Monday, October 7, 2013

17th Sunday of Trinity: Luke 7:11-17

Sept. 15, 2013; 17th Sunday of Trinity, Texts: Psalm 30; I Kings 17:17-24; Ephesians 3:13-21; Luke 7:11-17; Title: The March from Death to Life; Rev. Tim Beck

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

You’ve seen a parade or two.  People line the street and the show goes by. Perhaps you’ve been in a parade or two, maybe marched in the high school band. I remember those days… gathering away from the crowd, marching to the crowd, marching by the crowd, marching away from the crowd and that was it. After all the excitement, it felt funny to just to pack up and go home. Why didn’t the march go somewhere for a glorious end, more than the director shouting “Way to go, everyone take a drink from the water cooler!”
          Jesus is marching. He appeared away from the crowd. He gathered a great crowd. They follow his parade until he turned off to some lonely place outside Jerusalem. But for now, we’re still with the crowd. They are passing a town called Nain where Jesus paused on his purposeful march toward Jerusalem. On the way into Nain, His huge crowd met a small crowd going out. The crown around Jesus is expectant, eager, and with the twinge of excitement a marching band can produce. The other crowd is downcast and dreary as death; for it is death that Jesus meets on his way into Nain, on his way to Jerusalem.  See the widow who lost her only son, which in that culture means she lost almost every thing: her financial support and retirement account.
          Jesus had compassion on her. Who had compassion on her? Notice that the Evangelist Luke identifies Jesus as “the LORD.” He uses a term for the divine name. Jesus is not only man, but God. When we see Jesus we see God, and we see Divine compassion. What else do we see when God is at work?  This isn’t like the parades of this world, like my high school band marching for a convention at the Denver Hilton. We assembled in a hallway outside the grand auditorium. We were going to march through that crowd. But after folks ate, they pushed their chairs away from the tables into the aisles, aisles that were our highway to the stage.  The band stopped at the door, gawked, said, “Now what?” And the director barked, “Go!” We did. With a great blast we marched in, horns blaring, people scrambling out of the way and Mark Atchison, bright and shy, his flute got stuck on a mile-high coiffure. The woman’s wig flew off and dangled from his flute until the exit on the other side of the stage. The world’s march doesn’t stop for an embarrassed woman. 
          But God stops the parade to care for a widow’s need. He barks, “Stop weeping!” Then He halts the funeral bier and touches the pallet of the dead. From that touch (remember the Mosaic Law) what sticks to Jesus is ritual defilement. He now wears the uncleanness of death.  He absorbs that too for us.  Then of all things, Jesus commands the dead man to rise. He commands the dead to rise and he did.  Jesus returns him to his mother, and everyone shouts a great cheer in glee.  Is that what our text said? What? No shout of glee? No joyous parade?  Our text says, “Fear seized them all.”  Jesus’ parade reversed death, and in place of an anti-climatic finish, new life is given. But the reaction is fear! This is amazing. Why fear such a wonder? Why fear God’s unmerited favor, his grace? Why fear this incredibly good, powerfully kind revelation of God in human flesh?
          Since there is nothing wrong with what Jesus did, what is wrong with our human race in that “all were seized with fear?” Fear is of the law, isn’t it? That’s how the law is supposed to work, creating fear so that it drives us to contrition?   You know what it feels like when suddenly you see whirling red and blue lights, hear a siren blast and “Pull over buddy!”  But our fallen race so often responds in reverse to what the law should do and what grace offers.  In the history of God’s people, how often did fear of God bring them to repentance?  And brought out of Egypt by outstretched hand they despised grace. They grumbled about manna and meat, about water and heat, about Moses and          Aaron, about a land that was barren. And after each sin God let them feel the law. The sons of Korah were swallowed whole. Many munching quail died by plague. Fire from heaven ate up others, etc…  So, why did all who left Egypt of military age die in the wilderness, all but Joshua     and Caleb?  
          And us, do we take the law seriously? For example, Scripture says don’t commune unworthily, so do we examine ourselves? Do we review the 10 commandments asking, “How have I offended thee, O Lord?”  Do we reconcile with those we’ve offended, and test if our doctrine is pure, conforming to Scripture?     That’s why we enter this holy place confessing our sins, letting the law do its work, for the law will have its way. For example, Elijah met a widow, who when her son died …she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”  This widow lived in Zarephath, in Phoenicia.  She was an Israelite who had deserted the land of promise for that pagan city. Her son’s death brings into sharp focus her sins. She thinks, “God has come to punish me.”  In her the law did its proper work. However, she was utterly mistaken about God’s intent.  The LORD sent Elijah not to punish, but to give life. After all, it was grace that sought her while she was outside the land of the promise, living among the lost.
          It was grace hidden behind the law that through her son’s death was ready to pour out forgiveness and life. She failed to discern that the purpose of the law is not to destroy, although that is what it does if we refuse to hear it. The law brings us to contrition as preparation for grace, mercy, and peace. After the cry for mercy, we discover that all along God was visiting us with grace. As He prepared the woman of Zarephath and the widow of Nain for joy, He does for you.  Consider what He did for those fearful people at Nain. In Jesus’ glorious parade he has compassion and stops for a solitary widow in her anti-parade.  Surprised by grace, the people finally leave fear and cry, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”
          Now they recognize the work of the LORD.  Who else can end the fear of the law and replace it with life? Who else can reverse the punishment of the law, namely death?   And that was the purpose of Jesus’ parade, not to run over grief, but to absorb our defilement, to bear our griefs, to drink our cup of guilt. At the end of His earthly parade, at that lonely, solitary hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, he drains the community’s poisoned water cooler into himself.  Then unlike all earthly parades that end in a fizzle, the death that greeted Jesus at the end of his march became for us a glorious fountain of living water. Why did the Lord march to the widow of Nain?  For the same reason Elijah visited the widow of Zarephath in the Lord’s name. He came to take away weeping and replace it with a joyful song. He came that we might sing in confidence, “God has visited His people!”  And He has visited, God made man, He whose parade gloriously revealed grace lifted high.  Because Jesus died and rose your deepest fears caused by your darkest sins are conquered.
          Now we pass through, we march through temporal death and into eternal life. Our dying bodies will become everlasting bodies come that Great Day. That is the finale to the parade of faith. Because of His grace, you pass from ache to joy to exclaim, “God has visited    his people.”            He visited you: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised form the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rm. 6:3-5)         
          He visited you: for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:4)
          He visited you: that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:17b-19)     He visits you: “This is my body, this is my blood.”      His grace is given you, so that at the end of your earthly parade your joy will be full. He gave and gives you life.  He forgave all your sins to make you children of the heavenly Father.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Amen)

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