On March 20th, 1991, 4 ½ year old Conor Clapton, son of rock guitar legend Eric Clapton, slipped out of a 53rd story window, falling 49 stories and landing on the roof of an adjacent 4-story building. The housekeeper had been cleaning the window in the New York City apartment Conor shared with his mom. She left the window open to air out the room. Conor ran past her to the window…and fell out. Both Clapton and Conor’s mom were understandably devastated.
On January 7, 1992, not quite a year after Conor’s death. Clapton released the song Tears in Heaven- it is about the devastation of losing his son. The lyrics include these words:
“Time can bring you down. Time can bend your knees. Time can break your heart, have you begging, “Please”, begging, “Please”. Would you know my name if I saw you in Heaven? Would you feel the same if I saw you in Heaven? I must be strong and carry on, ’cause I know I don’t belong here in Heaven.”
Today we continue our current Sunday sermon series that will lead us through the weeks that I am “banned” from the real pulpit! Seriously, during my recovery and absence from the church I currently serve, there are incredibly capable and committed folks who will be “guesting” in the pulpit…and doing a marvelous job! I am eternally grateful to them for their willingness. So I offer this series NOT for their benefit…or frankly even yours! I offer it as a challenge to…ME…to get back in the saddle and push forward…Breathing Life. Each week, we will focus on some aspect of our faith that we can intentionally “breathe” into our day-to-day life, with the ultimate goal of breathing new life into our souls. So far, we have looked at breathing sight, breathing health, breathing wholeness and breathing faith. Today, we consider breathing compassion- I understand.
What is compassion? It’s a deep awareness of the suffering and sorrow of another person, coupled with the strong desire to relieve it. It’s the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it. A synonym for compassion is tenderness, while the opposite of compassion is indifference.
Luke 7:11-17 Soon afterwards Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his followers and a large crowd traveled with him. When he came near the town gate, he saw a funeral. A mother, who was a widow, had lost her only son. A large crowd from the town was with the mother while her son was being carried out. When the Lord saw her, he felt very sorry for her and said, “Don’t cry.”
So, Jesus is traveling from Capernaum when he comes to the city of Nain. Nain is 25 miles southwest of Capernaum and 10 miles southeast of Nazareth. He is traveling with the disciples…and a large crowd. Near the East Gate into Nain were a series of rock tombs. As Jesus nears the East Gate, He meets a funeral procession coming out of the city. Thee funeral was for a young man whose only surviving family is his mother. The young man had probably been dead for a day. It was heading toward evening when Jesus meets the procession…and the widow/mother.
This woman was now completely alone and unprotected, being without a close male relative. There was a large crowd following the funeral procession. It was somewhat typical that mourners would be hired to increase the observance of mourning. Additionally, as the procession would pass, other people would customarily drop what they were doing and join in. The bereaved mother/widow would have been walking in front of the procession, so Jesus would have met her first.
As He sees her, He also sees her pain, her loss and her grief. His heart goes out to her- He shows compassion. He tries to comfort her, “Don’t cry.” It brings us back to Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven- have you ever felt so much pain, loss and grief that you feel like you simply can’t go on? Have you ever felt like it didn’t matter? And besides, who would care?
Offering consolation is often a difficult thing. You try to make people feel better, but the initial cause of the grief is still there. But in THIS story, Jesus doesn’t just try to offer consolation- He removes the very cause of the grief.
He went up and touched the coffin, and the people who were carrying it stopped. Jesus said, “Young man, I tell you, get up!” And the son sat up and began to talk. Then Jesus gave him back to his mother. All the people were amazed and began praising God, saying, “A great prophet has come to us! God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread through all Judea and into all the places around there.”
Three friends die in a car accident and they go to an orientation in heaven. They are all asked, “When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say about you?” The first guy says, “I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor of my time, and a great family man.” The second guy says, “I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher which made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow.” The last guy replies, “I would like to hear them say … ‘Look, he’s moving!’”
