Summary: A sermon for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, proper 24

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21st Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 24] October 21, 2007 “Series C”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you sent your Son, Jesus the Christ, to reveal your will and grace for our lives. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to hear his word for our lives, and empower us to make it our own, as we seek to work for justice and to uplift those in need. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

This past Wednesday morning, I attended Pastor Blair’s Bible study class, which focuses on a comparison of the four Gospels in their presentation of the life of Christ. He began by expressing that the Scriptures are a collection of writings by various authors who seek to express their encounter with God in their own way, sometimes with a specific audience in mind. As a result, there are specific differences between the Gospels, as the authors seek to express their understanding of Jesus the Christ, and his significance for our lives.

This is very similar to what I teach my kids in confirmation class. I tell them that the Bible is not a science book, addressing scientific questions, but a book of faith, in which the authors express their understanding of God. As a result, we need to interpret the Scriptures, not in a literal way, but from the perspective of faith.

This past week, Pastor Blair was addressing how the four Gospel’s differ in their expression of the incarnation, that in Jesus, God was somehow present to us in a special way. For example, Mark seems to associate the incarnation with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism. John, in his Gospel, expresses the incarnation in theological terms, as the Word of God becoming flesh. Matthew and Luke, on the other hand, attribute the incarnation as the work of God’s Spirit at conception.

The point is, however, that although we do not understand the scientific question as to how the incarnation occurred, all four Gospels are in agreement that Jesus was not just a human being, another prophet or a great teacher. All four Gospels are in agreement on the faith issue, that in the person of Jesus, we behold the presence of God.

I enjoyed Pastor Blair’s study, and would encourage more to participate. But this is not simply a plug for his class. Pastor Blair also explored the significance of the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise recorded in Luke’s Gospel. Here, in the Magnificat, even before Jesus was born, Luke sets down three themes of Jesus’ ministry.

First, Mary says “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts…” The kingdom of God, which Jesus will bring to fruition, will produce a moral revolution. Pride in one’s accomplishments will be turned upside down and replaced by the acknowledgement of our sinful nature and reliance upon the grace of God for our salvation.

Secondly, Mary says “He has brought down the powerful, and lifted up the lowly…” By this, Luke is telling us that the kingdom of God will bring about a revolution of justice. God will vindicate the oppressed and those whose rights have been trampled on by the powerful of this world.

Finally, Mary says “He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty…” By this, Luke is telling us that the kingdom of God will bring about an economic revolution. Those who are members of the kingdom of God are to share their wealth with the poor and those in need, rather than to amass wealth for their own security.

I share this with you this morning because in our Gospel lesson, all three of these themes are given voice. First, the economic issue. Women at that time, were not allowed to own property. They were completely dependent upon their parents to support them, or, after marriage, upon their husband’s support. If her husband died, she could not inherit their estate outright, and her parents would no longer be obligated to support her.

Widows, like orphans, were at that time, often the poorest of the poor. They were financially dependent upon the benevolence of others, who were, according to God’s law recorded in Deuteronomy, to care for them. This brings us to the second issue, that of justice. According to William F. Malambri, in his commentary on our text, “We might presume that this widow had not received the proper support due her from her deceased husband’s estate, since she was not allowed to inherit the estate outright. Doubtless her brothers-in-law were not living up to the arrangements of their inheritance.” End quote. In other words, they were not supporting their brother’s widow as they were obligated to do. Since they were men, they had the power, and the money.

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