Sunday, October 09, 2011

Sermon: Trinity 16 – 2011

9 October 2011 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.

Our Lord’s act of compassion in raising the widow of Nain’s son from the dead is much more than a single good deed – it is a preview of what is to come and a summation of the entire reason our Lord Jesus came into the world, died, and rose from the dead.

He came in forgiveness to conquer death and give life. He came to restore life to that which was dead in sin.

Dear friends, in our busy lives it’s easy to forget this. It’s easy to forget why we are here, why we belong to the Church, why we are listening to this sermon and why we are coming to this rail to partake of Holy Communion. We are mortal. We are dying. We are all terminally ill – whether we are going to die today, next year, or decades from now. Unless the world ends and the Lord returns, we are all going to die.

A hundred years from now – with maybe the exception of the tiniest children in our midst – we will all be dead. Those who come after us will themselves be engaged in the things of this life. Hopefully they will be in this same place listening to a preacher yet unborn reminding them of the Lord’s life-and-death message and their need to pay it heed.

The Christian faith is a matter of life and death.

And sometimes the only time we really reflect on that is at a funeral. When a loved one dies, we are forced out of our routine. We take a day off work, we absent ourselves from school, we miss the football game, we skip the board meeting, we beg out of Girl Scouts and karate and the Legion meeting, we don’t go to the mall or to the movies or to the party we hoped to attend. We may need to put our vacation on hold or otherwise rearrange our already packed schedules.

Funerals invade our time and space and remind us that we too are mortal, that death is no respecter of schedules.

In our Gospel, Jesus showed up at a funeral to remind the world that though our bodies are mortal, we were created to live eternally. Jesus came to a funeral with people burdened by sin and sorrow, and He replaced that burden with a gospel – good news – of forgiveness and hope.

There were few people in ancient times more hopeless than widows. For the most part, they could not take a job. They had no pension plan. They had no Social Security or Medicare. They were forced to rely on their surviving family members or the kindness of strangers merely to survive. And in the case of the widow at Nain, her only son was now also dead.

She was not only mourning her only son, she was looking at a hopeless future.

But Jesus crosses paths with her, has compassion on her, and touches the open coffin upon which her lifeless son lay. And Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God leads the way to a future of hope and life, one that will never end!

The Author of Life speaks the Word of life: “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the “dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”

The son’s life was restored. The mother’s future was restored. The family’s hope was restored. The faith of the entire community was restored. Communion with God was restored.

And this was done at a funeral!

The prophet Elijah did something very similar. The Lord used Elijah to restore life to another widow’s son centuries before our Lord Jesus gave life to the widow’s son at Nain. Elijah, the man of God, heard the woman’s plea: “What have you against me?” she asked, “You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” In fact, Elijah came to plead before God to show compassion on this widow, to restore her son’s life, and to give her hope.

Our Lord Jesus Christ does the same, only He does not have to pray to God to raise the widow’s son. For He is not simply a man of God, but the Man who is God. And He has not come to remember anyone’s sins, but to forgive them. He has come not to cause anyone’s death, but to suffer death in His own body on the cross, to be resurrected to eternal life. And He gives this same renewed life to the mortal and previously hopeless sinful men and woman of every time and place, in a resurrection like His very own.

Dear friends, our Christian faith is indeed a matter of life and death. And everything in this life, and I do mean everything – that seems so important pales in comparison. Is your job important? Next to your faith it doesn’t mean a thing. For jobs come and go. Bosses come and go. But Jesus and His word endure forever, even as He gives us everlasting life.

Is the education of your children important? Next to their faith, their education means nothing. Being good at math and science, getting a good job, and having wealth to show for it will mean absolutely nothing if they lack faith.

What about all those other things that are so very important in our day to day lives, things like our hobbies and sports, our recreation and vacation, even our charitable acts and positions of authority – even positions in the church? All are worthless compared to faith.

For none of these things are eternal. What seems to incredibly important today – whether this person or that person is bothering us, whether we get recognition or win the argument, whether our team wins or whether we get the job we really want – all of these things amout to nothing when we, like the widow of Nain, are looking at a dead child, or a dead father or mother, grandfather or grandmother, or even a friend or acquaintance. Every funeral is yet another opportunity to ponder what is important in life and what it is to die, what is important in this life, and what lies beyond the grave in eternity.

Doctor Luther meditated upon what death means to the unbeliever: “Since they are beyond the pale of faith in Christ, they must either cherish this temporal life as the only thing worthwhile and hate to lose it, or they must expect that after this life they will receive eternal death and the wrath of God in hell and must fear to go there.”

In our own day and age, we also find a different sort of person, one who thinks death is a sweet friend, a natural part of life, and some unknown adventurous border to be crossed that has nothing to do with the wages of sin.

But to us Christians, people who have been touched by the hand of Jesus Christ in the waters of baptism, we who have been commanded “Arise” by His Word, recipients of Christ’s compassion and forgiveness of sins – we see death differently.

We know that death is unnatural, evil, terrible, and not according to God’s plan. We know it is the wages of sin. And we know that we too will have to die. But, dear brothers and sisters, dear fellow victors over the grave in Christ – hear what Doctor Luther exhorts us from beyond his own grave through the written word, preaching on God’s Word, when he says: “We Christians, who have been redeemed from all this by the dear blood of the Son of God, should by faith train and accustom ourselves to despise death and to regard it as a deep, strong, and sweet sleep, to regard the coffin as nothing but paradise and the bosom of our Lord Christ, and the grave as nothing but a soft couch or sofa, which it really is in the sight of God.”

In this light, death is an ugly enemy – but it is a defeated enemy. Death is cruel, but the Lord of Life is compassionate. Death deprives us of our loved ones and of life, but Christ, who loves us, gives us back our life – all through His own death on the cross and His own resurrection from the grave!

This is how St. Paul can tell us “not to lose heart” – not even as Christians suffer. In light of our Lord’s conquest of death and victory over the grave, St. Paul can indeed pray for us to be “strengthened with power through His Spirit” in our inner being.

For we truly know the “love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” – the love that conquers death and raises us to life, that we “may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

In disappointment, in sorrow, in mourning; in sadness, in suffering, in sickness; in conflict, in distress, in bewilderment – let us ever call to mind the compassionate touch and mighty life-giving Word of Jesus to “Arise!” For it echoes throughout the world and in the Word, and it will be repeated to us, resounding with power and might in our own resurrection.

Our Christian faith is a matter of life and death, dear brothers and sisters.

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.

No comments: