Sunday, June 9, 2013

Pentecost 3, 2013

Sermon on Luke 7:11-17
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
June 9, 2013 (Third Sunday after Pentecost)

This morning’s text is the story of a battle.  It is the story of the battle between death and life.  The funeral procession, a group of people mourning the death of a loved one, a group whose very existence is a witness to the power of death in this world, meets another group of people, a group of people led by the Lord of Life.  The results of this head-on collision between death and life is that life wins the victory over death.  But this battle isn’t the end of the story.  In what happens here we see a foreshadow of the greater battle that would take place on Skull Hill outside Jerusalem, a battle that would also result in death being swallowed up by the victory of the Lord of Life.  And that later and greater battle is the one that has eternal importance, not just for one person, but for all of us in this world.

At the head of the funeral procession is a woman who provides us with the classic picture of the effect of sin and death on humanity.  This woman had been affected by death perhaps as much as any human being can be without actually dying.  Her only family had been taken from her one by one, first her husband, and now her only son.  She has no one left to her, and because of the social structure of those days this meant that not only would she be lonely, she would find it very difficult to provide for herself.  But we should not think that she was a worse sinner than any other woman.  Rather we should see ourselves in her place.  We have all seen the power of sin and death rather graphically these past couple of weeks with the news from New Orleans, but we all know it in our own lives as well. Whether or not death has touched our families recently, we are all subject to all kinds of frustrations, hurts, and other problems of life.  Whether it is financial difficulties, poor health, alienation from some other person in our family or neighborhood or church, marital difficulties, or any other problem, we too have been touched by death’s shadow, for all these things result from the corruption of sin in the world, sin that will finally result in death for each of us.

But coming from the opposite direction is another group of people, Jesus and His disciples.  The two groups met in front of the narrow gate of the city.  A funeral procession, which is a graphic illustration of the power of death in our world, encounters a group of the disciples of  the Lord of Life, a group led by the Son of God Himself.  Death and life meet here, and there is a battle between them in front of the city gate at Nain.  This battle foreshadows that great battle our Lord of life fought against death on Good Friday.  Even as it was outside the gates of Jerusalem on top of Skull Hill, so it is outside the gates of Nain: death is swallowed up in victory, life is given in place of death.

The first thing we notice about this battle is what our Lord feels when he sees the woman.  He had compassion on her.  To Jesus, this was no stranger, whose problems were none of His business; this was one of His creatures, an individual who was near and dear to His Father and to Himself.  Jesus shows His compassion for her and urges her to stop crying, for He will make everything right.  God does not treat us as we so often treat each other.  He does not remain separated from His creatures’ problems and hurts, rather He cares more deeply for us and our pains and sorrows than any of us can ever imagine.  We can see this clearly in the way the Son of God Himself took an interest in the sorrow and the grief of this ordinary, poor widow from a small, backwater Galilean town.

As we look at the compassion our Lord showed on this occasion, we think ahead to the larger battle which would take place on Good Friday.  Why would the Lord of all creation, the God who has infinite knowledge and power, want to take on human flesh and humble Himself to become a lowly servant, even to the point of a gruesome, humiliating death on the cross?  The only explanation is that we have a God who loves His creatures so much that He is willing to suffer even this greatest pain and humiliation so that we can be saved from it.  In Jesus’ humble birth, lowly life, and innocent suffering and death, we see just how much our God cares for and loves us, and to what lengths He is willing to go to restore us to His fellowship.

The second thing we notice in our text is how our Lord puts his power where His mouth is, so to speak.  He not only has the desire to comfort the woman, to help her out in her pain and sorrow, but He actually has the ability to do so.  Immediately after telling the woman not to cry, he goes over to the coffin and tells the boy, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”  And the boy gets up!  The Lord of Life here demonstrates His power over life and death, giving back life to the boy.  Soul and body are reunited, and the boy is restored to his mother.  The separations caused by sin have been healed by the power of the Lord of Life.

Again this event, this victory over death, foreshadows the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  On the cross, Christ won the victory over sin and death.  He proclaimed that victory by rising again on Easter Sunday.  By overcoming the sin which separated us from God, Christ overcame all the effects of sin, too, especially the separation of soul and body which we call death.  He suffered so that we need not suffer, and He rose again so that we might also rise again.

Jesus has compassion on sinners trapped in a world full of death, a world corrupted by sin.  He has the power, as the Lord of Life, as God Himself, to win the victory over our sin and our death and give to us eternal life.  His compassion and His power do not stop there, though.  His mercy is what causes Him to come to us even to day to help us.  Since we are trapped from our birth in this world of sin and death, we cannot possibly hold on to His mercy and His victorious power on our own.  So He comes to us, to give us the faith which holds on to Him, to strengthen and renew us in that faith.  By Word and Sacrament His mercy and His power are shown and given to each of us personally.  Christ comes to us in Holy Baptism to join us to His death and resurrection.  The same thing happens in us as our own baptisms are daily renewed through God’s Word.  He comes with the Holy Spirit through the Word to strengthen and to teach us of what He has done for us.  He comes to us in the very body and blood which were given into death in order to win the victory over death; when we receive that body once sacrificed and that blood once shed, we receive the victory which was won by that sacrifice.  Every Sunday is a miniature celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection.  Even as He proclaimed His victory to the world by rising again that first Easter Sunday, so He now on this day proclaims and applies that victory to each of us personally in the Word and Sacraments.

In overcoming the sin that separates us from God, Christ also overcame the other separations that result from sin.  We have talked about how He overcame the separation of soul and body which is called death.  He also overcomes the other separations which result from sin and lead up to death.  The separations between persons that make neighbors into strangers, that make husband and wife into enemies rather than the closest of friends, that make co-workers into adversaries rather than comrades, that generally make our life so miserable, are also overcome.  No longer are we strangers to each other who do not care about one another’s hurts and problems.  Instead, now through us our Lord does the same thing he did when he comforted the widow in our Gospel lesson.  We have once again been given the ability and the desire to help our neighbors in their needs, to comfort them in the sorrows and problems of life, to overcome the walls of sin and hurt that separate us from each other.  Christ broke down the barrier of sin that kept us from God.  In so doing, he also broke the barriers caused by sin that keep us from loving and caring for one another.  Through Christ our relationships with our neighbors are also restored.  We ourselves have become new creatures in Christ who now live together as God intended us to.  And, just as the witnesses to the miracle at Nain, we also confess to the world, “God has come to help His people.”  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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