Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Who gets raised? - A Sermon

There are two very similar stories in the Old Testament and the Gospel. In the Old Testament you have the story of Elijah and a widow in the town of Zarephath, and in the Gospel you have the story of Jesus and a widow in the town of Nain.

In each story, the widow has a son – her only son – who dies unexpectedly. And in each, the man of God raises the son from death.

Both of these are nice stories, and they certainly show God’s power, but they leave a gaping question that nags at the soul. Why them? Why do some get so lucky as to be raised from the dead – or healed, for that matter – while others don’t.

Let’s face it, Elijah did not raise all that many people, and he wasn’t known for healing people at all. Jesus raised more, but not that many. He healed a lot of people, but again, in the scope of things it really was not that big a number. There were probably more he left unhealed.

Why is that? What did those people do that found favor in God’s eyes while others died (or lived with the deaths of their loved ones)? You could argue that the widow in Zarephath was taking care of Elijah, so she deserved a little help, but the widow in Nain? She never said a word to Jesus.

These are questions a lot of people ask today, because a lot of people every day have to deal with those unanswerable questions: Why did my child die? Why did my spouse die? Why am I dying? Why do some people suffer and others don’t? Why me?

It doesn’t seem fair.

And in a way, it’s not. The way the world is balanced, it depends on all of us dying in our own turn. We will all die. Some of those deaths will be at a young age, others old. Some will be brutal and painful, others peaceful, quiet, even beautiful. It is a bit random.

Just like those healings. They were a bit random. In fact, part of what they might show us is that not only is death and suffering a bit random, so is healing and life.

Why did I ever get born? Why did I survive that crash? Why did that inoperable tumor disappear? Why am I alive now when someone else just like me is not?

Sometimes, people ask these questions as if life were a business transaction. You pay your money, and you get what you ask for. You work hard and you get rewarded. You pray hard, and God gives you what you want.

Which would mean that these healings are rewards. They are not rewards. They are signs.

A sign – like a sacrament – points to something much bigger happening inside. In the case of biblical healings, they are a sign of God’s compassion. They point to how much God loves us – not the kind of love that says God will never let us be hurt. Certainly not the kind of love that says we will never leave our earthly bodies – everyone does, including those who were raised.

Compassion comes from the Latin that means to suffer with. So, this compassion which these raisings point to is the kind that says, “I am with you in good and bad. I am with you when the unexpected, the unfair, the disastrous happens. There is nothing that will make all the painful go away, but you will not be alone through any of it.”

All sacraments point not to the physical, but to the spiritual growth and life inside. These miracles we see today point to the same thing – the body is healed for a while, but it is the soul that lives forever.

None of this is probably all that comforting in a time of crisis and pain – when you’re hurting, you’re hurting – but it is good to know that when we go through such times, it’s not a matter of deserving. After all, everyone is God’s child.

It’s a matter of finding God’s love inside, and knowing that the life which comes through this love is forever. Amen.