Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sermon -- 16th Sunday after Trinity (October 5, 2014)

LUKE 7:11-17

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus raised a young man from the dead, and the crowds were amazed.  They glorified God, saying, … “God has visited his people!” (Luke 7:16)  Their choice of words was most fitting.  The word “visited” is only used a handful of times about God’s dealing with his people, mainly in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  Every time it is used, it is because God is acting to work out salvation for his people.  God visited Sarah so that she conceived and gave birth to Isaac (Genesis 12:1).  That son of Abraham, of course, would be the ancestor of the greater son of Abraham by whom all peoples would be blessed.  Just before he died, Joseph promised that God would visit his people in Egypt and deliver them to the Promised Land (Genesis 50:24).  After Israel endured brutality and slavery for centuries, God fulfilled his promise.  He called Moses to deliver Israel out of Egypt.  And when the people heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.” (Exodus 4:31) 
     In a small town called Nain, God visited his people again.  It was not to an aged woman who had no son because she was barren.  It was to a widowed woman who had no son because he had died.  It was not to a group of people who were being brutally enslaved by a tyrant.  It was to a group of people who were being tyrannized by death.  The crowd from Nain was carrying out a young man to his grave.  But each one knew that one day he or she would be the deceased.  Each one would be carried out to his or her own grave by family and friends.  Every funeral is a cruel reminder that we all have a death to face.  Every funeral brings anguish as we see what death does to the people who are still alive.
     A parade of death was leaving Nain, and the most pitiful character in this scene is not even the young man who died in his prime.  It is the widowed mother.  Her life had been deeply affected by death.  It is likely that she had made this procession behind her father and her mother, behind her father-in-law and her mother-in-law.  Being a widow, she had made this walk behind her husband.  And now she was going to lay her only son to rest. 
     She should not have been surprised at the death of her parents, her husband, or her son.  After all, everyone dies.  That is no surprise.  But death never comes at a convenient time.  She was not ready to bid farewell to her parents.  Even though you may not have lived at home for decades, there is something reassuring and comforting in knowing that mom and dad are still there.  Death destroys that familiar comfort.  She was not ready to bury her husband.  Who knows what plans they had made after the hard years of raising a son?  Death destroyed those plans.  Death robbed her of her future.  And then she lost her son.  That he died was not a surprise.  That he died so young was a surprise.  This was the son who was supposed to take care of her in her old age years.  This was the son who was supposed to keep life from getting too lonely.  But death brought not only sorrow, it brought solitude and loss of support.  Death is a horrible, wretched thing—whether you are facing your own death, or you are grieving the death of a loved one.
     On the way out of Nain was a procession of death.  On the way into Nain was a procession led by the Lord of life.  When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” (Luke 7:13)  The word translated “compassion” means that Jesus ached in his guts over her.  In the very pit of his stomach, Jesus grieved for this widow because she grieved at the death of her son.  God had come to visit his people, and that means that God had compassion and had come with salvation.
     Jesus’ compassion was not limited to a word of sympathy.  Jesus’ compassion resulted in a word which commanded death to give way.  Jesus stopped the funeral procession and grabbed hold of the coffin.  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. (Luke 7:15)  Jesus rebuked death and restored life to this young man.  He also restored the joy of his widowed mother.  Jesus put an end to death and grief, bringing instead life and joy.  God has visited his people with salvation.
     Of course, this is not what happens at Christian funerals.  No matter how heart-rending or devastating the death of a Christian is, Jesus does not stop the funeral and bring the person back to life.  But let’s recognize that even though this young man from Nain was raised and given back to his mother, he ended up dying later anyway.  For that reason, Jesus gives us more than word to put off a funeral for a few years.  Jesus puts an end to death altogether.  God visits his people with salvation.
     By his death, Jesus has put an end to death.  Just as Jesus took your sins and the sins of the world, so Jesus has swallowed up death for all people.  No one has to face the grave with fear.  No one has to live with a terrified conscience.  No one has to think of life as a meaningless journey to nothingness.  Jesus let death grab hold of him so that he could, in turn, grab hold of it and squeeze the life out of it.  Jesus did this by his resurrection from the grave.  On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead.  He left the grave empty and powerless.  Therefore, death has to obey him, just as it obeyed his command at Nain “Young man, I say to you, arise.” (Luke 7:14)  At Jesus’ command, the grave will have to forfeit you.  At Jesus’ summoning, you will not receive another mere year or a measly decade or a paltry century.  You will be raised up to everlasting life.
     God has visited his people with salvation.  Jesus’ resurrection is the reason your faith is well-founded that you shall also rise from the grave to live forever.  It is no pipe dream or wishful thought.  This man overcame death for all mankind.  Likewise, your hope for your loved ones who have died in the faith is well-founded too.  They are not heirs of eternal life because you love them.  They are heirs of eternal life because Jesus has had compassion upon them.  Jesus has marked us in Holy Baptism and has made us children of the resurrection.  On that day, Jesus will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.  Death will be done.  Sin will be gone.  There will be no more funeral processions, or bitter separation, or crying, or loss.  For God has visited his people with salvation.  Jesus has grabbed death away from you and has taken hold of you for eternal life.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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