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Friday, June 24, 2016

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Temple (Luke 9:51-62)

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a musical inspired by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus. It tells the bawdy story of a slave named Pseudolus and his attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master woo the girl next door. The plot displays puns, slamming doors, cases of mistaken identity, and satirical comments on social class. The musical's original 1962 Broadway run won several Tony Awards; and the original lead, Zero Mostel, also starred in the successful film.
The title is derived from a line used by vaudeville comedians to begin a story: “A funny thing happened on the way to the theater.” Numerous individuals writing stories on a variety of topics have repeated that line. Most recently, someone wrote of the NBA Finals, “A funny thing happened on the way to that destiny.” Another sportswriter penned an article about the US Open, “A funny thing happened on his way to oblivion.” There is the TV program “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House.” Finally, someone recently blogged, “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Sainthood.”
Obviously, one can repurpose comedy to fit any topic involving sports, politics and religion. So, let me move to my second point and explain how my sermon title addresses our passage.
Luke’s Gospel is a narrative of the human life of Jesus and the message of the Son of God.[1] It began with an introduction in chapter 4, and moved into an account of his mission in chapters 5 through 9. In those chapters, Luke showed how the Church originated in the life and work of Jesus. Now, his story takes up the great journey to Jerusalem that led him out of history and into the heavenly sphere. This journey is also the journey of the Church, which accompanies Jesus on his way to God.
Our opening verse, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” – introduces the journey and defines it in terms of its destination. Jerusalem is not a mere geographical spot. The city marked the journey’s end where Jesus was received up, an expression that referred to his ascension. Thus, his journey is to a geographical spot and a symbol of its heavenly fulfillment beyond every reality.
Although Luke mentioned this journey repeatedly through the next ten chapters, he never indicated that Jesus arrived. At a point when it seemed appropriate to announce his arrival, Luke simply stated that Jesus entered the Temple. The journey seems incomplete.
A funny thing happened. Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem, and he never arrived. He simply entered the Temple. … You may say, “Well, the Temple is in Jerusalem. It’s implied he reached Jerusalem.” True. Yet, the more important point of verse 51 is not what Jesus was determined to accomplish – he set his face to go to Jerusalem, but what God was going to accomplish – When the days drew near for him to be taken up. Jesus accepted the event and its destination in order to return to his heavenly Father.
Now, within our passage are a number of people – Jesus’ messengers, the Samaritans and others. So, for my third point, people, we will examine the people in our passage and in our pews (or chairs, in this case).
Jesus sent the messengers ahead to prepare the way. To prepare the way for what? For his exodus-ascension. However, unlike John the Baptist, who also prepared the way for the Messiah, the disciples could not embrace the apocalyptic judgment upon the Samaritans who did not receive him. The fire associated with the Messiah’s coming would have its place, but not here and now. That transforming, sanctifying, empowering fire of the Holy Spirit would come upon the Church after Jesus’ Ascension. Jesus rebuked the messengers for their desire to destroy the Samaritans, and then they moved on.
As they moved on, anonymous figures emerged as types of persons who considered following Jesus on his journey. Those who wish to join Jesus must disengage themselves from any earthly home, from former responsibilities and from past relationships. To proclaim the kingdom of God, one must live in a manner befitting the kingdom and bid farewell to the past.
Setting out on the journey to Jerusalem and the Ascension, Jesus demonstrated a singular detachment from earthly matters. The first people who followed him on his journey had to reflect that detachment and the way of life.
What about people who follow Jesus on his journey today? What about us? Do we reflect that detachment and way of life? Do our lives demonstrate a singular detachment from earthly matters? Do we disengage from our earthly homes, former responsibilities and past relationships to follow Jesus? Do I live in a manner befitting the kingdom of God in order to proclaim it? Is following Jesus any easier or tougher for us than it was for the first People of the Way?
Following Jesus today is no easier for us than it was for the first People of the Way. Personally speaking, I do not always live in a manner befitting the kingdom. Selfishness and self-serving interests tempt me constantly. I am engaged to home, duties and relationships. In short, I am spiritually lazy.
