Sermons from Rev Canon Dr Ian Davies

2016

Sunday 5th June

I was looking up my notes for this morning’s gospel reading from 6 years ago when I must have preached on it – recalling a chat I’d had with Mair (Cornish) just before the 8.30 service. Some might remember we’d been worshipping in the hall because of the church re-roofing and folks took the opportunity to sit in different places because their usual pew wasn’t available (!) and Mair was recalling the ‘buzz’ this had created which she thought was great and which surprised her. So it was this Sunday 6 years ago that was our first back in the main church building and she said: “wouldn’t it be great if we could have both the beauty and the ‘cwtchiness’ (which is wonderful ‘Wenglish’ for that sense of closeness,and being cuddled). And as usual she’d made a cracking theological point: that worship needs to hold the tension of God’s transcendence (his glory and beauty & ‘otherness’) together with his immanence (the intimacy, the closeness of his presence); a God who is so ‘other’ than us, and yet chose to limit himself in the incarnate Christ in order to draw close to us. Now in terms of what follows Mair’s insight is worth ‘clocking’. (

Once again we’ve had a spate of funerals in the village – standing room only in church, in  Morriston and even at Margam where it seems the whole community turned out recently. This is a time of poignant remembering for Kay & Joe Bendle and the family as they think of Ceri. – and by gum it certainly reminds us to take stock of what’s important. There are four funeral scenes on the pages of the New Testament. At each one of these, the people attending are touched by the presence and power of Jesus.  

I remember being asked to sing at the funeral of one of my two best mates from Oxford – then just 52, same age as me (my how those 10 years have flown by!). Caroline had been ordained just 3 precious years – and it rang a bell for all of us at her funeral – because like the disciples, Caroline’s two daughters and close friends were left wondering - why just so short a time? – and after such a gifted, powerful ministry. Such sadness; so many questions…and now Ron, the third of our little Oxford prayer cell, is battling with terminal stomach cancer.

In our gospel reading we have the story of the funeral of a young man from another village, the village of Nain. The story begins with Jesus in the Roman garrison town of Capernaum on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee. He’s just performed one of his most outstanding miracles (as Julie was preaching last week) healing the servant of a Centurion there. So crowds of people are gathering around Jesus as his popularity is increasing. There must have been such a temptation to hang around and soak all the adulation up - because things were going so well….

But what does Jesus do? This time he doesn’t go up a mountain - he decides to travel 20 miles south to a small village – probably of no more than 200 people - so he could be there for a woman whose only son was about to be buried outside the little community. I don’t know about you but I’m tempted at times to picture God as this high and holy Being – way, way removed from us - who almost hides out in heaven while the rest of us try to muddle on and sort out our lives on the earth. And to be honest life can feel a bit like that at times. But here, we have a beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus going out of his way to comfort a grieving woman in her time of need. And I think it’s such a comfort to hear this today.

I know some of you have experienced and are still experiencing a huge sense of loss – and I know memories can come flooding back – often when you least expect them. So I wonder whether there aren’t days for you too when you’re tempted to ask, “So where is God when life really hurts? Where is God when my heart aches with sadness till it nearly breaks? Where is he when the grief is so thick I can almost touch it with my hands?”
          Well I pray that the Holy Spirit will enable us to see something today. The answer, like it or not, is that God is right here in the middle of the mess!

·         going out of his way to be by our side when life goes pear-shaped;

·         giving us strength when we have absolutely none of our own;

·         gently comforting us when the only thing we can feel are the tears streaming down our cheeks.

