Sunday, June 9, 2013

Jesus Makes Death Give Way To Life

Luke 7:11-17 I am certain that there is not one person sitting here today who likes the idea that one of these days we are all going to die.  The fact of the matter is we find it appalling—and well we should!  The Bible says that death is an enemy.   
God created man and gave us life.  He made man in his image and intended that, like him, we would live forever.  And so our whole being rebels against the idea that we will die because we were made for life.
But sin came into the world through man’s disobedience and along with sin came death and so now all men die.  All!  Death is no respecter of persons.  No matter our skin color.  No matter our socio-economic status.  No matter our gender.  No matter our age.  We will die and so will those we love.
It is here especially—in the death of our loved ones—that the horror of death has its full, terrifying effect on our hearts.  How fervently we pray for God to protect our children!  How devoutly we pray for our loved ones serving in the military.  How earnestly we pray for family members who are ill--that they all would be spared!
That we feel this way about our own mortality- and that we feel this way about our loved ones dying--is not a sign of a lack of faith.  The fact of the matter is:  God feels the same way about death!   Death is such a terrible enemy that his Son Jesus Christ came into this world to do something about it.
Jesus also experienced the terror of death:  the death of loved ones like Lazarus—and his own death on the cross.  But what we see throughout the Gospels is that in the presence of Jesus, death has to give way to life.  The Bible says that: 
Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him.  As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 

            Most of us go for many years experiencing nothing but God’s blessings but then some tragedy strikes and we are reminded that life is a journey through the valley of the shadow of death.  We just see it more clearly when we face a tragedy like the widow of Nain.  That poor woman—long before the death of her son—already knew about heartache:  she lost her husband. 
In these events we are reminded that there will come a day of parting for us and our beloved—when that one who is as close to us as our own flesh is parted from us by death—and we know how painful that will be. 
That is what that poor widow had already gone through—but even then, with that painful loss, she was not finished walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  Her only son died.
To lose a child is the worst pain a human being can endure.  All of us who are parents can imagine what she was going through-- but what not may be immediately apparent to us is what this death meant for her own life as a childless widow.  As heart-broken as she was over the death of her son, somewhere in the back of her mind she was already wondering to herself:  how in the world am I going to live?
That was the burden that weighed upon her as she walked behind her son’s body in that procession of death—until she met the Lord of Life who took that burden upon himself.  The Bible says that:  “…when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her
            This is the first place in his Gospel that St. Luke, as the narrator of these events, addresses Jesus as Lord—the mighty covenant God who has the power and the authority to change even death. 
And not only did Jesus have the power to do so, he was moved with compassion to do so—his heart went out to this poor, sad widow in an obscure town. 
Jesus’ attitude of love and concern for those without much earthly power must have really made an impression on St. Luke, because he tells us again and again in his Gospel that Jesus reaches out to help those who the rest of society regards as having little value-- and we see that same thing here. 
From the world’s perspective, one, poor widow in an obscure town doesn’t matter much—but the Lord counted her worthy of his help.  So too for us.  There is no hardship or difficulty that you are facing right now that is unknown to the Lord or beyond his help.  He cares for you and wants to ease your burdens just like he did that day.
Compassion and power were perfectly joined together in Jesus and that’s what makes such a life-changing difference in the lives of those the Lord touches.  He told the widow “Do not weep.” 
If we didn’t know how all this would turn out—if we were simply part of the crowd that day-- we could appreciate Jesus’ word as simply a kind gesture—but one that was ultimately empty-- because it couldn’t change anything. 
But when the Lord “Do not weep” he means it!   Do not weep-- for there is no reason for tears in the presence of the Giver of life!  The Bible says:
Jesus came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And Jesus said, "Young man, I say to you, arise."  And the dead man sat up and began to speak. 
Life- from- death!  Just- like- that!  And what is even more stunning than the dead man being raised-- is how it was accomplished—simply by a word—spoken by the One who brought all things into being by his Word.
What we see here is that the Lord is not some impersonal force far removed from our lives.  Instead, he is the living Word of God who took upon himself our flesh and was moved by compassion at what we have done to ourselves by our sins to reach out and help.  That day at Nain, in the presence of Jesus—at his word—death gave way to life. 
The funeral scene that we have before us today gets our attention and resonates with us because it is so familiar.  1. We’ve been part of that group of mourners—grieving over a loved one 2. We can identify with that poor mother—wondering what the future holds for us 3. We know that we too will one day be carried to our grave. 
There was absolutely nothing that anyone there that day could have done to change what happened—there were no tears of grief that the mother could have shed which would have brought life back to her dead son.  There was no show of support from the friends powerful enough to change tragedy into triumph.  There was certainly nothing the dead man could do to help himself. 
But Jesus could—and did—and at Jesus’ Word the man was restored to life.
Through this miracle, Jesus wants us to believe that there is now something greater than sorrow and death in this world.  He wants us to recognize that he has entered into our sorrow and death and his life changes everything for us—even death. 
When Jesus touched the stretcher of the dead man that day he should have become ceremonially unclean.  But just the opposite happened—Jesus’ wholeness and cleanness and life came to rest upon the man.  And the Good News for us today is that what he did for that one man—he has done for you and for me. 
Jesus took all of the uncleanness and sin and death that is a part of our lives and carried it to the cross where it was washed away in his shed blood.  Three days later he rose up from the dead, promising us that we too will rise from death.  And that promise that he speaks to us again and again in Word and Sacrament continues to bring life in the midst of death.
Each of us, by nature, is like that dead young man on the stretcher—we are helpless to change anything about our spiritual condition on our own—but when the words of Jesus are spoken to us in Baptism and Preaching and Absolution and Holy Communion--death is transformed into real, abundant life that only God can give--just like he gave that day.  The Bible says that:  Jesus gave him to his mother. 
Too often, we hesitate to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord because we don’t know what the Lord will ask of us and we’re afraid to follow him.  But Jesus tells us that it is the devil who comes to kill and steal and destroy --while Jesus has come to give life—rich abundant life—a full measure pressed down and overflowing. 
That’s what we see here.  The community was given their friend.  The widow was given her son. And the young man was given his life.   And none of their lives would ever be the same.  The Bible says that:
Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and "God has visited his people!"  And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

            The Good News for us today is that God has visited his people in his Son Jesus Christ and in his compassion and power has given us a new life that is just as real and just as life-changing as what occurred that day that day for the widow and her son. 
The dark shadow of sin and death has been driven from our life by the cross and empty tomb.  And Jesus invites us to take our place along side of him, glorifying God by speaking to others his words of hope and faith that give life.  Amen.

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