Experience tells me to prescribe something to counter spiritual laziness – the five P’s of Prayer: Passage, Place, Posture, Presence and Passage. All these P’s, Al will put in a podcast so you can listen to them later.
Passage. Depending on the circumstances, choose a Scripture passage. Slowly read it several times until a word or phrase rises to the surface.
Place. Choose a place where you will not be disturbed. It may be in your home or a quiet church.
Posture. Find a sturdy comfortable chair that will allow you to sit upright. Posture is important. Do not slouch or lie down.
Presence. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Start there and gradually increase your prayer time to 25 minutes. Close your eyes so you are not distracted. Be present to God as He is present to you. Thoughts, feelings, physical discomforts and audible distractions will occur. Stand firm in the stream and let these distractions flow by as flotsam and jetsam go downstream.
Passage. When you get distracted, return to the passage and refocus. When your minutes have passed, close your meditation by reciting aloud The Lord’s Prayer.
Because Jesus loves you, try this for 25 minutes a day for the next 30-some years – the lifespan of Jesus. I guarantee you a deeper, richer, fuller, more intimate relationship with our Triune God. If it does not work, you can return it for your old relationship with God.
Friends, this summer, as we journey to various destinations throughout the world, funny things will happen. Life will pull us in every direction of the compass. That is why it is necessary for us to set our faces like Jesus and follow him – for only Jesus, Father and Spirit will provide true direction to our heavenly home. As we encounter uncounted individuals seeking direction, prescribe to them our Five P’s of Prayer and a relationship with the Three Persons of the Trinity. And when you do, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.



[1] Eugene LaVerdiere, Luke (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, Inc. 1986), 138ff. This accounts for the majority of this section.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Declare How Much God Has Done for You

Two weeks from today, we will celebrate Independence Day, a federal holiday commemorating Continental Congress’ adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. We declared that the thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and no longer part of the British Empire.
While we associate Independence Day with fireworks, family reunions, parades, picnics and political speeches, we also celebrate our nation’s history, government and traditions. All of this occurs annually because of the Declaration of Independence.
A declaration is a public statement. When I declare something, I say it in an official or public way, a strong and confident manner, or I simply tell the government how much money I earned in order to pay taxes.
Directly from the Latin words de and clarare, it means to make clear, reveal, disclose, announce. A year ago, more than 20 people declared their candidacy for President of the United States and many others have declared their support for a candidate. Judges declare sentence on the accused. Individuals declare bankruptcy. Last Sunday, my beloved Penguins declared victory.
In our Gospel today, Jesus ordered the man to declare how much God has done for you.[1] Before we declare how much God has done for us, my third point, I examine our passage and what it meant to the Church. In short, Passage, People of the Way and People Today.
First, Passage. The account is an exorcism, and follows the usual pattern for an exorcism.[2] Demons inhabited deserts, large bodies of water, the air and subterranean regions. They caused blindness, muteness, all kinds of physical problems and mental disorders. Demon possession was physical or mental possession, not moral.
Luke wrote that seven demons went out of Mary Magdalene. We assume she was immoral. She was not. All Scripture passages portray her as serving the Lord.
In today’s passage, so many demons possessed the man that it was named legion. He was naked and lived among the tombs, frightening local citizens with his bizarre behavior, but there is no mention of their influence over his moral life.
Since demons were from the supernatural world, they recognized Jesus as a person of God and an opponent of all forces that hurt, cripple, oppress or alienate human life. In his inaugural address, Jesus announced his intention to relieve, release, heal and restore life. We read in chapter 4, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”[3] All persons or powers to the contrary must view him as an enemy.
Jesus was not the only exorcist working the land. In chapter 9, when John the Apostle reported, “‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us,’ Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.’”[4] When some challenged his authority to exorcize demons, Jesus responded, “If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?”[5] We also read about Jewish exorcists in Acts.[6]
Now, the demons recognized Jesus and his power. He could send them to the abyss or netherworld, that is, Satan’s prison.[7] They knew the abyss was their prison and that it was not beyond the power of Christ. So, they begged to be sent into unclean animals to escape their fate.
