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Third Sunday after Pentecost, 06/05/2016

Sermon on 1 Kings 17:17-24, by Ryan Mills

After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” 19But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20He cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” 21Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” 24So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

Galatians 1:11-24

11For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
13You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 15But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
18Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. 20In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ;23they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they glorified God because of me.

Luke 7:11-17

11Soon afterwards [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12As he 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. 13When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country (NRSV).

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Interruptions: no one likes to be interrupted. You’re trying to say something, and someone talks over you, drowning you out. You’re trying to do something, and the phone rings or the doorbell chimes. You’re trying to have a relaxing sleep-in, and Sunday morning rolls around.

But sometimes interruptions are just what we need! You’re stuck in a boring meeting, and you get a phone call that requires you to step out. You’ve been in school since August, and all of a sudden summer vacation is here! You’re having a hard day, when unexpectedly you receive some encouragement—a reminder that God is with you, always--or see an opportunity where you can make a difference for someone else. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “We must allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans…”i So today our Scriptures are different stories of God interrupting things--God interrupting this world in a good way.

Our gospel lesson is the account of Jesus entering the town of Nain. Jesus has a crowd following him, and as they are all coming into the town they meet another crowd, a crowd of a funeral procession. A man was being carried out to be buried, and his mother followed in the procession. And this young man was all this widow had left, her husband dead, now her only child dead. It’s hard for most of us to imagine that kind of heartbreak, and in days before life insurance and social security, widows with no children had nothing, they could not work, or earn enough to feed or house themselves. She too was now as good as dead.

She is crushed by grief; but she does not cry out to Jesus or ask for anything. She can only weep on her way to the cemetery. Maybe you know a taste of what this widow experienced on that last long walk out of town.

But we’re told that, “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her.” It’s the first time in Luke’s gospel the word “Lord” is used: when the Lord saw her he had compassion. The Bible’s word literally says his guts stirred with hurt, he was sick to his stomach with heartache. And that’s the kind of Lord we have. Not a Lord who just is in divine control, or who just decides what’s right or wrong, not the kind of Lord who waits to be asked for things, even. But your Lord has compassion, compassion that makes him feel sick to his stomach for you. That’s why he’s the Lord—“his compassions fail not, they are new every day”—and as his crowd stops the funeral procession right at the city gates, Jesus has the bad bedside-manners to tell the woman, “Do not weep.”

Now in weddings there’s sometimes that part where they ask, “If anyone can show just cause why this couple should not be wed, let them speak now or forever hold your peace.” Everyone kind of laughs nervously at that point, wondering if anyone might interrupt the service. But come on, you don’t stop a funeral! You don’t interrupt death! But Jesus does! “Excuse me,” he raises his hand, “excuse me, I have something to say”, and the crowd around him stops the funeral procession. “Woman, Do not weep.” Everyone stopped, nervous, mortified, and angry. And Jesus touched the casket, “Young man, I say to you rise,” and he rose up. Out of the casket. Out of death. Out of hopelessness. Up he came out of the casket. Hope they kept the receipt, because this one is going back unused! And Jesus gave him back into his mother’s arms, this time crying tears of joy.

See, God refuses to let this world go on uninterrupted, God refuses to let our lives go on uninterrupted. When we think it’s all over and all hope is lost, when we think there’s no other options, God acts, most often without our asking. God has compassion, God is moved, God hurts for our pain. And for we who believe, what happened to that young man will happen to us someday too. Death is interrupted for those who believe. It’s already interrupted, we who believe have already passed from death to life, and one day we will be raised up, in the twinkling of an eye, and be given back to one another, to hold our loved ones in our arms again, and be held ourselves, and reunited together that place where there is no more sorrow, no more pain, no more weeping, that place where God wipes away every tear from every eye.

Our second lesson today is from Paul’s letter the Galatians. Paul shares how God interrupted his life. He shares how he had a good life. He believed in God, he was on the fast track of Executive Judaism, he kept God holy by trampling down and persecuting this religious cult, this sect, who were the followers of Jesus. But God had called him, set him apart before he was born, Paul says, and God revealed his Son to Paul.

Most of us think we know God. Most people believe in some sort of higher power. But it’s a different thing to be interrupted by the living Jesus Christ. Knowing Jesus, that he is for you, knowing that the death he died he died just for you, knowing that the life he lives he lives just for you and for us all, knowing that you are precious in the sight of your Lord. Having a sense of the reality of Jesus like that is so overwhelming, so sweet, so comforting, so empowering, it makes you want to do whatever it takes to introduce other people to what you’ve experienced! And that’s what happened to Paul. That’s why he spent his life preaching, interrupting people’s lives with the Word to tell them about what God had done through Jesus: recreating the world, destroying death, offering eternal life for the universe, for all who believe, through the blood of his Son.

Maybe you and I need more interruption in our lives, need our lives messed with a little, so that our relationship with God is not kind of fit into where there’s room?! But instead knowing how deeply we’re loved, how much God has done for us, pray God that our lives would also be interrupted and restructured around knowing Jesus Christ. Interrupted by God’s grace, maybe you and I will leave behind our vague and lukewarm faith in a higher power, which just ends up hurting the church, and instead be brought to that place where we are so focused on Jesus, that for us to live is Christ, to live IS Christ, and to be on fire to tell others.

Finally, in what I think is the most moving Scripture passage today, we hear about another widow, and another Son. A son whose young life was also interrupted by death. But in this amazing moment, the prophet Elijah begins to complain to God about the death of this young man. Elijah protests against God, tells God it’s not right what’s happened, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity upon this woman with whom I’m staying by killing her son?” This isn’t right! He cries out to God to give him life, to change his mind. And here’s the amazing thing--Elijah interrupts God! See, God doesn’t have some rigid unchangeable plan that is closed to us, but God is open to our prayers, God is willing to be interrupted, in fact God likes to be interrupted when we’re holding him to his promises. And God has mercy, after all that’s why he’s the Lord: he has mercy, painful mercy, and God revived the boy back to life; and Elijah handed him back to the arms of his mother.

God is open to being interrupted by us, even when it hurts. Seeing a broken and scarred world, God let his own life be interrupted. He did not value his own uninterrupted life, but gave of himself, gave his only Son. God gave what was most precious to himself, in order to save all those most precious to us. He gave his only Son, whose life of compassion did not end in triumph, but in a cruel and lonely death for this lonely, dying world. But on the 3rd day God interrupted death itself, God has ended its power, interrupted the dark reign of sin, death and the devil, interrupted and ended it by raising Jesus from the grave. And since Jesus lives, you and I will live too!

That’s what we prepare for this week, to live in the light of our God who interrupts our lives with his power, with his compassion, and with his eternal life. And to tell the story of our God who willingly let his own life be interrupted, even to the point of death, all because of love for you, and for me, and for the world.

And the Peace of God which passes understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


The Rev. Dr. Ryan Mills
New Haven, Connecticut, USA
E-Mail: Pastor@TrinityLutheranNH.org

Sermon on 1 Kings 17:17-24, Galatians 1:11-24, and Luke 7:11-17,