Sunday, September 27, 2009

Today's Sermon

Trinity 16 – Luke 7:11-17, September 27th, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
If you’ve noticed the Gospel lessons we’ve had this month, it seems like things just keep getting worse in them. Three weeks ago, we had the parable of the Good Samaritan – of a man being beaten and robbed. Ew. That’s not good. Then it gets worse. Two weeks ago, the 10 lepers. Long lasting sickness and illness and being cut off from society. Even worse. And then last week, Christ tells us not to worry about what we will eat, what we will wear. That points out another possibility in this world – starvation and poverty. Eeehh. Each week it seems as though the problems in the text have gotten worse, have gotten more and more beyond our control. Each week we’ve seen another thing Satan can throw at us, to make us fearful, to make us afraid - and yet, each week, Christ our Lord has confronted them and defeated them, each week Christ has shown that He is the one who provides for us and protects us. And then we reach today. There’s one last card Satan can play, one thing that he thinks is his ace in the hole – and we see Satan toss that card out at Christ today.

Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd went with Him. As He drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. There you have Christ, and not just Christ – but His disciples, and also a great crowd. People have heard, people have seen, and people are following. They are eager, excited, overawed in wonder. And Satan tries once more to shake things up. Christ’s crowd runs into another crowd, a crowd full of mourners. A crowd gathered around a weeping and wailing mother, a woman who cries because her son is dead. It’s as though Satan throws down the gauntlet to Christ – “Fix that, Jesus! All your talk of loving your neighbor – seems pointless now, doesn’t it! All your talk of healing – well, didn’t do this fellow much good, now did it? Worry not what you will eat or wear – this woman is left alone, she has no job, no income, no support – she’s wearing the black of mourning now, and she’ll be starving in week. Take that Jesus!”

That’s what we see when our text shows us these two crowds. We see Satan’s final challenge to Christ – the challenge of death. It is as though Satan was proclaiming, “You created these people, Jesus, well guess what – they all die, the grave is where they end up in the end.” And let us be honest – this threat of Satan rings hauntingly true to our ears – it’s something we try not to think about. We try to brush it out of our minds. We even get a little uncomfortable if we think about the old, classic hymns too much – Like A Mighty Fortress – And take they our life. . . eww. Or the old prayer, if I should die before I wake. . . eww. And this is especially true for us as Americans. Watch TV. Our ads are all about looking younger, doing all the things you could do when you were younger. We say that the prime of life is when you are a teen, carefree and no responsibilities – we’re at our best, says society, before we are even done growing. We’ll even refer to over half our expected life span as simply being over the hill. Aging and death scares the willikers out of people in this country – why do you think we are passionate over health care – it touches upon a topic none of us like to think about, and if we think about it, we will get riled up. This fear, this angst, this worry – this is what Satan wants. He wants us scared to death of death, he wants death to intimidate us. He tried to intimidate Christ with it even, there standing outside the town of Nain.

But you do know what is going to happen, right? You know what our Lord will do? Is Christ going to let Satan’s challenge go unfought? Is Christ going to let Satan’s fearmongering take the day? By no means. That’s just not who Christ is. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion upon her and said, “Do not weep.” There is so much to this simple verse that is utterly amazing. First, consider this – the Lord sees her and has compassion. God sees, and God is moved to act out of His own love that He has towards this woman. Jesus isn’t being cold and calculating here, He’s not thinking about what this woman is going to give back to Him, He’s not worried about whether or not she’ll try really hard to be nice the rest of her life. There are no strings, no conditions, nothing is placed upon her as a burden. Scripture doesn’t say that this gal was a wonderful gal – she could have been the meanest, nastiest old hag in the town – we don’t know. It doesn’t matter – what matters is that Christ has compassion upon her, and so He acts. This is about who Jesus is.

