The miracle of life or the miracle of eternal life?

Updated: Jan 28

On this third Sunday after Pentecost, when the new lives of the Spiritually ordained have gone out into the world to spread the gospel of Christ, we see the same stories told last Sunday are continued this Sunday.


Continuation is a theme of ordination.  Ordination is not a “one-shot wonder,” given to a “one trick pony.”


barney fife

After Elijah won the cook-off contest with the priests of Ba’al, we see him again today – although in a “flashback” in time, to right before that contest came about.  Today we see when Elijah came to know that the whole power of God was at his disposal.  That firsthand knowledge of heavenly support – up close and personal –  gave Elijah the confidence he would need to call out the priests of Ahab and Jezebel.


Last Sunday we also read about the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Christian churches that he had formed in Galatia [Turkey].  Those converts had been sending signals that their faith was wavering, as others had been telling them to follow different so-called Messiahs.  Paul called those false prophets, who would speak opposite of what the Holy Spirit said, liars; and Paul warned the Galatians how they should not be tricked into believing liars.  The Holy Spirit only speaks the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


Today, Paul’s letter continues to tell of his own experience with the Holy Spirit upon him, and how he did not seek out people who would follow him because of his prior (Saul’s) reputation.  Paul never used the sway of “I” as reason to convince the Galatians to believe in him.  Instead, Paul told them he sought out Gentiles first, so they could know God through Christ, as strangers who knew little to nothing about a promised savior that would be sent to the Jews.


Last Sunday we read about how Jesus found the faith of a Roman Centurion amazing, so the Jewish slave of that Centurion was healed from an illness … in abstentia … from afar.  Today we read how Jesus moved from Capernaum to a town called Na-in, where he felt compassion for a widow woman whose son had died.  Jesus commanded the young man to rise and he was resurrected.


All of these stories are closely connected because they demonstrate how being filled with the Holy Spirit, as an APOSTLE of Jesus Christ, servant to God, is not some one-time thing you can tell people happened to you … once … a long time ago.


The award for meaningless important.

The award for being meaninglessly important.


These stories tell of continued faith and growing service to the Lord.


Being ordained, as seen in these Ordinary Time lessons, means a lifestyle change, where the stories of God’s glory keep on coming … and never stop.  Ordination means you stop “riding the pines” [church pews or aluminum bus stop benches], as a part-time “player,” and take up a full-time leadership role.


Ordinary Time is when apostles are born and when they start being available for those in need … daily and regularly.  Going to church a couple of hours each week is not qualification for being ordained by God and Christ.  A real “priest to the One God” constantly seeks people to hear he (or she) speak the word of God.


The Gospel reading from Luke today points directly to this willingly accepted responsibility, taken on by a typical person of faith.


It is so easy to be a Christian bystander and not a true Christian.  All of the churches left in Paul’s wake in Galatia were not simply small gatherings of Jews and Gentiles who signed a document stating, “I will believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, because Paul said so.”


The people left behind by Paul were filled with the Holy Spirit, because Paul came into their midst and spoke the Word of God in their presence.  That voice fell upon hearts that believed, in people who feared God, and onto humans who did good works.  Those Galatians became changed by the Holy Spirit … not by some passing fancy or fad.


This means a true church is a gathering of two or more people who have been reborn as Jesus Christ, coming together to share insights from the Holy Spirit and to encourage each other to keep the faith.


Closer to the true meaning of "church."

Closer to the true meaning of  “church.”


All of Paul’s epistles were directed towards this goal – to encourage true Christians to withstand the persecution that is without, and to remember how the power of God is available to them through Christ within.  Paul taught how to be “Christ Strong.”


When one has a personal relationship with God and Christ – as those who are resurrections of Jesus, filled with the same Holy Spirit – one cannot stand off and persecute one’s self, by saying, “I could never be Jesus.  I could never be as committed as Paul.  I could never be as holy as Elijah.  I could never sing high praises to the Lord, like David.”


Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not about being you!  There is no “I” in apostle.


It is about sacrificing your ego for God and letting the Holy Spirit make your body be a kingdom of His holiness.


The evidence of this is found in the words of Luke, when Jesus said to the dead son of a widow in Na-in, “Young man, rise!”   We are then told how the people surrounding his resurrection remarked, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!”


That “great prophet risen” was the son of the widow, because “The dead man sat up and began to speak.”  He spoke from the Holy Spirit, just like Jesus did; but that young man who had been resurrected became the spiritual leader of a new Christian presence in Na-in.  He became (although not named as such) a “great prophet risen” in the same way an apostle is born.


Of course, Jesus of Nazareth was also an apostle of Christ, thus a great prophet making his lone appearance in Na-in that day … according to the scriptures.  God had looked favorably upon Na-in by sending Jesus to find compassion for a widow woman, whose son had died.


Still, there is duality in those statements, so that favor was sent through the Holy Spirit in the risen young man AND Jesus’s visit.  And, in case you might struggle with that “double meaning,” look closer at the Luke writing, where he said, “The dead man sat up and began to speak.” The Greek word for “speak” is “lalein,” which also means “proclaim.”   The young man sat up and began proclaiming … but what was there for him to say?


Look now at what Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, where he said, “The gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin … but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”  That revelation caused Paul to proclaim the gospel.  Therefore, the risen young man proclaimed the same truth as Jesus and Paul.


Now, we adults have all been to funerals, vigils and wakes, so we understand what death is and the permanence of loss that death means.  Knowing that, I want you now to imagine yourself being DEAD for a moment.


<pause>


Envision your body as no longer being able to physically respond to your soul’s directions.  Imagine you hovering above your corpse, looking down at your body, seeing it on a bier at a wake, as your friends and family pay their last respects.


Your body is about to begin the procession to be interred, while your soul watches … knowing death has separated your soul and body.  But, then some voice says, “Rise!” – AND you instantly come back to life.


soul leaving the body

Your soul is eternal and has witnessed that vision of death many times (through reincarnation), so it is not hard to imagine that scene of death now … where the soul lifts out of a lifeless and useless body.


However, in all of one’s many incarnations (unless you have come back now on a special assignment from God) your soul has yet to realize how beautiful spending eternity with God will be.  We visit God between death and a planned new life on earth, agreeing each time that we must do better … in the next life.  Challenges are accepted and we promise God we will achieve the goal He has set for us.   Thus we are reborn a first time over and over again … yet forever failing to be reborn a second time within one mortal lifetime.


We all know guilt from our inabilities to make the complete sacrifice that is required to be reborn a second time – to be born a mortal, then die of ego, so we can be reborn as a vehicle for God and Christ.


But think about the readings today … and ponder the impact of rebirth from a “near death experience” (NDE).  They are not uncommon, although not routine.  Recently, a book came out about a doctor dying and returning to life, explaining his experiences in-between here and there.


<pause>


Would an awakening from death, by the voice of Jesus Christ telling one’s soul to return to life in an old body … would that experience soon be forgotten?  Would you come back thinking how special you are to God?  Would you come back with a sense of urgency to serve God and tell others we should not fear death … if we have lived a reborn life for God?


<pause>


Would you not sit up and speak of having “seen the light in the tunnel,” which is not of human origin?  Would you not explain that you had personally witnessed a real experience that was not some final synapses in the big brain firing off?  Would you not point out the truth that all the machines your body had been hooked up to had said your brain was DEAD?


Would such an event – your RESURRECTION – not make you go out and proclaim the gospel as revealed by Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit … just like Paul did?

Saul died so Paul could be reborn.


Or would you be like Consuela on Family Guy and be unable to understand the language of resurrection, simply saying, “That’s nice.  I go back to doing the things that lead to death again”?


<pause>


Why not believe that the young man in Na-in did the same … or Lazarus, when Jesus called him to “Come out!” in Bethany?


What about the ill slave to the Centurion that we read about last week?  Do you think he just had a chest cold that caused the Centurion to send a messenger to Jesus to save a good man?  That slave probably (although not directly stated) died before the messenger reached Jesus, but news of the Centurion’s faith caused the slave to be revived from death.


Today we read about the young son of the widow resurrected by Elijah.  I imagine that young boy also knew full well what God had done for his soul, knowing the prayer of Elijah to God had resurrected him.


Paul said his experience of seeing the Spirit of Jesus (when his name changed from Saul to Paul) was so powerful that he immediately spent three years preaching the meaning of Holy Scripture to Arabs, in Arabia and Damascus (Syria).


Paul did not seek out “those who were already apostles before” he was an apostle … to make sure he hadn’t dreamed everything and maybe he should just keep going as he had … “business as usual.”  The message of change was so clear that he immediately became ordained and sought people to minister.


Saul DIED and Paul’s soul heard the revelation of Jesus Christ saying, “Rise!” so Paul got up and began speaking the gospel.  Paul was exactly the same as the young son of the widow in Na-in, and the young son of a widow in Zarephath.


tongues afire

Paul told the Galatians, “Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia [which is in southeastern Turkey, bordering Syria], and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.”  And they glorified God because of me.”


