Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sermon: Trinity 16 - 2010

19 September 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 7:11-17

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In case anyone has missed the point of why our Lord Jesus became incarnate and what the central message of Christianity is, St. Luke the Evangelist has just laid it out.

Christianity is the antidote and the antithesis of death.

Our Lord Jesus often drops hints and teaches in a rather roundabout way about the meaning of His kingdom and what His mission and ministry are all about. But this miracle recorded by St. Luke should serve as a stark reminder that Christianity is nothing like what the world thinks it is.

Many people believe Christianity is an ethical system, a reminder to be nice to people, a worldview, a world religion, a philosophy, or a lifestyle choice. It is none of these things. It is rather the God-ordained reality that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” died as one of us, rose in anticipation of all of us who are baptized and who believe, and lives and reigns to all eternity, promising this same hope of life to all who have been marked by his bloody cross and watery rebirth.

For death is the ultimate enemy. Death is the perennial reminder that the universe is broken, that sin has brought disorder into God’s creation, and that we are all eager and willing participants in its putrid corruption. We have, of our own corrupted will, joined our first ancestors Adam and Eve in wallowing in rebellion and idolatry, in selfishness and lovelessness, in making war against the Creator, He who lovingly fashioned us and gave us life by breathing His Spirit into us.

For the wages of sin is death.

This is laid bare by the tragedy of the widow of Nain. First, her husband died, leaving her bereft of not only her financial support and protection in this life, but also of the one whom the Lord had given to her, to bring her to completion as a person, to become one flesh with, one who loved her and provided her with a son. She feels the pain that only the widow knows and experiences.

And if that were not enough, the son, her only beloved son, has now died. She is all alone in this cold world. And in the midst of this hopelessness and helplessness, she weeps. And as the body of her dead son was being carried before her eyes, at the point in her life that must have seemed the lowest of the low, the Lord Jesus “had compassion on her and said to her ‘do not weep.’” For little did she know that her profound grief was, in just a few seconds, to yield to ecstatic joy. For with His touch and by the power of His Word, the lifeless body of the widow’s son filled with breath and he “sat up and began to speak.”

And Jesus “gave him to his mother.”

Death was defeated in an instant and against every impulse of logic: by the Word, by the Spirit, and by the physical touch of Jesus. And the confession that followed: “God has visited His people” is indeed a summary of the Christian creed. And where this God, this fleshly, divine, compassionate Lord and Savior is found, that is where you find healing, forgiveness, and life wrenched from suffering, sin, and death.

Our Lord Jesus did not offer useless philosophies or trite and hollow words to express his compassion. Rather He delivered His Word, His life-giving and life-restoring Word, He rolled back the corruption of the fall, and took away the widow’s sadness and hopelessness. And He gave her this most profound gift of life without cost, without condition, and purely by grace and mercy.

That is Christianity because that is Christ.

The raising of the widow’s son was a preview of what was and is to come, as God’s Son Himself encounters death on the cross. But His death is not a result of His sin, but rather the antidote to our sin. His death is not the result of His evil, but rather the defeat of our evil. For when the Lord Jesus dies on the cross, he defeats death by dying, and He delivers this victory to us as an atoning sacrifice that makes us equally victorious over sin, death, and the grave – just as surely as the widow’s son “sat up and began to speak.” We too speak, and we speak that life-giving Word, and we confess that “God has visited His people.”

A 20th century Episcopal priest named Chad Walsh put it very succinctly: “Christianity is a vast process initiated by God Himself to undo what Adam and Eve accomplished for us.” And he is right about that. Christianity is not a religion, not a philosophy, not a lifestyle choice. It is a rescue mission by God Himself carried out in love for us unlovable sinners, to save us, rescue us, renew us, and give us life – in spite of our wickedness, our resistance, our love of self and stubbornness toward His Word. God does for us by His cross what we could never do for ourselves by our works. God gives us this new life as a gift in spite of what we have done to Him over six millennia.

Dear friends, the Lord Jesus offers us the cure for death itself, and He is that cure. He offers Himself to us, in a manger, on the cross, in the empty tomb, and at the right hand of the Father. He offers Himself to us in the Word, in the waters of Holy Baptism, in the words of Holy Absolution, and in the wafers and wine of the Holy Eucharist. He offers Himself to us not in mere words, but in mighty deeds. He offers Himself, not an angel, not a surrogate, and not a sacrificial animal. For He is the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.” And where sin has been absolved, death has been abolished. The widow’s hopelessness in death has been overturned by her hope in resurrection. Life trumps death. Forgiveness unseats sin. And all of this is accomplished by Christ and given to us as a gift.

For God has visited His people! Amen.

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

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