In our reading this morning in the gospel of Luke, Jesus is entering a town called Nain, and the disciples and a large crowd are following Him. Picture yourself walking with this large crowd following Jesus, experiencing the excitement of walking with a prophet and miracle worker that teaches lessons about transparency, faith, love and hope. As your group comes near a gate entrance into the town, you encounter another group coming out of the town.
Nain was and still is a small town in Galilee, situated on the northwestern edge of a small mountain known as Lessor Hebron where the ground goes steeply downward to the plains of Esdraelon. The gate at the edge of town leads to a descent down the hill to the East. The only remains of the old burial site are burial caves, in the side of the hill. It was the tradition of the day that all burial grounds be outside of the towns. So you find yourself going up somewhat of a steep climb when you meet the funeral party as they are starting to walk downhill, and the two crowds meet at the outer gate of the city.
It was a custom for the immediate family to lead the way, followed by pall bearers carrying the stretcher or ‘bier’. And, behind the bier were friends and mourners of the town. The bier or stretcher was an open bed of sorts, usually made of wood, with wood sides but no top. The funeral is for a man, and this man is the only son of his mother. She is also a widow, and widows do not inherit the land of their husband. Inheritance goes to the children, and usually to the first born son. This widow will now be dependent on relatives, wherever they happen to live.
When Jesus sees this woman weeping, He has compassion for her. He tells her not to weep. He touches the bier, and the bearers stand still. He orders the young man to rise, and he does just that. He sits up and begins to talk. I wonder what he is saying? You are there in the crowd watching. What do you think he is saying? Jesus hands the son back to his mother, and we are told that the crowd, obviously the two crowds, freak out completely, and they are convinced that a great prophet has been sent to them, and God has looked favorably on them.
In our collect this morning we read: “Oh God, from whom all good proceeds, grant that your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding that we may do them through Jesus Christ our Lord”. We too have Christ within us. Just as Jesus had compassion for the widow and her son, we are called to follow Jesus, inspired and moved with compassion as our “modus operandi”, the way in which we live our lives and continue the ministry of Jesus. We together are the Body of Christ, the church that embodies the Spirit of Christ to meet the many needs of this community, as people come to us and as we go to them. We are called to be the “Church without walls”
Our children are our heritage, and even when they grow up and become adults as this widows only son did, we love them just the same as when they were younger. Some of you have lost children, and it just does not seem natural that a child should die before his or her parent, but it happens, and I don’t need to tell you that it is a devastating loss. You know that much better than I do. What about the other needs that we see in our community every day? Let’s consider pour collect again for the day: “Guide us and inspire us (show us what is right) and by your merciful guiding that we may do them”.
What are some of the areas that we may do in response to this prayer? We follow this prayer in our Sunday School. We teach our children to want to do what is right. In our work with refugees we want to expand our program that will continue our mission of supplying food for them, but also pointing them in the right direction, to assist them in this present life with all of the complications for newcomers that barely speak our language, let alone understand all the documents and papers that need to be filled out. It’s hard enough for us. The needs include legal problems, asylum papers, older children in trouble with the law, landlord issues, and the list goes on and on.
As we go forward what can we do as a congregation? What can we do as individuals? What can we do as a church? “Inspired by the Holy Spirit, and with God’s help we will be moved with compassion to minister to the needs that we see in our community” which includes the unemployed, the underemployed, those that are in prison, the sick and the dying, the fearful and those that feel so all alone”. May we like Christ who embraced the sorrow of the widow of Nain and her son, embrace others, and to do our part in meeting needs.
I’m sure there are some people in this congregation, including visitors that feel like they have fallen through the cracks and have been left behind. But, you are part of this spiritual family, the family of God. And, my prayer is that we will do our best, and I assure you that I will do my best to help meet your needs. We cannot meet all of your needs. There are needs that appear to be insurmountable, but we still want to do what God has called us to do.
We are the Body of Christ. Pentecost has come, the church has been born. We are part of this living organism, this church without walls, the structure whose maker and builder is God, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone of the building, built on the foundation stones of the apostles and the prophets. Each of us has a part, as lively stones, stones that are built together, reaching out, and we each have a role and a part to play in our mission to this community God has called us to.
It’s one thing to tell people that God will supply all their needs when they are hurting or hungry. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to give someone something to eat, to listen to their narrative, to walk beside them. Sometimes the needs may be too much for us, but we can say: “I can’t fix this for you, but I can walk beside you. I can share your burden, and to listen so I can better understand what you are going through”. We cannot fix everything. Some things just are not fixable. We can pray. We can send cards and letter, make phone calls, and visit. The vestry and I have been talking about how we can care for one another more effectively, to care for the visitors that come into our doors and to those we reach through ministries beyond these doors. We desire to be a welcoming church, an “oasis” in the desert, a place to come into out of the hot sun of the day.
As many of you know I enjoy hiking and long walks. With a new knee just four months old, I can now enjoy these walks without all the pain. I’m not running or bouncing, but with my trusty walking stick I can now take some interesting trails and climbs that I haven’t been able to do for many years. One of my favorite walks is in the Sweetwater Wildlife Refuge in Rancho San Diego, (Spring Valley area). After a long walk on the sides of the hills and valleys in the desert sun, I usually stop by my favorite resting spot, right near the river-bed. I call it the “oasis”. It’s a place with two huge trees on each side of the trail, and the tall overreaching branches provide a wonderful shelter from the sun.
Even as you draw near to the oasis in the desert, you can feel the cool breeze coming out from under the canopy of the trees. And, as you go into the shade, it’s like standing in an air-conditioned room. I’m not the only one that stops here for a short rest. Horses and riders, and bicyclers rendezvous here too. When I enter into the shelter of these hovering trees and experience the cool breeze on my hot skin, my thoughts are: “Praise God for this place, for this oasis in the desert”.
That’s the way the church is to be, an “oasis”, a place to come, a place to find shade, a place to find comfort, a place to find acceptance, a place to find healing, a place to find refuge, a place to find God. Let us be that place, just as Jesus had compassion on the widow and her son and continues to say to us today: “Do not weep, but come and let us help you to find healing for your soul, comfort from the heat of the day and the long hours of the night, that we can say with the psalmist: “Weeping may last the night, but joy comes in the morning”.
I am reminded of that old gospel song that starts off like this: “Jesus is a rock in a weary place, a shelter in the time of storm”. Let us be that oasis in the desert, a place of comfort.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen