Sunday, 27 June 2010

Patronal Festival Sermon: Peter AND Paul

Patronal Festival 2010
Galatians 2.1-14, Matthew 16.13-19

Today we celebrate our two Patron saints – Peter and Paul – and, as you might know, we don’t celebrate them alone. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to exchange greetings with as many other churches dedicated to Peter and Paul as I could find. And there are plenty of them. In the end I managed to get, I think, 21 replies on the special blog I set up with some help from the young people’s group. I’ve put them up on the board at the back too, so you can see them if you don’t “do” the internet.

I was a bit limited in those I could contact. I was doing all this by email, so if they didn’t “do” the internet either I couldn’t do much about that. Language was a limitation as well. I managed a few in my best, rather rusty, French, and one of the recipients responded, so it can’t have been that bad, but most of the greetings are from English speaking churches. And, of course, because I was looking for churches dedicated to saints, we haven’t heard from churches in traditions where they don’t normally call their churches after saints. But even with those limitations, the replies are full of diversity. There are Cathedrals – Sheffield Anglican Cathedral and Roman Catholic Cathedrals in Nantes and in Goulburn, Australia. There are little rural churches like Muchelney on the Somerset Levels, and churches in towns and cities too. I’ve had greetings from the youth groups in Gravesend, in Pickering in North Yorkshire and in Abington in Northamptonshire, and I’ve had greetings from people who, I’m guessing, are at the other end of the age scale.
There are high churches, which today they will, I am sure be filled with incense, and low churches who’ll be celebrating with informal worship. But they all wanted to say hello, to reach out across the divides of geography, or denomination, or culture, and celebrate the faith – and the dedication to Peter and Paul – which we hold in common.

One of the reasons why I wanted to do this – apart from the fact that I thought it would be fun – was that it is actually pretty strange that any church should be dedicated to Peter AND Paul at all and I thought it was worth pondering. They were hardly best buddies, in fact they were almost permanently at loggerheads in their lifetimes. There were bitter arguments between them and their followers about which one had really got the message of Jesus right.

In our first reading we heard Paul’s account of one round of their squabble. It’s always a bit hard to get a handle on other people’s rows, especially when you’ve only got one side to go on, but basically what was at issue was how Jewish this new Jesus movement was going to be, and who had the authority to set the direction it would go in.

Peter was sure it ought to be him who made the rules, and it’s easy to see why. He’d been one of Jesus’ closest friends. He’d been with him throughout his ministry from start to finish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Paul, by contrast, had never met Jesus at all, unless you count seeing him in a vision on the road to Damascus, but it hardly compares.

Not only that, Paul had been a staunch opponent of Jesus and his followers before that vision changed his life. He’d wanted this new movement strangled at birth, and although he had changed his mind you could see why the old guard might be a bit sceptical. What did he know about anything? Who was he to be throwing his theological weight around?

Peter and the church in Jerusalem managed to forgive him for the fact that he had tried to have them all killed, which is quite something. But they weren’t so sure they could stomach the message he was preaching, which seemed to be taking the church away from its Jewish cultural roots.

Peter and Paul were both Jewish, of course, but Peter was a fisherman from Galilee, who had lived his whole life surrounded by fellow Jews, in the Jewish homelands of Galilee and then in Jerusalem. Tradition says that he eventually made his way to Rome, where he was martyred, but actually there’s no evidence for that – and according to the Bible, he doesn’t seem to have travelled much at all. His knowledge of the world and its diversity was probably very limited.

Paul on the other hand, had been brought up in Tarsus, a town which is now in Turkey. He was Jewish, but he lived in a multi-faith, multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan society – he was a Roman citizen himself. Though he grew up to be zealous for Judaism, he was bound to be more aware of the faiths of others and their ways of life. Inevitably he had a wider experience of the world than Peter. During his ministry he was constantly on the move, travelling through many different cultures, among people who knew nothing about Judaism, and cared less. They couldn’t see what the old Jewish Law had to do with them, and why should they? Why not eat pork? Why be circumcised? What was all the fuss about? It was all completely alien to them, nothing to do with the message of Jesus that they should love one another, which was what they had responded to.

