Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sermon: Trinity 16

1 October 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 7:11-17 (1 Kings 17:17-24, Eph 3:13-21) (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Of the many miracles of Jesus recorded in Scripture, the ones that are the most remarkable, the ones that create the most impact, are those few occasions when our Lord restores life to the dead.

The reason is obvious: death is always looming over us. It eventually claims all of us. It may cut us down suddenly in the prime of life, or it may come after many decades of agony and suffering. It may be a result of our own behavior, or it may come out of nowhere with no logical reason.

And when it happens, there is a finality about it. We leave behind grieving families, friends, and loved ones who have the burden of placing our lifeless corpses into boxes and watch as they are entombed in the earth or in a vault probably never to be opened again until the end of time itself. It can’t be reversed with a scientific breakthrough. It can’t be cured with a shot. It doesn’t just go away like a common cold.

The unbelieving world deals with death in contradictory ways. Those who believe only in the childish superstition that there is nothing beyond what they can see and measure treat death as the bitter end. There is nothing beyond the grave but eternal nothingness. No resurrection, no hope, no future. This is why St. Paul tells us that the heathens grieve very differently than do Christians.

But the world also adopts a very brave front when it comes to death, a sort of “stiff upper lip” that shrugs off the ugliness of death, trying to recast it as normal, natural, and even beautiful, a solution to perceived problems. How many times have we heard: “Death is just a part of life.” But consider how silly this is! It’s like saying: “Darkness is part of light” or “Good is part of evil.” Life and death are opposites. Death isn’t a stage, rather it is the cessation of life. It is not dignified, beautiful, or natural. It is hideous, ugly, and horrific. It is unnatural, and is the result of our rebellion against God and his order.

Against this backdrop, our Old Testament reading shows the power of God when he works through his Word, proclaimed by a prophet, and received in faith. The widow receives the Prophet Elijah, and using his very own body, Elijah is the instrument of the impossible. The corpse of the widow’s son revives. This is indisputable evidence that Elijah is a prophet, that the Lord of life and death himself works and speaks through this chosen instrument.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus happens upon a funeral procession. The dead man is the only son of a widow. Our Lord has compassion for her, and using his very own body, he is likewise the instrument of the impossible. By his divine power and his human touch, he uses his word, the Word of God, to command the corpse to revive. To the witnesses, this is indisputable evidence that Jesus is a Prophet. It is no accident that Luke records their words: “A great prophet has risen up among us.” This word “risen up” is the very same word that describes our Lord’s resurrection. When they say: “God has visited his people,” they are confessing that God is near them, in their midst, in an even greater way than when Elijah raised a widow’s son centuries before.

For Elijah was a foreshadowing of what was to come. Elijah looked forward to the Prophet who was himself God, the very Author of life himself, the One whose Word creates reality, the one whose prayers are themselves the powerful Word of God. Jesus is the fulfillment of Elijah.

Jesus is also the fulfillment of the very miracle he performs. The widow’s son, whose raising up causes the people to point to Jesus as one who has also “risen up” also points forward to a greater reality, the resurrection of all resurrections, the raising up of Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus rose also as “the only Son of his mother; and she was [also] a widow” according to tradition.

Our Lord’s compassion for a suffering mother and for those who have died is not in the abstract. For he too would die, and would die a humiliating and public death. His mother too would suffer, as St. Luke records Simeon’s prophecy only five chapters before today’s reading: “A sword will pierce your own soul also.” And yet, the grieving widowed mother would see her only son alive again. Death does not have the final say.

Dear brothers and sisters, unlike the heathen, we know why death happens. We know the reason for the chaos and destruction, for heartache and disappointment, for disease and death. We choose death when we choose sin, when we choose false gods, when we choose to place ourselves over and above the God who gives us life, sustains us, restores us, loves us, and redeems us from our sins. Death is not just a part of life. It is the most unnatural thing in the world. It is not peaceful or comforting. It is not the solution to inconvenient pregnancies or unwanted elderly people in nursing homes. Death is the enemy. Death is the wages of sin. Death is the venue of Satan.

But death does not have the final say!

The last line in the Creed is “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

The very same flesh and blood Man, the very same Prophet, the very same God who raises this poor widow’s only son also promises to raise all of us. For when Jesus himself died, he conquered death. When Jesus himself rose again, he has made good on his promise to raise us as well. For indeed, “the wages of sin is death,” but as the rest of St. Paul’s verse continues, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It’s all about the free gift. Just as Elijah gave the gift of life to the widow and to her son, and just as Jesus gives the gift of life to another widow and to her son, so too does our resurrected Lord give us the gift of life, eternal life, never-ending life, a life free from disease, a life unsullied by sin and untouched by unhappiness.

And this new life is what is natural. It is as God has intended it to be. It is a free gift, and it is ours, dear brothers and sisters.

It comes to us in the same way as it comes to the two resurrected sons of widows in our texts today. It comes through God’s Word proclaimed by an instrument of the impossible. It comes to us through the very own body of the One who raises us, through the same body borne by Mary, the same body that was laid in the tomb, the same body that rose again, and the same body given to us in Holy Communion. It comes to us through the same blood that coursed through the veins of him who raised the widow’s son, the same blood shed on the cross, and the same blood that is to be poured into your mouth at this rail in a few minutes.

For you were baptized into Christ Jesus. And as Paul asks: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

And so, our Lord says anew to us today: “I say to you, arise!”

“Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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