Raised to New Life
(1 Kings 17:17-24, Psalm 30, Galatians 1:11-24)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/nUyQEB9lXuU)
11Soon afterwards [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12As 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. 13When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president who served between 1923-1929 during the height of the “Roaring Twenties” and just before the stock market crash of Oct. 1929, was once quoted as saying,
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
These are strange words to come from a man leading our country during a rather reckless time. Not to mention being eerily prophetic of the hard years that lay ahead under Hoover’s leadership. Indeed, the Great Depression that resulted from the stock market crash of 1929 had a way of leveling the playing field. Talent, genius, and education were of little help during those hard years of the Depression. No, what helped the suffering people of our country during that most difficult time was sheer grit and perseverance. The problems of the Great Depression were solved by the people’s ability to persevere…to get up after being knocked down by the devastating crash of 1929. Those that survived had shown great perseverance.
Of course, the people who endured that most difficult time weren’t the first people to endure great and undeserved suffering. People have endured great and undeserved suffering since the beginning of time. We’ve all had to endure the suffering caused by the sin of Adam and Eve. We didn’t eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge yet we suffer from that sin all the same. Why should we continue to suffer for their sin? It seems awfully unfair and unjust that we should be suffering for a sin that was committed so long ago! Why must we be suffering for the sins of others? Well, because we live in a sinful world. We can’t hide from the sins of others let alone from the sins of ourselves. We are all sinful people. We sin against others just as much as others sin against us and as much as we sin against ourselves. Our sins cause others to unjustly suffer just as their sins cause us to unjustly suffer. And even if we were to live good and righteous lives, we could never avoid the sins of others. There is high likelihood that each of us will suffer unjustly in this world because of the sins of others.
Which makes Coolidge’s wisdom all the more relevant! Most of us will eventually get knocked down in life if we haven’t already experienced it. Our willingness to get back up again is all that really matters. Our ability to persevere through our suffering ultimately determines the breadth and depth of our lives. Just as we heard a few weeks back in the passage from Romans 5, it is our suffering that produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. To simply that succession, it is through our suffering that we receive hope. Without suffering, there would be no need for hope. Hope is a very powerful attitude or way of thinking that can produce great results. Hope is one of the three great gifts of the Spirit along with faith and love. We need hope to endure the unjust suffering we experience in this world. Without hope, we succumb to despair and sorrow. But we stray from the wisdom of Coolidge’s wisdom…
Persistence is important! Our readings assigned for this morning help illustrate just how important persistence is. But perhaps not in the way we’d first expect. In our first reading, we heard the encounter that Elijah had with a woman who lost her son. She was angry and scared and lashed out at Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” Unlike other characters from scripture with similar circumstances, this woman is beside herself in anger—angry at Elijah and angry at God. She has nothing nice to say to either Elijah or God, only blame and condemnation. And yet God shows mercy on her and brings her son back to life. Did she deserve such mercy? Did she show her faith and belief in God’s everlasting goodness like the centurion from last week’s gospel reading? No, she just showed anger and was rewarded for it. Where’s the persistence in this narrative?
We hear a similar miracle story in passage from Luke. Jesus encountered a widow who had lost her only son. No doubt scared for her own future, the woman was simply silent in Luke’s account. Did she show her faith and belief in God’s everlasting goodness? No, she just kept silent. And yet Jesus shows mercy on her and brings her son back to life. Again, where’s the persistence in this story? Where’s the great display of belief to elicit God’s grace and mercy?
These are both important stories in that they illustrate God’s persistence with us. God never gives up on us! We don’t need to show a great display of faith and belief to receive God’s grace and mercy! They are mere gifts from God. Nothing we do can earn God’s grace and mercy. God blesses each of us, both the deserving and the undeserving alike, with His grace and mercy. God is persistent in His relationship with us! God loves us, His beloved children. God wants nothing more than to be in relationship with each of us. God wants to shower us with His grace and mercy. God’s love for us is persistent! God never stops loving us! God is persistent. It is important for us to be persistent because God is persistent. We should always strive to be like God in all we do, in all we say, and in all we believe.
And we are to be thankful for God’s persistence like David was as heard in today’s psalm. He sang, “You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave…therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.” Like the two sons of the other readings, David was a man beset by death, if not literally than figuratively. David knew the despair of death, the nothingness of death. David knew what it felt like to be restored from such despair. David knew the joy of such restoration and sang out in ceaseless praise and thanksgiving. Surely the two sons felt similarly in their own restorations.
Because God is persistent in His love for us, we are a new people. We are no longer a selfish people but rather a selfless people. We are no longer a greedy people but rather a grateful people. We are no longer a thoughtless people but rather an appreciative people. Our lessons teach us the importance of persistence in this world and in God’s world. God is persistent. Sure God is talented, educated, and a genius the likes of which we can’t comprehend! But are those qualities that sustain us in our relationship with God? No, what sustains us is God’s persistent love for us. Each of us will likely suffer by the sins of others in this world. But it is God’s persistent love for us that will raise us up, raise us up to share God’s love with others. Let us go forth praising God for His persistence and for being…raised to new life.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.