18 September 2010

Homily for Trinity 16 (2010)

[1 Kings 17:17-24 / Ephesians 3:13-21 / Luke 7:11-17]

My dear friend, racquetball buddy, and former parishioner, Charlie Grinstead always loved this Sunday.  He used to call it “a little Easter in the fall” – what with all the resurrection running around in it. 

Put yourself for a second into the place of either widow’s only son.  There you are, dead, and suddenly your eyes flutter, your breath catches in your throat, and you’re talking.  Alive again!  And when you heard the story of how the God of Israel answered the prophet’s prayer to raise you to life, or how the Lord Jesus simply commanded the dead to hear and live again, and you did, well, wouldn’t it change forever HOW you thought about death?

The world would have us believe that by chance you appear in this world, and by chance live for some days, months, years, and then by chance your life ends.  Maybe while your young, like these two today; maybe while you’re middle aged and think yourself in the prime of life; maybe when you’re old and gray and the words of Ecclesiastes ring true to you “when the days and years come when you say ‘I have no pleasure in them.’”  But whenever it comes, the world believes that’s that.  It’s over.  You’re history and you have about as much chance of living again as a blade of grass has after it dies in the summer heat or in the winter frost.

And in our darkest moments of fear, we wonder if it is true.  We wonder if that isn’t really how things are, after all.  We live by chance, we die by chance, and then we perish for good.

Do you think for a second that either young man raised from the dead in today’s Old Testament or Gospel readings could think that way again?  The God of Israel showed Himself the God of life.  And when God took on flesh and visited His people, when the Son of the Virgin strode this earth and met death, He stopped death dead in its tracks.  And if you note the contrast between the way the prophet of the Lord dealt with death and the way our Lord did, you’ll see a big aha. 

The prophet of the Lord has no life inside himself to give.  He too is living on borrowed time.  The grave is his destiny as it is yours and mine.  The time bomb of sin is ticking away inside.  But the prophet knows who has life and so he falls on his knees before the God of the living, the God of Israel, and he begs from him the gift of life again for the little boy.  And God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, God granted his prayer.  The child lived.  His mother rejoiced and confessed.

But the Lord Jesus, the God who has visited us in His compassion and love, He doesn’t pray.  He doesn’t need to.  He is Himself LIFE, He is Himself death’s worst nightmare.  His voice alone is mightier than the grave.  So when he stops the bier He simply commands:  Young man, I say to you, arise!

Note the “to you” for His voice would have raised ALL the dead at that moment if he hadn’t specified to whom He was speaking – so mighty is the power at work in Him – but that will come later.  In the meantime, He speaks the word and the dead lad hears, obeys, lives again, speaks again. Jesus hands him down to his mother who receives him in astonishment and awe.  Can it be?  Can it really be?  Is this just a cruel dream?  Can the dead really live? 

Oh, people loved by God, it is no fairy tale, no myth, no imagined happy ending.  It really happened.  But it was only a promise, a foretaste, a teasing taste of what was to come.  For both of those lads were raised only to die again.  I don’t imagine that death frightened either of them the same way it might the first time.  They knew one stronger than death now.  Same with those they love who knew their story.   There lived a man once whose very voice could force death back and release its prey. 

But the better that was still to come, was when that One before whose voice death cowered and shook, actually gave Himself into death, silently like a lamb before its shearers, let it devour him, consume him, take away his breath, the light of his eyes, his hearing.  Let it take him wholly.  Upon a tree of wood.

Another widow held another Only-begotten Son that day beneath the long shadow of the cross.  And that day it looked as though death really had won.  The Man who alone could stop death in its tracks was devoured by the monster from whom He had set others free.  And why?

Behold why, three days later.  Behold, the Only Begotten Son of His Father in heaven and His mother on earth standing alive again upon this earth, but do you see the difference?  Raised this time, not to face death ever again.  Raised this time and changed.  Raised in incorruption, never to die again, and made the source of eternal salvation for all who believe upon Him.  Do you see it?  A great miracle by far!  He raised the dead in his earthly life to show that His voice had power to raise the dead, but He died to forgive our sins and rose to bestow on us incorruption and immortality so that when His voice calls us from the grave, it will be for us no temporary reprieve.  No extension of earthly life.  It will be a life like His – joined to Him – it will have no end, the joys will begin and grow ever greater and they will have no end. 

That you might not fear, you who have been baptized into Him, that you might remember that His voice is stronger than death, that you might recall His promise that He will raise your body in incorruption, He reaches into you today His very body and blood.  Yes, the body and blood in which He suffered, in which He died, in which He tasted our mortality, and the body and blood which His almighty power raised from the dead and transformed and made incorruptible and life-imparting.  He reaches that which is forever beyond death into you and plants it into you dying flesh, hiding within you a hidden majesty that death will never be able to digest or corrupt.  You will live forever.

Old Charlie loved this day – it was his little Easter in the fall.  And I believe that on that cold winter’s eve when he met his earthly death, he did so crying out:  “O death, where is your sting?  O grave, where is your victory!”  He knew that into his dying body had gone the promise of resurrection, of his body raised incorruptible, and so he laid his head down to sleep in peace, waiting for the wake up call from Him who is the Resurrection and the Life, even Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom with His all holy Father and life-giving Spirit be all the glory, now and ever and to the ages of ages!  Amen.


Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Weedon: thank you for a wonderful sermon.
It continues to amaze and dismay me that so many Christians, after believing most of their lives that to be with the Lord is the greatest joy, deal with the death of a saint as if it is the evil most to be avoided. In this connection I find it interesting that our Lord did not raise many people from the dead during His earthly mission. The raising of Jairus’ daughter is arguably a resuscitation, or a miraculous healing, rather than a resurrection. That leaves Lazarus and the son of the widow of Nain. Before He raised Lazarus, He wept. I believe that He wept because He knew that death was not the greatest evil, and that by bringing Lazarus back to this world, He would cause him untold suffering. But our Lord had decided to perform this miracle before Lazarus was even dead, so that we could have the words “He who believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live,” confirmed by a mighty miraculous act. In the case of son of the widow of Nain, our Lord did not raise him out of mercy to him, but because He had mercy on his mother. As you know, the lot of a widow without family was a cruel and difficult one at that time. Therefore, we are filled with joy, because He is not only the Lord of Life, but because it is His nature to exercise His Lordship with mercy.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...

Thank you, George. Amen and Amen!