February 23, 2020

Sunday’s Gospel: God Visits Us in Our Sorrows

By Chaplain Mike

Sunday: Pentecost II (Year C)

Today’s Lectionary Readings:

  • OT: 1Kings 17:17-24
  • Psalm: Psalm 30
  • Epistle: Galatians 1:11-24
  • Gospel: Luke 7:11-17

Today’s Gospel

Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district. (NASB)

Thoughts

Two simple stories from the Bible today touch us in the deepest places of our hearts.

  • The first tells how the prophet Elijah, living with a poor widow and her son, prayed for her son when he died, and God answered his prayer, giving life back to the child.
  • The second tells of the Prophet greater than Elijah. Jesus comes upon a funeral procession as he enters the village of Nain. Again the heartbroken mother is a widow, the deceased her only son. Without hesitation, Jesus stops the procession and tells the child to awaken. The boy sits up, begins speaking, and the funeral turns into a celebration of life restored.

I think Luke had in mind the earlier story when he records this incident in Jesus’ life. Back in Luke 4, the author introduced us to Jesus’ mission by this quote from Isaiah:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ (Luke 4:18-19)

In the synagogue discussion that followed, Jesus made direct reference to Elijah and the widow of Zarephath:

And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.’ (Luke 4:24-26)

The story in Luke 7 of the widow of Nain is an example of how Jesus came as the ultimate Prophet, like Elijah, to care for the poor, the outcasts, the oppressed, and to bring them good news that God was visiting them with his favor. At the end of our Gospel story today, this is exactly what the townspeople say:

Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably on [lit. has visited] his people!’ (Luke 7:16)

The point for those of us who read this story today is:

God visits us in Jesus to minister his life-giving favor to us to help us overcome our darkest, most desperate hours.

In particular, this story focuses on the sorrows we all have in our families. No joys in life surpass family joys. No sorrows in life outweigh family sorrows. The woman in Nain had already buried her husband. Now she lost her only son. The closest relationships of life were shattered by untimely death. On top of that, widows in the ancient world were among the most vulnerable and helpless members of society. She now had no visible means of support. Not only were the people she loved gone, hope had vanished with them. She was wholly and truly bereft.

No joys in life surpass family joys. No sorrows in life outweigh family sorrows.

The bronze grave marker in the picture at the beginning of this post identifies the resting place of my little brother, David. Born when I was two years old, he lived only eleven short months before dying of heart problems. This was and is my parents’ sorrow.

And I have witnessed more, which helps me understand the depth of what my parents experienced.

My first funeral as a pastor was for a baby boy who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. When we moved to Illinois for seminary and joined a church, we soon met a little boy who had been struck by a car while riding his bicycle. He lay helplessly dependent for years until it was time to officiate his funeral. I remember lying awake at night fearing for my own children who were young at that time.

One of my most vivid memories as a pastor was going to the home of family whose teenage son had just perished in a car accident. I was recently asked to help with grief counseling at a local middle school after the death of a young man who bravely fought, but ultimately succumbed to leukemia. For a year and a half, I walked alongside dear friends whose son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Daniel eventually died shortly after his 18th birthday and right before he was to graduate from high school.

These are the sorrows families face. There are a million other sorrows as well, but none like losing a child or spouse. The woman in this story, and the one in Elijah’s day, had lost both.

What we see in these narratives, however, is that God is not aloof from our sorrows. He visits his people in their times of sorrow and grief. He takes our loved ones by the hand. He speaks to them and to us. He breathes life into them and into us. He gives us hope and renews our strength.

Of course, not every prayer for God to spare life is answered. Nor are dead people routinely resuscitated and restored to normal life. That is not the point. These are signs. These events illustrate to all of us who live in this sin-cursed world of injustice and death that things will not always be this way. These are stories that announce Good News of a new creation coming. They pull back the curtains and give glimpses of a time when the dead shall be raised and eternal life and newness breathed into them. They point us to the end of sorrows.

Just in case we don’t get the message that God comes to us and shares our sorrow, please remember something else. The Jesus who worked this miraculous sign died too. On the cross, God himself lost a Son.

And, as you may recall, that story also ended with celebration.

Comments

  1. Clay Knick says

    Splendid. I preached this today.

  2. Chaplain Mike,

    Thank you for this. I attend a small church and we are able to pray corporately on Sunday mornings. Prayer after prayer was directed to our Father for those suffering from cancer, leukemia and other proofs that we live in a broken world. Thanks for reminding us of the hope that lies within us. Your wise and gracious words remind me of someone else who said,

    “But the news that “Christ is risen!” really is Good News for one kind of person: The person who is dying.

    If Christianity is not a dying word to dying men, it is not the message of the Bible that gives hope now.”

    Blessings!

  3. Pastor Mike,

    As I was reading this I couldn’t help but recall your post about being “done with wings”. I thought of how those in deep sorrow and intense suffering more often than not need to experience God with flesh on. That it is the human heart, hands, eyes, voice and touch that God will use to bless, console and encourage those who are hurting and in pain. God will give His Wings to a willing heart to express His Love. You have accepted those wings, Pastor Mike. Though this ministry can be trying, demanding and draining it can also bring you so very close to very Heart of God Himself. I pray that this will be your experience as you bless so many with your presence.