It’s pretty grim. The world has been flipped on its head, well maybe not literally but that’s how it feels. Safety and security seem illusory. You’re surrounded by loud voices that mirror your own, they’re strong now, but how long will they last? How long before the crowd starts to dwindle, and then suddenly you’re alone? You’re not sure where to turn, or who you can trust, or who you can count on. It’s scary out there. You feel vulnerable like there is no one to take care of you, no one who has your best interests in mind.
I’m of course trying to draw us into the mental space of the woman who lost her son in the second part of today’s reading from Luke’s gospel. What did you think I was talking about?
Today we have two powerful stories in front of us from the 7th chapter of Luke’s gospel. The first, the healing of the centurion’s slave give us a picture of how what Jesus does in his ministry is exactly what he promised to do in his preaching. If you’ll remember from a few weeks ago, Jesus got into a spot of trouble in his hometown when he reminded the folks he grew up with that God’s coming kingdom was not going to be limited by individuals expectations of who should get what first.
The coming kingdom of God, that Jesus was manifesting in their midst, wasn’t an Israel first kind of thing. It was good news of great joy for all people, even a centurion, a leader of the occupying army.
And this time, maybe it’s because people see what Jesus is about and not just hear what he has to say, Jesus gets some traction. There’s a big crowd that’s following him. The crowd is excited, and they follow Jesus into the town of Nain. Just outside of the city gates, this presumably boisterous procession of life collides with a procession of death.
You can picture it, can’t you? The crowds kicking up dust as they walk. Jesus’ crowd talking to one another about what he’s been doing and saying. And then he stops. Verse 12 reads
As Jesus approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow, and with her was a large crowd from the town.
It was the woman’s only son and she was a widow. These aren’t frivolous details. Luke is intentional in including these descriptors for this nameless woman. As she walks in this death march, her livelihood, her future, even her identity slipping away.
In the patriarchal society in which this woman lived, her well-being was bound up with her husbands and if he were to die, it would be her son’s responsibility to care for her. Now with both of them dead, she stands on the edges of society, with no one to protect her, to provide for her or to ensure her wellbeing.
For our modern minds, this woman’s situation might be difficult to imagine or difficult to hear. But I suspect it doesn’t take long for you to summon of someone in our world today who is equally vulnerable, equally on the margins, equally at the mercy of his or her neighbors and their willingness to respond.
As Jesus approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow, and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her…
Jesus sees her, Jesus sees the widow, not the dead man, and it’s her situation, the loss of her son, the loss of her place in the community, that awakens deep in Jesus’ gut compassion for her. He suffers with her, that essentially what compassion means. Jesus shares in her pain, her fear, her isolation and then does something about it.
I learned this week that the first time Luke while narrating Jesus’ activity, calls Jesus “the Lord” is in this passage. It’s when Jesus sees the woman, is moved with compassion, and then acts on her behalf that Jesus is putting on display the fullness of what it means to be the Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Did you notice that? Did you catch what Luke said? He wrote,
Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
Jesus gave the son to his mother. Yes, Jesus hates death, absolutely, but this act was all about the woman, the widow, the one who was left with nothing.
So salvation in this instance is not just the resurrection of the dead for the son, but it’s restoration to the fullness of life for the woman. Salvation is the gift of a future, not simply the ability to add additional seconds, minutes, days to your life span, but it’s the promise that you will have an identity, a livelihood, and the means by which to provide for one another.
And when that’s what salvation looks like. I can have a role in that. We can participate in that. You and I, this congregation in all its expressions can participate in the Lord’s saving work as we join ourselves to the suffering of this world and work together to find ways to offer our brothers and sisters in this world, a future, a livelihood, a safe haven where there once was none.
Brothers and sisters, we are living through the greatest refugee crisis since WWII. Right now there are 65 million people on the move, 21.3 people who have officially received the status of refugee. All around the world, but especially in Syria, people are fleeing their homes because they have no future, no way to make a livelihood, to way to ensure their wellbeing. Millions of people have been forced to join the procession of death.
But you and I, we can join Jesus procession of life, we can meet them outside the city gate, we can be filled with God’s holy and righteous compassion. We can lift our voices, roll up our sleeves and prepare a place for them in our midst. It’s not going to be easy. There are many forces, fear, and self-preservation to name but two, that will align against us. But the biblical mandate is clear, God’s vision for this world is clear, Jesus life and ministry, death and resurrection is clear.
We are called to see the pain of this world, we are called to suffer from those who are hurting and we are called to act on behalf of those in pain to bring salvation – to bring a future to this without.
So what do we do. Today I have three suggestions.
- Learn and then speak. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Social Services of MN and the Transform Network all have helpful tools on their website to learn about the refugee crisis and then ways to engage those who make policy decisions. Give voice to your convictions. Write to those in power. Call the offices of your representatives. Make your voice heard. Say that as a person of faith, as a follower of Jesus this matters to you.
- Get ready. As a congregation, we are just beginning to put together a plan to welcome a refugee family as soon as we can. But we need help. We need people and we need resources to make it happen. If you are interested in being a part of this work, email me and I’ll get you in contact with those who are working on this issue.
- Pray hard. Pray for the families that have had to flee their homes. Pray for our country and its leaders. Pray for yourself so that you will have strength to meet the days ahead.
Brothers and sisters, in Jesus Christ God’s salvation, has come near, let us live into together, this day and evermore. Amen.