Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 16

7 September 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 7:11-17 (1 Kings 17:17-24, Eph 3:13-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The Christian faith is a matter of life and death.

Christianity is not a hobby, not something to do on Sunday as part of our social life, not something to make us feel better about ourselves and our lives, not a means to teach our children morals, not a political agenda, and not just another one of those choices we make in life based on what teachings we like best or what style of worship suits our fancy.

The Christian faith is a matter of life and death.

For we were created by our God to live, to live abundantly, and to live forever. We brought death upon ourselves by our disobedience, by our selfishness, by our sin. And as St. Paul preaches: “The wages of sin are death.”

So what does God do? He rescues us. He doesn’t give us a pill – though He does give us a sort of “immortality medicine”. He doesn’t pretend our sins don’t exist – though He does discharge them by visiting death upon Jesus, the Crucified One. He doesn’t turn Himself into a liar by simply making us immortal – though He does make us “more than conquerors” over the death we deserve, of the death we will suffer, of the death His Son defeated by dying and rising.

Ever since the fall in Eden, mankind has been suffering death and suffering because of death. This great struggle between the forces of death and life, between darkness and light, between hell and heaven has been engaged since Satan first transgressed the Law of God and convinced man to do the same. And yet, in His mercy, the Lord has been beating back sin, Satan, and death ever since.

The victory of life over death is a powerful theme in Scripture. In our Gospel, St. Luke recounts our Lord Jesus Christ Himself raising a widow’s son who was being carried to his tomb in an open casket. Our Blessed Lord isn’t merely making a point or punctuating a sermon – He is acting out of compassion for the widow and out of love for the fallen man. “Do not weep,” He says with empathy to the woman who has been victimized by death. And the touch of Jesus restores the widow’s son to life. “Young man, I say to you, arise,” He says, using the same words He said to raise the little girl from her mortal slumber.

To the Christian, to the one touched by Jesus, to the one who is on the receiving end of the Word of God – death is indeed nothing more than a slumber. Its brutality and its seeming finality are brushed away by the Word of Jesus as the widow’s son is roused from his nap.

That, dear friends, is the power of the Word of God. That, dear brothers and sisters is why we are here. That, dear children of God is why what goes on in this place is a matter of life and death.

Our Lord did not raise people from the dead long-distance. Rather, He came to them, to their bodies, to their grieving family members. He comes to us today in His Word and Sacrament. If you want to be revived and cured of death, if you want to, in the words of the ancient hymn, dread your grave as little as your bed, then this is where you must be, here, where Jesus speaks, where His Word sounds forth, defeating death and breathing life into our wearied bodies and souls.

Some may protest that they can be in God’s presence apart from the Church, that the Lord is present in places where people would rather be, more self-serving places than being here with the people of God. Perhaps. But Jesus has promised to be where His Word is proclaimed and preached, where His body and blood are given to eat and to drink, where his ministers absolve and baptize. And you cannot find that at the golf course on in the fishing camp. You won’t hear that sleeping in or going to brunch.

Christianity is a matter of life and death.

Even where you don’t see the face of Jesus, you see the face of His spokesman. For when the prophet or pastor speaks the Lord’s Words with the Lord’s authorization, the result is the same – life is wrenched from death, and the Lord’s forgiveness overpowers sin.

In our Old Testament it isn’t our Lord Jesus who raises the dead – at least not directly. Rather, it is a preacher, Elijah, a man whose calling was to be the hands of the Lord’s compassion and the mouthpiece of the Lord’s mercy as a bringer of life – even to the deceased. And giving us a preview of our Lord’s miracle to come centuries in the future, Elijah breathes life into a son of a widow who had died. By the authority and the grace of God, Elijah, the preacher and pastor of the Lord, in whose mouth is found the Word of the Lord, is able to present to the widow her once dead son with the proclamation: “See, your son lives!”

“The vict’ry’s won! Death no longer can appall me,” as we sing at Easter, and as we will sing today on this mini-Easter, this little Lord’s Day festival of the resurrection.

This hope of the resurrection, this reality that the Lord’s death conquered death and the Lord’s rising to life is a guarantee of our own resurrection by being baptized into Him is the very reason St. Paul can ask us not to lose heart in the face of tribulation. St. Paul prays for his hearers to be “strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.” He prays that we might be “rooted and grounded in love” – a love of the very Christ “who dwells in [our] hearts through faith.”

For death has been defeated, destroyed, conquered, and forever removed from power over us – even though we Christians will too die. But for us, death is not final. Death is not the end of life, but rather the gateway for eternal life – not by our merits, but as Paul proclaims: “through faith.” For what we hear again and again in the Word of God proclaimed to us under the authority of Christ is given to us that we “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge,” that we may be “filled with the fullness of God.”

Knowledge of the Bible is a good thing. Knowing the doctrine of the Church is a good thing. But both of these are not ends in themselves, but rather means to the Gospel, to the Good News that Jesus has destroyed death once and for all on the cross, and we, like the helpless sons of widows, are raised to new life through His Word. For as St. Paul points out, that is the kind of knowledge that surpasses knowledge. It isn’t mere factual data, but rather knowledge of love.

It is out of love that the Lord conquers the evil one. It is out of love that He raises us to life again. It is out of love that He died for us. And it is out of love that He carries out His will, all for the good of His creation – whether we comprehend all the reasons or not.

In our sermon hymn, we sang “The Will of God is Always Best.” And like the widows who lost their sons in our Scripture accounts, and like our Lord’s own blessed mother, whose heart was pierced by sorrow at the death of her Son, we may have no idea why the Lord’s will takes the shape that it does, but like these daughters of Eve, we will live to see the day when all the dead in Christ will rise by the Word of God, when our bodies themselves will be restored to life anew, a life that will have no end.

This is why we are here, dear friends. Today, this very hour is a matter of life and death. Our Lord is giving you life today, His life, God’s life, never-ending life, to the praise and glory of His Father, world without end. Amen.

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

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