Paul had had to think hard about the Gospel he proclaimed to these people. He had to work out what was essential, and what was really just cultural window dressing. And he came to the conclusion that if Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem didn’t want to eat bacon butties, that was up to them, but rules like that only got in the way when you were in Galatia, or Greece, or Rome, where bacon butties were the staple food.

To Peter and to the Jerusalem Christians this was all very worrying. They thought Paul was just preaching a make-it-up-as-you-go-along faith, bending the faith of their ancestors so it would be easier for people to accept it. Once you started going soft on things which felt to them so instinctively wrong, like eating pork, what would be next? Where would it end?

The arguments rumbled on for many years. Peter had a much more natural claim to leadership than Paul, the “Johnny come lately” apostle who was working out there on the fringes, but in the end it was Paul who won, though perhaps more by accident than design. In AD 70 the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. The church that met there was scattered along with all the rest of the Jewish population and it never really recovered. Peter had all his church’s eggs in one basket, so to speak, and when that was gone that was it.
Those who had heard the Gospel from Paul, though, were widely spread out around the Roman world, so his church was much less vulnerable to local disasters. And because the faith he preached was adaptable and flexible, it was much better equipped to survive changing times and situations. Peter’s legacy wasn’t lost – he is still considered to be one of the most important founding figures in Christian faith - but it was the outward facing theology of Paul which really shaped the faith we know in the West today. He is the reason why Christians don’t have to follow Jewish laws. I rather doubt the Gospel would have spread as far as it has without the leaps of imagination and faith he made.

But what have these ancient arguments got to do with us? In a sense, nothing. We aren’t very likely to feel today that we ought, really, to go back to eating kosher food. But I suspect that Peter and Paul represent a continuing tension in the church, and in our wider society that has never gone away, and never will, and it is one we all face.

Peter says, “Tradition matters – don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If we forget where we came from, we forget who we are and we risk losing the hard won lessons of our ancient wisdom. Then we’ll just have to learn them all over again, probably the hard way.” Paul says, “The world moves on. Different times and situations need different responses. One size doesn’t fit all and if we aren’t prepared to evolve and adapt, we’ll die.”

If you had to pick one which would you go for? Peter or Paul? Guarding the old traditions or wanting to innovate? It’s not just in church that we face those choices. At work, at home, in our neighbourhoods, these two viewpoints are often in conflict. That conflict can be very destructive, with each side caricaturing the other - one side are stick in the muds, and the other side just want to make the rules up to suit themselves. But it can be a constructive tension as well, if we respond to it with generosity. It is pretty rare for one side to have all the truth and wisdom on their side, and though it might not always be possible to come up with a solution to the arguments we face which suits everyone, it enriches us all if we remember that none of us has a monopoly on the truth.

A church that is dedicated to Peter AND Paul ought, above all churches, to be able to help us think about the tensions we face creatively, to find strength and wisdom in diversity. We need old wisdom. And we need new ideas. We need one another, even when we don’t agree – perhaps especially when we don’t agree, because without the challenge of people who are different from us we don’t have to think about what really matters to us at all.

So today I pray that whether we are Peters or Pauls by nature, preferring to hold back, or to rush on, we’ll remember the “and” in our church’s name – that little reminder that those who differ from us also reflect God’s love and wisdom, and come to us as his gifts and his blessings.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

God in the chaos - Trinity 3

Isaiah 65.1-9, Luke 8.26-39

How do you feel about chaos? Most of us probably don’t like it much. We all have different “chaos thresholds” – some people can cope with more uncertainty than others. But I guess we all like to feel we have some basic control over our lives. It’s just human – if we don’t know what’s going on, we can’t protect and look after ourselves. We don’t like chaos.

If that’s true for us it was even more true for the people of the Bible because their lives were far less predictable and controllable than ours are. Illness struck, and natural disaster, and they had no idea why. There was often nothing they could do about it. Most people didn’t have much political power either; so they were at the mercy of wars and civil strife which often had nothing to do with them.

It’s no surprise then, that in the Bible God is often portrayed as the one who brings order out of chaos. In the beginning, says the book of Genesis, “the earth was a formless void”, until God’s spirit hovered over it and began to sort out day from night, dry land from water and so on. Their faith emphasized the importance of order too. It insisted on rigorous divisions between clean and unclean foods, between ordinary time and the sacred time of the Sabbath, between Jew and Gentile. So long as you live life within the boundaries faith set, then you’d be safe, but step outside that order and anything could happen.

Today’s Gospel story is all about order and chaos. That might not be obvious at first. At first sight it just looks like another healing miracle; a man is cured of a mental illness. But that’s not how its first hearers would have understood it. They had no concept of mental illness in the sense that we do, so this man didn’t need healing. They believed he was possessed by demons, and what he needed was to be delivered from them. The people of the first century lived in a world which they believed teemed with spiritual forces, invisible beings jostling for power and control. The man whom Jesus meets amongst the tombs was being used, in their view, as a pawn in one of those unseen battles, and as a result, chaos had broken loose in his life. It’s no accident that on the way to the land of the Gerasenes Jesus had stilled a storm on the Sea of Galilee, bringing order out of chaos there, and now he was doing the same in this man’s life.

The respectable Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time would have felt that this was someone Jesus should have avoided like the plague, a living embodiment of spiritual as well as physical danger. Actually Jesus shouldn’t have even been in the neighbourhood in their view. The land of the Gerasenes was in Gentile territory across the Sea of Galilee – not somewhere a good Jew should willingly go – the fact that they are keeping pigs gives that away. It was an area where there were lots of Roman troops garrisoned too – no wonder this man calls himself Legion, the largest unit of the Roman army. His land has been invaded, and now he feels his soul has been invaded as well. Pigs, Romans, demons … everything about this story screams uncleanness, disorder, chaos. But there is Jesus, right in the thick of it, because that is where those who need him most are to be found. He doesn’t sit afar off in safety, waiting for people to sort themselves out, clean themselves up, make themselves presentable and come to him. If they could do that, they wouldn’t need his help. He goes into the heart of their chaos and darkness to bring them the peace they can’t find for themselves.

We are used to these stories, used to seeing Jesus in the Gospels going among the outcasts, but my experience is that though we can accept that as something he did long ago for other people, many of us struggle to imagine that he wants to do that here and now in our own lives. It’s one thing to read of him going to a wild man in the wild places of Gerasa. It is quite another to let him come into the chaos and the mess of our own lives. And everyone’s life has those places, places of which we feel ashamed, even if there is nothing to feel ashamed of, places where we feel out of control and helpless. We feel we can’t let God – or anyone else – anywhere near us. Just when we most need help, we cut ourselves off from it. We take ourselves off to live among the tombs, among the dead remains of our hopes and dreams, rather than admitting that we are struggling.

The message of the Gospel though is that God isn’t afraid of our chaos -the chaos within us or around us. It doesn’t repel him. It doesn’t defeat him, and far from wanting to avoid it, it is the very place he most wants to be, bringing us peace, reassuring us that whatever happens, there is nothing that will cause him to turn away from us when we need him.
Amen

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Dis/graceful tales?

Trinity 2 10

2 Sam 11,26-12.10,13-15, Luke 7.11-17

I wonder if you have ever felt depressed about the world as it seems to be reflected in the TV soaps or the latest films. Nothing but adultery and violence, people getting up to no good and then lying to cover it up. What is the world coming to? Never mind, let’s turn to the Bible – some truly edifying reading, wholesome tales of family values…
So, what have we got today? Ah. The Gospel has a story of a woman who is plainly known to everyone as a notorious sinner. We aren’t told what her sin is, but it’s not hard to guess from the kind of reception she gets. And to make matters worse she seems intent on indulging in a rather embarrassing public display of emotion – all that foot kissing and weeping…
And then in the Old Testament there is snippet from a much longer story from the second book of Samuel which pretty much ticks all the boxes when it comes to disreputable behaviour. If the script writers for the soaps run out of ideas, I’m sure this could help. The great king David is the central figure in this story, but he is hardly behaving in a great way here.

This story began in the heat of the afternoon on a spring day in Jerusalem. King David was strolling on the flat roof of his palace. He shouldn’t really have been there at all, because the story opens with these words. “In the spring of the year, when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.” So, from the start, David isn’t where he ought to be.

As he strolls on the roof he sees a woman bathing – she doesn’t know she is being watched. The storyteller goes on “the woman was very beautiful”. David already has a number of wives and concubines, but that doesn’t stop him. He sends someone to find out who this woman is, and the answer couldn’t be clearer, “She is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” The Bible, like most ancient cultures, had no problem with polygamy – I often wonder whether those who so vehemently insist we should follow its teaching on marriage have actually read it. But although men could have as many wives as they liked, it was very clear on one thing, they couldn’t have someone else’s wife. That was a definite no-no. The views of the women, of course, were not recorded, but the fact was that they were regarded as property. Adultery was theft, and theft was wrong.

But David seems to have decided that this law didn’t apply to him.
He sends for Bathsheba, and she has no choice but to obey – he’s the king – and she ends up pregnant. Now David had a problem, because Uriah, her husband, is away fighting in David’s army, where David should have been, so there’s no chance of passing off the child as his. David tries various cunning ruses to get round this but in the end, none of them work. Disaster looms. So David orders his commanders to put Uriah in the front line of the battle, in the most dangerous position, and Uriah, as David has hoped, is killed in the fighting. Phew! David has what he wants. A luscious new wife. A child on the way and he’s got off scot-free.

As I said, Eastenders would love it – what a story-line! But if it was on Eastenders you could be sure this tale wouldn’t end there. Somehow the cat is always let out the bag – usually in the middle of the Christmas special - a stray word, a video camera left running, an anonymous tip off. And that’s exactly what happens here. God tips off Nathan, the prophet, who is close to David and an important member of his court. Nathan doesn’t confront him directly though. He sees that the power of kingship has gone to David’s head, He thinks he’s entitled do as he pleases, and he can’t see that he has done wrong. So Nathan tells him a story, ostensibly about someone else.

A poor man has one lamb; and a rich man has many, but the rich man steals the poor man’s lamb for himself and serves it up to his friends. David is incensed. What disgraceful behaviour! Remember David had started out as a shepherd boy – he had cared for lambs himself. Then, when David’s sympathies and sense of justice are fully engaged, Nathan turns the mirror on him. “This is just what you’ve done,” he says. It’s a risky strategy but Nathan gets away with it. David suddenly sees the enormity of the sin he has committed, a sin which can’t ever completely be undone. Uriah is dead and there is no way to bring him back. Even though David repents, what he has done will have lasting consequences. David’s house will crumble. Violence and division will plague it, and the child Bathsheba bears him will die. It is a grim tale, but it is true to life – today just as much as then. God can forgive us. Others can forgive us. We can forgive ourselves. But some of the damage we do can’t be repaired. People’s lives are changed. Our lives are changed.

We might be left wondering then, what is the point of Nathan confronting David at all? And why should David bother to repent and ask for forgiveness if it can’t repair the damage he has done?

But actually this story takes us to the heart of what forgiveness is, and what it isn’t, what it can do and what it can’t and it matters that we pay attention to its message, because I doubt whether there is a single one of us who hasn’t struggled with forgiveness at some point, whether we are the one who has been sinned against, or the one who has offended.

Often what we really want is to be able to wipe away the past, to go back and erase the tape, so to speak. We just want it all to stop hurting. But the truth is that we can’t do this, no matter how much we apologise if we are the one who has done wrong, no matter how hard we try to forgive if we are the one sinned against. What has happened has happened. As the Muslim poet Omar Khayyam put it, “The moving finger writes, and having writ/ moves on, nor all thy piety nor wit/ can lure it back to cancel half a line/ nor all thy tears wash out a word of it”.

We can’t change the past, but that doesn’t mean that forgiveness isn’t important, because actually forgiveness isn’t about the past; it is about the future. I’ll say that again because it’s not obvious. Forgiveness isn’t about the past; it’s about the future. Forgiveness can’t change what has happened, but it can help us to do things differently in the future. When we forgive someone we are saying to them, “even though you have hurt me, I won’t hold you to the patterns of the past. I won’t assume that you will inevitably carry on the way you are. I have decided to believe that you can be different.” It doesn’t mean that we will throw ourselves back into that person’s life – sometimes we’ll need to protect ourselves from them. But it does mean that we decide to let them grow and change, rather than fastening a ball and chain of resentment around their ankles which keeps them where they are forever.

So forgiveness changes the forgiver, as well as the one forgiven. When we forgive others, we are also saying something to ourselves. We are saying, “I won’t be bound by what you have done to me. I won’t spend my life rehashing it, pursuing it. It may have damaged me, but I won’t add to that damage by letting my precious life be swallowed up in bitterness.”

That last part is especially important when we can’t speak directly to the person concerned, perhaps because they have died or because they aren’t willing to acknowledge their fault.

So, forgiveness isn’t about the past; it is about the future. Whether we are on the giving or the receiving end, if it is genuine it will change us.

That’s the point of our Gospel reading today. The unnamed woman who pours out her precious ointment on Jesus feet and bathes them with her tears has been changed by his acceptance of her. We don’t know the “back-story”. Perhaps she has met him before, and he has talked with her, perhaps she has just been part of the crowd, but his words, and his welcome of people like her, people who know their lives are a mess, has affected her profoundly. She has come to see herself in a new light. She is not just a “sinner” – the label which she and everyone else has attached to her. She is someone who can have a future that is different from her past. Forgiveness has changed her.

Jesus’ host, Simon the Pharisee, though, is stuck in a judgemental, self-righteous rut, unable to see past the simple stereotypes he has always held. He needs forgiveness as much as this woman does. But he is unable to accept that forgiveness, unable to countenance change, unable even to see his lack of love, both for Jesus and for this woman and people like her. He can’t even extend the normal gracious signs of hospitality to Jesus. How can God’s life-changing, forgiving power take root in him? The doors and windows to his soul are firmly locked against it, and those locked doors don’t just prevent God’s forgiveness getting in, they also prevent Simon the Pharisee getting out, growing into what he can be, and that is the real tragedy of this story.

Forgiveness is about freedom; freedom for those who are forgiven and freedom for those who forgive. It is something we all need to give and receive because although it can’t wipe out the past, it can change the future. Acknowledging the need for it isn’t a mark of shame, but the gateway to new life, so let us pray that this morning we might let the doors of our souls spring open to its transforming power.
Amen

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Trinity 1 : Life and death

1 Kings 17.17-24, Gal 1.11-24, Luke 7.11-17

Life and death; our readings today are full of them. The Old Testament and Gospel readings both tell of widows whose only sons have died; human tragedies we can all recognise. Even if we haven’t been in such a situation ourselves it’s easy to understand the grief and shock these women might be feeling. Just this week we’ve seen the shootings in Cumbria, the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Convoy and tropical storms in Central America too; all have left bereaved families in their wake. Their images have been all over the news, stunned faces, full of the questions which sudden death brings. How can someone be there one minute, healthy and happy, full of plans for the future, and the next minute lifeless, gone?

But of course there is one big difference between the stories on the news and the stories we’ve heard from the Bible today. The widows of Zarephath and Nain see their dead children raised to life again. And that creates all sorts of problems for us, because it goes against all we understand about reality. Suddenly what were recognisable stories of human loss become utterly foreign to us. Our experience tells us that the dead don’t simply come back to life like this. So what are we to do with these tales? Don’t they just add insult to injury for those who have been bereaved? Are they supposed to expect something similar to happen? We are often left floundering when we come across miracles like this in the Bible and it’s tempting just to ignore them, but it’s important that we don’t, because if we give them a chance they often still have something to say to us.

The truth is that the people who first heard these stories wouldn’t have found them nearly as troublesome as we do. We approach them with a twenty-first century scientific mindset, a mindset which puts its trust in observation, experience, experiment and analysis. We tend to assume that if only we could take everything in the world apart we’d be able to fathom out how it worked - and maybe even control it. For the people of the Bible though, that wasn’t the case. The world was full of mystery. They didn’t expect to understand it or control it – that was God’s business. It might sound odd to us, but it meant that they could believe that anything was possible. God could do what he wanted. If it was God who gave life, for example, and God who took life away, why shouldn’t God be able to give it back again? There was nothing necessarily unlikely to them about the dead rising; they might never have experienced it personally, they might not know of anyone who had, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t happen. So, though we come screeching to a halt at this point, defeated by the thought of these dead people coming to life, those who first heard these stories wouldn’t have been. They’d have been impressed. They’d have been astounded. They’d have been awestruck. But they wouldn’t have thought it was impossible. What they would have wanted to know wasn’t “how could this happen?” – that’s our question – but “why did it happen? Why were these people raised? Why at this point? Why through the prayers of these men – Elijah and Jesus?”

