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Sermon: God’s Favor

June 4, 2010

Luke 7:11-17

“Do you want to hear the good news or the bad news first?”

I always want to hear the bad news first.  I want to get it out of the way.  I don’t like having something hanging over my head.  I rip the bandage off quickly and move on.  Do you prefer your good news first, or the bad news?  I suppose those who want their good news first are the same people who eat their dessert first.

It’s sort of an interesting phenomenon that we even ask that question.  Maybe it speaks to the fact that we are sometimes afraid to share bad news with others, although there are definitely people who seem to enjoy giving bad news.  For my part, I would rather you simply share your news, and let me decide what kind of news it is, whether bad, good or indifferent.

Our gospel lesson today begins in a place where all the news seems very, very bad.  To start with, a young man had died, and a large crowd gathered for his burial.  To that fact we add the notes that he had been his mother’s only son and that she was already a widow.  The woman who had already experienced the death of her husband was now faced with one of the most difficult kinds of grief we face in life—the death of a child.

That emotional bad news was compounded by the practical bad news.  In the death of her son, the woman had just lost her last means of support.  There were no more male figures left in her immediate family to keep food on the table or clothes on her back.  The widow’s future was not secure.  That is the extreme bad news with which our scripture lesson opens.

Jesus was there, and he saw what was happening.  He had compassion.  He felt for her and understood that this was truly more bad news than one woman deserved.  Jesus came forward into the midst of the funeral procession, and he touched the bier with the dead body.  He stopped the men who carried the body from moving forward.  He called the funeral to a halt right in the middle of it, and he said to the woman, “Do not weep.”

Do not weep?  Why not?  This is not a good news-bad news situation.  The news to the woman was “your son is dead and nobody knows how you will live.”  There was no good news to balance that.  How could any news balance the word to her that her son had just died?

“Do not weep,” Jesus said.  Then, he said to the young man—or rather, to the corpse—“Rise!”

The body sat up, no longer dead, the young man began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

The astonishing beauty of this moment is that the crowd, all of those who had gathered to be with the woman in her moment of intense grief, everyone who looked on, already knew this story.  When Jesus raised the dead son of the widow to life and gave him to his mother, the onlookers had a sense of déjà vu.  This was a story they already knew well.  The teachers had told them the stories of the greatest of prophets, Elijah.  And one of the famous stories of Elijah described a time when the prophet prayed to God over the dead body of a young man who had died.  He was the only son of his mother who was a widow.  Breath came back into the body of the young man, and Elijah gave the young man to his mother.  It was our lesson this morning from 1 Kings.

The crowd watched Jesus give the young man to his mother, and they remembered the story of Elijah, and so they knew what this meant.  It was a terrifying moment.  It was not terrifying in the sense that you have jammed your foot on the brakes, but you realize that you won’t be able to stop before you hit the car in front of you.  It was terrifying in the sense of standing at the very edge of the Grand Canyon and looking down into the great chasm and out at the tremendous width and length of the canyon.  It was a healthy fear mixed with great awe.  The crowd was afraid, but they glorified God and said, “A great prophet has arisen among us!”

But they also said, because the entire pile of bad news had been suddenly swept away, because the bad news was entirely erased, they said, “God has looked favorably on his people!”  That is what it means when a great prophet walks among us.  It is a sign of God’s grace with us.  It is proof that we have not been abandoned.  It is entirely good news, and when Luke told the story of Jesus raising the widow’s son in this way, the author was making the point that this has been God’s plan from the beginning.  Luke linked the good news of the Old Testament with the good news of Jesus.  From the moment of creation—a tremendous outpouring of God’s grace—God has looked with favor on us.  Jesus is not so much doing something new as carrying on the gracious work of God from the beginning.

*     *     *     *     *

Christians are people of good news.  That’s what the word “gospel” means.  So I went to some traditional news sites online to look for some stories of good news.  I couldn’t find any stories about good news.  Everything was about disaster and death.  So I did a search on these news sites using the term “good news.”  And what I found is that the news outlets took great pains to tell me why the good news wasn’t really good.  I found headlines like “Job News Is Welcome, but Not Good Enough.”  There were a lot of “good news, but” stories.  The closest thing I found to unadulterated good news was that fans of the television show Lost would not have their series finale interrupted by a speech from the President.  (National Public Radio.)

So I tried a different search, and I was pleased to discover a number of web sites and blogs dedicated to sharing stories of good news.  There were stories about heroes and rescues and scientific breakthroughs.  One of these sites, called Happy News, proclaimed, “We believe virtue, goodwill and heroism are hot news.”  (Happy News.)  Can you imagine that?  In a world of bad news, there are people who understand that good things still happen.

“God has looked favorably on his people!”  That is the message of scripture.  God offers us grace and love and joy, even though we can always find bad news in the world.  The presence of a prophet like Elijah is a sign that God cares and that God chooses to act on our behalf.  The presence of Jesus the Christ is a sign that God so loves the world and does not want us to perish, but to have eternal life.  Christians are people who believe that, who believe that God looks with favor on us.  Now, there will certainly be a lot of people who choose to run around with “The End Is Near” signs, but that is not the message of the gospel.  The message of the gospel is that God looks with favor on God’s people.

We could live our lives as people who expect to see bad news wherever we look.  We could wallow in the pain and suffering that will surely come our way.  Or we could look for the good news.  We could live with the expectation that God looks on us with favor and is acting in our lives for our benefit.  I even go so far as to suggest that we could create some good news ourselves.  We can live with virtue, goodwill and heroism. You don’t have to wait passively for good news, but you can use our God-given gifts to make good news in the world.

In a few moments you will be able to do that by reenacting one of the good newsmakers of our Christian past.  We will share in a meal together, a meal that is for us a sign of God’s grace and favor.  It is a reminder that God gave Jesus Christ to us and poured out divine love on our world.  In Holy Communion we proclaim the best news there is: Jesus lived for us, died for us and rose again for our sake.  God looks on us with favor, so you can look for the good news first and always.  You’ll be sure to find it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Tawanda Muzondori permalink
    November 11, 2010 10:32 pm

    This is really good news. Many thanks. Many a time we here a lot about bad news in the church or anywhere else, but the truth is there’s some good news

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