Sunday, September 23, 2012

Trinity 16 Sermon

16th Sunday after Trinity – September 23rd, 2012 – Luke 7:11-17

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          “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 was with her.”  Today’s sermon isn’t going to pull any punches.  Today we are going to pull the curtain back on life in this fallen world, we are going to wipe off the makeup and see what we really looks like.  Why?  Because in our text, in our Gospel lesson, the rubber meets the road.  This text is what Christ’s life is about, what this Church is about.  It is about life versus sin and death.

          Consider what our Lord sees when He approaches the town of Nain.  He sees death.  Unvarnished death and tragedy.  He sees a man who has died.  There’s death. He sees a widow wrapped in pain and sorrow – that’s death as well.  The death of joy, the death of blessings that He Himself had given to her.  The husband that Jesus had given her – gone.  What God has joined together, let not man put asunder – well, death has sundered them.  The son, the child that God had given her – Jesus sees that child snatched away by death.  When he sees the crowd, what does Jesus see?  He sees death.  He sees people who have lost a friend, a neighbor.  He sees people mourning, forced to confront the reality that they too are going to die, that someday it’s going to be them carried out of that city on the funeral bier.
          And in this situation, we see death clearly.  But here is the thing.  Death is always around us.  One of the old funeral hymns of the Church begins with the line “In the midst of life, we are in death.”  We don’t know it here, so we don’t sing it, but it’s printed up in my book that I use when I do the burial service – it’s words I see every time I bury someone.  And it speaks to a truth that we often avoid.  In this world, we are surrounded by death.  At all times.  The wages of sin is death.  We’ll try to cover it up, to pretend it isn’t there, but sin is death, sin always leads to death.  Think on our culture – how much goes on trying to deny death, pretend it isn’t there.  How much do we spend on diets or make-up.  Buy this cream and the wrinkles will go away, guys can take this pill and suddenly they’ll have the body of someone half their age.  Our popular music glorifies youth, when we tried to pretend that we would live forever.  All just trying to hide death.  Or think of all the drugs, the alcohol, even the legal drugs or prescription ones – all trying to mask, to hide the pain that keeps creeping in.  We need more medical coverage… because death continues its relentless crawl after us.  Or even in our own personal lives – the sin we see there – that’s death.  Our greed takes the blessings God has given us and kills them, turns them to ashes, and we are not satisfied.  Lust slays the blessings of family.  Anger and hatred and envy slay friendship, even slays families.  And all the niceities, all the self-righteous backslapping and makeup doesn’t fix it.

Well, boy Pastor, you’re kind of dour.  Remind us not to eat whatever you had for dinner last night.  No, I just want you to think for a moment, think on this life, this world.  You see, when God looks upon this world, when Jesus is running around in the Gospel lessons and comes across the sick, the lame, the Pharisees grasping on to their own righteousness, He sees death.  He sees the Fall, His perfect world torn asunder by pain and violence, and mankind doing it’s best to pretend that there’s nothing wrong, hiding from Him, trying to cover up everything with a fig leaf and pretend everything is normal and a-ok.  And if you remember this, that this is what Jesus sees, the Gospels make much more sense.  Jesus sees death, so of course He weeps over Jerusalem as He rides in on Palm Sunday – “And when He drew near and saw the city, He wept over it, saying ‘Would that you, even you had known on this day the things that make for peace.’”  Of course Jesus will turn over the money changers’ tables in the temple, as His house of prayer is turned to a den of robbers and death.  There’s a reason He doesn’t beat around the bush, there’s a reason Jesus doesn’t mollycoddle sin.  There’s a reason He has to heal the sick, the suffering, there’s a reason He has to cast out demons.  Because He sees death all around, death messing with His world, and He can’t put up with it.

“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 was with her.”  Death again.  Death open and obvious so that even we who like to live in denial, who like to pretend that everything is alright, situation normal, even we see it.  And what does Christ do?  “And when He saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”  Profound.  Christ Jesus, He who Himself weeps over Jerusalem, who weeps over the death of His friend Lazarus walks up to this woman, this woman in the obvious grasp of death, and He says do not weep.  Why would He say that?  When He sees death, even He weeps.  He has compassion – His own guts are wrenched… that’s literally the Greek for compassion, to have your guts wrenched.  Why would He tell her not to weep?  Very simple – Jesus has put up with all the death He can stand, and the Lord of Life is going to fix things.