Trying to make these ancient stories fit our modern mindset is like Cinderella’s ugly sisters attempting to cram their feet into the glass slipper – it can’t be done, and the sooner we recognise that, the more pain we’ll save ourselves. What we need to do instead is accept the stories as they are, tales of their own time and place, and ask what they meant in that time and place.

So what is going on? We have two widows, with two dead sons. To be a widow in the ancient world was a very precarious thing. With no social security safety net, people depended on their families to care for them when they were in need. These boys represented their mothers’ hopes for the future, their security, their support, and their status in the eyes of their community. Their sons were their life; without them physical survival would probably be hard, and social survival – having a place in their community – would also be threatened. Both Elijah and Jesus recognise this. It is compassion for the women which prompts them to act, rather than a desire to impress, or even compassion for the dead boys actually. When they are brought back to life, the first thing both Elijah and Jesus do is to give them to their mothers – the phrases are identical. These boys receive the gift of life, but they also become a gift of life to their mothers, who would otherwise have been as good as dead in the eyes of their society, and perhaps in their own eyes too. These women are raised to life by this miracle just as much as their sons are.

There are other gifts of life on offer in these stories too. Zarephath, where the first of our widows lives, isn’t in Israel. It is far to the north, near Sidon in the ancient land of Phoenicia – foreign territory. Elijah stumbled into her village in a time of famine, when he was on the run from the rulers of his own land, and she gave him hospitality. But she’s a foreigner, not an Israelite, from an area notorious in the Bible for idolatry and dissolute living. She wouldn’t have expected Elijah’s God to have any concern for her; gods were assumed to be as territorial as humans. Yet she discovers she isn’t an outsider to God – there are no outsiders to him – he is ready to help her. “Now I know that you are a man of God,”she says to Elijah, “and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth”. When her son is raised from death, she finds spiritual life too, a source of truth and hope that she’d never known before.

In the Gospel there is new life for the whole community, not just an individual.. “A great prophet has arisen among us, “the crowd says. “God has looked favourably on his people”. It’s a significant turn of phrase. A few chapters earlier, as Jesus began his ministry he stood in the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the prophet Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sigh to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” “The year of the Lord’s favour” was shorthand for the time when God would send his Messiah, intervene in the affairs of the world, bring justice and peace especially to the vulnerable and disadvantaged – widows and orphans. They expected that this time would be marked by miraculous healings, by the up-ending of the normal course of things. When Jesus raises this young man from death they know what this means. The moment has come, the year of favour; new life for the nation, a new sense of purpose, a new beginning. God is on the move, and wherever he goes life springs up.

These stories are stories about life – that is obvious. The dead rise. But it’s a mistake to focus too much on the physical miracles here. I doubt whether these women were the only widows in Zarephath and Nain to have lost children, and they aren’t all raised. That’s because the real purpose of these stories isn’t simply to impress or astound us, it is to remind us that life is far more than simply a pulse, breath, and brain activity, the physical animation of a body. If we could heal every disease so that no one ever died, if we could live forever, would we necessarily be better off – would we even want such a state of affairs? Physical life, on its own, isn’t enough; to be truly alive takes far more than that. You can be perfectly healthy but feel dead inside. You can have the constitution of an ox, but feel that nothing you do is worth doing, that your energy is being poured out on things that are worthless. You can live to be a hundred, but never really feel you have lived at all. The saddest funerals I have to take aren’t those of babies or children. Their lives may have been short, but they have usually been packed with love, treasured for every second they have lived. The saddest funerals are for those who have seen many years, but have never really seen themselves , never really seen others, never wondered what they had to give, never taken a risk for the sake of love, never allowed themselves to dream of a world that is different from the world they know.

The most important question these stories prompt isn’t “how could these dead people have been brought to life?” or “Could any of this actually have happened?” No, what really matters is that we should ask “what about me? Am I alive - really alive with the life God wants me to have? If I should die tomorrow will my life have been worth living – not in terms of wealth or worldly success or fame - but will it have brought love into the world, and healing and peace and justice for those around me?”

“Young man, I say to you, rise!” says Jesus. Perhaps there are times when we need to hear that call too, not so that we can cheat death, but so that we can live the life we have, because, in the end life isn’t about counting the days; it’s about making the days count.
Amen.