Listen to those words and tell me if you heard any fear of Paul in those churches of Judea that were in Christ.  Paul encountered true Christians when he went – unrecognizable – into a those churches filled with Jews for Jesus.  Were those Jewish Christians trembling in their sandals, worrying that Saul and his Jewish lawyer buddies might show up at any moment and try to destroy them?


No.  There was no fear of any man in them.  After all … what could they do to hurt them/  Kill them?  They had no fear of death by man.


It was like how the people of Na-in were, when we hear Luke write, “Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God.”  That means they suddenly began to fear God … not persecution … not death.  They glorified God by praising the power of God that had come upon them.  The became witnesses to the power of the Holy Spirit, so they glorified God by only fearing losing his love and protection.


They did not fear the miracle that a dead young man had just sat up and began preaching the truth to them.  They feared God and only God, which means they stopped fearing stupid worldly matters.


No more would they pull out excuses for not fearing God, saying things like:


“I’m afraid I might not be able to buy groceries, if I don’t increase the price of my wares or services to people who need them most.”


“I’m afraid I might not be able to pay my cell phone bill, if I take a day off work to spread the truth about God.”


“I’m afraid people might stop inviting me to their parties or helping my business, if I always try to talk about my having been given a new life by God.”


excuses

<pause>


Fear is natural.


Jesus felt fear at Gethsemane.  He cried as he prayed to God.  He admitted, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”


Elijah also feared, when the widow woman, whom he had been sent to live with, had her young son die.  She asked 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!”


Elijah was beside himself with fear.  He did not know what to do.  He just reacted to the fear.

Elijah took the dead boy’s body upstairs to his room and laid it on his bed.


We then read that “he stretched himself upon the child three times.”  That means Elijah’s rapidly beating heart was placed upon the boy’s still heart three times.  Three, of course, being a holy number – representative of the Trinity.  So, Elijah placed his heart on the dead boy’s heart once for the Father, twice for the Son, and thrice for the Holy Spirit.


Then, Elijah cried out, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.”  The Lord answered another prayer.  The boy was revived.  He was born again to life … by the Holy Spirit.


The widow woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”  Still, Elijah knew he had been used by God, as no one could repeat those steps and bring another dead boy back to life.  Elijah worked no miracle … he simply sat up and spoke the Word of God That was Faith, as a man of God, and Holy Spirit, with the truth of the Lord in his mouth, extending a miracle of God onto another.   Elijah feared God … thinking he had failed God by doing something that caused the child to die.   That fear of God caused the Holy Spirit to overtake Elijah, so he acted as he did.


<pause>


Do you think that experience forever affected the widow woman and her son?


Elijah had made just a little bit of meal and a little bit of oil last for many days, feeding her whole household and himself … certainly a miracle … much like Jesus fed a multitude with five loaves and two fish; but do you think that miracle made as great an impact on the widow woman and her young son as did Elijah speaking to God and God returning life to her dead son?


A widow woman’s son represented the future to her.  Without her son, she had no reason to live.  She was more without the hope of her son,  than she had from a facing certain death from famine, having only one last meal left.  The widow woman did not fear death, as she prepared for her and her son to die as good servants of the Lord.  The resurrection of her son returned hope to her life.


God gave both widow women in today’s stories hope, seen as the fruit of faith received in the glory of the Father.  Being given a sustained reason for life is a wondrous feeling … more than that of being kept from death by worldly staples provided by heaven.


Minor miracles happen all the time … and many of us give full credit to God and Christ when they happen to us or those we know.  But, has the miracle of resurrection made you change your lifestyle?


I doubt God is a Mets fan.

I doubt God was a Mets fan in 1969.


Are you a full-time servant to God and Christ?


Are you a man or woman of God, with the truth of the Lord in your mouth?


Do you fear only God and glorify him through your faith and devotion, shown by your acts and words?


Do people hear you speak and say, “God has looked favorably on us by this great prophet”?


<pause>


That is what Ordinary Time is about.  For mortals, it is ordinary to fear death; but for true Christians, those resurrected with the word of truth upon them to speak, Ordinary Time means a fear of God, so one glorifies God by becoming an apostle.  Now becomes the most important time to rise and speak.


“Praise the Lord, O my soul!”

“I will praise the Lord as long as I live.”

“I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.”


Amen

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