June 5, 2016 sermon
1 Kings 17:8-24/ Luke 7:11-17
Gifts of Compassion
This is something that happened to my theological school best friend. She was driving a second hand Nissan until some fancy Volvo coming out of a neighborhood church ran into it. As a result, her second hand Nissan was totalled and the old man’s fancy Volvo was barely damaged. The old man’s church people all testified that his car slipped on ice and it was not his fault, so my friend couldn’t get any compensation. We were living in New Jersey and she was working for a church in New York City so she needed a car to function, and money that she didn’t have to buy another car. Then suddenly a friend of her sister’s who had a highly paying job gave her his old car… a free car! What a surprising surprise it was! This rich young man wanted to help a poor pastor.
Once in a while we can experience or witness a blissful surprise like this, although not all of them come in the form of a free car. Once in a while when someone is in trouble or need, some other someone is moved by compassion and showers the first someone with a surprise gift. The two Bible stories we read today are about these surprise gifts caused by compassion. Have you noticed that both stories are about widows? Of course, you have. Plus, both widows have their dead sons resurrected.
Why widows and their dead sons though? We have to understand the ancient Hebrew society for the answer. There are a lot of evidence in the Old Testament that widows and orphans were subjects of compassion and charity. “Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake” (Lev. 14:28-29). “Curses be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice” (Lev. 27:19). There’s even a threat; “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless” (Ex. 22:22-24). Interesting thing about linking orphans to the widows is that orphans are often worded as “fatherless children”. It’s all about the man having the power and providing protection for the rest of the family. A woman without a man in that society has no way of supporting herself, and neither does a fatherless child. I find this interesting because in Zimbabwe, a motherless child is considered an orphan even if he or she has a father; you know, because in Zimbabwe fathers are supposed to be useless in child rearing. The Book of Ruth is all about two widows trying to survive together. It’s a good book to read if you want to learn how widows could survive in the ancient Hebrew world.
In Luke chapter 7, there are two miracle stories; last Sunday, we read the first one about the centurion and his servant. Today, we read the story of the widow and her dead son. The centurion’s miracle was caused by his strong faith, but today’s miracle has nothing to do with faith. It was caused by the compassion of Jesus, not the faith of the widow; this widow didn’t even ask Jesus for help. Since having a man in the family was vital to the survival of a woman, we can imagine a widow without a son being in serious trouble. That’s the source of compassion for both widows in today’s stories; how would they survive when they are already widowed and now their sons died? The adult sons are the ones who will take care of their widowed mothers. A lot of people believe that miracles happen because of faith, but today’s story proves that it’s not always true. Sometimes surprise gifts are given because of God’s compassion, just like the free car that my friend received. Although to be fair, the rich young man was not completely driven by compassion, since he was pursuing my friend’s sister. Still, thank God for suiters!
Sometimes, or a lot of times in our lives, we experience or witness these surprise gifts. These are the proofs of God’s love for us. God sends people to give us help, hope, encouragement, or just joy. God works through people; this is how God works. There is a hymn in More Voices called “Christ has no body now but yours”. “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands but yours. Here on this earth, yours is the work, to serve with the joy of compassion”. If we have ever experienced these surprise gifts of compassion that brought us hope, joy, and help in times of trouble (I think you know what I’m going to say next), it is our job to be the givers of surprise gifts to others. Let us be the guardian angels for our neighbors who need help, hope, or joy in their lives. It can be small things such as a prayer shawl or bigger things such as receiving refugees in our community, or a free car. As we give thanks to God who sent us surprise gifts of compassion when we needed them, let us be the body of Christ here on earth, and shower our neighbors with gifts of compassion when they need them. We never know what kind of great impact these gifts can bring.
Rev. Sunny Kim