Sunday, November 10, 2013

Trinity 24 Sermon

Trinity 24 – November 10th, 2013 – Matthew 9:18-26

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit +
          “While He was saying these things…”    Alright, what things?  This is one of those examples where we really ought to back up a little bit before our reading and figure out what’s happened before our text.  Jesus is talking with disciples of John the Baptist, and those disciples of John have a complaint.  They say, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?”  What’s going on Jesus – why aren’t You and Your disciples toeing the hoity-toity good religious folk line?  And Jesus responds to them – Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?  I am here now, there is no fasting – let the fasting wait until when you all are waiting for the second coming.  Don’t put unshrunk cloth on something old as a patch, because it will rip – you don’t mix the old and the new.  These are the things Jesus is saying.  And then what happens?

          “While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before Him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.’”  This is a weak translation here – it’s not just that the ruler came and knelt – it’s the word for worship, for getting down on the ground and praying.  And this is important – we see a contrast here.  You have the disciples of John (and even the Pharisees) who approach Jesus with a bit of disdain.  He’s not what they expect – how come you don’t do things the way that we would have you do them, Jesus?  And then you have this ruler, and his approach to Christ is different.  He approaches in faith.  He worships Jesus – He doesn’t grouse about Him but declares Christ’s Glory.  Think about what he just said.  “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.”  You are more powerful than Death, Jesus.  You have the ability to raise the Dead.  You are God, You are worthy of worship and praise, You make the dead to live.  It’s a fantastic confession – it’s part of the Creed that we confess every week in this Church. 

          And then note what Jesus does.  “And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples.”  This about this – the disciples of John are asking questions – answer us, Jesus.  Explain this to us… but when there is death to be confronted, Jesus just stands up and goes.  Sorry, disciples of John, sorry grousers, I have business to be about.  No time for follow-ups, no time for more explanation – it’s time to go.  A greater priority is here.  And Jesus’ disciples follow Him – but note, it says nothing of John’s disciples.  There are John’s disciples, and they see Jesus stand up to go and raise the dead… and they don’t follow.  This raising the dead stuff isn’t what we want, we want pious living stuff!  And they miss it.

          But other follow, others have faith and see the importance of healing.  “And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for 12 years came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His garment, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch His garment, I will be made well.’”  Again, here we see an approach of one in faith.  I need healing from Christ – I don’t even need to bother Him to get it, I’m not worthy of demanding His time, His response, I will just come to Him, touch his clothing, and things will be all right.  There’s some humility and faith there – and Jesus notes it.  “Jesus turned, and seeing her He said, ‘Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.’”  No, you aren’t unimportant to me, daughter.  No, I’m not too busy to talk to you or care for you.  You don’t have to sneak up or anything like that.  I see you, you are mine, and I care for you.  Jesus takes care of it.  Simple, matter of fact.  There it is. 

          Of course, as Jesus goes on, not everyone views Him with faith.  “And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, He said, ‘Go away, the girl is not dead but sleeping.’  And they laughed at Him.”  And now back to the faithless, the dismissive.  So there they are, the mourners, the wailers, doing all their loud mourning.  And then something so strange – when Jesus tells the that this girl will live – they laugh.  Think about that – how strange that would have been – to see the crying folks pause their mourning to laugh and mock at Christ.  Not to look at Him with pity or disdain, “Oh, this poor, misguided fool thinks she’s just asleep.”  No.  Laughter.  Disdain.  They hear Christ speak the truth, speak to what God does – and then there’s just rank disbelief, disdain, and laughter.

          It doesn’t stop Jesus.  “But when the crowd had been put aside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.  And the report of this went through all that district.”  It’s nice that you laugh, but I’m still going to raise this girl, and look at that, there she is.  Raised from the dead.  Jesus comes to her, she rises, and that is that – all the disbelief or disdain in the world can’t stop Christ.

          So then, what do we see in our Gospel Lesson today?  What we see is a great contrast between the faithful and the unfaithful, the believing and the disbelieving.  And we get this at the End of the Church Year – where we tend to focus more on the fact that Christ Jesus will return, that He will raise all the dead.  I look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world, Amen.  And the faithful – that is what their focus is.  The Ruler knows that Jesus raises the dead.  The woman knows that Jesus heals.  That’s just the way it is.  But John’s Disciples and the Mourners, they demonstrate two avenues of disbelief that we need to be wary of.

