Sermon for Trinity 16, 2021

Text: Luke 7:11-17

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There really is nothing you can do about death. You can try to prepare yourself to talk to a person who’s in mourning. It’s good for us to keep in mind the promises that the scriptures have for those who die in the faith. “Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” “I am certain that neither death nor life, nor angels no rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” There are numerous others that could be used. God’s Word is the only source of true comfort. Even with that, though, the bottom line is that we can’t really do anything about death. It seems like a completely hopeless situation every time we face it.

As far as our own mortality goes, there’s not much for us to do there, either. That doesn’t stop us from trying, though. Think of all the time, energy, and money we spend to try and stave it off. Advances in medical technology add years to life. Gym memberships are sold with the promise of improving health that we might live long enough. That’s not to mention the vaccines that we’re currently being encouraged (or perhaps even coerced) into receiving for COVID-19. It’s all in the name of trying to avoid death. Bold promises of life are even attached to these things at times.

While it might be true that some of these things could cause us to live longer, healthier lives, there is always a limit. There is no cure for death. You cannot do it. Scientists could develop a cure for every disease that exists in the world, but a cure for death will never be found. You can’t avoid it. One day, unless Christ returns first, you will die. We all will. It is a rather hopeless situation when you think about it.

The two women in our readings from the Old Testament and from the Gospel of Luke can relate. They are both in hopeless situations. Both have lost their sons. Their only sons. No longer would they have their beloved child with them. This isn’t simply a matter of just losing a dear loved one, though. They both would have been dependent on their sons for their well-being as they aged because they were widows. Pension plans passed on from deceased husbands weren’t a thing yet, after all.

It’s clear to see why today’s Old Testament reading was paired with the Gospel reading for today. Both women are widows. Both of their sons die. Elijah is a prophet who preaches the Word of God. Jesus preaches the Word of God. Elijah raises the son of the widow at Zarepheth. Jesus raises the son of the widow at Nain.

Both accounts are similar, but there is an important difference. Notice how it is that Elijah raises the son of the widow at Zarepheth from the dead. Elijah stretches himself out over the child three times and cries out to God to raise the boy from the dead. God hears the plea of Elijah and brings the boy back to life. Elijah was a man of God who faithfully preached his Word, but Elijah was completely powerless to do anything about the death of this boy. God is the author of life who gives life and takes away life. He alone can answer the prayer of Elijah and breath life back into the widow’s Son.

This is not the way that Jesus raises the son of the widow at Nain, though. For Jesus himself is the creator of the heavens and the earth. Jesus is the one who gives life. He does not need to call upon God to bring life to the son of the widow, for he is God himself. Jesus instead simply speaks to the boy, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

This is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion of the world. Every other religion that you encounter is one of works. All of them have a leader who is revered because he did good things for which he was rewarded by some almighty being. If you do good things like Muhammad did, you’ll also enter paradise. You, too, can reach enlightenment like Buddha did, and you will escape suffering in this world and escape the material realm and enter the spiritual realm. Christianity is different because of Jesus. Jesus is not simply a great teacher or prophet who speaks of God and sets good examples. He is not here just to be your friend and make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. No. He is God in the flesh. He comes as God to save you because you need saving.

You see, no matter what you do, you can’t escape the wages of sin. The wages of sin is death. This reality was staring the widow at Nain right in the face. Why did her son die? Because he was a sinner. You will die one day for the same reason. You are a sinner. You can exercise all you want. You can diet all you want. You can take vitamins and seek medical treatment to prolong life. You can take vaccines. All of these things promise life, but they all fail to grant it. God alone gives life and He alone decides when it ends. Job, when all was taken away from him, said “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” You sin and because of your sin, you will die. There is no escape from it.

Or so it seems. For Jesus comes into the world as God to bear the sins of the world. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ. Jesus comes to bear the sin that you have committed. He takes it upon himself. He bears your guilt. He dies for your guilt as the righteous wrath of God against sin is poured out on Jesus at the cross. Jesus was the one who knew no sin, but he became sin for you. When Jesus reaches out and touches the bier that carries the young man who is the only son of his widowed mother, he takes the sin and death of young man into himself. Then the blessed exchange happens for that son. Jesus says to him, “arise,” and he does.

You come to this place week after week because you’re dying. The world tries to promise all sorts of things that will solve the problem of your dying, but it can’t. The only solution is in Christ. Jesus speaks his forgiveness to you through my mouth when I absolve your sins. Then Jesus places his body and blood into your mouth and promises you that because you have eat his flesh and drink his blood you will live forever. The impossible is done. The wages of sin is death, but Jesus has paid that price for you. Now you are given his righteousness. Death holds no power over you for it has been defeated by your Savior, Jesus Christ.

Unless Christ returns first, you will die one day. But because of Christ, that is not your end. Death was not the end for Jesus as after three days he rose victorious from the grave. Death was not the end for the widow at Nain’s son. Death will not be your end, either. For you, the baptized, will hear the voice of your Savior Jesus call to you on the Last Day, “I say to you, arise.”

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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