Trinity 16 – October 9th, 2011 – Luke 7:11-17
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +
It’s almost like one of those old-time Westerns. The man come wandering into town, comes across the damsel in distress, rescues her, and then just wanders off into the sunset, off on his way to help out other people elsewhere. Our Gospel is indeed most interesting, isn’t it? It’s a feel good Gospel, it makes us smile, but sometimes we can overlook some of the things that make our Gospel really interesting. Let’s slow on down, not rush to the sunset and closing credits, and take a few moments and see what is happening in our Gospel this morning.
“Soon afterward He went to a town called Nain, and His Disciples and a great crowd went with Him.” Right away we need to ask a question. Soon after what? In the verses just before this, Luke recounts Jesus’ encounter with the Roman Centurion. You know the story – the Centurion comes to Jesus and begs Him to heal his servant. Jesus agrees to go, and the Centurion says, “You don’t need to go, simply speak and my servant will be healed.” And it is so. And this causes quite the stir. We see the results of that here. Jesus wanders off towards this little town called Nain, but now there’s a crowd following Him. Something interesting is going on, so everyone ups and follows after this Man Jesus to see what wonder He is going to do next.
“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.” That’s a horrible fate for this woman. When my grandmother was widowed while my dad was still a schoolboy back in the 60s. . . she could get a job. Worked at a Fire Extinguisher company in Toledo, Ohio. There were no fire extinguishers back in Jesus’ day. No Public Schools needing teachers. No hospitals with nurses. No Social Security either. If you didn’t have a family, a guy in your family to support you, you were in trouble. This woman in our text wasn’t just leaving town to bury her son, but to bury her own life. She had no means of support. There would be no work for her, and she would be reduced to basically one of two things: begging or whoring. That was it. No starting over, no hope for this woman.
And she, like Jesus has a crowd following her. These are two very different crowds, aren’t they? Following Jesus you have those wanting a show, expecting fireworks and grand events. Following the widow you have mourners, those who see nothing but death – the death of this man that has already happened, and the slow, sure, lingering death which this woman’s life had become. There was sympathy now for her loss, but soon, this woman would be nothing but a burden on the town, or even worse a scandal, an occasion for the town to talk and gossip, wonder what sins she did that brought around this terrible fate.
“And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion upon her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” Did you note what is so beautiful about this verse, what stands out in radiant colors both beautiful and mind-boggling. The woman doesn’t ask anything of Jesus. She doesn’t fall before Him and beg His mercy. Luke doesn’t even say anything about her even noticing Jesus until He speaks to her. Rather, we simply see Jesus walk on up and get involved. That’s the first comfort of this Gospel lesson. God gets involved in our lives. Now generally, we don’t like to get involved in other people’s lives, at least not in a real way. Actually helping out another, actually showing love, showing compassion, well, that’s hard work. It’s rough to bear another’s burdens, especially if you do it right, especially if it is done quietly without anyone knowing the better, with no echoes of people saying how great you are, with no praise to cheer you on. No, to honestly have compassion and help our neighbor, there’s nothing that we humans in our sinfulness despise more. Oh, we’ll talk about the sorrows of another person’s life and be entertained by them. If it’s a noble and seemly cause, we’ll donate time and money, especially if other people are doing it – we must keep up appearance, don’t you know? But simply showing love without any thought of what you will get in return, any thought of how this will affect your reputation, your standing in society – well, we just don’t do that all too often.
