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Scripture Readings with Discussions for Pentecost +2 (Proper 5 (10):
      

10 June 2007: 
1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Galatians 1:11-24
Luke 7:11-17

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God of Compassion
a sermon based on Luke 7:11-17
by Rev. Frank Schaefer


When pastors get together, you will hear the most incredible stories. One pastor once told the story of one of his colleagues in ministry, a young man fresh out of seminary at the time. While conducting his first grave-side service, he stepped backwards, lost balance and somehow ended up on top of the casket which, in turn, went down into the grave under his weight. The teller of the story then proceeded accompanied by the laughter of others: “now, there is no graceful recovery from that!  Unless, of course, you happen to bring the deceased back up with you."

Our bible story from the New Testament tells us that Jesus had compassion on a widow who was in distress.  This poor woman was about to burry her only son, so he raises him from the dead.

Jesus stops the hearse, touches the coffin and says: "Young man, I say to you, rise!" Now, this could potentially have been the most embarrassing moment of Jesus’ ministry, had the body of the boy not responded. After all, this was Jesus’ first raisin from the dead experience—it was pretty early in his ministry career.  But of course, the boy did get up.

The fact that it mentions that the mourners were overcome with fear sounds realistic.  Imagine you would witness something like this at a funeral you attend; imagine the corpse would start twitching, then sit up and start walking around.  Joy would only set in after the initial shock. There are only few things creepier than the thought of a casket opening and a believed dead person to stagger out. This is the stuff that horror flicks are made of.

What does this story teach us? Well, for once this account shows how God comes through at a moment of great distress and human suffering in the life of a widow. It reveals God’s heart, God’s compassion, love and care for…listen to this…. very common and ordinary people.

Widows in first-century Judea were women on the margin of society. Without a social security system in place, these people relied on their extended families for support which was often lacking due to the overall poverty of the common population.  Again and again, we hear of poor widows in the OT as well as the NT, such as the poor widow who gave her “mite” into the temple treasury.

What really excites me about the account of the raising of the widow’s son is the heart of Jesus which is revealed so beautifully here.  Jesus probably just learned about the specifics of the death and about the mourning woman, perhaps from some bystanders.  He was so gripped with compassion and love toward this woman that he spontaneously decided to intervene in a dramatic way.

He first comforts the woman and then he heals her son.  The first words out of his mouth are: “do not weep.” Do not weep. That’s all he says. Powerful words, not to be confused with the similar words of a husband asking his wife: “o, please don’t cry!”

No when Jesus said, “do not weep” he knew that there would no longer be a reason to weep.  This is kind of what I envision will happen in the New Jerusalem.  Revelation 21 promises that “God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.”  I believe that God will do so because God is backing it up with some powerful action—not just taking away the pain, but also fixing the cause for the pain.

Jesus’ words, “do not weep” also remind me of the question Jesus asked Mary Magdalene shortly after he rose from the dead.  He asked: “why do you weep?”  Once again, when Jesus asked this question, he was saying: you don’t have reason to weep any longer, I have removed the cause for your pain and mourning.

I have to tell you, though,  I got really excited about this story when I took my Greek bible out and looked up the actual word used to describe Jesus “compassion.”  It is the word splagchnon.  It’s not so much the sound of this word that excited me. That would be sad.  But rather, the meaning of the term which, according to the dictionary is: one’s innermost self or feelings, heart, affection, love and …here it is:  the word for entrails is related to the word compassion, perhaps best rendered in the English with “the pit of the stomach.

Have you ever experienced this sinking feeling in he pit of your stomach or your “entrails” when you heard really shocking news, perhaps about the illness or death of a loved one?  Well that’s the feeling Jesus experienced.  Wow,  he did not even know this woman, really.  Just saw her for the first time and yet….he feels for her loss like she was his own family member.

Now that’s the compassion of my Jesus. That’s divine compassion like only God can have it for a perfect “stranger.”

Next comes the reaction of the people. The text says that the people of the village glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!"

Note here that the people did NOT say: “God has looked favorably on his daughter, the widow.”  The people knew that this compassion, this love, this favor was extended to all of them.  They instinctively knew that this was true divine love and compassion and they knew that Jesus would have helped any of them in a similar situation.

This morning, we should join in with the people at Nain. We should praise God, for his favor and his compassion is extended to each one of us too. The good news is that to Jesus all and any of us are family. He cares deeply for you and me and he cannot stand to see us suffering, sad or depressed.  He feels our pain and he wants to help us too.

Are there any of us here this morning who are mourning, saddened, or who suffer?  Don’t give up, you came to the right place this morning.  Let us pray….

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