A note of clarification: the Scripture uses the word “coffin”, but it would have not been a coffin as we picture them. Instead, the body would have been lying on an open stretcher, covered by a cloth and carries by four men.
The people in the funeral procession must have had faith in Jesus. When He touched the coffin…just TOUCHED it…the whole entourage stood still. According to the common thought of the day, by touching the coffin, Jesus was immediately and automatically rendered unclean- the worst form of ritual impurity. But you know what? Jesus simply didn’t care; those were man-made rules. They were theologically legal tenets, designed for those who wanted to follow the letter of law and NOT the spirit.
Jesus stops the procession and commands…COMMANDS….the dead man to get up. The adult son then easily sits up begins to talk. He is TRULY alive. He is breathing life. In this one radical, unexpected act of tenderness, Jesus gives this “boy” back to his rejoicing mother. THAT is a true, unadulterated example of compassion.
The people present were filled with awe and began to praise God. Notice how the people identify Jesus- they call Him a “great prophet” and say “God has come to help His people.” They are SO close…and yet SO far! Regardless, the news about Jesus immediately begins to spread.
Four special meetings took place at the city gate that day.
1. Two crowds met- there is a HUGE contrast between the crowd following Jesus and the crowd following the widow. Jesus and the disciples are rejoicing God’s blessing while the widow and her friends are
lamenting a death. Jesus is heading in and the mourners are heading out. If you were to find yourself in one of those crowds- which one would it be? Would it be the one that is triumphantly entering the city, joyfully entering into greater contact with the world of the living? Or would you be heading out of town, pulling farther away, lost in grief, sorrow and sadness?
2. Two sons met- one was alive, destined to die, while the other was dead, but destined to live.
One was an “only son” while the other was the “only begotten Son”. The One Who was destined to die can make you the one destined to live.
3. Two enemies met- Jesus Christ, the Prince of Life, met the “last enemy”- death. He met it…and conquered it. And because of that, death no longer had same hold on the family, on life.
He didn’t eliminate death, which is a natural part of life. Instead, He defeated its hold on us and offered us a different way.
4. Two sufferers met- Jesus could easily identify with the widow’s heartache. She not only full of sorrow she was, but alone with no resources. Jesus not only saw but felt the pain that sin and death brought into the world…and He did something about it.
So, is this a story about a grieving mother or is it a story about raising someone from dead? The answer is, “Yes!” It is BOTH of those things…and so much more! But the questions is this- where are YOU in the story? Are you one of the disciples? Maybe you’re in the crowd following Jesus? Maybe you’re in the crowd following the widow? Maybe you ARE the widow? Maybe you’re the son? Or maybe, if you are like me, the answer to that question depends on the day and time! We are ALL of them at different times.
The song Tears in Heaven also says this- “Beyond the door, there’s peace I’m sure. And I know there’ll be no more tears in Heaven.” Jesus has the power to bring hope out of tragedy. He has the ability to bring life by the power of His Word. He has the power to take away our sorrow and ease our pain. He has the power to resurrect our lives and put them back on track. Why? Because Jesus has compassion. He has a deep awareness of our suffering and sorrow…coupled with a strong desire to relieve it. He has the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others AND wanting to do something about it. He has compassion and tenderness- the opposite of indifference.
Four weeks ago, we took the 1st step to breathing new life into our faith through our sight. Our eyes were opened to the endless possibilities of a life lived in Jesus. Three weeks ago, we learned the 2nd step- health. Once our eyes are open, the possibilities begin to come into focus. And when that happens, our health…spiritual health…improves. Two weeks ago, we considered the 3rd step- wholeness. A focus on life and health leads to a greater understanding of wholeness- physically and spiritually. Last week, we looked at the 4th step- faith. And today, we looked at step #5- breathing compassion. We’ve made one more step on the journey to breathing life.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Darn Astronomers!