          Let’s take these mourners first.  They hear that Christ is coming to raise this dead girl, that He is going to show her to be alive.  And they laugh.  That’s just not how things happen.  We know the way the story goes, you are born, you live a bit, and you die, that’s it, end of story.  This is emblematic of the typical thought of the world, the typical mockery we in the Church will get from the world out there.  Oh, you silly little Christians with your silly little stories, you all are so stupid.  That sort of mockery still happens today.  But note this – it doesn’t stop Jesus.  Jesus isn’t intimidated by the laughter and derision, He doesn’t pull back.  No, He has come to raise the dead, and by George He is going to do it.  That’s just how it is.  This is what we need to remember.  We hear the promises of God, and we believe.  It doesn’t matter what the world thinks, what the scoffers think.  They don’t control God – you don’t get to ignore God out of existence.  He shall come again with glory.  That’s what the Word of God teaches, that’s what we believe.

          But the other group, the disciples of John – in many ways they are emblematic of a more subtle danger for us in the Church.  The disciples of John aren’t gross pagans, aren’t open disbelievers.  They aren’t laughing at God openly or anything like that.  In fact, to all appearances they are nice and pious religious folks – why they even fast.  See what good, holy people they are.  But here’s the problem.  Christ comes to raise the dead.  Just before this, Jesus calls Matthew to be a disciple and says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”  This is what Jesus is all about – coming to sinners, coming to those under the bondage of death – and He will forgive them and raise them.  That’s the whole point of what Jesus does – that’s why He is born, that is why He teaches – it’s all driving at and focused at going to the Cross and suffering and dying and rising Himself for the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body.

          And to John’s disciples… well… that wasn’t that interesting.  Oh, you are going to raise a dead gal, but what about our question about fasting?  What about the things that *we* do to show how good *we* are?  Why are you following off after this ruler – he probably takes bribes and is corrupt – why aren’t you praising us, Jesus, for how great we are?  And this can be the danger that comes up in the Church today, as well.  This forgiveness, this life of the world to come stuff – that’s not what we want.  Tell us rules for holy living!  Tell us ways to show the world that we are better than those other people!  Tell us how to earn your blessing – as though a blessing is something earned in the first place (the woman in the text could have told them how off that is).

          So why don’t the ruler and the woman think like these groups?  Why aren’t they dismissive, why aren’t they looking for something else.  Because they see and know their problems.  The Ruler – he’s not worried about what other people think of him – he’s got a dead daughter.  That’s a bigger problem.  The woman, she’s not worried about looking holy, she’s sick and it’s nasty.  There’s no playing pretend, there’s no ignoring the elephant in the room for these two – we are in trouble, and we need Jesus.

          This is the reason why in the church we hear so often about sin and death – about our sin, about our death.  I don’t bring these things up because I’m mean, or because I’m dour, or because I want to pick on you.  Rather this.  The disciples of John were sinners, but they didn’t want to think about that, and so they miss Christ.  The mocking mourners – they too were going to die, but they didn’t want to think about that, and so they miss Christ.  They don’t see the need for Him, they brush Him off.  But believe what the Scriptures say about you – that you are a sinner, that as long as you live in this world you will struggle with sin, and indeed, that your life will one day come to an end in this world because the wages of sin is death.  This is truth.  But it is also true that Christ Jesus would not stand to lose you forever – when it’s time to confront death, He stops what He’s doing and goes to beat down death.  He will not be distant from you, but He will care for you as His own daughter, as His own son, as His beloved Bride.  Christ Jesus comes to save sinners, He comes to save you.  Let nothing distract you from this truth.

          Because the day is coming, friends, when our Lord will return with the cry of an archangel and the trumpet blast, and we will see these things, we will be raised, we will partake in the life of the world to come.  He has suffered and died and risen – and though you suffer now in this world and from the temptations of sin, though you even should – yet because of Him, you too will rise.  This is our hope and faith, and Christ will save us.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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