If such questions challenge you, please (please) have a read of The Shack – there are usually copies at the back of church – but if you can’t find one please just say and we’ll make sure you get a copy. And there’s lots in the Bible (like in Isaiah 57:15) about God living “in a high and holy place” – but then also “dwelling with those who are contrite and humble in spirit to revive their hearts” Where is God when life hurts; when it just doesn’t make sense?  Right here - to help his people; to presence himself with us as Caroline use to pray...
          So what do we learn in this story about his compassion? – about the tenderness of his loving kindness and mercy? We’re often so busy looking for deeper spiritual meaning and application that we barely notice the actual motivation of Jesus in the context of a real-life situation. Jesus arrives at the gate of the village and the body of a young man is being carried out, the only son of his mother who’s also lost her husband and is on her own. What makes this scene so poignant is that this is a woman who has experienced two of the hardest things people maybe ever have to experience. We’re told how Jesus watches as this woman leads the procession out of town.

·         He sees her tears.

·         He understands her situation.

·         And his heart goes out to her – overflowing with compassion. And he tells her not to cry
          The woman’s probably thinking, “What on earth are you talking about? I’ve lost the two people that mean more to me than anyone else in the world. I have no way to support myself. I’m probably going to lose my home. I’m going to be dependent on other people’s handouts for the rest of my life. I’m now a ‘non’-person in this ancient near-eastern culture - and you’re telling me not to cry? Are you being crass and insensitive or what?”
          But Jesus tells her this because he has something in mind, because he intends to do something When Jesus shows compassion, he’s not just saying “Oh, that’s too bad. It’s a shame that things like that have to happen.” No. One of the things we learn in this story is that Jesus cares enough to get involved; that he’s compassionate enough to actually do something!
          I know I’ve felt this profoundly again recently - but it’s a real privilege being involved in someone’s funeral…because I know that Jesus is going to be there! I know that he can be a rock of refuge for a grieving family…And I know that he brings words of assurance that someday, for all of us, the pain’s going to be over. After all didn’t he say blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted?

And for this woman – the widow of Nain, that glorious event happens right there and then.

Jesus goes up to the open coffin, touches it, and says “Young man, I tell you, get up!” And the dead boy sat up and began to talk. (Boy would I have loved to be there to see that!)  And (not surprisingly) the people freak out – a mixture of fear and worship. Don’t forget they’re Jewish: they recognize Jesus’ action instantly as the mighty and scary activity of God. They know at once that they are seeing the kinds of things their ancestors saw from the prophets. They’d have been well versed in their Scriptures – so this would have reminded them of that other prophet – Elijah - who did another miracle for the widow we heard about in our Old Testament reading. That’s why they shout aloud, “A great prophet has risen among us - God has visited his people today!”
          And that - right there - is probably the reason Jesus does this miracle. Not because he plans on doing this every time there’s a funeral – we wish.. - but to remind us that God has come to help his people in whatever way they need to be helped. Miracles are all about revealing God’s character. We see this all the way through the Bible: the Lord appearing to Moses in a burning bush and saying, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. I’ve seen the misery of my people. I’ve heard them crying out because of their slave-drivers.” So he rescues them out of slavery in Egypt – and brings them to the Promised Land. And then in 1 Kings 19, when Elijah had been running for his life to get away from the bloodthirsty queen Jezebel and slumps into depression thinking he’s the only one around trying to keep his faith going. So God says “You’re NOT alone. I have more work for you to do. And I’m going to give you the strength and the support to do it.”

And so on and so on - Luke chapter one, where Elizabeth and Zechariah have been praying for years for a child - and an angel comes along and tells them: “Not only are you going to have a son, but he’s going to be the one who announces the coming of the Messiah!”

So here’s a real message of good news for us all this morning: God is here to help his people. You may be struggling with stuff – I know I am. But I do believe that most days, there are indeed two sets of footprints in the sand (if you’ve ever read that little verse). And those other days – plenty of them in my case - are the days he’s carrying us - and we’re encouraged to hold onto that promise that someday, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes in a place where there’ll will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away.”

          But that’s for the glorious future – it’s right now we can know God as a very present help in times of trouble. With all our questions and confusion – and as weak as we are - he’s right here – to be trusted and relied upon – able to handle our questions and confusion – and give us hope if we’ll only open up and let him in to those deeper places.