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Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 9, 2013

Ericka Brannock went to watch her mother run the Boston Marathon – and she was there when the bomb went off. When Brannock was lying on the street, she said she told God she wasn’t ready to go yet, and a stranger grabbed her hand and said, “I’m not going to let you go”. She took off her belt and used it as a tourniquet to stop the flow of blood, according to the Washington Post.

Brannock lived, but she was severely injured. She had to have her left leg amputated above the knee, and her right leg was severely injured. She had several operations – 11 her mom thinks. She said there were some dark times when she didn’t want to keep going but she did. Monday she returned home to her friends and Friday she celebrated graduation at the preschool where she works.

God was there for Ericka Brannock. God had compassion on her. God gave her the woman with the tourniquet. God gave her the strength to overcome her injuries. She has much more work to do, and God will be there too because above all, God is a compassionate God, loving God’s people in all their pains and losses.

Luke wants to show that God’s fullest revelation of God’s compassion is found in Jesus. God reveals Godself most clearly in Jesus’ acts of love and mercy – this time in raising a son from the dead and restoring a mother to life and health. As Jesus enters the town of Nain, he meets a funeral procession heading out of the city. He sees the crying mother, tells her not to weep, touches the funeral bier, raises the son and gives him to his mother. Simple actions, ones that Jesus performs over and over again in the biblical stories. He sees, he feels, he touches and he speaks. Simple actions with profound implications. The dead are raised, the sick are healed, the demon-possessed are liberated because Jesus has compassion for us in our suffering.

God’s compassion has several characteristics. First it is unconditional. Last week, the centurion sent the Jewish elders to ask for help; in this text nobody asks Jesus for help. They probably think it is too late. Dead is dead, and nothing can fix that. But Jesus notices just the same, and his compassion overflows. God’s compassion revealed in Jesus does not take inventory of the person’s righteous or unrighteous behavior. The Jewish elders told him that the centurion was worthy, but we know nothing about the widow or her son. We don’t know if they are considered sinners or righteous people by the establishment.

It is said that God helps those who help themselves, and that is certainly true, but God also helps those who cannot help themselves. The widow can do nothing about her son’s death except grieve. But Jesus does not expect her to. It is Jesus who is the actor in this situation as he is in the other healing stories.

Second, God’s compassion is universal. The centurion was a Roman soldier, outside the pale for Jews to interact with. The widow and her son were on the very fringes of society, marginalized by circumstances. A widow had no way of earning a living after her husband died. The man might have left some assets, but probably not much. Her sole

support was her son. When he died, any assets she might have had reverted to her husband’s family. She was in real danger of dying unless she was shown charity by her neighbors.

Next, Jesus’ compassion is a love that is willing to take risks. Jesus breaks Jewish law by talking to a woman and by touching a funeral bier, which would render him ritually unclean. He has taken risks before, when he has healed on the Sabbath and touched lepers. God’s compassion is willing to go to any lengths to be merciful to God’s people.

God’s compassion is active. After Jesus sees, he has compassion. At that point he could have walked on, shaking his head at the tragedy he has just seen. But he does not. He intervenes in the midst of grief and despair to bring new life.

God’s compassion is stronger than death. Jesus’ hand on the bier is a sign that he will not let death move forward unhindered. He raises the man up and returns him to his mother. He defeats death out of love for his people.

God’s compassion brings restoration and wholeness. The son is returned to life, and the mother is given new life as well. She will be able to be cared for by her son and not be out in the streets seeking charity.

Jesus’ act of compassion in bringing new life seizes the crowd with fear. The power Jesus has is phenomenal. Who would not be frightened of his wondrous ability to raise the dead? They are also awed, and they glorify God because a great prophet has come among them, and God has looked favorably on God’s people. A new prophet and a favorable outlook from God is very welcome news. There has been no prophet for hundreds of years, and the Jews are still under Roman domination, so perhaps God is preparing to free them.

Today’s text is a grand miracle story starring Jesus. There are not many of those today, although most of us may know stories about people who were brought back from the dead on the operating table or people who have survived deadly diseases despite all odds. Mostly though, we know about people we prayed for who have died anyway, about people who live with post traumatic stress disorder, about people who experience loss of loved ones, jobs, homes, relationships and purpose. We have known loss and pain ourselves and have felt our inability to get out of it, to return to a joyful life.

Where is God’s compassion in these broken places? Why doesn’t the God of love and mercy heal us completely? There is no answer to these questions. We just do not know why the type of miracle Jesus performed is hardly, if ever, seen anymore. But that does not mean that the God of compassion is silent and does not notice us, feel for us, touch us and act on us. God still works to heal us in the midst of the deep pain of our lives. In the midst of death – even senseless acts of violence – God gives us strength to go on. We are reminded through our profound loss that we will have eternal life with God through Jesus’ compassion for us, shown on the cross. In the midst of financial reverses, we are given courage or maybe even monetary gifts from complete strangers to bless us and help us. In the midst of broken relationships, God brings forgiveness if we are open to it. When we have lost our sense of meaning in life, God reawakens us to our purpose. When we are ill and afraid, God brings peace to our troubled and frightened hearts. All of these actions of a compassionate and merciful God bring us wholeness and restoration – physical, emotional and spiritual. They transform us and bring us new life and new hope. We have only to notice them in our lives.

For Ericka Brannock, new life and new hope were brought to her by a woman with a makeshift tourniquet, the medical staff who helped her, her friends and family and the drawings of her preschool class, who remembered and cared for her. Jesus is still the revelation of God’s love for all God’s people, but now that love is carried out mostly in us, the Body of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. As we are transformed and renewed, it is our job to reveal God’s love by becoming God’s instruments of grace for those who need it. Our job is to notice need, to have compassion for those hurting people, to touch them and to speak to them with love, just as Jesus did with the widow of Nain. Our love is to be universal, unconditional, risk-taking and active, just as his was. God has looked and still looks favorably on God’s people in acts of compassion and mercy, shown to us in the revelation of Jesus Christ. God restores us and makes us whole in the midst of our pain with awesome power. We are the Body of Christ. Let us go forth and reveal the love of God in our midst to a broken, hurting world.

AMEN

     - Rev. Ann Barker