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The Third Sunday after Pentecost                                        June 5, 2016

This Weekend's Readings (click each reading to view the passage)

1 Kings 17:17-24Psalm 30; Galatians 1:12-24; Luke 7:11-17

Pr. Steve's Sermon: Raising Up Hope
Pr. Steve's Sermon: Raising Up Hope

Children's Sermon: Playing on God's Team
Children's Sermon: Playing on God's Team

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Sermon Notes from Pastor Steve...

When I was a little kid, my grandparents owned a house on Long Beach Island in New Jersey.  Some of my earliest memories are from visiting my grandparents in that house.  And that's probably because it was two houses down from the beach, where we could swim, and fly kites on the dunes.
Another thing I remember vividly was that on the kitchen table, my grandmother always had a bowl full of Hersey bars!  And loving chocolate from an early age, it was great to know that grandma's house always had that bowl full of Hersey bars!
Even though they sold that house and moved out west when I was about 5, my grandmother was alive until I was in my mid-30's.  And one of the good things about that was that I could tell my grandmother about all the great things I remember from when I was a little kid in her house. 
So, sometime when I was in my early 30's, I was visiting her, and I told her how I remembered that bowl of Hersey bars that she always had on the kitchen table.  And when I told her that, she looked at me with a funny look and said, "what bowl of Hershey bars?"  I said, "I vividly remember that bowl of Hersey bars.  You said you'd put them in Pop-pop's lunch, and you'd always let me have one, too."
So she thought a minute, and then said, "well, I did used to pass out Hersey bars for Halloween.  So, if you had visited right after that, I probably would have still had some sitting in the bowl, and I'd be trying to get rid of them.  But, it certainly made an impression on you!"
So I was right. There was a bowl of Hersey bars. But it only happened once.  Clearly, chocolate makes an impression on me. But that one event was so memorable, I thought it was like that all the time.
Sometimes, an event can be so memorable that we think "it was always like that."  And in the gospels, when Jesus raises somebody from the dead, it's often so memorable that we imagine that Jesus did this kind of think all the time.  Everywhere he went, he preached the gospel, he healed the sick, and he raised the dead.
So in today's Gospel reading, when Jesus restores life to this guy who's being carried out of the town for burial, we may just take it in stride. Of course Jesus does this.  This is what Jesus always does.
But do you know how many times Jesus raises somebody from the dead in Luke's Gospel?  Twice.  And that's double the number of times Jesus raises people from the dead in any other Gospel.  In Matthew, Mark and John - only once.
Of course, even more than a bowl of Hersey bars, raising somebody from the dead even once makes a big impression!  But it didn't happen all the time.  And neither Luke nor any of the other Gospel writers recorded these events so that we could look back and remember that in the good old days when Jesus walked the earth, he was always raising up people who had died.
For while the Gospel writers did want the events to be remembered, they understood that Jesus wanted us to take away a different message than, "wouldn't it be great to live back when Jesus was always available to raise up anybody who died, just like that bowl of Hersey bars was always sitting there on the table."
Instead, it seems that in those relatively few instances where Jesus chose to raise somebody from the dead, he did so as an extreme illustration of what he was always doing in his ministry.  And what Jesus was about doing - whether he was raising somebody to life or simply befriending sinners - was:
  • Giving hope in the face of despair - too often, we equate "hope" with "wishful thinking" or "optimism."  But that's not really hope, because wishful thinking and optimism usually depend upon our own positive attitudes or random chance.  There's an article in this month's issue of "Living Lutheran" by Peter Marty, in which he recalls Dietrich Bonhoeffer's definition of "hope", which he described while he was imprisoned by the Nazis.  Bonhoeffer said "the best place to celebrate Easter is in a jail cell.  It's in a locked cell where one realizes the only possibility for release comes from someone on the outside holding a key." When people are sick, there's optimism that they might get better on their own.  When people are dead, they're in a locked cell from which they can't escape.  Jesus gives hope by showing that there is someone on the outside holding the key, who can and will open the door.  And that's the kind of hope Jesus was always about giving others ...
  • Interrupting people - especially interrupting people's grief and despair.  Actually, that's usually a pretty annoying thing.  If you've been in a funeral procession and somebody suddenly blocks the procession or cuts you off, you probably forget the grief for a moment because you're too ticked off to remember it.  But that's actually what Jesus does in today's Gospel reading.  As far as we can tell, he's never met this family, and they don't know who Jesus is.  But he cuts them off and interrupts the "normal grieving process."  Yet, it's through that interruption that Jesus brings hope and literally gives life.  In fact, most of the time Jesus brought healing and hope into somebody's life, he was interrupting someone, or some process or some social convention.  And it's often the case in our lives that God is trying to work to bring us hope and healing precisely in the midst of the annoying interruptions ... (and it's usually a surprise we weren't expecting...)
  • Transformation - one of the problems of these stories of Jesus' bringing people back from the dead is that it can sound like, "OK, Jesus fixed the problem.  Now life can go on just like it was before."  Jesus gave the son back to the mother, and now we figure things are just fine again.  But that's actually never what happens.  People DON'T go on as before.  "Fear seized them all, and they glorified God."  None of those folks were ever the same again, and they couldn't just go back to their old ways of thinking and feeling and acting.  Because of what Jesus had done, their lives were forever transformed...
That's always what Jesus was about doing.  And that's still what Jesus is about doing in our lives today.
In the end, Jesus didn't revive people from death just to do a favor for a few select individuals.  Instead, he did it to show the extent to which we can have hope in God's love and power.  He did it to interrupt the grief and despair that we so often get caught up in.  And he did it to transform us into people who can live a new life right now because of God's presence and power in our lives.