Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 16

27 Sept 2009 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.

Death is part of life, right? It is a natural part of our existence, and in fact, forms a great circle of life. The lions die and become grass. The antelopes eat the grass. The lions eat the antelopes. It’s all good. Walt Disney tells me so. And to further make the point, Walt Disney was long dead when the Lion King came out, but nevertheless he is still telling us how wonderful death is, and has even gotten Elton John to sing it to us.

But it is a great lie. The originator of this Circle of Life myth is not the Lion King, but rather the Lying prince of darkness, the father of lies, the one described in Scripture as a “roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”

Rather than accept the lie of the movies we confess the truth of the Scriptures.

Death is not a part of life, rather it is the end of life of the body. Death is not constructive, rather it is destructive. Death is not natural, rather it is contrary to all that is both “good” and “very good” in God’s creation and plan for humanity made in His own image and likeness. Death was never meant to be. Death is the wages of sin. But you won’t learn that from a Disney cartoon.

Nor will you learn that from well-intentioned funeral directors, Hallmark cards, or non-Christian religions. You won’t learn that from an evolutionist biology textbook nor on TV shows. In this culture, you will not hear that death is evil, it is the enemy, or that it is the result of our sinfulness and the rebellion of our ancestors. You will not hear this truth proclaimed anywhere else but from the mouth of the Church, for she and she alone speaks the Word of God, the only True God, the Creator of all things and the Lord and Giver of life.

All of the platitudes and jingles about death come crashing down when someone actually dies.

In Nain, the only son of a widow had died. And in the jaws of this tragedy, there was no catchy Elton John tune or postmodern philosophizing about the food chain to bring comfort to his mother. Nor did the people of the town simply go about their business as if death were simply a natural event and nothing to make a fuss over. No indeed. This was anything but a normal, natural Circle of Life being played out.

The young man who had died was being carried out of his home to be taken out of the city to the cemetery. This was anything but natural. Women created by God are not meant to be widows, and young men created by God are not meant to be carried to their graves. The devastated widow walked in the procession with a “considerable crowd” of mourners, showing both respect for the deceased son and compassion for his grieving mother.

And one Man in the crowd not only had compassion on her, but also held the keys of life and death. Our Lord’s compassion for the widow did not bring about a clever speech, nor a show tune, nor blather about food chains. The Lord Jesus did not try to rationalize death or make it out to be a good thing. Instead, He implored the widow “Do not weep,” for he was about to turn her mourning into joy and her helplessness into victory over death and the grave.

By His touch and by His Word, our blessed Lord commands the spirit to return to the widow’s son’s lifeless body. He touches the open casket and commands the man: “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

Immediately, the dead young man became yet again a living young man. He “sat up and began to speak.” And instead of disappointment that the Circle of Life had been broken, instead of environmental outrage that the food chain was interrupted, there was joy that life overcame death. “Jesus gave him to his mother.”

And not only was their great happiness, there was also fear. For Jesus had not simply worked a miracle, he demonstrated His divine power as well as the impotence of death in the face of God’s will that death be overcome, and that the grave lose its sting. There is fear because all of their own assumptions about death have not only been challenged, but disproved and rendered as useless as the coffin the widow’s son had been lying in.

For indeed, “God has visited His people!” A “great Prophet has arisen among us!”

This Prophet is even greater than Elijah, who centuries before had prayed to the Lord to restore the life to another widow’s son, presenting him living and breathing to his mother. For this Pophet does not have to pray for the resurrection of the son, for He is the Son, He is the Resurrection, and He is the Life. He is “very God of very God.”

God did not come bringing a rationalization of death, nor to merely preach a message of niceness. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, took flesh in order to die. And He died in order that we might live. He rose in order that we, like the widow’s son, will likewise rise. And we confess with Job: “In my flesh I shall see God.”

For the Incarnate Lord Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it.

And in this fallen, sinful, and death-ridden world, there is no Circle of Life, but only an ever-perishing Circle of Death, and it is unnatural and evil. It is an evil that has become so common for us that we no longer smell its stench and see it for the evil that it is. It has gotten to the point where we actually sing its praises in cartoon form for children to embrace.

