Saturday, May 28, 2016

Who's dead? That's the question.

The Third Sunday in Pentecost gives us an opportunity to proclaim, along with the people of Nain, "A great prophet has arisen  among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!"  But first we must be raised from the dead.  That's the catch.  In I Kings 17:17-24 (the first lesson appointed for the day) and in Luke 7:11-17 (the gospel lesson) we have miracle stories.  In both, a dead person is raised. The crucial question in preaching these texts is, "With whom do you identify?"  I would argue that the crucial persons to identify with are not the living, but the dead.

(The following questions are taken from my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted.  Check it out on or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  Without a doubt, Jesus, the Word, functions to bring life to those who are dead.  This is obviously a gospel function.  Jesus triumphs over death - hallelujah!

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no literal word of Law here, save the position of the dead son.  He obviously stands in great need of a Savior, but there is no mention of the need of any one else for a Savior.  Since death comes to all, however, we are one with the dead man.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is always important to identify with those who are addressed by the Word, not with Jesus or God or the Word itself.  In this case, those whom Jesus addresses are the dead son, and indirectly, his mother.  We therefore must choose one of those characters to identify with.  That means we are the ones who either have been given back our children, or ones who have been given back our life.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  We might look at this text and, mistakenly identifying with Jesus, think that there is a call to obedience here that says specifically, "Have compassion like Jesus did."  That's a fine message, of course, but that message is not in this text.  What we are called to do is to praise God in the face of Christ's power over death.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Obviously one couplet is death/life.  Expanding on that we might add lost/found; in despair/rejoicing; without hope/without fear.

6.  Exegetical work:  Fred Craddock, (Interpretation Series) and other commentators have made much of the fact that this story is part of the listing of miracles that will be reported to John the Baptist in prison.  John sends word to Jesus saying, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"  Jesus sends this reply:  "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:  the blind receive their sight (6:18), the lame walk (5:17-26), the lepers are cleansed (5:12-16), the deaf hear (6:18), the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them (6:20-26).  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."  What we have in this list is living proof for the people that Jesus is "the one who is to come."  Also, it is important to compare this story and the Elijah story in the first lesson.  When the people who witnessed the miracle at Nain cried out, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" they were likely comparing this miracle to Elijah's.  This miracle is then a very important event proclaiming the identity of our Lord.  In preaching, that is our task as well.

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Lori Cornell, analyzing this text in 2013, did a wonderful job showing how God's apparent "divine neglect" led to God's sure "divine intervention."  She shows how vulnerable we are to believing that we, like the widow of Nain, have been abandoned by God, but then Christ shows up to give us life. This is an excellent example of Law and Gospel at work.  You can see the entire analysis by going to

Blessings on your proclamation!

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