But Jesus does. Jesus simply has love and compassion upon this woman, Jesus acts for her benefit out of love and mercy towards her. He’s not going to get anything out of this. Well, what do you mean Pastor, all these people will witness what He does? Yes, and now there will be hassles and complaints – no one will be content with learning the teachings of Jesus – the focus will all be on trying to get Him to do something that’s even more amazing. The people will turn Jesus into a side show – a mere wonderworker or sideshow pony. It’s the same way Jesus gets treated today, as a money box, a simple source of blessing. Thanks a lot Jesus for my stuff, just You keep it coming, and maybe I’ll see you next week. No, Jesus doesn’t benefit from what He’s about to do. Here we simply see another example of Jesus’ completely selfless love which He gives out freely. This is the same love that He shows us. When Christ Jesus comes to us, when He enters our lives, when He forgives us our sin, it’s not because of what we do. It’s not because deep down we are decent people, because we aren’t. It’s not because of all the thanks and glory we will give Him. Jesus is our Savior because that’s who He is, He is the One who sees those in need, who sees us in our need, and has compassion upon us. And do you see why this is so wonderful, so comforting? God’s love for you doesn’t rely upon your actions, your strength, so you don’t have to worry or fear that suddenly Jesus isn’t going to like you anymore – that if you step wrongly around Him He will turn His back on you. His love is something He gives freely because of who He is. This same Jesus who comes up to this woman in our text unasked for and unexpected is the same Jesus who comes into your life and gives you His life and His strength simply because it’s His good pleasure to do so. It’s all about Jesus, this place, everything that goes on here, and because it’s about Jesus and who He is, we know Jesus isn’t going to abandon us, isn’t going to stop coming into our lives. Here, in these verses we see Jesus, we see Him show this woman the same love He shows us, free and undeserved, and that is a wonderful comfort.
“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.” I would hope, dear friends, that what happens here doesn’t seem strange to you. That this episode, this scene wouldn’t be in the least bit confusing. Jesus raises the man back to life. Jesus restores Him. Of course this is what Jesus does, this is what He always does. You, like this man, are a child of the Resurrection, you are those who have been given new life by Christ Jesus our Lord. He is always raising the dead. Here on earth, we see this new life brought forth in the life of Faith. At your Baptism Christ Jesus called you out of the death of sin to walk in His Light, to share His love. There at the font He joined you to Himself, gave you His own life, gave you His righteousness to prepare you for the all the days of your life, your life of service here on earth. Just as Jesus gave this man back to his mother, to care for her, Jesus has given you to your family, your friends, your neighbors, to love and care for them. Living your life as a Christian is nothing other than living the new life Christ gave you at your baptism, and growing in the faith is nothing more than ever more delighting in Christ’s forgiveness and then showing forth His love. That’s why God would see your faith strengthened by His Word, by His Supper – that knowing the fullness of the life that Christ has given you, you would rejoice as His life spills out over and through you into your neighbor’s life. The life we lead here now on Earth as Christians, as Christ’s own chosen people is a miracle as great as the one we see in the text.
But we also recognize that this miracle in this text, this young man being raised from the dead, this too is our fate. That’s where we are going. Unless Jesus comes back first, every one of us here is going to have a funeral procession of our own, each one of us is going to meet death head on. Simple fact, simple truth. Death takes on us all. Some of us see that truth pretty clearly now as we feel the aches of our bones – some of us are still all too often foolish, take life as a matter of course – probably that young man from the text did too, yet death came for him. But while we should know that death is coming, we should also always remember that from death we have not a thing to fear. Death is done for. Upon the Cross Death tangled with Jesus, took on the Son of God, and on the morning of Easter Sunday death was defeated, destroyed, and conquered. Sure, death might be coming for us, but it’s lost its teeth, it’s lost its sting. We see the resurrection. We know what comes after death – Christ Jesus our Lord has looked upon us with compassion, and after our time on this earth full of sin is done, He will raise us unto the life of the world to come, give unto us New Heavens and a New Earth – because that is simply who He is. God is the Lord of Life, who sets things right, who goes to any length for those who He has compassion on. And we see in this Gospel lesson our future resurrection, where we will be raised not just like this young man, but raised like Christ Jesus our Lord, living to die no more, living eternally with Jesus in the presence of the Father.
Dear friends in Christ, is not our Gospel lesson beautiful? In it we see simply an example of Christ’s freely given love – a reminder and foreshadowing of how He comes into our lives and simply gives blessings without our having to ask, how He fills us up with life, true life during our days on Earth and also for all eternity. This is the life that He has called us to, this is the life He gave us in Baptism, this is the life that is ours always and forever, so that we with all boldness can join with Christ’s saints of every day and every place and say, “I look forward to the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.