Ministry Intern Stacey Kohl preached at St. Mark’s on Sunday, June 5th. Her practice is to preach without a text, but this time she switched it up and wrote it down. You can read or listen below. Thanks for the wonderful sermon, Stacey!
A “Silent” Story
Sunday, June 5, 2016
Pentecost 5C; Luke 7:11-17
The Gospels, including the Gospel of Luke that today’s reading comes from, are full of stories of people’s encounters with Jesus of Nazareth. These stories are meant to not only help us come to know Jesus better, but to also learn more about ourselves as we see aspects of our own lives and struggles within the women and men in the stories.
At the same time, I’m sometimes left wondering about the stories we don’t hear. The men and women who exist at the edges of the Gospel stories. They too had an encounter with Jesus, their lives too were transformed. What might they tell us about their encounter with him?
In that spirit, I invite you today to join me in imagining one of those “silent” stories.
I remember it like it was yesterday. The dry, dusty road, the hot sun beating down, the wails of the mourners, and the slow, shuffling steps of my mother as she leaned heavily against me. I remember looking ahead and seeing him lying on the funeral bier, covered in white linen, he looked almost peaceful, as though the warmth of the day and the droning wails of the mourners had lulled him to sleep. But he wasn’t asleep. My brother, my protector, my shield, and my poor widow of a mother’s only son, was dead.
I remember the moment, only a few short days earlier, he had walked through the door of our small home, looking tired and feverish. The illness came upon so suddenly and tore through him with such incredible speed and there was simply nothing we could do. It was all so eerily familiar.
You see, my father had died in much the same way many years ago. I was very young at the time, only five or six, when he came home looking much as my brother did that day, tired and feverish. My mother did all she could to help him while my brother took charge of me. He was only a few years older than I, but strong and brave in ways I had never been.
I was so quiet and shy back then, and afraid of my own shadow. Even before my father died, my brother was my protector and shield. After my father died, he became not only my protector, but my mother’s as well. It was a big job for such a young boy, but he seemed to grow into a man overnight. I remember running to him when I was scared (which was often) and feeling his strong arms surround me as he told me, “It’s ok…I’ve got you.”
While I retreated farther and farther into my own small world, growing ever more timid and shy as time passed, he grew larger and stronger, our small family’s sole provider and strength. I remember wishing so often that I could be more like my brother, strong and brave, but the world was such a scary and dangerous place. It was safer, I thought, to just stay quiet, to hide, to disappear into the shadows.
And in the shadows I surely would have stayed, locked away from the world and captive to my fears, if not for an encounter with a man who changed my life forever.
It began when my brother was offered a job on a fishing boat in Lake Gennesaret, what others now call the Sea of Galilee. There had been some strange goings on around the sea that season, and many of the men had apparently left their jobs to follow after a strange man from the town of Nazareth, leaving the fishing fleet in need of workers.
My mother quickly convinced my brother to take me with him. She had a close friend in one of the seaside towns, and they had two daughters, Mary and Martha, who were just a few years older than me. She hoped my spending some time with these two women would draw me out of my shell. So we packed up a few belongings and set off.
My brother was in high spirits, excited for this new adventure. He quickly realized, as I lagged behind, that I did not share in his enthusiasm. He slowed his pace to match mine and reminded me, as he had so often over the years since he took charge of our family, “it’s ok…I’ve got you.”
We reached the village, but instead of finding a sleepy little fishing community, we discovered the place was abuzz with excitement over the man from Nazareth. He had been going around the local villages, teaching in the synagogues and performing all sorts of miracles. His name seemed to be on everyone’s lips, “Jesus.” We found our way through the crowd to Mary and Martha’s house and discovered them waiting anxiously for our arrival. “He’s teaching on the hill behind the village!” They explained. “We’re on our way to go and hear him but didn’t want to leave without you.”
“C’mon sis” my brother exclaimed, “let’s go hear him.” Hearing this strange man was the last thing I wanted to do in that moment, but I didn’t want to disappoint my brother, so I went.
We found our way to a grassy hillside and sat down, joining the hundreds of others sitting and listening to this strange man. I sat down close beside my brother, drawing my knees up and making myself as small as I could as I leaned against him, wishing I could simply disappear.
A short time after we arrive, the strange man from Nazareth began to speak. His voice was like nothing I had ever heard before, soothing and stirring all at the same time. I listened as he spoke, and it seemed he was speaking directly to me. “The Kingdom of God,” he said, “belongs to the poor, and those who are hungry will be feed.” His words washed over me, but it was more than just his words, there was something in his very presence that seemed to soothe my frightened, timid spirit.
As darkness fell, we made our way back to Mary and Martha’s house. I walked close beside my brother, listening as the others talked in hushed tones about the amazing things Jesus had said. Over the following days we had more chances to hear Jesus teach and to see him perform incredible miracles. And as each day passed, I began to sense a change within myself. I found myself thinking back over things he had said, dwelling on them, and finding that, in moments when my fears seemed ready to overtake me, his voice would to fill my mind and heart and I would suddenly find the strength to push my fears aside.
After a few weeks the time came for us to return home. We thanked Mary and Martha for their hospitality and struck out for home. Once we were back home, I found myself strangely enlivened, the words of Jesus continuing to spin about inside my head. Until tragedy struck…
My brother fell ill and died. My beloved brother, gone, and my mother and I left alone, and she fell apart. She couldn’t speak, she couldn’t eat, she couldn’t even make the arrangements needed for his burial. Everything now fell to me, poor, shy, frightened little me. Except I quickly discovered, I wasn’t as frightened anymore. When my fears began to grip my heart and I found myself spinning again into the shadows of oblivion, I would call to mind the words of the strange man from Nazareth, and would find strength I didn’t know I had. I wasn’t alone.
The day of my brother’s burial arrived. I walked slowly alongside my mother, supporting her as we followed the funeral bier down the road. As we approached the gate to the city, we came upon a large crowd, with a man I would have recognized anywhere leading the way. It was the strange man from Nazareth, it was Jesus. He walked quietly over to where my mother and I stood and stopped. He smiled as both of us and told said, “Do not weep.” The look on his face, the warmth and the strength, will stay with me the rest of my life. Then he turned to my brother’s funeral bier and said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” And he did. My brother who was dead, sat up and began to speak. Jesus pointed him towards our mother, who had dissolved into tears of joy beside me.
But as he swung his legs off the side of the funeral bier and attempted to stand, I saw him falter. His legs were weak and he stumbled. All eyes were on him as he struggled to stand. Without a second thought, I stepped forward and caught him. I smiled at him and said, “It’s ok…I’ve got you.”