raising a church from death

A sermon to launch the ground-breaking of a $10 million home for 50 homeless people in Denver at Saint John’s Cathedral and with The Saint Francis Center for the Homeless.

The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond, June 5, 2016

Jesus is walking with hundreds of his followers- a large crowd- at this point in the story of this miracle-worker.  Jesus is heading towards the little village of Nain, in the Galilee.  The village’s name means “beautiful.” The village is on the edge of a plain and marks the land’s rising to hills.  Nain and is on the northwestern edge of Jebel-ed-Duhy where the land falls into the plains of Esdraelon – the Valley of Jezreel in Hebrew Jesus would have called it Yizra-el, meaning “God will make fruitful.”

The entrance to the village was leading up the plain, into the hills, and in those hills were natural caves.  Jesus and his followers were passing by those caves into the village and the caves were burial caves.
So with this procession of Jesus and his crowd of followers, is a crowd of dead people to his right in dark caves and a vast plain behind them from which they have come.  Ahead of the crowd following Jesus is a crowd following a sobbing woman in black, probably supported by her friends as her legs buckle under her grief and shock.

Her life has just taken a turn. A widow, her only son is dead – her only source of income in her old age. She has just become destitute, overnight.  Through no fault of her own.  A victim of circumstance.  And a huge crowd follows her as they bring the wooden structure holding her son’s corpse to the burial cave.

There is a triangle – The widow’s crowd. The Jesus crowd, the crowd in the caves along-side the road. Three groups of humans. Each with hair, and bones, hopes and griefs, eyes and nipples, fears and longings.  Some dead, some living.  Two of the three crowds are walking – heading right for each other in a narrow road bordered by hills and caves. Jewish law demands burial in 24 hours so this is a fresh death – fresh loss.  Fresh grief. Fresh and sudden financial poverty of a formerly middle class woman.

Suddenly the action of the story begins. The two crowds, that of Jesus and that of the dead son and his sobbing mother, could have passed each other.  But Jesus stops the action and a few things happen:

1.    Jesus sees the woman, Many stories in Luke’s gospel, including the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the Good Samaritan, and even Zacchaeus, turn on the ability and willingness of the Lord (and his disciples) to “see” those who are often invisible.

2.    Jesus felt compassion – Jesus was with her in her feelings (com – passion to suffer together).

3.    Jesus asks the mother to stop weeping.

4.    Jesus comes forward, touches the corpse platform being carried and stops the men from walking. Jesus creates stillness. The two processions stop. Wait before moving again.

5.    Jesus commands the dead man to “rise” and the dead man sits up, and speaks.

6.    Then “Jesus gave him to his mother.”

Do you remember that language from anywhere else?  Some other story about death, resurrection, caves?  On the cross, dripping in sweat and blood with urine and  feces in rivulets down Jesus’ legs, Jesus gives John to his mother and his mother to Saint John – our Saint John.  This Saint John – the one for which this church is named.

Jesus walked. Jesus saw. Jesus felt compassion, Jesus touched. Jesus healed. Jesus united.  Jesus restored life and joy from death and financial ruin.
People of Saint John’s Cathedral – Walk.  Walk across this street today at 11:15.  Walk.  Together.  Make that crowd pilgrimage. Walk.

People of Saint John’s Cathedral – See.  See this city.  Take your eyes off thuribles, candles and altars and see the people of this city in great grief. 15,000 people living homeless in our streets. See the caves of doorways in which they sleep. See.

People of Saint John’s Cathedral – Feel compassion. Feel the reality that with one Electromagnetic pulse over the Midwest of our nation every one of you will be reduced in one minute to being destitute.  One financial collapse, one diagnosis. One poor choice.  One addiction. Feel.

People of Saint John’s Cathedral – Touch. Touch the earth we are about to break open to build 50 homes for fifty homeless. Touch your pen as you make a gift to furnish these 50 homes.  Then touch your furniture at home and thank God for it.  Touch.  I mean it.  Do not watch, fancy people with golden shovels.  Walk forward when ground is broken this morning and touch that dirt.  With your pretty, manicured, white, moisturized hands.

People of Saint John’s Cathedral – Be healed.   Be healed in this interim the way Pat has healed the clergy in 12 months. Pat saw us. Pat was humble.  Pat was honest.  Pat was gentle. Thank God we are not rushing towards a quick choice of a new Dean.  Thank God we are taking the normal, usual two years to heal and see ourselves with different eyes.  Let yourselves be touched by Jesus and raised from the death of institutional and social pride.  Let God heal this place; or you will choose very, very badly. Be healed.

People of Saint John’s Cathedral – Be united. Be united with those who suffer or this prosperous mess we call “church” will just be another pretty accessory like a Lexus or a Cherry Creek address or a mountain summer house or a country club membership or embossed stationary. Today we do not build housing for homeless people. Today we expand our church to incorporate a fountain of water in the middle of a park.  On one side – an altar where we try to see God.  On the other side 50 homes, where we try to see God.  In the middle, the flowing water of Dominick Park’s fountain.  Our baptism right there.  In the middle.

So today we walk.  Today we see. Today we feel compassion. Today we stop women and men from weeping. Today we touch dirt and stand still with it. Today we command men and women slumped in back alleys and shop doorways to rise. And today God begins to give 50 homeless people to us; and us to fifty homeless people.

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;     and what does the Lord require of you?
The rest of this verse from Micah is not “attend a lovely church before Sunday brunch.  No.  The rest of this verse is … do justice, love kindness,     and walk humbly with your God?   Micah 6:8

Today we do justice.  Today we love kindness.  Today we walk humbly with our God across that street and make homes for 50 people.
Today, people of God.  We, finally, do what Jesus asked us to do. And so, we, today, this church sits up, speaks and begins to live!

Luke 7:11-17  Soon after healing the centurion’s slave, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

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