Mercifully, Jesus allowed their request. He did not take pleasure in anyone’s death or in torturing demons for “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. … But whoever does not believe is condemned.”[8]
The unclean spirits entered the unclean animals that plunged into the abyss and were banished. We hear nothing more of them. Instead, Luke reports that the people of that village found the man sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. Afraid, they asked Jesus to depart.
At this point, you might be wondering why the villagers asked Jesus to leave. Luke’s second book, Acts, helps answer our question. In chapter 16, we read that as Paul and Silas were in Philippi, they “met a demon-possessed slave girl. She was a fortune-teller who earned a lot of money for her masters.
She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.’ This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And instantly it left her. Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. ‘The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!’ they shouted to the city officials. ‘They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.’ A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. … and then they were thrown into prison.” After the earthquake opened the prison doors, the city officials begged Paul and Silas to leave their city.[9]
Philippi’s city officials and Gerasene’s villagers asked the Apostles and Jesus to leave out of economic loss and fear. They learned to live with the evil spirits, but were afraid of an unknown power greater than evil spirits.
The Gerasene villagers knew where evil resided, and spent considerable time and expense guarding and containing it. They tolerated and managed evil, but the power of God disturbed the way of life they had come to accept.
Let me leave my first point, and segue into my second, People of the Way. People of the Way described the first followers of Jesus. They were named Christian when Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch. We read, “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”[10]
What did the first Christians take from this brilliantly told passage? Irony. Given Christianity’s origins in the Jewish world, Luke’s Gentile readers were keenly sensitive to Jesus sending unclean spirits into unclean animals. They enjoyed the fact that the demons unwittingly invited their own banishment into the abyss.[11]
While that generated fear among the Gerasene villagers, the first Christians also took courage from this passage. It gave them courage to overcome any fear about proclaiming the Gospel and declaring how much God did for them.
Because Jesus, a Jew, was not afraid to cross into Gentile territory, they too – baptized in His Name – could cross cultural, societal, racial and economic boundaries to proclaim the Gospel.
Because Jesus, anointed with the Holy Spirit, faced the demons and enemies who opposed Him and His work – proclaiming good news to the poor, liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed – the People of the Way could face the demons and enemies who opposed them and their work. They endured imprisonment, beatings, stonings, mocking and even death. They endured this from people who feared the power of the Gospel. Read what the People of the Way endured in Acts, and what Paul endured in Second Corinthians.[12] The People of the Way learned a lesson in courage by proclaiming what God did for them.
Finally, People Today. To distinguish Law from Gospel properly, we know that the Good News is what God has done for us. Gospel is that God worked out our salvation, and with salvation comes blessings.
Now, I do not expect you to stand on a street corner or at the mall and declare how much God has done for you, but there are opportunities for each of us to proclaim that. And with that, I would like to say this.
Today, my hair is grayer, my step slower, my eyes weaker, my waistline larger, blood pressure higher and wallet lighter. Yet, my heart is greater. God filled my heart with joy because of what He has done for me.
God blessed me with wife and family, extended family and friends, health and home. God granted me the opportunity to see the world and the wonders of new life. God has blessed me in many ways. At times, I wonder how to thank God properly for what He has done for me. And our God, who simplifies everything, even provides my response.
The Psalmist wrote, “I love the Lord for he has heard the cry of my appeal; for he turned his ear to me in the day when I called him.” He continued. “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me? The cup of salvation I will raise; I will call on the Lord’s name.”[13] Sound familiar? It is our traditional offertory.[14]
Friends, during the Lord’s Supper, we raise the cup of salvation and call on the Lord’s name. That is why Christians have always called the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist. Eucharist is simply a Greek word that means thanksgiving.
Our post-communion prayer reads, “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another.”[15]
Our canticle’s lyrics? “Thank the Lord and sing His praise; tell everyone what He has done. Let all who seek the Lord rejoice and proudly bear His name. He recalls His promises and leads His people forth in joy with shouts of thanksgiving. Alleluia, alleluia.”[16]
Friends, God simplified life and worship. We need not invent praise and thanksgiving. Praise and thanksgiving occurs every time we worship. Each Sunday when you worship, you declare how much God has done for you. When we do that, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.




[1] Luke 8:39
[2] Fred Craddock, Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 65f.
[3] Luke 4:17-18.
[4] Luke 9:49-50.
[5] Luke 11:19.
[6] Acts 19:13-17.
[7] Philippians. 2:9-11; Romans 10:7; 1 Peter 3:19; Revelation 20:3.
[8] Ezekiel 18:32; John 3:17-18.
[9] Acts 16:16-23, 38-39. New Living Translation.
[10] Acts 11:25-26.
[11] Eugene LaVerdiere, Luke (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1986), 119f.
[12] 2 Corinthians 11.
[13] Psalm 116:1-2, 13-14.
[14] Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 159.
[15] LSB, 166.
[16] LSB, 164.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Separate Responses: A Reflection on The Woman with the Ointment (Luke 7:36-50; 8:1-3)

When I research words, I go to a dictionary or an etymology website. For example, last week I defined and detailed the history of anticipate and visit. Researching a phrase, such as today’s theme, takes me to topics that boggle and baffle my brain. Separate responses led me to sites explaining software protocol, cell biology, auditory attention and text messaging. If we should pray, as Al did last week, for an understanding of my words and God’s Word, I will definitely avoid the aforementioned topics.
I entitled this sermon Separate Responses for two reasons. First, we need to separate the version of The Woman with the Ointment in Luke from Matthew, Mark and John. Second, the responses of the woman and the host are distinctively separate.
These two reasons lead me to three points: The importance of separating gospel accounts; the separate responses of Simon and the unidentified woman; and our response.
First, the importance of separating the gospel accounts. Every book in the Bible has a particular purpose. For example, Genesis explains the origin of things. Psalms are a songbook for God’s people when they worship. Paul wrote Romans so that the righteous might live by faith. John wrote, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.[1] Luke wanted the lover of God, Theophilus, to “have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”[2]
Each Gospel has a particular view of Jesus, his ministry and the Church. This view determines what they included and excluded. In short, to understand more deeply the Bible, we cannot blend everything into a book or movie. We must separate out each version of what the evangelist wrote.
Matthew, Mark and John place their versions of The Woman with the Ointment closer to Jesus’ Passion. Matthew and Mark set theirs immediately after the Conspiracy to Kill Jesus and before Payment to Judas. Similarly, John placed his account between a lengthier version of the Conspiracy Against Jesus and the Plot to Kill Lazarus. While Luke’s Passion included the Conspiracy and Payment, he separated out the Anointing. His version occurred between the Questioning of the Baptist’s Disciples and Jesus’ Preaching in Galilean Villages.
That brings us to another obvious difference, the setting. Luke put Jesus in Galilee; the other three put Him in Bethany. Still, another difference is that John identified the woman as Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, whereas the Synoptics allow her to remain anonymous.
These differences lead us to conclude that we cannot harmonize these accounts, and beg us to ask Luke the purpose of his account. The other accounts point to Jesus’ burial. Luke’s clearly points to another purpose – forgiveness. In this case, divine forgiveness. One who has been forgiven, must love.
One who has been forgiven, must love. The genius of Luke is to take a similar account, separate it from the others, and conclude with a different response. We find these differences in Jesus’ Teaching of the Lord’s Prayer and the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Matthew and Luke differ in the former, and Luke differs from Matthew and Mark in the latter. … Take some time later today to examine these various accounts. That brings me to my second point: the separate responses of Simon the Pharisee and the unidentified woman.
A question for everyone, including ourselves, is who is Jesus? Throughout chapter 7, Luke referred to Jesus as Lord. Here, he identified him only by name. Simon thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”[3] His dinner guests wondered, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”[4] While Simon and his guests are still wondering who Jesus is, the woman, treats Jesus as Lord.
It is important to note this, for as one colleague wrote, Jesus’ establishment of the new Israel, along with its ethic and the way it reaches out to both gentiles and Jews and in particular to sinners, [means that] one must recognize him as Lord and as the human being par excellence. Such recognition requires both love and faith, two keys to both forgiveness and salvation, and the grounds for receiving the Lord’s peace. Without these Jesus’ identity remains a question, and one does not enter into the shalom of the new Israel.[5]
The woman entered the shalom or the peace of the new Israel, while the others remained outside scratching their heads. To address Simon’s questions about his identity and the woman’s response, the Lord Jesus related the parable of a creditor and two debtors.
