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First Impressions: Luke 7:11-17

June 2, 2010

Luke’s Gospel borrows heavily from the Old Testament to show how Jesus continued the work of God among the people of Israel.  Jesus’ ministry was not a radical departure from God’s relationship with Israel, but was a natural extension of that relationship.  This week’s Lectionary pairs two texts in a way that clearly illustrates the connection between Luke and the Old Testament.  We will read both 1 Kings 17:18-24 and Luke 7:11-17 during worship, and I will primarily preach from Luke.  My hope is that the congregation will hear the gospel text and be reminded of the Old Testament lesson they had heard just moments before.  I want the people to have a mini-experience of the sort Luke’s original audience may have had while they listened to a story about Jesus that was strikingly similar to one they previously knew about Elijah.

7:11-12 One difference between Luke’s story and the 1 Kings text is that the gospel presents a public scene of death and grief.  The entire town could witness the widow’s pain.  The crowd could be imagined either as voyeurs or as a supportive community coming to share the woman’s burden.  The NRSV says that the crowd was “with her.”  One could preach a sermon about the way we enter into one another’s lives and share burdens, though I don’t think that is the most fruitful avenue for preaching this passage.

7:13-15 This is another instance of Jesus’ compassion prompting him to action.  He spoke a command to the woman—“do not weep”—that seems to me a little out of place.  It feels cold and unnecessary, even if Jesus intended to raise the young man.  Then, Jesus touched the bier.  The bearers—characters in the story I had never noticed before—stood still.  It is an interesting detail that helps me to form a picture of the event in my mind.  Jesus then spoke a command to the dead man.  “Young man, I say to you, rise!”  The man sat up and spoke.  Finally, as in the 1 Kings passage, Jesus “gave him to his mother.”

Luke packed a lot into those three verses.  It became more obvious when I listed the actions in verses 13-15: saw, had compassion, said, came forward, touched, stood still, said, sat up, began to speak, gave.  There are ten specific actions by Jesus, the bearers and the dead man.  I don’t know what it means, but it is an impressive series.

7:16 The proper reaction of the crowd was fear or awe.  They immediately understood the connection between this healing and the one accomplished through Elijah in 1 Kings.  They said, “A great prophet has arisen among us!”  This was a clear sign of God’s favor.

For many of us, this is the most helpful image of Jesus, that he is a reminder that God cares and continues to be present with us.  The God of Jesus is a God for all those who feel alone and abandoned.  God does not look on impassively, but cares.  We are—even now—recipients of God’s favor.  I may preach on the idea that we do not simply look forward to God’s grace and decisive action, but that it is a part of the present.  Hope does not wait to be revealed in the future, but is made known to us now.  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).  The art of this sermon will be to flesh out the ways hope is made known to us in each day.

7:17 Good news cannot remain bottled up.  The news of this prophet spread throughout the land.  If there is a concrete example of hope and God’s grace, it should be shared.  If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all, but if you do have something good to say, by all means share it!  There is a potential sermon in that idea, especially if it can be skillfully connected to the good news disclosed in the text—God’s favor shown through the life of Jesus Christ.

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