Sunday, October 19, 2008

It's Not About Numbers, It's About Family

Listen to the following numbers and see if you can guess what they have in common: 8,416, 10,019, 9,975, 8,235, 7,286, 9,275, 9,749, 10,216, 12,002, 13,522, and 8,465. Have you figured it out yet? These are the closing numbers of the Dow Jones Industrials every October for the last 10 years. And what do you think this number is….160/100? That has been our blood pressure every night in the past month when we watch or hear the news about the financial crisis that has gripped our country. There are many, I’m sure even in this Church today, that are worried about the future. Many have lost their retirements and other securities for their future and the outcome looks grim.

Grim…this must have been the outlook for the widow in this morning’s Gospel. St Luke writes, “And when He [Christ] came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow.” (Luke 7.12) This widow must have felt the same anxiety many feel today; her husband was dead and now her only son was dead. Her only hope for a secure future was lost. She was mourning not only the loss of her son; she was mourning the loss of her future and without a husband, St. Gregory of Nyssa points out that, “She had no more hope of bearing sons to cure the loss.” (On the Making of Man, XXV.10) St. Luke even tells us “a large crowd from the city was with her,” (Luke 7.12) and still she was weeping and without hope. There seemed to be no comfort for her.

There seems to be no comfort for us either in the middle of our national financial crisis; the banks are crumbling around us, the stock market resembles a rollercoaster ride, and even foreign countries are starting to worry because a weak US Economy means a weak world economy. And we are all wondering what the future will bring. The outlook seems grim: closed banks, job losses, a long war, an election full of controversy…well at least gas prices came down this week.

But that is not where the story ends. St. Luke writes, “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then He came and touched the coffin…and He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ So he who was dead sat up…And He presented him to his mother.” (Luke 7.14-15) There was Jesus, completely surrounded by a large crowd when He approached the city gates. He could have continued to enter the city without paying any attention to the funeral procession. Jesus was a busy and popular man. Nobody would have thought any differently if Jesus had continued on His way minding His own business. And in fact He was minding His own business, the business of compassion.

Jesus saw the widow’s fear. He saw her anxiety. He saw her loss of hope and had compassion on her. There is a reason St. Luke makes it a point to tell us that Jesus was surrounded by a large crowd. The crowd could have been a distraction for Him, but it wasn’t. Jesus was able to show the crowd, and us that He loved the widow enough to give her the attention she needed. And He loves us enough to give us the attention we need from Him especially during these hard financial times.

The Lord knows our anxiety. He knows we worry about the future especially in these difficult times. And He will comfort us. He does comfort us. In this morning’s Gospel Jesus comforted the widow by bringing her son back to life. St. Luke makes it a point to tell us the son was young, so now that he was alive again, he could find a wife and start a family. This brought hope and security back to the widow. The crowd was unable to comfort her, maybe because they weren’t family. After all, Jesus didn’t tell the crowd or His disciples to take care of the widow. The crowd represents just an impersonal group. The issue here is about the support and love that only a family can provide.

We have a family here in Florence. We, as a Church and as the Body of Christ, are the family of God. We have been chosen by God to live together here in Florence, South Carolina, as a spiritual family struggling every day to live better lives according to our Orthodox Faith. We have been called, just as the Lord called the son in this morning’s Gospel, to bring hope and security to our family. We have been called to be a place of comfort where people can come to experience the hope that is found in Christ.

The hope of Christ was greater than any comfort the crowd offered the widow, and the hope of Christ is greater than any hope our government or banks can offer us today. The Lord called to the son, “arise” and He is calling to us, “arise and comfort each other as the family of God. Arise and come to the Church and be comforted.”

We have many needs as a community. We are trying to complete the Narthex expansion. We are working to raise funds to build a new Hellenic Center. These are the large visible things that seem to draw our attention much like the large fall in the Dow over the past month. But what about the other needs of our spiritual family? In this morning’s Gospel Christ was not distracted by the large crowd and we can’t afford to be distracted by our large projects either when it comes to bringing comfort and hope to our family. We have families in our Church, some here today, that are experiencing difficult financial struggles. In the end the Dow Jones is just a bunch of impersonal numbers like the crowd in this morning’s Gospel. But we are not simply a large crowd, we are the people of God, and our very own family members need our help. God has already sent us comfort.

We pray at each and every service in our Church to the Holy Spirit for comfort…

Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth
Present in all places and filling all things
The treasury of blessings and the giver of life
Come and abide in us
Cleans us from every impurity
And save our souls gracious Lord.

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