The parable drew attention to various degrees of love. The parable did not concern the creditor or the love that might have inspired his cancellation of the debts. Rather, Jesus focused on the two whose debt was forgiven and how the degree of their love corresponded to the amount of debt forgiven them. Simon conceded that the one with the greater debt forgiven loved his creditor more, which Jesus forcefully accepted.[6]
Simon’s response became Jesus’ point of departure as he compared the woman’s loving gestures and his host’s limited welcome. He concluded his comparison stating, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much.” After this, Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”[7]
The part puzzles me. One would think the woman responded to the Lord because she had been forgiven many sins. Rather, she first demonstrated her love, and then Jesus forgave her sins. Her response sprung not from forgiveness but from faith in Jesus as Lord. The woman was saved by loving faith and her salvation called forth the Lord’s peace.[8]
You see, like the creditor, God forgives both debtors. Both the woman and Simon have their sins forgiven, and both responded differently. What separated their responses was their recognition of Jesus as Lord and Jesus as some guy.
Then, there is this. Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”[9] … Where did the woman go? To answer that question, we look at her identity. She was a notorious sinner from the city, or a woman of the streets. Most likely, her associates would welcome her. And that, folks, brings me to my third point, our response.
Where did the woman go? Of course, where she was welcomed, and the one place she was sure to be welcomed by was the street. There her associates and clients welcomed her. I know this because I started and managed a program for Jubilee Soup Kitchen in Pittsburgh entitled I to I, Incarceration to Independence. We served incarcerated mothers at the Allegheny County Jail. Most of the women were notorious sinners or women of the street. They were also mothers.
Our goal was to assist them transition from incarceration to independence by providing counsel, support, clothing and housing resources once released so that they did not have to return to the street where they would be welcomed by their associates and clients.
There are few things less depressing than 30-year-old mothers in orange jumpsuits talking about how they miss their children and how awful they feel about their choices. There are few things less frustrating than working with incarcerated women who return to the streets and then to prison.
So, where did this woman go? One would think that she returned to the streets, but as one scholar concluded, she needed a community of people like her. She needed a community of notorious sinners forgiven and loved by the Lord Jesus. She needed the Church.[10]
In the concluding verses of today’s passage, women healed of evil spirits and infirmities went with Jesus and the Twelve proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. I assume the unidentified woman was among them.
Folks, one who has been forgiven, must love. We, notorious sinners, loved and forgiven by the Lord Jesus, are called to love. Jesus calls you to love much. Love like the woman, not Simon. Love much, not with measure. Love with tears of repentance and tears of joy.
Loving much does not mean you must minister to incarcerated mothers or travel on mission trips. Loving much means hospitality for notorious sinners who need a community, who need a Church. Loving much means being part of that Church, that community of notorious sinners healed of evil spirits and infirmities that proclaims and brings the good news of God’s kingdom to people in our villages today.
Friends, like the companions of Jesus, we are blessed to be part of that community of notorious sinners forgiven by the Lord Jesus. Knowing Jesus as Lord and knowing we are forgiven is reason enough to love much and to welcome others to join us.
This week, ask someone to join us. Ask your family and your friends, but more importantly, ask the people you consider the most notorious sinners to join us. Tell them that we are notorious sinners forgiven by the Lord. Tell them that we have joy in our hearts like the unidentified woman and invite them to join us. When you do, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.



[1] John 20:31.
[2] Luke 1:4.
[3] Luke 7:39.
[4] Luke 7:49.
[5] Eugene LaVerdiere, Luke. (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1986), 108.
[6] Ibid, 109.
[7] Luke 7:47-48.
[8] LaVerdiere, 109f.
[9] Luke 7:50.
[10] Fred B. Craddock, Luke. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 106.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Anticipation

As an artist or musician, you know you made it when others imitate or commercialize your work. The most imitated artists are Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci. The most imitated modern musicians are the Beatles, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. It only makes sense to imitate the masters if you want to excel in art, music or any other field.
