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    Jun 12, 2016

    Good News Gets Around

    Good News Gets Around

    Passage: Luke 7:11-17

    Speaker: Vivian McCarthy

    Series: Signs and Wonders - The Healing Stories of Jesus

    Category: Faith

    Keywords: authority, compassion, faith, grace, healing, miracle

    Jesus raised the son of a widow just outside the gate of the city of Nain, near Nazareth. This was one of the miraculous stories of Jesus' early ministry, told by Luke to establish Jesus' ministry and to show how he intended to live out his mission: to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. It should come as no surprise that Jesus reached out to this woman with deep compassion.

    You all know how context is often important to a story – right?  Let’s take just a moment to review the place of today’s story in the Gospel of Luke and geographically. 

    Today’s story is at the end of a long series of stories of events in which Jesus is living out the mission that he proclaimed in chapter 4, verses 18-19:  to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  As Bill Loader says, right in the middle of this long passage that stretches from Luke 4:20 to 7:17, Jesus preaches the Luke version of the Sermon on the Mount, called the Sermon on the Plain, and he declares:  Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (6:22)[1]  It’s like he is setting himself up for what is to come – making himself known throughout the region.

    Jesus traveled from place to place, reaching out, healing, showing compassion – as he did in today’s story.   See the accompanying map here.  Let’s take a look at that journey.  (#1 on the map) Jesus was tempted in the Wilderness (chapter 4) then traveled to (#2 on the map) Nazareth where he stood before his home synagogue and proclaimed his mission to proclaim good news, to free people and to heal them.  In this gospel, Jesus then travels in (#3 on the map) Capernaum and neighboring (#4 on the map) Gennesaret and “through Galilee.”  The Sermon on the Plain in chapter 6 took place somewhere in this same area, he returned to Capernaum for our story last week of the Centurion’s servant and then to (#5 on the map) Nain where today’s story takes place.  All of these stories take place within about a 20-25 mile square. 

    I imagine that Jesus was really savvy!  He could have stayed home in Nazareth or set himself up in a cushy village with a great synagogue crowd to love him and listen with rapt attention to his message each week.  Rather, he traveled around so people could see for themselves the effect of his ministry – his mission and how he lived it.

    As the scripture said, Jesus’ message was becoming known because he was now followed by a large crowd as he approached the city of Nain.  They hadn’t even gotten to the city gate when he saw a funeral procession coming out of the gate, and Jesus recognized that the woman weeping uncontrollably was the dead man’s mother. 

    Now let’s notice a few things about this story.  

    • The mother probably didn’t even notice that Jesus was approaching. She did not ask for help nor approach Jesus in any way.  She was likely lost in a fog of despair – oblivious to what was going on around her.
    • This widow was now not only bereft of her only son, but now she had to face another layer of despair because she had absolutely no means of support without a husband or a son. She was very likely terrified for her own well-being, so just imagine what must have been going through her head:  What will happen to me?  Will I be able to survive without my son?
    • Walking into unknown territory, Jesus seemed to know that this was the widow’s only son, and he entered into this most private of moments and stopped the procession.
    • Notice that the scripture says that Jesus had compassion on the widow, told her not to weep and told her son to rise.

    Isn’t that what we all want to happen?  The miracle?  I confess that I was there last week when Bud Brown was lying in bed at Dove House.  He was such a good pastor.  Such a good friend.  But it was clear that the miracle was not likely to happen.  We all knew that Bud trusted God without reserve, no matter what happened, but we all wanted him to live to see his grandchildren. 

    Lucy Lind Hogan, professor of preaching at Wesley Seminary, reflecting on this passage, wrote:

    This is a wonderful story, but it is not easy for us to hear because so many of us have been in the position of the widow. We have lost people we dearly love, and there was not a prophet to touch their bier and bring the dead back to life. We are invited to reflect upon how Jesus continues to heal our pain and our sorrow as we look toward the gift of eternal life.[2]

    I’d like to share a few paragraphs from Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.  This passage is from the Help chapter:

          Help.  Help us walk through this.  Help us come through.

          It is the first great prayer.

    I don’t pray for God to do this or that, or for God’s sake to knock it off, or for specific outcomes.  Well, okay, maybe a little…  I pray, Help.  Hold my friends in Your light.

    There are no words for the broken hearts of people losing people, so I ask God, with me in tow, to respond to them with graciousness and encouragement enough for the day.  Everyone we love and for whom we pray with such passion will die, which is the one real fly in the ointment, so we pray for miracles – please help this friend live, please help that friend die gracefully – and we pray for the survivors to somehow come through.  Please help Joe survive Evelyn’s dementia.  Please help this town bounce back.  Please help those parents come through, please help these kids come through.  I pray to be able to bear my cat’s loss.  Help.

    I try not to finagle God.  Some days go better than others, especially during election years.  I ask that God’s will be done, and I mostly sort of mean it.

    In prayer, I see the suffering bathed in light.  In God, there is no darkness.  I see God’s light permeate them, soak into them, guide their feet.  I want to tell God what to do:  “Look, Pal, this is a catastrophe.  You have got to shape up.”  But it wouldn’t work.  So I pray for people who are hurting, that they be filled with air and light.  Air and light heal; they somehow get into those dark, musty places, like spiritual antibiotics. 

    We don’t have to figure out how this all works – “Figure it out” is not a good slogan.  It’s enough to know it does [all work out, that is].[3]

    And a few pages later, she writes:

    I have seen many people survive unsurvivable losses, and seen them experience happiness again.  How is this possible?

    Love flowed to them from their closest people and from their community, surrounded them sat with them, held them, fed them, swept their floors.  Time passed.  In most cases, their pain evolved slowly into help for others.[4]

    You know, God’s activity in our lives is nothing short of miraculous:  working through the right person at the right time, bringing love and light and air, as Lamott says; moving someone to deep compassion – the kind of compassion that Jesus showed the widow; healing pain, providing comfort, bringing joy again after a long, dry spell. 

    It is essential that we stay open – open to seeing God’s miraculous work and presence right in front of us day after day.

    So, I have put a board in the Narthex today.  It’s for us to share God sightings over the next few weeks.  Keep an out eye for the next few weeks for the miraculous.  Where do you see God’s compassion – perhaps flowing through someone else?  I can’t think of better news for us to share – so that the good news of Jesus continues to spread!

    [1] Bill Loader, First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages from the Lectionary, http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LkPentecost3.htm

    [2] Lucy Lind Hogan.  Working Preacher site:  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2863

    [3] Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow:  The Three Essential Prayers.  Riverhead Books.  New York, 2012.  Pages 15-16.

    [4] Lamott, page 23.