Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 7:11-17

                                                                                    Trinity 16
                                                                                    Lk 7:11-17

            In Genesis chapter one we are told, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  Only man, created as male and female, was made in the image of God.  This immediately has important implications as God blesses them and says, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
            Created in the image of God, man is not like all the other creatures.  We were created to be God’s representatives in the midst of creation. On the one hand, because of this, we were given dominion over creation.  And on the other hand, Adam was given the vocation to work the Garden of Eden and keep it.
            God told Adam in chapter two, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  God provided everything to Adam and Eve, yet held one tree back.  This one tree was the means by which Adam and Eve kept the First Commandment.  It was the means by which they showed that God was God and they were his creatures. They were his most exalted creatures – created in his own image. But they were still creatures and not God.   
            However, tempted by the devil, Adam and Eve disobeyed God. In chapter three they sinned as they ate of that one tree. The Fall occurred.  After learning about the first sin in chapter three, next we hear about the first murder in chapter four. Sin does indeed bring death as Cain kills Abel. 
            And then the first verse of chapter five states: “This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.”  We are provided with a list of Adam’s descendants that begins in Adam’s son Seth.  Yet in describing Seth, Genesis five states that Adam “fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image.”
            Adam was created in the image of God. Fallen Adam now fathers a son in his own image. In the Fall the image of God had been lost and the remainder of the chapter drives home what this means as it lists the descendants of Adam with the refrain “and he died … and he died … and he died … and he died.”  Just as God had warned Adam, sin brought death.
            We see this result in our Gospel lesson this morning.  Luke begins by telling us, “Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him.”  As they drew near to the gate of the town, they encountered a funeral party that was leaving the city for a burial.  Luke tells us that it was a man who had died.  He was the only son of his mother, and she was already a widow.  Her husband had previously died. Now, her son had died, leaving her with no one to support her.  It was a terrible tragedy, and surely this was part of the reason that a considerable crowd from the town was with her.
            Under similar circumstances, the same thing would happen today.  When an obviously tragic death occurs, there will be a great turnout wherever the visitation takes place. There will be a large crowd at the funeral service.  People make the effort to be present in this way because we sense the tragedy and seek to show care and support.
            Yet there is also a difference.  You see, we don’t really think that death is going to occur.  Sure, we recognize that the elderly die, but we don’t really think that anyone else will, and we are surprised and even shocked when they do.
            We live at a time of incredible advances in medicine. New and ever better medications control harmful conditions, and allow us to live normal lives. Surgery is done on a person’s heart without ever opening their chest, and they go home.  Babies born prematurely are kept alive in the NICU and surgery is even done on these tiny patients to preserve their lives.
            These are all tremendous blessings, and having known them, I certainly wouldn’t want to be without them.  Yet they are just one set of factors that has removed death from our consciousness.  For example, you are not worried that there will be a famine.  Instead, you are worried about eating too much because you will gain weight.  You are not worried about war devastating the place you live.  Our circumstances mean that death is the exception, not the rule.
            However, this has come at a spiritual price.  When death was an ever present reality, Christians were constantly reminded about sin.  After all, Paul told the Romans that, “The wages of sin is death.”  Because death was always present, it forced people to consider the spiritual reality of their own sin.  Death and God’s judgment never seemed far away.  Most of you don’t really think that you could die any time soon.  I don’t either.  But thinking in this way causes us to ignore what our sin – and Jesus Christ - really mean for us.
            Death was a reality that the woman in our text could not avoid.  Her husband had died.  Now her only son had died. Yet as she went out of the city to bury him, she met Jesus Christ.  Luke tells us that when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”
            Then Jesus came up and touched the bier, as the bearers stood still. This itself was shocking, because according to Leviticus, such an action would make a person ritually unclean. Yet instead of being contaminated by death, our Lord overcame it. He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise. Then the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 
            We may not contemplate death very often.  It may not be present around us in the ways that were constantly true for millennia. But the wages of sin are still death.  Sooner or later we will face it in the death of love ones and friends.  Sooner or later we will have to face our own death. And so we need the good news that is found in our Gospel lesson this morning.
            The crowd saw the miracle Jesus had performed – how he had raised the woman’s son from the dead.  Luke says that, “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited his people!’” They were right to see in Jesus’ miracle that he was a prophet.  As we saw in our Old Testament lesson today, the prophet Elijah had performed a similar miracle when he raised from the dead the son of another widow.
            And they were right that God had visited his people.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zachariah had said at the naming of John the Baptist, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.”  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, Jesus was God’s saving visitation.
            Luke wants us to know that Jesus Christ was God’s great end time prophet.  But here’s the thing about prophets in the Old Testament.  They usually suffered because of their work.  They were often rejected. And sometimes they died because of God’s word that they proclaimed.
            Jesus came as God’s final great prophet in order to suffer and die. As Jesus was about to begin his last trip to Jerusalem he told his disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  The wages of sin is death.  Jesus had no sin. There was no need for him to die. But it was the Father’s will that he should die for you. And so on Good Friday he died for your sins.  He died to win you forgiveness.
            In our Old Testament lesson today, Elijah raises the widow’s son from the dead. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus raises another widow’s son from the dead.  Though returned to life, both would eventually die and stay dead.  They would because they were sinners, and the wages of sin is death.
            On the third day, God’s Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. But this resurrection was different. This was the resurrection of the One who can never die again. Jesus Christ had not cheated death.  He defeated it.  And the Spirit who raised him continues to give us a share in that victory.
            Jesus had compassion on the woman in our text.  He showed that he was the saving visitation of God as he reached out and touched the funeral bier and raised her son from the dead.  Our Lord’s saving visitation continues in our day as well.  Through Holy Baptism you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Because God’s Word was added to water, according Christ’s institution and command, baptism washed away your sins. That water poured on your head – on your body – provides the guarantee that your body will share in Jesus’ resurrection on the Last Day. Through this sacrament Christ’s saving visitation has touched you.  You have received salvation now.  You have received life now.
            We have those things now.  And because Jesus Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven we have hope as we look for his final visitation. We look for the Last Day when our Lord will return in glory.  We look for the day when we will share in Jesus’ own resurrection – when we will receive a body that can never die again. As Paul told the Philippians, “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
            The sin of the Fall brought death.  God’s visitation in Jesus Christ has defeated sin and death.  His continuing visitation through the Means of Grace keeps you as his own. The living hope of our Lord’s resurrection will carry us to the day of our own resurrection, when sin and death will be no more.

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