But the good news is this, dear Christians, the Circle of Death has been trodden upon, along with the wicked serpent’s head, by the Crucified One, who instead removes us from the vicious cycle of decay and disorder, placing us instead into the true Circle of Life, an eternity with no beginning and no end, in which we live, literally and physically, body and soul, in perfection, world without end.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is how St. Paul, facing his own death, can encourage all of us not to lose heart in the midst of our mortal suffering. For “strengthened with power through His Spirit,” we are “filled with all the fullness of God.” And this divine fullness has already destroyed death and given us the “love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” – exposing the lie that death has dominion over any of us and showing us that the so-called Circle of Life is nothing more than a paper tiger that has been crushed at the cross, washed away at baptism, overcome at the empty tomb, and is ultimately as helpless to contain us as death was able to hold the widow’s son confronted by the touch and Word of Jesus.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” Amen.

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


Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

I continue to be confused by the stories which depict Jesus granting physical healing and resuscitation with a word of command. You believe that these stories happened literally. Yet, you consistently apply them to our lives as if they were metaphor stories which depict spiritual healing and new life. Most preachers do this, rightfully. You did this nicely at the end of your sermon. My hope of the resurrection is based on Jesus' own resurrection, and not on a story of bodily resuscitation in this life. I sense that you believe the same.

It seems to me that if these are literal stories, they should be applied to my life literally. I should then expect physical healing and resuscitation at a word of command. TV preachers often attempt to do this, but they are usually exposed as frauds.

If these stories can only be applied as metaphors, why not come to the realization that the stories were intended to be metaphors, like this story at Nain? This would resolve the confusion.

Keep up the good work!

Blessings! TBR

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theophilus:

The only reason to accept the Lord's healing miracles as metaphors is a lack of belief that God can do such things.

Miracles do still happen. We have had quite a few people confound doctors by having healings that defy explanation. And such miracles are (as John calls them in his gospel) "signs." The miracles point to something deeper: the reality of Jesus as the Son of God who is recreating the world anew - an eternal paradise without death. Do you believe this also is only a metaphor? Is "eternal life" just a literary device for the continuity of children? Or does it mean that we will live, literally, after we die?

Either Jesus was just an ordinary man surrounded by myths and legends, or Jesus is what Scripture and the Church testify of him: God in the flesh who paid for our sins at the cross, defeated the devil, and rose from the dead.

If the former is true, Jesus is at best a kind of Aristotle figure with a God complex. If the latter is true, the performance of miracles is not an impediment, but rather a confirmation of who He is and what His mission is.

C.S. Lewis put it best in an essay in which he points out that there are only three possibilities: Jesus as Lord, liar, or lunatic.

Is the resurrection a historical fact, or merely a literary metaphor? Is God Himself a real Being, or is He also just a metaphor?

Here is my take: God is physically real, the Scripture is His revelation, Jesus is God, Jesus literally became flesh of a virgin, Jesus literally performed miracles, died, was buried, rose, and reigns in His Kingdom unto eternity. He will come again to consummate God's plan.

In this context, the miracles of Jesus were real, physical manifestations of His Godhead and give us a foretaste of a world without pain, sorrow, and death. They are not fictional metaphors, but factual signs given to us by grace to teach us about the Kingdom. They are also acts of mercy and encouragement to the Lord's people and expressions of His will that supersedes even death itself.

Thanks for your comment, and giving me the opportunity to clarify my confession!

Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

I need a little more clarification, please, regarding this sentence in your sermon: "He [Jesus) rose in order that we, LIKE THE WIDOW'S SON, WILL LIKEWISE RISE."

Are you suggesting the possibility that when I die physically, I, "LIKE THE WIDOW'S SON, WILL LIKEWISE RISE" bodily to restored physical life here on earth again?

It makes more sense to me as metaphor: We, "LIKE THE WIDOW'S SON, WILL LIKEWISE RISE" up to new spiritual life here on earth through Jesus' covenant-gospel message.

Which meaning did you intend?

I appreciate the opportunity to raise questions for the sake of clarification regarding your sermons, which I find to be meaningful. I like the paragraph which begins, "But the good news is this, . . ." I trust that you are pleased to know that people are reading your sermons.

I am not permitted to raise questions in worship following the sermon, although I think it would be helpful for clarification.


TBR, "Follower of the Way"
Acts 24:10-16

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theophilus:

I believe that our resurrection will be, just as it was for the widow's son, physical and literal.

As we say at the end of the Nicene Creed: "I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting."

Do you believe Jesus actually physically raised the widow's son to life, or do you believe it is rather only a fictitious story with a moral?

And I appreciate your writing! Even when we disagree, you are always gentlemanly, kind, and respectful. I greatly appreciate that, and as always, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify what I confess about Jesus.

Peace be with you!