Sunday, June 5, 2016

TNG - Going Places

Luke 7:11-17     (CEB)

11 A little later Jesus went to a city called Nain. His disciples and a great crowd traveled with him. 12 As he approached the city gate, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her. 13 When he saw her, the Lord had compassion for her and said, “Don’t cry.” 14 He stepped forward and touched the stretcher on which the dead man was being carried. Those carrying him stood still. Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, get up.” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

16 Awestruck, everyone praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding region.


It’s Graduation Sunday!  Today we celebrate all of those who have completed one level of education and are moving on to what ever comes next.  At my previous church we had a preschool and every year we held a graduation ceremony for the kindergarteners who were heading off to first grade.  I would don my Master’s regalia - cap, gown and hood - process in with the children, give a commencement address (usually from Dr. Seuss) and hand each one a diploma.  It was one of my favorite days, especially as we were in a poor community where finding the funds to send a child to preschool often meant the family had to make a significant sacrifice.  But there is no doubt that early childhood education leads directly to a better educated populace . . . children who go to preschool are more likely to finish high school and even college than those who cannot.  For many that means the entire family will enjoy a better life later on.  

He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow.”  Jesus had compassion for her and raised her son from death, so that he could go on caring for his mother.  We’ve talked about what happens to childless widows before . . . Jesus wasn’t just restoring her son to her, he was very likely saving her from a life of hunger, degradation and early death.

One of the things we don’t always realize is that, when Jesus did things like raising the dead and making a few loaves and fishes stretch to feed 5,000 men (plus women and children), the people of the time didn’t say to themselves, “Look!  this man must be the Messiah.!”  No.  They saw that he was performing the well known functions of the ancient prophets.  “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said.   They recognized Jesus as one of the great prophets, like Elijah.

1 Kings 17:8-24  (CEB)
8 The Lord’s word came to Elijah: 9 Get up and go to Zarephath near Sidon and stay there. I have ordered a widow there to take care of you. 10 Elijah left and went to Zarephath. As he came to the town gate, he saw a widow collecting sticks. He called out to her, “Please get a little water for me in this cup so I can drink.” 11 She went to get some water. He then said to her, “Please get me a piece of bread.”

12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any food; only a handful of flour in a jar and a bit of oil in a bottle. Look at me. I’m collecting two sticks so that I can make some food for myself and my son. We’ll eat the last of the food and then die.”

13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go and do what you said. Only make a little loaf of bread for me first. Then bring it to me. You can make something for yourself and your son after that. 14 This is what Israel’s God, the Lord, says: The jar of flour won’t decrease and the bottle of oil won’t run out until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.” 15 The widow went and did what Elijah said. So the widow, Elijah, and the widow’s household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour didn’t decrease nor did the bottle of oil run out, just as the Lord spoke through Elijah.

17 After these things, the son of the widow, who was the matriarch of the household, became ill. His sickness got steadily worse until he wasn’t breathing anymore. 18 She said to Elijah, “What’s gone wrong between us, man of God? Have you come to me to call attention to my sin and kill my son?”

19 Elijah replied, “Give your son to me.” He took her son from her and carried him to the upper room where he was staying. Elijah laid him on his bed. 20 Elijah cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, why is it that you have brought such evil upon the widow that I am staying with by killing her son?” 21 Then he stretched himself over the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, please give this boy’s life back to him.” 22 The Lord listened to Elijah’s voice and gave the boy his life back. And he lived. 23 Elijah brought the boy down from the upper room of the house and gave him to his mother. Elijah said, “Look, your son is alive!”

24 “Now I know that you really are a man of God,” the woman said to Elijah, “and that the Lord’s word is truly in your mouth.”

Even Elijah, the great prophet, had to  prove himself to this woman.  It didn’t matter that he had improved her standard of living by giving her a self-replenishing source of flour and oil to last her through the drought.  Having food to eat was good, but it wasn’t everything.  Any magic worker could do that - or so she’d heard.  Bringing her son back to life, on the other hand, proved to her that this man, this Elijah, was indeed, a man of God, and that he spoke for the Lord God.    Thus it would be with Jesus later on.  The people would see his actions and realize that here was another like Moses and Elijah - a great prophet, whose words and power were given to him by the Lord God of Israel.  Through their acts of feeding and healing they were performing physical actions that indicated the desire of God to feed and heal the souls of his people.   They were doing the things that would bring new life, new beginnings, not just to the sons of these widows, but to all of Israel, and by extension, to all of the world.  

Imagine what it must be like to wake up and face an entirely new life. Oh wait, all of you graduates are doing that now.  When you wake up after graduation you realize that you are leaving behind something familiar, something you have become accustomed to over a period of time, and you are facing something new.  Maybe it won’t be very different . . . high school is not terribly different from junior high.  Law School isn’t terribly different from college.  Harder, but not really different.  The young men Elijah and Jesus raised would be going back to their normal lives, more or less.  Except for the whole everybody and their second cousin coming around to check out the dead guy who wasn’t dead any more thing, of course.  But they would do their usual work and they would see their usual friends and they would eat their usual food.  But maybe, they would also stop and think about what God had done for them.  Maybe they would allow this new thing, this new beginning, to change them in even more important ways.  Maybe they would start being nicer to people.  Maybe they would let compassion guide their actions.  Maybe they would be more generous.  No one knows if there was any real, significant change in the way they lived their lives, because the Bible story isn’t really about them.
At graduation ceremonies everywhere speakers have been/will be doing their own version of Dr. Seuss’  Oh The Places You’ll Go, which I think is probably the best possible commencement address and which actually was read at a Chapman University commencement one year by Dr. Marilyn Harran.  Graduates will be spoken of as The Next Generation, the ones who will stride forward to change the world, seeking new life and new civilizations, going where no one has gone before.    

And for some of you, the question you will be hearing is, “What next?”  Cindy and I had this conversation the other day.  Now that she has her Master’s degree, what next?  What will her next goal be?  What will she busy herself with?  She’s been in school a very long time.  She’s used to jumping from deadline to deadline, from paper to paper, from research project to research project.  And now - she’s done with that.  She’s made a conscious decision to just be.  To engage in a period of discernment, going about her daily life in a new way - going to her job, settling into her new roles as wife and mother and home owner, without all the stress and excitement of grad school.  It is a time of new beginnings for her . . . as it is for all of you.

And even for me.  I’m completely moved into the Parsonage.  It will take a while to get everything the way I want it.  I still have to talk about wall colors and such with Alan, and hang my pictures and figure out how the kitchen should be set up.  But this is the first time in over 30 years that I have moved into a home without worrying about keeping the boxes for the next move.  This is home, for the foreseeable future.  It’s a new thing . . . it’s also the thing that makes me feel even more completely yours.  Now I have a home in which I may entertain you, and have Bible Studies and small groups.   I’ve never had that before, and I am so excited. It’s a new beginning and a new life for me, and for all of us in our relationship with each other.   

For the graduates, and for me, life from here on out will be different in significant ways.   But in actuality, every day is a day of new beginnings for each and every one of us.  Maybe we didn’t just graduate, or move into a new home, or pass any other of life’s many milestones.  But we did wake up in a new day.  And simply by virtue of waking up in a new day we get to make the decision to be the best person we can be today, leaving behind the disappointments and pains of yesterday to face a new, bright future.  We can consider each morning the beginning of a new life, a new way of being.  We can choose to react to situations as if we are entirely new people.  Each of us can go forward, having made the decision to be the very best Christ follower we possibly can be, into a new day, a new life, treating others with compassion and mercy, as Jesus and Elijah did. 

That’s what Jesus ministry was all about, you know.  Making the world a new place, by healing the hearts and souls of the people in it.  Let us go forward from this moment into that new life, the life that Jesus calls us to, the life that God desires for us, in which we try to make the world a better place, a more compassionate place, a more caring place, loving one another as much as God loves us.   


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