It’s true – miracles mess up your life. Listen or read on…
3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – June 5, 2016 – Luke 7:11-17
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Miracles Mess Up Your Life – Pastor Evan Davis
What qualifies as a miracle for you? You’re on 81, there’s been a truck wreck ahead of you, seven mile backup, but suddenly the lane opens up before you? Your friend takes the last french fry, but somehow there is one more left? Your child spontaneously cleans her room? Offers you money for the bills? 🙂 Seriously, though, have you ever experienced a miracle? What meets the definition in your mind? We’ll come back to this in a minute.
First, let me say a couple things that just need to be said about this miraculous story of a young man being raised from the dead. There were plenty of other grieving widows in Galilee that day. There were plenty of other young men being carried out of town. The ones Jesus didn’t bring back to life. Those are the people we can relate to, right? Not this widow and her son. This story is not trying to tell us that Jesus will resuscitate all our people who have died, whether they died far too early or at the end of a blessed long life. That’s not why Jesus came to earth.
If we are to believe in God, and worship God, we must admit and accept that the life God created is mortal, fragile. Every living thing ends in death. Even this young man, even Lazarus, after being resuscitated, later died like everyone else. Death is a part of life as God created it. We sometimes even see how death gives meaning and purpose to our mortal lives.
No, the Father did not send the Son, Jesus, to earth to resuscitate all the dead. If God wanted to do that, it would already be done. No, here’s the amazing thing that God actually did: God chose to accept death. God chose to include death, and grief, in his own personal experience. God chose our life, our real life, and our death. God united himself to us, and thereby our destiny became his and his became ours. God dies, but death could not contain God. Because we belong to Christ, neither will death contain you, nor does it hold any of our loved ones. A great resurrection of the whole creation awaits us all, and it will be far better than any resuscitation. Amen?
I don’t think we should feel wronged that this mother’s experience is not our own. Rather, I believe we can feel a sense of awe and mystery that God has chosen to make our real human experience his own.
So with that being said, let me suggest what I think this story is really about. This story, like most of the stories in the first half of all four gospels, is about telling us that there’s a new sheriff in town. Put everybody on notice – a great prophet has risen among us!
Luke precisely mirrors the story of Elijah raising the son of the widow at Zarephath. But he also shows how Jesus’ power is greater.1 Elijah had to cry out for God to do something, but Jesus does it himself, he just says to the boy, “rise,” and he does. Elijah had to stretch his body over the boy three times, but all Jesus has to do is touch the funeral bier. The message is unmistakable – a new prophet’s in town, a prophet far greater than Elijah. They don’t know yet just how powerful this prophet is…or that he’s not a prophet at all, but the very Son of the Father.
I believe this qualifies as a miracle. Death turned to life again, at least for a while. This is indeed an earth-shattering event that collapses people’s assumptions about what is possible. It confounds their prejudices about who Jesus is or could be. Isn’t it natural, then, that everyone in the crowd, including the disciples, are terrified? That “fear seized all of them?”
The pastor and scholar David Lose, in thinking about this story this week, offers a quotation from Leif Enger’s novel, Peace Like a River:
Let me say something about that word: miracle. For too long it’s been used to characterize things or events that, though pleasant, are entirely normal. Peeping chicks at Easter time, spring generally, a clear sunrise after an overcast week – a miracle, people say, as if they’ve been educated from greeting cards. I’m sorry, but nope. Such things are worth our notice every day of the week, but to call them miracles evaporates the strength of the word.
Real miracles bother people, like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature. It’s true: They rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in. Lazarus obeying orders and climbing up out of the grave – now there’s a miracle, and you can bet it upset a lot of folks who were standing around at the time. When a person dies, the earth is generally unwilling to cough him back up. A miracle contradicts the will of earth.
My sister, Swede, who often sees to the nub, offered this: People fear miracles because they fear being changed.2
If the Father sent Jesus to earth to do anything at all, it was to bring about change in people – change in our hearts, in our values, in our systems, in how we live with each another.
And 2,000 years later, change is still really hard, and really scary, for all of us. But it is at the very center of being a follower of Jesus.
Think of the miracle in Paul’s life – we heard him recounting it in the Galatians text today. He received a revelation of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus – a true miracle. And it utterly messed up his life. He was perfectly happy persecuting the church, writing angry letters about how wrong they were, being an accessory to murder, but then Jesus showed up. Bam. He went blind for a while, wandered in the desert for three years…this was scary, and it was a miracle that changed him, and changed the world forever.
Have you ever experienced a miracle? And if so, how did it mess up your life? How scary was it? Maybe it was a sudden and unexpected restoration of health. Maybe it was a recovery from addiction. Maybe it was the beginning, or the end, of a relationship. Perhaps even a revelation of Jesus Christ – God showing up in your life, revealing something to you, changing your image or understanding of God or perhaps your understanding of certain groups of people in the world.
Consider this for a moment, and then please do turn to your neighbors and share…
Miracles, at least the ones from Jesus, tend to mess up your life. But in the best way. Wouldn’t it be great if when any of us experience a miracle, or God showing up in our lives, that we share those stories in this place? May it be so. Amen.
1Lucy Lind Hogan, Commentary on Luke 7:11-17, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2863 (accessed June 1, 2016).
2Quotation from Leif Enger, Peace Like a River, in David Lose, “Pentecost 3C: God Sightings,” http://www.davidlose.net/2016/06/pentecost-3-c-god-sightings/ (accessed June 4, 2016).