when God directs him to the home of a widow.
he goes not just to receive
but to give.
When the woman’s son dies,
Elijah does not just offer a platitude of condolence,
he begs God, he cries out to God,
this woman has suffered enough, God—
undo this death.
Elijah takes the mother’s suffering into his own being
and suffers with her.

We hear in Luke’s gospel that Jesus has compassion for the mother.
She has lost her only son.
She was already a widow.
How much loss can one person endure?

Jesus understands this pain.
Jesus has compassion.
Compassion is very different than sympathy.
Sympathy is saying, “I am sorry this happened to you.”

The word compassion means “with-suffering”—
one who is with us in our suffering, in our pain,
in our absolute agony.

Jesus does not just keep walking.
Jesus does not say, “Well, you know, people die every day.”
Jesus stops.
He sees the woman,
He REALLY really sees the woman,
And he feels her pain in the marrow of his bones, deep in his gut.

So what does this mean for you and me?
We are not able to bring the dead back to life—
Or are we?

You see people can be physically alive
but oh so dead inside.

Perhaps as followers of Jesus,
we are called to compassion,
to be fully present with those who are suffering,
with those whose lives
feel utterly empty.

A few years ago I was covering pastoral care for a friend,
another priest.
We did this for one another and generally, thankfully,
nothing ever really happened
that demanded much from us.

But the night before my friend was returning from her conference,
I got a phone call that no one wants to receive.
It was late at night. It was pouring rain.
A bright vibrant young man—
driving back to Asheville for school,
was hit by a truck,
who was swerving to miss another car,
and the young man was killed.
Instantly killed.

The mother and father and brother and girlfriend were in disbelief.
The mother was hysterical—and furious with God.
The father was calm, keeping his emotions under control,
lest he lose all control.
The brother wept silently. Wrapped in a blanket. Curled in a chair.
The girlfriend was numb with grief.

The amazing thing was how the people of their church showed up.
In the middle of the night.
In the pouring rain.
It did not take a priest
to have compassion.

These people of God,
these followers of Jesus
could not have acted any other way.
Their years of worshipping together,
Praying together, being church together,
Somehow, miraculously,
Led them to do just what was needed that night.
To show up.
To hold one another.
To be compassionate.
To be with that heart-broken family
in the deepest parts
and darkest places of their suffering.

Not everyone has a household of friends who shows up.
Sometimes, like it was for the two widows in our readings today,
it may be just one person.

And even for those who think they don’t even have that one person,
They are wrong.

Because I will tell you for sure and for certain,
God shows up.
Always. Bidden or unbidden. God is there. Here.
God sees us with compassion.
God is right there with us
in the worst of times,
and in the best of times.
It is not impossible to be raised from the dead.

Listen to the MUSTN’TS,
listen to the don’ts—
listen to the shouldn’ts
the impossibles,
the won’ts—
listen to the never haves,
Then listen close to me.
Anything can happen,
ANYTHING can be.

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