Trinity 16 – Luke 7:11-17 – September 19th, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
So what is the point of the Christian Church? What’s the reason we here at Zion exist – what are we all about? When it boils down to it, what makes this place different from the rest of the world, what makes us stand out from every other social organization, every philosophy, every aid organization on the planet? Our text today. Our text today, Jesus raising the Widow’s Son, shows clearly and precisely what this Church is about, what we are focused on, why we exist. If you want to understand what it is to be a Christian, you ought to look and learn and understand this text. So let us look.
“Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd went with Him.” First off, this verse is the very description of what the Church is. There you have Jesus – He is the center and focus. And who is with Him? The disciples, the ones He is training to be Apostles, training to be pastors. Who else – the great crowds, the hearers, the laity. That’s the Church. The classic idea of what a Church was had nothing to do with property or constitutions – it was simply this. Do you have someone preaching Christ, and do you have people hearing the preaching of Christ? And what do we in the Church today do? Whether you’ve been charged with teaching and preaching Christ as I have, or whether you’re one of the listeners of the crowd, either way, we follow Christ – we go where He goes, we study His Word and listen to Him.
But why do we listen to Christ? What are we hoping to hear, what are we hoping to see our Lord do? You’ll get a lot of different answers – especially if you watch the TV commercials for Churches, if you look at the billboards. Some places offer acceptance and welcome – which is good, or at least can be good, I suppose. There are some things we aren’t supposed to accept because they are bad for us, please don’t accept poison this week, physical or spiritual poison, but acceptance is something that these places offer. Some places offer fun and excitement – again, not necessarily a bad thing. But sometimes fun isn’t all its cracked up to be, and sometimes we get more excitement than we want. And of course, sometimes you hear that you ought to go to a specific Church because it is the big, important church, the rich church, the one where you can meet the best people, make the best connections. Again, networking isn’t bad. . . it just isn’t the point. Nor are the groups and programs a parish can offer – good things, but not the point. No, if you want to know why the Church follows Christ, listen.
“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.” As Jesus and the Church approach Nain, what do they see? A funeral procession. Death. A man lying cold and unbreathing upon a funeral bier. A mother burying her only son. A mother who is going to be condemned to a lifetime of begging because her son was the person who took care of her, the only one left in her life. It’s a horrible scene, a tragedy, a horror. There are fewer things that they could have come across that would have been more sad, more pity-inspiring than this. Not only is there death, but even then the normal order of things in this fallen world is reversed – the parent buries the child – it’s backwards.
This funeral procession is the picture of sin. Do you want to know what sin is – what sin means, what your sin means? Look at this funeral procession. Your sin turns everything upside down. You were created to live loving your neighbor, yet you sin, and you hate, you harm, you hurt, you ignore your neighbor. Instead of being a blessing to them, you curse and swear at them when they annoy you. You curse them with your words, with your thoughts, with what you do and what you leave undone. Utterly backwards from what God had created His world to be. And sin unleashes havoc and chaos upon creation, and nothing holds together. God had created man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. . . now things are backwards because of sin. Of course they are – sin turns everything on its head. Now, the breath of life leaves our bodies, and then they fall apart into dust again. Sin turns everything upside down. And please understand – I’m not simply talking about “big” sins. Get rid of any sort of comparison, any sort of “well, I’m not perfect, but so and so is really bad.” You know what that’s like? That’s like saying, “Well, my cousin had a 50 megaton nuclear bomb explode at her house. . . the bomb that is going to explode at my house is a only a 1 megaton bomb, I’m so much better off.” It makes no difference to you – sin is sin is sin. It kills you, destroys you, turns your life inside out, and the only question is how many people get hurt in the blast radius. Don’t let Satan trick you into minimizing the impact of sin – the wages of sin is death.
“And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” Think how bold our Lord is here. Walks up to a woman at a funeral who doesn’t know Him from Adam and says to her, “Do not weep.” Of all the people there, she would have the reason to weep! Her life is in shambles. But Jesus can walk up to her and say, “Do not weep,” because He has compassion upon her. Now then – this is what the Church is looking for. This is why we follow Jesus. Because He has compassion upon those whose lives are in shambles. So, what about your life? Everything going perfectly well? And don’t think in terms of “Oh, how are you – oh, I’m fine, what about you”. How about it? See any shambles in your life lately? If not it’s simply because you’ve got your head in the sand. We in the Church are honest about the problems we face in life – and while programs and networking might alleviate some of the problems – they don’t fix them. While fun can help us forget our troubles, while acceptance can help us pretend they don’t exist – they don’t fix them. But here we see Jesus, and He has compassion, and because He has compassion, He is bound to help – and He, He is the one who can fix things, fix things for this shattered family in Nain, fix things for us gathered around Him in the Church.
“Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said, ‘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 does the unthinkable. He gets in the way of death. He walks up and touches the bier – and again, for a moment, think like a 1st Century Jew. To touch the bier, the open-air casket, was the height of uncleanliness. You basically wouldn’t be able to hang out around anyone for a few days after this. You didn’t do it – if you were a good Jew, you didn’t mess with dead bodies. And yet Jesus just strides on up – touches this man’s bier – speaks a Word of life to him, and this young man rises. And that’s what the Church wanted, needed to see. Christ Jesus raises this man to life.
You realize that this miracle, this raising of this one specific son, points forward to the greater miracle, do you not? Our Lord Jesus Christ isn’t astonishing in that He merely touches caskets – but when He wants to stop death, stop the funeral procession of the entire world in its tracks, He does so fully and completely. He goes to the Cross – and by dying there it is as though He tackles death, drives death to the ground as He is carried Himself on His own bier to His own tomb. The crucifixion is like the biggest, most violent hit you’ve ever seen in a football game – Christ Jesus takes death on and drives it down into the ground with His own death. And then, on the third day, on Easter Morning – Christ stands up, and Death remains defeated and broken, lying in the dust, never more to arise.
This, dear friends, is what the Church is. This is why we exist, why we are gathered here this morning instead of sleeping in our beds or hanging out reading the paper. Because we know our own sin, and we know that this sin turns everything upset down, and we know that our sin brings death. But we are gathered here around Christ Jesus, who was crucified so that He might take on death for you, that He might slay and defeat death for you, and who rises to life victorious for you. This is what the Church offers. Life. And not just a better life now, not just the trappings of wealth – that’s not life. Your life isn’t your stuff, your job, your brief span here in this fallen world – you were created to live eternally. Adam was made to live forever. . . and sin, his sin, our sin, would thwart that, would ruin that. But Christ Jesus steps in, and He dies to defeat death, and He rises to life to give you life. Because Jesus is raised from the dead, you will live forever. Everyone, every man, woman, and child on this planet, that ever has been or ever will be will be raised on the last day – some to paradise, some to judgment. And the wondrous thing is that Christ has called you to follow Him, to be gathered around His Word, to be joined to Him by Baptism, to be strengthened and kept a part of His Body by receiving His own Body and Blood in the Supper – and why? So that your life everlasting will be with Him, in the joys of the new heavens and the new earth – so that you will be with Him forever more. So that you will always have life, and have life in abundance – a glimpse, a taste of it now, but forever in fullness with Christ, at His side in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
This, dear friends, is why we are here. We are those who are gathered around Christ Jesus, and we are focused on the life that He gives to us with His death and resurrection. He has forgiven your sins, shed His blood for you and risen from the dead for you, and He brings you with Him to the joys of eternal life. Here in His Church, we look at Christ, we receive His gifts of His Word and His most precious and Holy Body and Blood, and because of this, we confess with the Church of all time – I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. This is yours in Christ. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +