God’s Gift of Grace 2nd Sunday after Pentecost - Luke 7:11-17


Last week I took my kids to Omaha to visit my cousin and her three young boys.

We had a great week –
    the kids enjoyed each other and we packed a lot of fun in five days.
But I was on my own with two active and, as the week went on, very tired boys.
To top it off, the airline consistently – on three of four flights,
failed to seat us together.
So I would get on airplanes with my two young boys and all the gear it takes to travel with them, and hover in the aisle,
    looking for someone to change seats with us.
Add a three-hour layover in Denver on the way home, and by the time I reached Albuquerque, I was tired, stressed and hassled.
I stood in the tunnel just outside the plane, waiting for stroller –
holding Noah to keep him from running off,
or getting in the way of other travelers.
I started soothing Noah – and myself as much as him – cooing “Mama loves you, we just have to wait a minute here, it’s okay, Mama loves you”
And, for the first time, Noah replies “love you”
I said it again “I love you,”
and he said it again “love you.”
Now, it’s quite likely he was just repeating the works he was hearing,
not really saying “I love you” to his grumpy and stressed-out Mom.
But his words at that moment changed something in me.
Suddenly, I wasn’t stressed out and frustrated.
I relaxed, and smiled,
and knew that what was important was being there with my family,
home safe after a fun-filled week

Almost as soon as we got home, my husband left on a business trip.
It’s always a little more challenging to keep up with the boys when he is away,
and for some reason this past week was more challenging than usual.
Maybe because it was my third week in a row as single mom.
Maybe because of the stress on all of us of adjusting to new schedules –
(or lack of schedules) at the start of summer vacation.
Or preparing for my son’s birthday.
Anyway, I spent a lot of the week tired and stressed out.
One evening I was trying to get the kitchen cleaned up before putting the boys to bed, and grumbling to myself a bit as I did.
I was listening to NPR
(also stressful, given the state of our country right now).
Noah walked in to the kitchen as they were playing music between stories,
and he started to dance.
Now, when Noah dances, he doesn’t shuffle his feet a bit or sway to the music.
He DANCES – feet moving, arms in the air, turning circles –
    and grinning ear to ear.
Again, his impromptu gift made me smile,
made me laugh and remember what I love,
and remember the gift of every day.
As I look back on those moments with Noah one word comes to me: Grace.
Pure gift, unlooked for, undeserved,
joy in the midst of stress and struggle.
Those were God moments –
reminders of God’s gifts of life and love
breaking into the ordinary struggles of life.

The widow at Nain was facing much more than ordinary struggles.
She was grieving the loss of her son – her only son.
In the years I’ve spent in ministry,
nothing affects me like seeing parents grieve the loss of a child.
It is a loss I can’t imagine,
as I realized in the first months of mothering the sheer vulnerability
of having my heart running around outside my body.

And the widow of Nain faces more than the extraordinary grief of losing a child.
She is a widow, has lost her only son,
which means she is without male relatives to support her.
In biblical times, this was a dangerous position in which to find oneself.
When the prophets constantly remind the people of Israel to care for widows and orphans, it is not simply because they have reason to be sad and lonely.
Children and women who did not have adult male relatives to support them faced the very real prospect of extreme poverty –
the very real possibility of starvation.
Once she has buried her son, the widow at Nain faces a frighteningly uncertain future.

Then, Jesus comes along.
He is simple walking between cities, with a crowd following him as usual.
He does not know this widow, does not know what has happened.
Furthermore, the widow does not seem to know him –
or if she does, she thinks it is too late to ask for a miraculous healing.

But Jesus sees the woman, and he is moved by her grief.
The story says he has compassion for her – .
his heart – the heart of God – enters into her suffering and shares her pain.
And so he does something unexpected – unlooked for, unasked for.
He goes up to the bier on which the body is lying –
touches it – and says “ Young man, I say to you, rise!”

This story is unusual among the healing stories in the gospels.
It does not mention faith – the widow’s, the son’s – nor does it mention gratitude.
The story of the healing spreads quickly, and many are amazed by the power of God made manifest in Jesus – but is that what the story is about?

Rev. Dr. Kim Buchanan has another idea about this story:
“Maybe this story is about grace –
pure, unadulterated, undiluted, unbidden, unearned, un-asked for grace.
This raising doesn’t happen because of a mother’s faith or her son’s worthiness.
It happens because Jesus has compassion for her. Period.
The mother didn’t have to act faithfully. The son didn’t have to live gratefully.
It could be that both mother and son were faithful and grateful.
But my point is that the point of this story is not the mother and her son.
The point of this story is Jesus’ compassion.
The point is that when grace comes into our lives, it requires nothing of us but a choice:
to receive it or not.
The point is always to be packing party clothes because, with Jesus, you never know when a funeral procession just might turn into a street celebration.”

Then Rev. Buchanan shares this story:
“There was no street celebration, no brass band or snare drum or festive umbrellas.
But the funeral for Pastor Taylor's wife was something to behold.
Just months before she died, Mrs. Taylor had been at our house talking about the perfect bill of health she had received from her doctor.
Who knew the tumor would grow so fast, that she would die so quickly?
We were all shocked by the news when it came, especially we 8th grade classmates of the Taylors' son, Jim.

The day of the funeral a quiet crowd packed the tiny concrete block church.
It all felt wrong, somehow.
Friends' parents weren't so supposed to die...
especially fun-loving parents like Jim's mom.
We entered the church sad, grieving, weighed down with disbelief.

After saying a few words, Reverend Taylor told us what his wife had requested.
"She wanted us to sing hymns," he said, "lots and lots of hymns at her funeral."
The pianist began to play.

As we began tentatively singing "Holy, Holy, Holy," we looked around at each other. This just wasn't the done thing in our little town. By the end of the intro to "Blessed Assurance," we realized that this hymn thing wasn't a joke and resigned ourselves to singing. By the time we got to the refrain of "How Great Thou Art," we were singing our hearts out. And as the final chord of "Amazing Grace" died away, I think we actually had experienced some.

Well, most of us. At the grocery store the next day, I overheard two women talking about the unconventional funeral in "Well-I-never!" kinds of tones.

As a teenager, Mrs. Taylor's funeral and the comments of those women in the dry goods aisle taught me a lot about grace.
Grace comes unbidden, often at the least expected of times.
We can't earn it. We can't work for it. We can't plead for it. It just comes.
What we can do is choose whether to receive it or reject it.
We can sing with our arms crossed and our teeth clenched,
or we can sing with our mouths and our hearts wide open.
We can keep the drum muted or we can let loose with a riff to make the angels dance.

When Jesus comes with compassion in his eyes,
we can wrap our funeral clothes tightly around us    
or we can change into our party togs and celebrate – the choice is ours.
The choice always is ours. 

God’s grace shines into our lives at unexpected moments –
moments of great need, or moments of ordinary life.
God’s grace is often a surpise, and always a gift –
giving not what we asked for, but something we hadn’t even imagined.

In the words of the psalm, a contemporary translation by Nan Merrill:
I will praise you, O God, for You have raised me up,
and have not let my fears overwhelm me.
O Compassionate One, I cried for help, and you comforted me.
You, Love, released my soul from despair,
restored me to life from among those who live in fear.
And you turned my mourning into dancing;
you set me free and clothed me with gladness.
Now my soul may praise You and not be silent.
O my Beloved, I will be grateful to You forever and ever.

Lutheran Church of the Servant, Santa Fe

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