During our contemporary service, we hear songs from ApologetiX, a Christian band that rewrites secular songs with Christian lyrics to create parodies with Christian messages. The band blends Weird Al Yankovic and Billy Graham. They derive their lyrics from Biblical passages and practices. Their hits include parodies of Charlie Daniels’ The Devil Went Down to Georgia, renamed The Devil Went Down to Jordan, and Alice Cooper’s School’s Out, renamed Schoolhouse for Prophets.
Most artists fear others who imitate their works will dilute or contaminate them for popular or commercial gain. Such was the case when Heinz approached Carly Simon. In the 70s and 80s, Heinz ran commercials for its ketchup that featured Simon’s hit, Anticipation. She feared people would remember only the commercial and forget the original song.
Anticipation. I am sure you were anticipating when I would get to my theme. Anticipation is keeping you waiting, isn’t it?
A simple definition of anticipation is a feeling of excitement about something that is going to happen or the act of preparing for something. The Latin root of anticipate is anticipare which means to take care of ahead of time. It literally means to take into possession beforehand from ante – before – and capere – to take.
We know something lies ahead, and we want to take care of it or prepare before it happens. Cindy and I are anticipating the birth of two more grandchildren by Thanksgiving, and everyone, especially their mothers, is anticipating birth and new life by preparing now. We know death lies ahead. We prepare for it by embracing our Savior’s promise of eternal life and by making funeral plans. We anticipate expected and unexpected events – graduation, unemployment, victory, defeat, disease and a dozen others.
You are thinking, “What does anticipation have to do with our Gospel or my life?” Good question. What does anticipation have to do with our Gospel and my life? To answer that let’s delve into our passage.
Obviously, Jesus’ raising the young man from the dead anticipates the Resurrection, but before we explore that, we examine other aspects of our passage.
Luke’s story is similar to other miracle stories, but this is clearly his story, and he connected it to his two favorite prophets: Elijah and Elisha.[1] We read the account of Elijah raising the son of the widow of Zarephath. Likewise, Elisha raised the son of the Shunammite.[2]
Luke’s parallels to Elijah are remarkable: the mother was a widow, the prophet met her at a city gate, and after life is restored, “he gave him to his mother,” an exact quotation by Luke.
Luke’s use of the Old Testament does not offer proof of an argument, does not establish the prophecy/fulfillment pattern, but allows the Old Testament narrative to provide a way of telling. Luke does not bring 1 Kings 17 to the reader’s attention. It remains just beneath the surface. If the reader does not know the Old Testament, the Elijah story does not come to mind at all.
What, then, is Luke doing? It could be simply a case of imitation, widely practiced and respected as a guiding principle of literary art in a culture free of copyright laws. More likely, if Luke’s readers knew the Old Testament, our Gospel today could give a sense of continuity, of being at home, of recognizing the truth. What Luke is doing is using an effective method of teaching – repetition. Who hasn’t learned the catechism through repetition?
Secondly, Luke offers a dramatic example of Jesus’ ministry of compassion. The object of his compassion is the mother. His total attention is on this woman who is a widow and whose only son, her sole means of support as well as being her whole family, is dead. When I buried my parents, there was sadness. When parents bury children, there is overwhelming sadness. With Jesus’ attention focused on the woman, the storyteller seems unaware of the bearers, the mourners and the crowds following the mother and Jesus. Moreover, without drama, ritual or prayer, Jesus raised the man to life.
The crowd now re-enters the story, expressing praise and fear of God. However, their principal role is to give voice to the faith generated by Jesus raising the dead. There are two expressions of faith. “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people![3]
Here, Luke embraced the term prophet, describing Jesus whose ministry reminded people of Elijah and Elisha. The early church preached Jesus as a prophet like Moses. In Acts, Peter spoke, “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’[4]
Before the high priest, Stephen preached, “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ – this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’[5]
To say that Jesus “was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” is not to say all that Luke or we believe about Jesus. The prophet spoke for God. If Jesus’ contemporaries taught that the age of prophecy was closed, then the crowds around Jesus announced that God reopened it, for the phrase – “has arisen among us” – is drawn from Deuteronomy: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren.”[6]
The second expression, “God has visited his people,” is also a favorite of Luke. In his Benedictus, Zechariah speaks, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.”[7] When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he lamented, “They will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”[8] In Acts, James spoke these words during the Jerusalem Council, “Simon has described to us how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.”[9]
The word visit is from the Latin visitare meaning, "to go to see or come to inspect." It also means to "come upon or afflict" with sickness or punishment. Depending on who the visitor was, you would either welcome or reject him.
