Raising the Dead
Raising the Dead
In the 1989 classic comedy “Weekend at Bernie’s” , Larry Wilson and Richard Parker are two low level employees at an insurance company in New York City. While going over actuary reports Richard discovers that the company is being defrauded millions of dollars in false claims. Larry and Richard, thinking that this discover will endear them to their boss Bernie Lomax, set up a meeting with their boss where they reveal this startling discovery to them. Bernie, a charismatic, well to do CEO, at first is hesitant to accept this information. But when it becomes clear that the numbers are irrefutable, Bernie compliments the two young men for their discovery. He invites them on a Labor day weekend trip to his Hamptons island beach house to go over the information and decide what to do next. Larry and Richard are excited that they have finally found their big break.
In the next scene we see Bernie having dinner with some Italian mobster. It turns out that it is Bernie who has been defrauding his own company of millions of dollars in coordination with the Italian mafia. He wants the mob to murder Larry and Richard when they come to his house in the Hamptons over labor day weekend. The mobsters agree to this. But after Bernie leaves the table the head mobster tells his assassin that Bernie has gotten sloppy and that he is to go to Bernie’s house and kill Bernie and then frame Larry and Richard for the murder.
Bernie gets to his Hampton’s home early that weekend to write a fake note where Richard and Larry confess to killing each other. But the assassin invites himself into Bernie’s home, and when Bernie isn’t looking, injects a poison into Bernie, that kills him almost instantaneously. The assassin puts a pair of sun glasses on Bernie, and leaves him in his office, making him look like he is asleep.
Later on Larry and Richard arrive at Bernie’s beach house and find him dead. They think about calling the police, but before they can, Bernie’s house is invaded by the rest of the island’s residence, who come to Bernie’s home almost every night to party. But when Bernie’s fellow wealthy Island dwellers arrive, they don’t even noticed that Bernie is dead. They are too busy getting drunk and hitting dead Bernie up for money. Bernie’s so called friends cared so little about him while he was alive that they don’t even notice that he died. All they cared about were the material things he could give them.
When raising the dead you can’t fake it till you make it. You can only fake it till you are found out. In the movie, afraid of the assassin, Richard and Larry pretend that Bernie is alive, carrying him around the Island, till they are found out. In our text today, Peter is asked to do a impossible task. He is asked to raise the dead. And he can’t fake it till he makes it. He knows it is impossible unless the Holy Spirit shows up. But he goes into an impossible situation hoping that the Holy Spirit will show up.
While raising people from the dead physically is rare in the scriptures I actually think raising people from the dead spiritual is a far more difficult proposition. Because a person who is physically dead can’t argue that they are not dead. Tabitha and Bernie have no ability to argue against the fact that they are dead. Death has a way of ending our ability to argue. But when you are spiritually dead you still have the ability to argue.
I know in my life, where I have been spiritually dead, I will argue to I am blue in the face, or red in the face, since I am a red head. I will argue that it is everyone else’s problem when in fact it is me who is spiritually dead. But the good news today is we serve a Lord who is the resurrection and the life. And he can teach us to raise the dead.
The Good News: When we learn to raise the dead many will come to believe in the Lord.
We raise the dead by.
- Learning from our mistakes
- Making Space for the Holy Spirit
- Speaking the Word of the Lord.
First, we raise the dead by learning from our mistakes. This incident would no doubt remind Peter of one of his failures. In the Gospel of Luke chapter 8 we learn of a ruler of a synagogue named Jairus, who’s only daughter had died. Jesus goes to raise her from the dead. Jesus allows no one to enter the room in which the dead girl lay except Peter, John, James, and the girl’s mother and father. When Jesus tells the four, “ Do not weep for she is not dead but sleeping,” everyone in the room laughs at Jesus, including Peter. But Jesus took the child by the hand and said, “child arise,” and at once she came back to life. I would have think that Peter would have remembered that time when Jesus was trying to teach him how to raise the dead and he laughed in his master’s face. He would have remembered his failure.
When faced with our failure we have two options. We can fear shame, cover ourselves with sand, as the children’s sermon suggested, so no one can see us. Or we can repent and acknowledge that the world doesn’t revolve around us, and people need us to step up, even in an impossible situation. And Peter chose the path of repentance. Even though he can’t raise the dead. They are expecting Peter to do the impossible, and Peter goes anyway, for Peter chose the path of repentance, Peter learned from his mistake.
Second, we raise the dead by making space for the Holy Spirit. In comparing the story of Peter raising Tabitha from the dead, and the example Peter witnessed of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, we notice similarities. It seems that both Jesus and Peter made sure that the room where the dead person lay was fairly empty of mourners. In Luke’s account of Jairus’ daughter Jesus makes sure only his closet’s disciples and the girl’s mother and father are in the room. In Peter’s case, he kicks the widows out of the room. This is a weird and offensive thing to do. But he is clearing the room of the emotional chaos that Tabitha’s death has caused. Because this woman was the center of her community. She was leading her own Grief Ministry. When no one else cared, she cared, and she reached out. And the community was devastated by her loss. And yet, Peter pushed the widows out of the room, which seems rude. But he is trying to discern in the Spirit if it is time to grieve or if it is time to believe. Sometimes to sense the work of the Spirit in our lives we have to push chaos out of the room. We have to push chaos out of the room to sense if it is time to raise the dead. And that is what Peter did.
Finally, we see that Peter raises the dead by speaking the word of the Lord. As Peter advises us in 1 Peter 4:10, “ As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks the oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies-in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” This word for oracle means a “brief utterance”. God didn’t go on about all of the colors of the rainbow, and go to a paint store and pick out all the color. He simply said, “let there be light,” and God’s Word accomplished the purpose for which it was sent.
Jesus and Peter say something very brief. But in the original language what Jesus and Peter say to raise the dead is slightly different.
In the Gospel of Luke Jesus says, “child arise.” The Greek word means to raise someone from a deep sleep. Because when you are the resurrection and the life sleep is like death to you and death is like sleep to you. It is irrelevant. It is not an obstacle. But when you are Peter you are not the Perfect Son of God. Death is death to you. It is a problem. The word Peter uses means to just get up. The text implies that Tabitha was revived as Peter prayed and he simply told her to wake up from sleep not death.
Jesus’ resurrection is instantaneous while Peter’s resurrection is more gradual. While we want to believe that God can work through ordinary people to perform miracles we also have to remember that we are not the perfect son of God and thus the miracles that God works through us will generally take more time than the miracles that God worked through Jesus. Often, resurrection and healing is a long process in our lives. Often it is a far slower process than we may like.
As I was thinking of a better example of being raised from the dead than Weekend with Bernie the movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi came to mind. Now I know this film is hated and loved among Star Wars fans. Just bear with me for this sermon analogy. I also know not everyone is familiar as I am with Star Wars. So I will try to explain things for those who are unfamiliar with the franchise, but my explanations will be brief.
In Star Wars the Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker, the hero of the original trilogy, has gone into hiding, becoming a hermit on a distant planet. He has done so because he feels shame for failing to properly train Ben Solo, his nephew, who instead of walking the path of the light side of the force turned to the Dark Side, like his grandfather Darth Vader. Ben Solo became Kylo Ren, and is one of the main villains in the first movie of the new trilogy Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In the Last Jedi we learn that Luke Skywalker, seeing the dark side of the force growing in Ben Solo, considers killing him in his sleep. He draws his lightsaber to kill his nephew but at the last moment he backs down. Unfortunately, Ben wakes up and thinks that his uncle was going to kill him so Ben uses the force to push Luke away. Ben then goes on a rampage, destroying the Jedi Temple, and joining the evil leader of the First Order, Supreme Leader Snoke , something that Luke had hoped to prevent by killing Ben.
Not able to deal with his failure, Luke retreats to seclusion in shame. The Force Awakens, the film before The Last Jedi, is about the main heroine Rey’s quest to find Luke Skywalker. At the end of The Force Awakens she does. The Last Jedi opens with Rey being trained by Luke to use her force powers. About halfway through the film Rey discovers what Luke almost did to his Nephew. In shame Luke retreats to a sacred tree, where the ancient Jedi holy texts are kept. He is about to burn the tree because he is fed up with himself and the entire Jedi order. There his old master Yoda, a short green alien with big ears, appears to him as a force ghost and has a little chat with Luke about his failure. He tells his old master that he is fed up with the tree, the text, the entire Jedi order, and he is going to burn the whole thing down. He approaches the tree and is about to set it ablaze. But he is unable to set his entire heritage on fire. So master Yoda does it for him, calling down a bolt of lighting, and setting the sacred tree on fire. Yoda laughs at what he has done. Then Yoda and his old master have a conversation. And here is how it goes,
Y: Ah, Skywalker. Missed you, have I.
L: So it is time for the Jedi Order to end.
Y: Time it is. For you to look past a pile of old books, hmm?
L: The sacred Jedi texts.
Y: Oh. Read them, have you? Page-turners they were not. Yes, yes, yes. Wisdom they held, but that library contained nothing that the girl Rey does not already possess. Skywalker, still looking to the horizon. Never here, now, hmm? The need in front of your nose.
L: I was weak. Unwise.
Y: Lost Ben Solo, you did. Lose Rey, we must not.
L: I can’t be what she needs me to be.
Y: Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.
Our students can only grow beyond our failures as teachers if we ourselves overcome those failures.As I reflect on this advice from Yoda I think it is a bit different than his classic line in Empire Strikes Back, “Do or do not there is no try.”
Do or do not there is no try? If you have seen the prequels you know that is ridiculous. Yoda tried and he failed miserably. While Yoda was busy having a heavy hand with Luke’s Dad, Anakin Skywalker, that Emperor Palpatine basically started a civil war and killed all the Jedi, and Yoda didn’t even see it. Yoda tried and he failed and yet he says, “do or do not there is not try?” Yoda dead, he is in denial about his failure. Yet, in the Last Jedi Yoda has come out of his denial and learned from his mistakes. And he wants his disciple Luke to learn from his mistakes. Not to feel shame about them. No one ever repents by feeling bad about what they have done. Shame only creates a negative cycle. We repent when we see the world differently. We repent because we believe there is resurrection. We repent because we believe there is life. And at the end of the film Luke did repent.
It seems Yoda has grown as well. He acknowledges that pupils learn differently. Some like Rey have natural abilities in the force and things come easily. Others, like Luke, fall down, but they can grow beyond their failures if they receive the right encouragement. Trying and not succeeding doesn’t mean failure if we are willing to learn from the experience. And indeed, by the end of the film Luke chooses the path of repentance over the path of isolation and shame.
Where has death stung us today?Where have we argued till we were blue, red, or green in the face, as the case of Yoda, that it is everyone else’s problem when it is us who are dead inside. Where have we lost hope that the LORD can raise up these dry bone again to our dry bones? He speaks to us, awake oh sleepers and Christ will shine on us. So let us awake from our sleep and rise from the dead.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.