“And then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.”  This is actually the most shocking part of the text.  A good Jewish Man wouldn’t touch the bier, the coffin.  It made you ritually unclean.  You don’t touch a dead body – and there is Jesus, this stranger, just walking up and touching the dead man’s bier, physically with His own Body walking up and stopping the procession of death in its tracks.  And then, “And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, ARISE.”  And it’s not just “arise” – it’s be GENESISed… be re-created.  I, Christ Jesus am the Word of God, I am the One by Whom all things were made, and I say to you young man, BE MADE AGAIN.  Enough of this sin, enough of this death, enough even of this Genesis chapter 3 stuff, we are going back to chapter 1 – let this young man be, be alive as I had created Him to be.  And when God speaks, what He says happens.  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”  Recreation, restoration, sin and death toppled, right then and there.

This is why we hear, “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us,’ and ‘God has visited His people!’”  This is something divine.  This is God at work – this is a God thing, this is a God fixing His creation thing, and it is wondrous and amazing and amazing.  This is God taking on death for us.  But you know, my dear friends, that this is just one of the opening skirmishes of Christ’s assault on death. No, when our Lord looks upon this world, He had seen death.  And He was not going to be content with raising a few people here and there, curing a handful over three years.  No – if Jesus is going to stop death, by Himself He is going to STOP DEATH for good.  And so He does that which is unthinkable, that which those so used to covering up death, to ignoring death, would never have expected, indeed, cannot understand.  He goes Physically into death with His own Body.  He will not just touch this young man’s funeral bier – He will take one Himself.  He will go to the Cross, and there He will face down death for all of us, even as the mockers stare on and mock in stupidity.  “He saved others,” they mock, “but He cannot save Himself.”  Blind and caught in death, do you not see that with His death Christ Jesus is destroying death, destroying even your death.  Christ Jesus goes to the cross and He dies, He swallows up everything that death is – and then, He rises.  The third day comes, and the Lord of Life steps out of the grave and says, “That’s it death… you’re finished.  Kaput.  That’s all you wrote.  As I Myself have risen, so too will every man, woman, and child that you have ever gotten your hooks into.”  It’s what we confess in the Creed – and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.  Ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down, or your body down, or anybody’s body down – for Christ is risen.

Yes, you still live in a fallen world.  Yes, even in this life now you are in the midst of death – that reality is all around you to see.  But your Lord Christ Jesus does not leave you to sin and death.  When you were born into this world of death, Christ Jesus took you, claimed you as His own in the waters of Baptism, said, “You are mine, you are with me, you are forgiven, and not only will you live because I live, but your sins are forgiven and you will be with Me for all eternity.”  And as we live out our lives in this world, as we face the struggles of life in this world – as our own sinful flesh wars against the new man that dwells within us, Christ Jesus comes to us in His Word and says, “You are forgiven, for I have died and risen for you, and there is nothing that will bind you to death.  You are mine.”  He sees your struggles, and He calls you to His table and says, “the food and drink of this world only support you for a time – let Me give you True Food, True Drink, Food and Drink that will forgive you and make you ready for the never-ending feast in the life of the world to come – take and eat, this is My Body, take and Drink, this is My Blood that is shed for you,  My Blood that has already faced down death once – and it will face it down again for you and with you every moment of your time in this world.”

          There is a battle going on around us, all the time.  Sin and death creep along, waging their war against God’s creation, against you, seeking your corruption and downfall.  But while they try to pull the wool over our eyes, while they try to coax us into denial and hatred and sin and vice – Christ your Lord sees.  He sees death trying to do it’s worst, and He does what He always does – He jumps full bodied into death’s path, and He smacks death around and sends it to flight.  Thus we sing, “My dearest friend, I now commend, my soul into Your keeping; from sin and hell and death as well, by You the Vict’ry reaping.”  This is what Christ Jesus did upon the Cross, this is what He does and brings to you by His Word – He stops your death, and He gives you life, life that endures well beyond this world, all thanks and glory be to our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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