God’s visit may be in wrath or in mercy, but for Luke it is always an act of grace.[10] When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he predicted its destruction not as a divine visitation, but because the city did not know the time of its visitation. The people did not welcome God appropriately.
Finally, we turn to the location of this story within Luke. In addition to having its own message, this unit anticipates the next story about Jesus’ message to John the Baptist. It does so in two ways. First, the raising of the son of the widow of Nain provides concrete support for Jesus’ word to John, “The dead are raised up.”[11] When Matthew recorded Jesus’ message to John,[12] he was already told of Jesus raising the daughter of a ruler.[13] In Luke, that story is told later.[14] Therefore, the raising of the dead at Nain serves Luke as preparation for the summary statement of Jesus’ activity sent to John, a statement that includes raising the dead.
This passage also anticipates the following story about John by referring to Judea in our closing, “This report concerning him spread throughout the whole of Judea.”[15] The reference to Judea rather than Galilee permitted the report of Jesus’ ministry to reach John whose ministry was in Judea.
Our minds anticipate the climax of the Gospel: God raises Jesus from the dead. Luke must have had similar thoughts; after all, the whole story of Jesus is narrated from the perspective of one who is looking back through an empty tomb.
However, Luke would correct us by saying that while the resurrection of Jesus was the climax; it too was anticipatory in the sense that the Spirit, which empowered Jesus, was given to the Church for its life and mission. This major story of Luke described the ministry of Jesus as the middle and not the end of the story.
So, if our passage today anticipated Jesus’ Resurrection, and the Resurrection anticipated Pentecost, what does anticipation of the Holy Spirit have to do with my life? In other words, how is the Spirit leading you? How is the Holy Spirit active in my life as an individual, as a family, as Church?
Your ministries, such as youth and women, your ongoing work with the Angelman Society and Habitat for Humanity, your outreach to the Asian Indian community and preschool are evident that the Holy Spirit is active at Word of Life Church. As you call a new pastor, the Holy Spirit, and not personal preference, must guide your prayer and process.
As individuals, we always need the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, for without it, we could not even believe. There are particular times when we pray to the Holy Spirit. Our list of prayers is endless, and I am certain that yours includes healing of body, mind and spirit, renewal of relationships and religious fervor. Does our list include imitating Jesus and anticipating we will have a heart like His?
A colleague of mine wrote recently these words. Like Jesus, we are capable of performing acts of mercy and compassion for those in need. Our culture might hold up as ideals power, control and strength, especially for men, but at the heart of Jesus’ strength is compassion for weakness, mercy for the helpless. The person who acts against the victimization of women, the proliferation of pornography, the scourge of human trafficking and slavery is acting like Elijah and Jesus with compassion and mercy. Those women and children released from poverty and sufferings share in some part the resurrection of Jesus in the world. This is a model for us, the type of people Jesus calls us to be for those in need.[16]
Friends, this week pray to the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with compassion that you may live with a heart like Jesus, and when you do, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.



[1] Much of this section is from Fred B. Craddock, Luke (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 95-98.
[2] 1 Kings 7:17-24; 2 Kings 4:18-37
[3] Luke 7:16.
[4] Acts 3:22-23.
[5] Acts 7:35-37.
[6] Deuteronomy 18:18.
[7] Luke 1:68.
[8] Luke 19:44.
[9] Acts 15:14.
[10] Exodus 20:5; Psalm 106:4.
[11] Luke 7:22.
[12] Matthew 11:2-6.
[13] Matthew 9:18-26.
[14] Lue 8:40-56.
[15] Luke 7:17.
[16] James W. Martens, “Rise Up!”, America, June 3-10, 2013.