Trinity 16 – October 5th and 6th, 2019 – Luke 7:11-17
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Let's start by talking a bit about being clean or unclean. Oh, great Pastor – what, did you become my mother – is this going to be a sermon about how it's important to wash behind my ears? See, this is the thing – we hear these terms from the Old Testament – Clean and Unclean – and being 21st Century people we think in terms of sanitation and health. In fact, the standard move for the past 150 years or so has been to read modern ideas of cleanliness back into the bible. “You see, when God set up these cleanliness laws, He was just trying to keep things sanitary.” And there's a point to that, an aspect of truth to that, but it's not the whole picture.
The idea of being unclean has been running through many of our readings this last month. We had the story of the Good Samaritan, and the priest and the levite don't stop to help the half-dead guy, in part because if he actually were already dead, they would be ritually unclean – meaning they wouldn't be able to enter the temple and perform their duties there. Or two weeks ago, with the healing of the 10 Lepers – they were instructed to show themselves to the priests, who would declare them clean and fit to enter back into society and into the temple as well. Did you note how the temple plays part in both of these? Because here's how it worked – the goal, the point, the plan was to be joined together with all the people in the LORD's house, sharing His blessings together – but to be able to enter that holy place safely, to be fit and prepared for holy things – one had to be clean. Or one could be unclean, that is, unfit for God's presence. Sin that was unconfessed would do that – which is why there were the sacrifices, which cleansed the people of their sins. There was disease – which had to be cleansed. Fighting and killing and blood would make one unclean for a time. And what tied up all these unclean things together wasn't merely that they were things that were unsanitary – they really were things that we part and parcel of having to deal with a messy life in a fallen world. They were all times when a person was strongly and harshly impacted by sin.
If you've fallen into some great shame and vice, we get how that's being impacted by sin. But what about the others? Remember why there is disease – not necessarily the specific illness that Aunt Bertha has, but disease in general. It's because we are sinful folks, and our bodies now after the fall break down and don't work right. And that's why there's fighting and war – and even if you are fighting a just war – that's still kicked up by sin. And death itself, touching a dead body was touching the very sign, the wage, the reality of sin thrown upon the world. And if you touched and dealt with sin, you were unclean, and it wasn't safe to be in the presence of the holy God, or on holy ground.
Because sin separates. I'm going to say that again – sin separates. Adam and Eve sin – they are separated from God and each other. Someone does something mean to you, and that relationship you had with them is torn apart a bit. You act the fool, and the respect that people ought to show you is ripped apart a bit. Sin separates and separates and separates some more until it finally separates body and breath. And the Laws of the Old Testament were designed not just to promote sanitation – they weren't just the farm wife saying to her husband, “If you bring those field boots into my house, so help me...” No, over and against our downplaying of sin, these laws were a constant reminder and teaching of the truth that sin causes separation – a separation we can't bridge. This is why the lepers couldn't touch anyone, this is why the priest wouldn't touch a dead body.
Then [Jesus] came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. Now, now do you understand how thunderous an act this is that Jesus does today in our Gospel lesson? For 1500 years every good Jew knew that you didn't just touch a body. It wasn't done willy-nilly. Those who did it – it was a sacrifice, it made them unclean, it cut them off from contact. And there's this funeral, and it's a wretched funeral at that. A widow is burying her son, her only son. She's buried her husband, now her son – and she's probably going to be impoverished for the rest of her life. Utterly tragic. And she's probably the one who has taken care of the body, prepared it for burial – so she's alone and untouchable in the midst of grief and anguish. And so they are going out to the tombs, and there would be four men carrying the bier – the platform, the open casket carried on two long poles – you know the phrase “I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole” - that's what they are carrying this funeral bier with. They are with her – and then a large crowd of mourners. It's a sad story.
And another crowd is approaching the town of Nain as they are leaving – this one lead by Jesus. And you all know what is expected, what polite society would do. If you see a funeral procession coming down the road – you pull over. You take off your hats, gentlemen. You show respect – you don't just amble on, and you honk your horn and giving them thumbs up. But Jesus doesn't pull over. And they cross – Jesus looks at the widow and says, “Do not weep.” You don't tell people not to cry at a funeral. Jesus knows that – even Jesus cries at funerals. You only say that if you are Jesus and You're figuring to put and end to the funeral.
And He walks on over – hand on the bier – blowing apart 1500 years of custom, “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.” Did you see it – did you see it through Old Testament eyes? It's not just a healing, it's not just even a resurrection – sin separates. Sin breaks things apart – and when we get caught up in sin we get separated from each other and from the ones that we love and even from ourselves to where we can look in the mirror and not know who we are anymore.
And then comes Jesus. True God and True Man, bound together. The true Temple and the True Priest. The One who is David's Son and David's LORD. And what sin had torn asunder, He joins together. The spirit left the body – not any more. See, the boy is talking again. Mother had lost her son – not any more. Go see your mother, boy. The separation that is brought by sin and death, the separation that was the underpinning and shape of all of the Old Testament Laws and rituals – well, now the Messiah is here, and He's going to undo the separation of sin, and put things back together.
Of course, it wasn't just that easy for Jesus. The time would come where an only Son would have to die. Come Good Friday, Jesus Himself would be the one to die. And while His mother looked on – When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, 'Woman, behold your son.' Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. Take care of her John. Even in the separation of sin and death, there's Jesus – putting things together. And then when He dies – listen: He said, “It is finished,” and bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.” Breath and body torn apart – but what happens in reality? It is finished, it is completed, it is put together again the way it should be – because Christ's death defeated and destroyed sin and death. All sin, ever, atoned for, All death, ever – now destined to be undone, because Christ is raised from the dead. Because Jesus came to charge right on in to the midst of the separation caused by sin and death and to stop it in its tracks, and to put things back together.
And this is what He does to you in His Church. This is why He has had you baptized, this is why He forgives your sins. First, to restore you yourself, to make you whole, to shake you loose of the sin and dreck that clings to you and tries to ensnare you. But more than just that. You have been washed clean by Christ, and now you are His holy instruments that He uses to bring and spread and give His blessings and His love and His holiness to the people He places in your life. He has you show love and care in the simple jobs and tasks that you do – and in this Jesus Christ works goodness and healing in our homes and communities. He has you show mercy and forgiveness, and through you He binds up the wounds that sin and Satan unleash upon the world. He lives in you and He lives through you and thus He makes other people to live as well – live now and also live eternally.
Sometimes we preachers can act as though the sum total of a Christian's witness to the world is getting people to come to church – butts in the pews as it were. And that's a good thing – invite your friends to church. But that's not the fullness of what goes on in your life. Your life in Christ this week is more than just this hour here – and this is a grand and wondrous hour, no doubt – but Tuesday morning you are a holy Christian doing holy things and loving and serving your neighbor and caring for them to. As you go about your life this week, you bring the love, the joy, the goodness of Christ Jesus and His gifts to the people in your life. And note, I didn't say “you can do this” or “you need to do this”. No – this is what God does through you. Period. Because that's what Jesus does. And sometimes we might see it more – it's probably good that often we don't in the moment because we are still sinful people and if we start thinking about how great we are we can easily slide into being arrogant jerks again – and maybe by increased discipline we can keep our egos in check better – but know that Christ Jesus your LORD works in you and through to accomplish His good for the people in your life – and that is a mighty, holy, wondrous thing. As the catechism says, where there is forgiveness there is salvation and LIFE. The life that Christ gives to you, He uses to give life to others. Let us then receive, and be made ready to give. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +