Luke 7:11-17; 1 Kings 17:17–24; Galatians 1:11–24
Have you ever noticed how crowds gather whenever a famous person comes to town? Ever noticed that? Crowds gather not only for famous people , but for big events as well.
It’s hard to believe, but football season is less than three months away – two months if you count the preseason – and crowds once again are going to fill the seats at the Ralph to cheer on – once again – our beloved Bills. Oh yes, we do indeed live in hope, don’t we?
Anyway, you know that wherever you find a crowd, you know that someone – or something – important is going on.
That’s what’s happening in our Gospel reading today. It seems that wherever Jesus goes, he draws a crowd. Pay attention to that when you read any of the four Gospels. It seems that almost always, wherever Jesus goes, he draws a crowd.
In fact, if you take a look at today’s Gospel lesson, you’ll notice that there is not one, but two crowds.
- One crowd is going into the town of Nain. The other one is coming out.
- One crowd is drawn to Jesus. The other one is drawn to a widow as she leads a funeral procession for her son. Her only son.
- One crowd is festive! Jesus, the great teacher and miracle worker is coming to town. The other crowd is filled with grief.
Inevitably, the two crowds come together.
And Jesus – moved with compassion – tells the woman not to weep. And he reaches out – and touches the casket – and says, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” And immediately, the young man comes back to life. And Jesus gives him to his mother.
This is just one of three stories that we have where Jesus brought people back to life. Of course, the most famous resurrection story of all is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And by the way – if the resurrection of Jesus had never happened, we wouldn’t be here today. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the very foundation upon which our faith is built. Take away the resurrection, and Christianity falls flat on its face.
So besides the resurrection of Jesus, we have this story of the son of the widow of Nain. There is the raising of Jairus’ daughter. And perhaps the most famous one is the raising of Lazarus in John 11. Remember that one? Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come out!”, and Lazarus – being dead for four days – comes back to life.
And then there is this other story – which is the first reading we had today from the book of I Kings – where the prophet Elijah offers a prayer to God, and God raises a widow’s son back to life – and gives the boy back to his mother.
Now, unlike the resurrection of Jesus – who rose from the dead never to die again – what we have here in these other stories is what we call resuscitation. Lazarus, and the son of the widow of Nain, would eventually die again.
But what I want you to see is that no matter where Jesus goes – he makes a difference in peoples’ lives. And he is moved by compassion on their behalf.
Remember what I told you last week? Being with Jesus is an adventure! We are invited to come along with Jesus to be with him on this adventure. To be a part of the crowd.
By the way, Jesus still draws crowds. Did you know that? Jesus still draws crowds, and he has drawn a crowd here today at Zion. Jesus is present here in this place, and we are drawn to Jesus because in him there is life. Not just life in the hereafter. But abundant life in the here and now.
In fact, may I be so bold as to say, that dead bodies are not the only things that Jesus brings back to life.
I think Paul – St. Paul – understood that. In several places in the book of Acts, and the book of Galatians, he talks about his conversion – the word I like to use is ‘transformation’ – a transformation that takes place after Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. You see, on the road to Damascus, Jesus gives Paul a new life. Paul joins in the adventure.
In our reading from Galatians Paul is reminding us of what his life before becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ was like. So if you know anything about the life of Paul, you know that before he became a Christian he was a Jew – a Pharisee – who believed that his mission in life was to round up Christians – and persecute them – throw them into prison – and sometimes even consent to their being killed. He thought that that was what God wanted him to do. So when Paul has this life-changing encounter with Jesus – and it is a life-changing encounter – it is as though Paul has died – and a new person is raised up in his place – and he is brought back to life again.
Now granted, it is not a physical death that we’re talking about here. But for Paul, it is a death to his old self. The old self that had persecuted Christians – in the name of God – with the intent of wiping out this small, but rapidly growing Christian church from the face of the earth.
The old Paul – whose original name by the way was Saul – so not only was he transformed, but so was his name – he was given the new name of Paul – his new life in Jesus Christ set him free from his old way of life. So much so that we can talk about Paul as having died a death. To the point where he himself says in Galatians 2 verse 20 – and by the way – I want you to know that this is one of my top ten Bible verses – Galatians 2:20:
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me.”
Did you hear that? It is no longer I who live. In other words, I am dead. It is Christ who lives in me. My old self has died – my old way of life with its habits, its passions, its desires – and a new me has arisen in its place.
Now don’t get me wrong. The new me certainly doesn’t live that new life perfectly. I think one of the struggles that you and I as believers – as disciples of Jesus Christ – have is that that old self keeps coming back – keeps trying to resurrect itself. You know what I mean? That old way of life keeps trying to come back.
In the book of Romans, Paul puts this another way. He says that you and I are a living sacrifice. But you know what the problem with a living sacrifice, is don’t you? The problem with a living sacrifice – is that it keeps crawling off the altar.
But you know something? That’s okay. Because being a Christian is not always an easy thing. This is nothing new. I tell you this all the time. Being a Christian – a disciple of Jesus Christ – is not always an easy thing. But thank God there is forgiveness. Thank God there is always, always, always a second chance. Thank God for grace – God’s undeserved love and favor – that picks you up and brushes you off when you fall – and sets you on our feet again.
In Christ, Paul found a new purpose for living. And as a result, he is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – missionary the world has ever known. Paul died to the old self. Christ touched his life and through Jesus Christ he received new life.
And so do we. Following Jesus is an adventure. And in Jesus Christ we find a new purpose for living.
Folks, I’ve been here with you for over 22 years now. That’s a long time to be anywhere. Over the years I’ve had opportunity to meet with you in your homes, in my office, or at the coffee shop. I’ve served with you on a variety of ministry teams – or what we used to call committees. We’ve traveled on mission trips together. I’ve danced at your weddings, or your children’s weddings. I’ve been with you in hospital rooms. I know who has artificial hips and knees.
Well, you know I could keep going on. Sounds like I’m preparing to say goodbye, doesn’t it! No! No – I’m saying I know your stories. I know where you’re coming from. I know the things you’ve struggled with – and many of you know what my own struggles have been. We’ve shared our joys – our griefs – our fears.
So knowing you as I do, this is what I can tell you. You are not alone. You are not alone in whatever it is you have come through – or whatever it might be that you are going through now. And you are certainly not alone with whatever it is that tomorrow is going to bring.
No matter what you’re going through – I’m here to tell you that Jesus Christ is walking your way. He meets you where you are. And he loves you as you are. But He loves you too much to let you stay that way. He’s in the business of making a difference. He’s in the business of changing lives. That’s what we mean when we talk about transformation.
If there is one thing I want you to remember from this sermon, it is this. “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me.” Say that together with me. “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me.” Take that verse to heart.
Because when the old way of life just doesn’t cut it anymore – you know how Dr. Phil likes to ask, “Well how’s that working for ya?” When the old way of life just isn’t working for you anymore – there is new life in Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “I have come that they might have life – and life abundant.”
That’s what the business of faith is all about. New life – new life in Jesus Christ. Amen