Gospel: Luke 7:11-17
1st Reading: 1 Kings 17:17-24
2nd Reading: Galatians 1:11-24
Summer is the time to send your kid to camp. I’ve been to camp Lutherwood, outdoor school, Holden Village, and Camp Odyssey. Somehow these camps get jumbled up in my mind, but I remember several of them having kitchens with doors clearly marked “In” and “Out.” One door is if you are clearing tables and heading in with dirty dishes, empty pitchers, etc. The other door is if you are heading out with lots of good food that you don’t want spilled when people are coming the other direction with dirty dishes. I never had trouble remembering which door to go out. However there were a few times when I went in the out door and could have caused quite a mess if it had been at the wrong time. Thankfully my timing was good, which is more than I can say for some who have gone in the out door.
Today, in the Gospel story, there aren’t such clear paths. Jesus is walking with a group of disciples plus a large curious crowd. As they got closer to the city almost to the gate, they ran straight into a crowd going the opposite direction. Isn’t this just like Jesus? It seems he can never go anywhere without going against the flow, running into someone and getting side-tracked from his original course. Yet isn’t that was Jesus is here to do—get off track, go against the flow, wake up the comfortable people, and comfort all sorts of outsiders and poor people and grieving people.
There are these two crowds going different directions and the run right into each other. One is the disciples, maybe talking or singing, probably dirty from their trip, trudging up to this town. They were probably looking forward to getting some rest, some food and beginning to heal people and share the good news of God’s presence. And they run into this funeral procession. There was probably lots of wailing and displaying grief. The mourners might be dressed in sackcloth or veils or other signs of mourning. Can you imagine the chaos as they each try to go their different directions—all these people mixed up together? Each group has something they need to do and have to untangle themselves to get on with it.
In the middle of all this, Jesus notices someone—the mother. There might not have been anything to distinguish her from the rest, I don’t know. But Jesus knew. Maybe it was the grief she held—her pain that he noticed. She’s carrying a heavy burden. No husband, no son, all these people around her, yet she’s alone in the world. No one can understand her profound sadness. She has nothing. Sure, all these people are with her today, but her family support system is gone. Once she is done grieving, she will have no way of supporting herself and she will die of hunger or prostitute herself to support herself. Her life is over, either way.
Everyone else is carrying on around her. Jesus speaks to her. He tells her not to cry. I don’t advise this as a way of comforting someone who is mourning. You have to let them have their tears. He doesn’t say it because he is uncomfortable with her crying. He says it because there is no reason for crying. He is ready to restore this son to his mom. He will restore her primary relationship, her means of support, her future, her place in community—everything. This kind of healing is going to be complete.
She doesn’t touch his cloak. He doesn’t spit in her eye. He touches the casket. The Gospel says, everything went quiet. Jesus, a holy man, a clean man, touched a casket, which would have made him unclean, a potential carrier of whatever disease the son had died of. He’s broken through a barrier and gone against the flow again. And everyone gasps and stops talking. Jesus then commands the body to live again, for the spirit to enter it again, and rise. The dead man sat up, started talking, and Jesus presented him to his mother. It was for the mother’s life that Jesus restored this man. Imagine the shock when Jesus touched the casket, the screams when the man sat up, the absolute attention the man commanded when he started talking, and the cheers that were raised to God who got the credit on this one.
Two groups meet, two people meet unexpectedly, they clash going about their own business, but they have to interact for a moment while they try to get past each other or point out the sign of the in and out doors. In the first reading today, the widow is ready for Elijah to start pointing out her sin when her son dies. Blaming the victim is another unhealthy response to grief. We think if we explain it, it could never happen to us. She must have done something to deserve losing her son. It is so easy to heap burdens on people who already carry so many burdens. But Elijah isn’t about to do that. He also goes against the flow—the normal course. He didn’t get defensive, he got to work. He took her burdens on himself, physically carrying her dead child to a quiet corner where he could pray, bringing him back to life, and just like Jesus did, present him to his mother for her complete restoration of relationship, life, breath, spirit, future, community, everything.
Paul was a privileged man. He was given everything in life. And he spent the first part of it, increasing the burden on the vulnerable. He picked on people it was easy to pick on. He was trying to go about his daily life of making miserable people more miserable, when he ran smack into God on the road. God and God’s people could have made his life miserable and returned to him what he had done to others. Instead, God’s people took him in and nursed him back to health, included him in worship and community, and gave him a new life.
As Christians, we run into unexpected people and situations all the time. I know I get in a hurry sometimes and forget to stop and notice what is really going on. Jesus invites us to see those times and ministry situations. Notice who is hurting. Notice who is most vulnerable. What we do from there is key. It is so easy to heap more burdens on those who are suffering and blame them.
I want to share with you a couple of examples from my own life. There have been times when I have delivered food to a hungry family and smelled cigarette smoke and started the blame game. If they didn’t buy cigarettes, could they afford food? One time when I really reached out to share their burden and get to know them, I found out they once had a drug addiction, and smoking was a huge improvement over that. Who am I to heap more burdens on those already burdened?
I have sometimes stereotyped teenagers and judged them, heaping burdens on them instead of being the safety net they need. As soon as I sit down with one of them, I find myself amazed at their maturity, their drive to persevere, their wisdom and insight. I find myself a student at their feet, learning about their hopes and dreams and visions for a better world than the one I’ve helped build.
Jesus asks us to help one another carry our burdens. Share words and actions of healing. Include everyone in community. Become a safety net for those who have no safety net. Share food with the hungry. Visit the sick and those in prison. Go out against the flow to those at the gates, on the fringes, at the skate park, at the pantry, on the bus. Don’t be afraid to bump into all kinds of people, take a moment to recognize a fellow human being there, move beyond judgment to relationship, and find your burdens lightened as well as theirs and healing and spirit and new life.