Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Third Rail: III Pentecost

Notes towards a sermon.

Readings are here

"Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still"

As I was reading the lessons for this Sunday I felt a sense of dread come over me. Children dying before their parents are the "third rail" for me. I don't even want this in my mind - it is too hard. And this Sunday we have 2 stories of widows whose only sons die. I thought about those of you in the congregation whose children have died and yet you are here. How can I just do some cavalier "God makes it okay" sermon? When I know it is not okay -- probably never. Worse - these 2 get their sons back from the dead when we know that never or rarely happens.

I think about all those children who have been murdered in gun violence the past few years - leaving home full of hope and promise - at school, in the park, walking down the street, even in their own homes. Plus those who die around the world of preventable causes. Actually I don't want to think about it - I want to isolate myself from all the grief.

Thursday was Gun Violence Prevention Day and many Episcopal Clergy are wearing orange stoles in solidarity with that movement. The day is the birthday of Hadiya Pendleton who was shot and killed January 31, 2003, while talking to friends in a park on her way home from school. She had marched with her school band at President Obama's inauguration. Full of life and hope and now gone. Her friends decided to remember Hadiya on her birthday by wearing orange - for the safety vests hunters wear so they won't get shot. Since then every year more people wear orange to show that they want something done and will not give up in the face of those who say nothing can be done. They are not asking for guns to be banned but just to bring some sense to the issue, to allow the CDC to study and collect statistics about gun violence (currently forbidden) as they can for any other public health issue. Perhaps they can find out some steps that can be taken to prevent the carnage. The lessons for today were not chose with this in mind - it is just the cycle of our normal readings. But I wonder - could the widows be a mother we know or Tamir Rice's mother or Hadiya's mother?

Widows in Jesus' day were very vulnerable -- women needed to have a male relative - husband, father, son, etc to speak for them in any business transaction. The Bible, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament call for protection of widows as a sign of God's care for the world. The people of God are supposed to stand up for widows.

So we come to Nain -- it is about 30 miles from where Jesus was last week. Many have been attracted to him and his message of hope and wholeness so there is a crowd with him as they approach the city gates from the outside. Coming through the city was the procession of the widow and the dead son. Since people needed to be buried soon after death and outside the city - the procession would have started at her house and gained friends and neighbors as they walked along wailing and weeping to honor the loss this woman has suffered. Fear of becoming isolated as she was becoming, grief at the loss of a young man  too soon, perhaps anger at God who they believed was in total control, perhaps thinking what has been done to deserve this - they processed through the city to the gate.

Here is the moment - -Jesus bringing life and hope, the widow bearing grief and loss. What caught my attention in this moment is "the bearers stood still." I feel the stillness - a moment hanging in time. What will happen? So much life outside the gate - so much death inside. All hold their breath.

Then Jesus feels deep compassion (in the Greek - "gut wrenching") and reaches out through the chasm between life and death to take the young man's hand and give the man back to his mother - whole and alive.

I wish we could do that for all the suffering mothers and fathers. But somehow I think the story is for us more about the "standing still" in the midst of suffering and death and reaching out with compassion. Being present to those who feel so alone and hopeless. Bringing hope and compassion (standing with) and life as we can. Listening - not offering advice or our story but listening to the grieving for as long as it takes. The story asks us to be agents of Jesus' life-giving presence in the midst of what ever is happening.

In the moment with deep grief we are still but that does not mean giving up or giving in to doing nothing. Where can we bring life? Where do we bring life? Episcopal Relief and Development is our world wide agency for bringing life and hope. We have a project to provide mosquito nets so that infection by malaria bearing mosquitos can be reduced. We bring clean water to villages, health care, micro-loans for small business and farm animals and equipment - so people can support their lives, get education for their children. St Catherine's is beginning to get involved in the Backpack project with Nehalem Elementary School. The backpacks are filled with food for the weekends for kids who are going hungry when not fed at school. Having food helps them be better students and have better health. We go to school events and graduations for our church kids - to show them that we support them and their desire to learn and become hope-filled adults. We send our kids to church camp to learn more about how God is alive in the world and how they are each beloved of God. You are doing good work - what other opportunities are there?

And when each of us faces the hard times in our lives - we have a community who cares if we let them know and allow them in. There are friends who will stand with you and be there through those times. Let them know, maybe not as strongly and publicly as the widow of Nain but somehow - they are not mind readers!