Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (June 14, 2015)

LUKE 7:11-17
JESUS CONFRONTS 
AND OVERCOMES DEATH.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The only way in or out of the city of Nain was through a gate.  Otherwise, the city was surrounded by a wall which protected them from any would-be attackers.  But no wall could keep death out of the city.  A funeral procession made its way out of the gate.  A woman in it had made this sad journey before.  She had already buried her husband; today, it was her only son.  She was not only devastated, she was also now destitute.  Death had swept away her family.  The citizens of Nain wept with her and for her, but they did not have any answers for her.  They would offer sympathy, but they could offer no solutions.
     On the way into Nain was another procession—this one led by the Lord of Life.  A large crowd accompanied Jesus because he had performed deeds of mercy and had words of consolation.  Jesus had healed the sick and the dying.  In last week's Gospel, Jesus had healed a man at the point of death.  But the young man being carried out of Nain was way beyond sick or dying.  He was already dead.  The two processions, bottle-necked by the narrow gate at Nain, met—one led by the dead, the other led by Life.
     It is a custom in our day to pay respect to a funeral procession.  Drivers yield as the deceased is driven to his final resting place.  Of course, selfishness can get the better of you when this happens.  If you are like me, you can become irked by this custom.  I want to get my errands done as fast as possible, but then I find myself bothered that I must be inconvenienced because someone else has died.  But if we must wait for a funeral procession to pass by, let’s put that moment to better use and pray for the widow and the children or whoever is now without their loved one.  Who knows what pain and grief and inconvenience those people now face?
     Jesus did not step to the side out of respect for the deceased.  Rather, the two processions confronted each other.  When the Lord saw (the mother), he had compassion on her. (Luke 7:13)  This translation understates it.  I don’t know if there is a good way for the English language to convey the Lord’s compassion for this woman.  The idea is that his guts were ripped up and churning in mercy for her.  Jesus knew the bitterness that death brings into the world and the pain people endure when death invades one’s home.  Jesus had presumably seen his earthly father, Joseph, carried out to his grave by this time.  He was not immune to sorrow.  He was not unfazed by death.
     When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her. (Luke 7:13)  Jesus’ guts ached for this woman in her grief.  There is no way you can pretty up death.  That is because it is the consequence and curse of sin.  Sin has cut us off from God.  Death cuts us off from our loved ones.  The grave cuts us off from life.  Death clings to you, and there is nothing you can do about it.  Just like the crowd from Nain, you can only offer sympathy.  You have no solution.  You can’t fix the death of a loved one.  You cannot escape your own.  The wages of sin is death, so the only way to escape death is to be free from sin.  And yet, you aren't.  You go on sinning.  You continue to be self-absorbed—unconcerned about the pain and the struggles of others, but perturbed when others do not give you recognition and sympathy for your own pain and struggles.  Your curse is earned.  Your death is deserved.  God should have no sympathy for you.  Repent.
     God should have no sympathy for you; and yet, he does.  When Jesus came to Nain and saw the grieving widow and her dead son, his guts churned with compassion for her.  Jesus confronted and overcame death.  The Lord … had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. (Luke 7:13-14)  Jesus touched the coffin.  According to Levitical Law, this would have made him unclean.  That which demonstrated man’s corruption, such as leprosy or death, made a man unclean when he came into contact with it.  But Jesus did not hesitate.  In the sight of the crowds, he went up to the coffin and touched it.  Rather than becoming unclean by rubbing against corruption, Jesus cleansed that which was corrupt.  Jesus confronted and overcame death.  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 7:15-16)  Death and Life confronted each other, and Jesus, who is the Life, overcame death.
     As amazing as Jesus’ miracle is, you may be left feeling a little empty hearing about it.  After all, we still make funeral processions to grave sites.  Our world still knows widows and widowers, grieving children and heart-broken parents.  Jesus may have gotten a widow in Nain to stop crying, but our tears still flow.  The grave still seems to have the upper hand.  Death still marks us and mocks us.
     Fear not, dear Christians.  Your Lord has not forgotten you.  His guts still churn for you in mercy.  Jesus confronted and overcame death for you.  He became man to suffer what all mankind deserves.  Remember that sin is the cause and the curse of death.  So Jesus has taken your sins from you.  In his body, he bore your sin and the curse and consequences of it.  Jesus confronted and overcame death.  A procession left the gates of Jerusalem led by the Lord of Life who went out to put and end to death once and for all. He confronted death for you willingly.  He did not avoid the cross.  His flesh was pierced for you.  His blood flowed for you.  Death received its full wages when Jesus died for you.  His body was laid in a grave to sanctify the grave for you.  But on the third day, he rose from the grave.  Death swallowed Jesus' body, but the belly of the earth could not keep its prey down.  That’s because the belly of your Savior churned in mercy for your salvation.  Your flesh and blood Savior has risen to show you that your flesh and blood will, too, rise from the grave.  Your body will never again know sickness, disease, weakness, or death.  Heaven knows no funerals or mourners, cemeteries or hospitals, pain or sorrows.  For Jesus is risen.  Death is done.  And Jjesus gives you everlasting life.
     Jesus raised the young man from Nain by touching him.  He personally confronted death and personally applied his life-giving touch to the young man from Nain.  It is much the same today.  Jesus touches you and personally applies to you the forgiveness of your sins and the deliverance from death and hell.  He has attached his word to the waters of baptism to make baptism more than merely symbolic.  When the sacred water was poured out on you, the Lord Jesus touched you and made you his own.  He took away your sins.  He made you a new creation, a saint.  Death no longer marks you for you are the Lord’s.  You will still go to a grave, but that is because these bodies are still corrupt.  They still get sick, weak, and fragile.  They will break down and give out.  The Lord, however, has in store for you a body which is incorruptible and immortal.  The grave may hold you, but it does not own you.  Jesus does.  For Jesus has confronted and overcome death, and you are the spoils.
     Jesus has confronted and overcome death.  The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. (Luke 7:16)  And so it is with you.  Jesus has delivered you from sin and death and has made you alive.  Your Lord has entrusted you to your mother, the Church, to discipline, sustain, comfort, and encourage you for the rest of your life.
     To do this, Jesus has attached his word to the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.  Here again, Jesus touches you personally.  Here, you get to receive the body and blood that has overcome death and the grave.  Here, you receive the medicine of immortality.  Here is your salvation, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins, for eternal life.  The feast of heaven is here already.  Death has been confronted.  The grave is overcome.  And now you and all the Church follow Jesus in the procession that will enter heaven.

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

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