Stand Up

Luke 7:11-17
Then Jesus came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

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Once upon a time, many years ago, I was walking out of a patient’s room in City Hospital when I heard a loud voice coming from another room. Rise up, it said. In the name of Jesus, I command you to rise up.

The voice kept getting louder and louder. In the name of Jesus, I command you to rise up.

Curiosity got the best of me. I poked my head in and saw a distraught family standing around a lifeless body on the bed. A man with a Bible in his hand was demanding a miracle based, I suppose, in part, on the gospel lesson for today.

Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As 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.

[A widow in that time was not like a widow in our society. In that time and place a woman without a father or husband or son was doomed to severe economic insecurity.]

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!”

The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear and awe seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!”

A great prophet!

So would this be the great prophet like Elijah whom they had been waiting a thousand years, a prophet who would deliver them from their adversaries? Would Jesus have the power of God like Elijah to stop rain for three years and cause a death-inducing drought? Would Jesus have the power of God like Elijah to slaughter hundreds of foreigners for not believing in “his” god? Would Jesus have the power like Elijah to call down fire on a village that refused to welcome him? Would Jesus have the power like Elijah to raise the dead son of a widow?

A great prophet has arisen among us.

But how would this prophet Jesus use his power?

Now back to City Hospital. That extremely sincere man shouting over that dead body was expecting a miracle based on a certain way of reading the Bible. He had connected certain verses in the Bible that supported his chutzpah, his audacious confidence. In the name of Jesus, I bid you rise up. I command you to rise up.

But we know better. On this planet dead things stay dead. Even though death is not the end of the matter, even though death is the womb of new life, dead things stay dead. And that’s probably a good thing!

Think about this: If Jesus actually and literally resuscitated one dead child and restored him to his stricken mother, then it raises a troublesome question. How many mothers in that time and place never got their dead children back? If Jesus was able to and didn’t, wouldn’t that be a grievous sin, if not a crime, against humanity?

Fortunately, there’s another way to read this story and others like it. As we know, Jesus taught with parables, stories that were mostly fictional but true nonetheless. Stories like the prodigal son or the Good Samaritan. What most of us don’t know is that the gospels themselves in their entirety may be seen as extended parables with Jesus as a character, the personification of human love fully expressed in various situations. The stories of Jesus in the gospels are evocative of the Holy Mystery, not definitive or exhaustive—evocative, suggestive of the Holy One within and around us.

Be still and know that I am God.
I will come to you in the silence
I will lift you from all your fear
Be still, and know I am near

So, what can we see in this parable of the widow and the dead son? What about this? When compassion meets wounded people or grim situations, it doesn’t just walk by.

Last Sunday Evan Frank stood before the children of our church and told us how at age eight something happened to him. Something awakened in him. He heard someone at his church in Boonsboro describe the dirty, polluted, disease bearing water that many children in Africa must drink because there’s no other choice.

Those words stopped Evan in his tracks. He was silent for a while and then said to himself: That’s not fair. I won’t stand for that.

And soon thereafter he stood up and announced his intention to his parents. He would raise money to provide clean water for children in Africa. He’s now been at it for the past four years.

That awakening, or “call” reframed his life. Evan became a “neighbor without borders.”

He didn’t go to Africa. He just kept doing what he was doing, going to school, going home and playing games but now with the children of Africa always on his heart. His birthday presents or coins from Halloween or brownie sales were converted into gifts for others.

Over the years others caught his vision and have contributed one dollar or one well at a time. Apparently the Spirit of compassion is contagious.

I am hope for all who are hopeless
I am eyes for all who long to see
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light

There’s more than one way and more than one reason to stand up for others and for yourself.

This year a couple of our members stood up in the face of scornful opposition at recent Boy Scout meetings. They paid a price. Long time friendships were damaged. Certain advancements lost. As it turns out, compassion for others often requires sacrifices.

For years this man and this woman—both from long time, devoted scouting families—sat silently, painfully tolerating an unjust policy that few had ever questioned. Sometimes we just don’t see what’s really going on in our world as we go about our frantic business. Or, we might notice but really don’t see. Or, if we see, it seems hopeless.

Nothing will change, we say. But then something happens. The Holy One leans in. We stop. We listen. And the Beloved speaks.

I am hope for all who are hopeless
I am eyes for all who long to see.
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light

Of course, it’s one thing to see an injustice. It’s something else to stand up against it, especially when the status quo is so entrenched. Who am I, we say. Who am I to stand up against such forces? And then something happens. We stop. Hold still. And breathe deep.

Do not be afraid I am with you.
I will come to you in the silence
I will lift you from all your fear
Be still, and know I am near

There’s more than one way and more than one reason to stand up for others and for yourself.

Life is hard, sometimes very, very hard. All of us get knocked down or knocked out by one thing or another. It may not kill us. But we sure feel as good as dead. I know that feeling. I’ve heard the prison door slam in more ways than one.

I don’t know but I can guess some of you have come here this morning feeling as good as dead, the wind out of your sails, defeated, dejected, or discouraged. Something or other has stolen your life away. It could be grief—unbearable sadness like a great stone on your heart. It could be fear of one thing or a thousand things. It could be guilt or shame. I’m no good. I’ll never amount to a thing may now be your mantra.

Any or all of the above can drain the life out of us. If that’s you this morning, this moment is for you. Take heart for the Beloved is here. Love is leaning in. I don’t know how it happens but it does.

And while this blessing
does not have the power to raise you,
it knows how to reach you.
It will come to you, sit down beside you,
look you in the eye
and ask if you want to live.
[Jan Richardson]

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YOU ARE MINE
By Marty Haas
I will come to you in the silence
I will lift you from all your fear
You will hear My voice
I claim you as My choice
Be still, and know I am near

I am hope for all who are hopeless
I am eyes for all who long to see
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light
Come and rest in Me

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

I am strength for all the despairing
Healing for the ones who dwell in shame
All the blind will see, the lame will all run free
And all will know My name

I am the Word that leads all to freedom
I am the peace the world cannot give
I will call your name, embracing all your pain
Stand up, now, walk, and live