Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sermon: Trinity 16 – 2012

23 September 2012 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.

Most of our lives are spent in a kind of routine.  We go to work during the week.  Many of the tasks are repetitive.  We raise children, telling them to clean their rooms over and over.  We look forward to the weekend, to our sports and hobbies and things we like to do.  We follow a set pattern, a liturgy, if you will, tracking through the year, football season, Christmas, Mardi Gras, Easter, and summer vacations, and then we do it all over again.

We have our ups and downs, with a few surprises thrown in.  And some of the surprises really knock us for a loop and take us out of our routine.  We often call such things: “matters of life and death.”

When we have a close shave with something dangerous: perhaps a car wreck, or a near miss, maybe a visit to the emergency room, or even an extended stay in the hospital.  Such a matter of life and death may involve us, a loved one, a friend, coworker, or a relative.  Maybe something happens to a stranger just a little too close to home.  We think about our own mortality, the reality that there will come a certain day, though we know not when, when we will draw our final breath on this side of eternity.

In those moments of life and death, our priorities shift in a hurry.  The things that were so important fall way down the scale.  Things like our anxiety over money, over jobs, over our houses and cars, over what schools our children will be attending – all become of secondary importance.  Our hobbies and entertainments that consume so much of our time and money and attention suddenly fade to the background.  Our grudges and hostilities too take a back seat to the matter of life and death.

You might say that the Christian faith is a matter of life and death – though many people treat it as a hobby.  It is something that gets our time and attention when there isn’t something else more important to attend to: be it work or school or sports or a social activity.  When we are confronted with a life and death matter, the real life and death nature of the Christian faith jumps out at us again.  Then we renew our prayer life, our fellowship with the saints, our confession and absolution, and our communion with the Lord in the Eucharist.  This is the very embodiment of the faith itself.

God created Adam and Eve and breathed life, perfect life, eternal life into their bodies.  He placed them in a perfect world in a perfect existence.  But sin brought death and destruction to that “shattered bliss of Eden.”  The first man and woman, our first parents, knew the sadness of the matter of life and death, of being expelled from the garden and losing that perfect communion with God.  They knew the heartache of having their one son murder the other.  And they would experience their own decline of health and death.

The children of Israel experienced life and death throughout their history.  The prophets called the people to repent of the way that leads to death, imploring them to choose life. 

The prophet Elijah was confronted with death – a terribly tragic death, the passing of a widow’s only son.  The mother gave birth, gave life, to this son.  And because of sin, she experienced a tragic matter of life and death.  The prophet prayed to the God of Life and Death for His help and His aid.

And this, dear friends, is where God gives us a surprise we did not expect nor could predict.  For this is most certainly a matter of life and death.  But it is also a matter of something else, a divine twist on the plot, a joyful ending to what was a tragedy: a resurrection.

Life, death, resurrection.

There is the entire Bible summed up in three words.  There is the history of mankind expressed in three words.  There is the Word of God boiled down to three words.  Indeed, here is the account of Jesus Christ in three words.

Life, death, resurrection.

Mankind was created and given life.  Mankind sinned and died.  Mankind has been redeemed and will live again.  Our Lord Jesus Christ was “incarnate… of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”  He was crucified, died, and buried.  “The third day He rose again from the dead.”

Life, death, resurrection.  Creation, redemption, sanctification.  Father, Son, Holy Spirit. 

Our Lord shows us that our matters of life and death do not end with death.  Our Lord demonstrates resurrection to us even before His own universe-altering resurrection.  And like the prophet Elijah, the Lord Jesus Christ turns a widow’s tragedy into a triumph.  The young man’s once-living and now-lifeless body lay on an open coffin, carried by bearers on their way to the tomb.  He was “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow” – a small preview of our Lord Himself, “the only Son of His mother, and she was a widow.”  The Lord is moved by compassion for this mother, even as His own dear mother would experience the tragedy, the matter of life and death, of watching her only begotten Son die before her eyes, as the sword pierced her own heart.

The Lord says to the widow: “do not weep” – for he knows that this is not a sad day for her, but a day of unspeakable joy.  She doesn’t realize it yet, however, as she only knows that this is a matter of “life and death.  But Act Three of this drama is about to turn a tragedy into a comedy, a somber day into a day of joy and gladness, a death into a restored life.

“Young man, I say to you, arise.”

Life, death, resurrection.

“And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 

“God has visited His people!”

Life, death, resurrection.

This is not just the account of a widow and her son of 2,000 years ago.  It is also the account of a virgin who gave birth to a Son 2,000 years ago.  It is also the account of all of us, born into life, condemned to a fallen world of sin and death, baptized into a resurrection to new life, a life in Christ, a life that overcomes death, a life that has no end.

Dear friends, we will have matters of life and death.  We don’t know when they will be or what shape they will take.  But the Lord is here for you here and now.  And it is a matter of life, death, and resurrection.  The very body born of Mary, that died on the cross, that rose from the tomb, that very body comes to us truly, miraculously, and bearing the certain promise and the sure gift of life – for He is the Bread of Life. 

And the blessing we speak over the bodies of the saints awaiting burial is appropriate for us here and now: “May God the Father, who created this body; may God the + Son, who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep [you] to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.”  Amen.

The Christian faith is truly a matter of “life and death – and resurrection.”

“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.”

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

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