Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 16

23 Sept 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 7:11-17

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In our Gospel, Jesus performs one of His greatest miracles – the raising of the dead. In so doing, He demonstrates not only His divinity, but also His completion of the work begun through the prophets – especially that of Elijah in our Old Testament lesson.

Of course, death is the direct consequence of sin. And there is nothing more justifiable than for the Lord to strike every person dead, to condemn all humanity to the same fate as Satan and the fallen angels, and to simply rid the universe of anything and everything undesirable. But fortunately for us, God does not see His handy-work as disposable, as trash to be taken to the curb.

Instead of seeing the widow’s son as just another corpse of just another sinner who got what He deserved, the Lord sees something else. He sees the suffering brought on by sin. He sees a widow weeping over her only son. Instead of looking upon her son (as well as upon her as well) with wrath, with a smug appeal to justice, with anger that would be completely reasonable – our Lord looks upon her with compassion. Instead of seeing the mother as the one who conceived the now-dead son in sin herself, instead of seeing the living spawn of those first rebels in Eden, Jesus sees a person in God’s image who is suffering.

And he has compassion on her.

He tells her not to weep – even though tears are the natural consequence of sin. In telling her to weep no more, He tells her that her time of mourning is over. He tells her that the degradation of the universe is coming to an end. He tells her that the season of the devil’s dominion over God’s good creation is swiftly coming to a close. He tells her that the sting of death is about to be swallowed up by death – by His own death on the cross, to be punctuated by His resurrection – of which our Lord is going to prefigure by using this poor widow’s son as an object lesson about what is to come in the new age that is dawning.

Jesus addresses the young man. For though his ears are closed by death, in spite of the fact that his spirit has vacated his fleshly body – Jesus speaks His powerful Word over his created being: “Young man, I say to you, arise.” The creature obeys the Creator. Our Lord Jesus doesn’t speak in the stead and by the command of anyone. Jesus is not a minister, but is God Himself. “I say to you…” He says. In fact, He isn’t simply saying, He is ordering. And He’s doing more than ordering, rather He is creating. More accurately, He is re-creating. He is quickening the body of this man, speaking the breath of life back into him.

The lifeless body revivifies. The tongue that had been silenced by mortality is loosed. The breath put into him is now expelled in the form of words. And the Lord Jesus presents the boy to his mother anew, a new creation, as one born again, one who has overcome death and the grave. The widow has no reason to weep – except perhaps to shed tears of joy.

Nothing demonstrates the Lord’s motivation in creating a new heaven and a new earth than this one episode. Our Lord’s grand plan to renew and restore isn’t simply an egocentric building plan taken by a king who wants to be immortal. Nor is this great plan to be built upon the backs of the people who rightfully deserve God’s wrath. In fact, the cornerstone of this restoration is none other than the Son of God, God the Son, the sacrificial Lamb, the one who gives life to others, but who, in the words of His mockers at His crucifixion, “cannot save Himself.” The cross is the foundation of the new heaven and the new earth – for it’s here where God does for the whole world what he did for the widow’s son.

And it is done by offering Himself to death.

The reaction of the people is telling. They have observed this wondrous miracle, and they both fear and glorify God. They know that they have seen and experienced the might and the mercy of God. “A great prophet has risen up among us” they say – and yet, they don’t realize how prophetic their own words are (for this Prophet will truly “rise up” from death and speak as well, though unlike the widow’s son, this Son will do so under His own power).

The people are right to see prophecy in this miracle – for it is not only God speaking to His people, it is a prediction of what is to come – the resurrection of Jesus as the firstfruits of the dead, as well as the resurrection of all believers on the last day.

The people also say: “God has visited his people.” This is a personal visitation from God Himself – not merely an angel carrying a message, not just a prophet carrying the Word, not a pastor preaching the Gospel – but rather this is a visit from God Himself. However, there is more to this word “visit” than simply a personal appearance of God. The Greek word is a form of the same word translated as “bishop” or “overseer.” This visitation is the oversight of God looking down upon His creation – not in haughty judgment, but rather in compassionate mercy. This oversight looks forwards to the time when the Lord would visit His people through the work of bishops, of pastors, of overseers and shepherds of the flock, of ministers endowed with authority to speak in the stead and by the command of God. The minister speaks the same prophecy, does the same work, drives back the forces of death and the devil in the same way – by giving life to the dead.

The pastor is not God. He cannot on his own power order corpses to walk out of their graves. Not even Elijah could do that. He cannot re-create matter anew, and roll back the ravages of age and disease – and yet, he does have authority over the cause of these matters. The pastor, the one through whom God continues to oversee and visit His people has the Word of God and the command and the delegated authority to use it to forgive sins – through preaching, absolving, baptizing, and giving the Supper.

In fact, this office of preaching is mentioned at the end of the Gospel lesson, as “this report” circulates through Judea and the region. The word translated as “report” is the Greek word “Logos” – which means literally “the Word.” The Word of God is spoken through the incarnate Word of God (Jesus) and given to preachers to proclaim the Word of God, the good news of the forgiveness of sins, not only throughout Judea, but as our Lord commissions the apostles just before His ascension, they are to take this Word through Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

This Word, this report, this proclamation is translated into the Latin as “sermo.” That which is preached is translated into English as a “sermon” for this reason.

The report of Jesus (who is the Word of God), the proclamation of the Word of God, of the Good News, is carried out by pastors, overseers of congregations of the one holy Church. This has been happening for two thousand years. The Word of the cross has been preached not only in Judea and Samaria, but all around the globe.

In the centuries before the incarnation of Christ, prophets pointed forward to what Jesus would do in the future and applied it in the present. In the centuries after the incarnation, pastors point back to what Jesus has done in the past and apply it to the present.

And the result is the same regardless of time and place. Just as the widow’s son opened his eyes from death, received air once more into his once-dead lungs, and was empowered to speak – so too are sinners in every corner of the globe, in every era, being re-created anew, born again, given a new spirit, and enabled to articulate the Good News of their salvation from death, decay, and damnation.

What a great gift we have all been given, my Christian brothers and sisters! At Holy Baptism, our Lord re-created us. In Holy Absolution, he revivifies what has died in us. In the proclamation of the Holy Gospel, he imparts His all-powerful Word into our ears and hearts, and in his Holy Supper He puts his own eternal and divine flesh and blood into our frail bodies as not only a pledge, but as a literal application of life over death.

Like the widow upon whom Jesus had compassion, we have no more reason to weep. Though we are surrounded by a dying world, we walk about as new creatures, as those who have overcome the world by the grace of the One who has compassion on his undeserving creation, who by His Word alone is able to raise, restore, quicken, and renew for all eternity. Thanks be to God! Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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