Likewise, dear friends, Christ Jesus has compassion upon you because that is who He is – the God who has compassion. Christ’s love for you has nothing to do with what you’ve done, what you’ve promised to do, nothing to do with how great or how lousy you are, nothing to do with what Christ is going get back from you. See, that’s the problem when we hear about love – we’re sinful folk in the world, we expect love to be a “I’ll take care of you, but you had better be taking care of me the way I want you to or there will be hell to pay.” We think, “I’ll wash your back, but you had better be standing wash cloth in hand, ready to wash mine.” We treat love like it’s a loan, where we only give it out if we know we are going to get it back and with interest. But that’s not what Christ’s love is – it is freely given. No strings. No burdens. No hoops. Simply freely given because that is who Christ is. He is the one who has compassion – who cannot stand to see His creation that He loves burdened with death. Even showing love to sinners, even sinners as wretched as you and I. And so He acts.

Jesus walks up to this woman and says something profound to her. Do not weep. Must have sounded like the craziest words ever spoken. Don’t weep – ha! Death is a time of mourning – of course there ought to be weeping. And our Lord knows that – He Himself weeps at Lazarus’ death – but what He is really saying is that the time of weeping, the time for this woman to have a reason to cry, is drawing to a close. Then, He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. That’s another thing that Jesus does that is astonishing. He touched bier, the thing they were carrying the corpse on. You didn’t do that in Jesus day – it made you ritually unclean. We consider it an honor to be a pallbearer today – it wasn’t in Jesus’ day. It was something no one wanted to do – and then Jesus walks up and touches the bier. And then He says, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Jesus walks up to death and He undoes it. No, Satan, not today, you will not have your way on this day.

So, what does this mean? What do we see, what we do learn from this? Is our only hope that Jesus will walk up on the day of our funeral? One of the saddest stories I’ve heard is from a pastor who went the funeral of a, I think it was a firefighter, some public servant, who had died, and it was at some fly-by night Church, and the man’s widow got up in the middle of the service and fell on the casket and prayed because she was convinced that God would raise her husband right then and there if she just prayed enough, prayed right. And it didn’t happen. And she was devastated and crushed. And what we need to remember when we hear Gospel lessons like this is that they are merely Christ’s temporary fixes – this young man in our text, Jarius’ daughter, Lazarus – all temporary fixes, just for a time. No, the real wonder is how Christ truly and permanently fixes death. Christ doesn’t just try to stop funerals – He has one of His own. He sees that we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and so He walks there as well. Christ’s solution is the Cross – where He Himself tastes death, and swallows it up whole in Himself – and rises again on the third day. Your hope isn’t in the fact that this widow’s son was raised on that day, but that our Lord Christ Jesus Himself, though He has died, has risen again, and that He has said you shall as well. It is as Paul teaches in Romans – But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is His love to you, that He would have you be with Him for all eternity. Because of His love He not only died and rose for you, but He has called you by His Word, which shows you all that He has done for you, shown you His Cross and His empty tomb, so that you might receive from Him the free gift of faith, the free gift of forgiveness, the free promise of salvation and eternal life. All this He gives to you simply out of His great love for you, out of His compassion for you.

So, do you see what this means – how you can use this truth of Christ’s love and forgiveness in your own life? Satan will continue to try to make you worry, to make you fearful, even to bring you pain and suffering. In the face of it all, whatever trial it is, remember your Lord and Savior Christ Jesus, who suffered all for you, who rose for you, who has promised you eternity with Him in heaven. He knows what you face during the days of your life, He has promised to be by your side, to give you His Spirit, the Comfortor, to support and give you strength in the face of these trials, and He has promised to bring you to heaven at their conclusion – and all out of His true and perfect love for you. Nothing Satan can throw at you, nothing this world can throw at you, can change the fact that Christ loves you, that He has called you to be His own, that He has washed you in the waters of Holy Baptism and made you part of His Body. He has made you share in His victory – and for this we give Him great thanks. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Ghost+

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