Trinity 16 Sermon, 2018

I’m going to tell you an impossible thing.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus raises the widow’s son from the dead and gives him to his mother.

That’s not the impossible thing.

The impossible thing is, there’s something better than what Jesus does in today’s Gospel lesson.

That said, I’m not trying to cheapen what Jesus does.

With simple words, “Young man, I say to you, arise” (Luke 7:14), Jesus makes our enemy, Death, look foolish and not fearsome.

How many mothers have stood over a son wishing for Death to be a dream?

And how many times has Death smiled back, “Not today, Mother.”

But what if Mother got her wish?

What would the son say?

We confess that, at death, the body and soul are separated. The body is buried, and the soul departs to its everlasting rest or torment.

To wake a man from death—to reunite body and soul, temporally speaking—might not be all we think it should.

Can you hear them argue?

“Gee, Mom, I think I’d rather be with Jesus…”

“Well, Sonny, the next time you die, I won’t shed a tear!”

That is, of course, an argument invented, but what it describes isn’t.

When a believer dies, we bury the body, but the soul is with Jesus. To want him back is to want to take him from Jesus.

We shouldn’t want that.

If Mother got her wish, the son would regret it.

But let’s ask the question no one ever asks.

What if the son got his wish?

From Scripture, we know only that the son’s death is tragic. His mother is described as a widow, and it is her only son who’s died. She has no one to care for her. No one to provide for her. She’ll persist only on the charity of others, and as we all know, you never believe the stories on the signs held by those dirty people outside Walmart.

The death of a child is always tragic, and here, it’s made more so by the fact that his death, perhaps, sets into motion hers.

So what if the son got his wish?

We know his death is tragic, but does the mother grieve her son’s death or her loss of well-being?

We all know people who have a plan for their inheritance before they’ve inherited anything.

Perhaps she had a plan for the rest of her life that required a malleable, hard-working son.

I don’t mean to cast aspersions—Scripture gives no hint of any of that. So let me ask my question this way:

What if all the sons got their wish?

All the unwanted sons whose blood, like Able’s, cries out, from the ground, for vengeance, for desiring, perhaps, to live. Or smaller yet, to be left alone for nine months.

What if all the sons got their wish?

To be seen, and heard, and remembered, and pictured, and—impossibly, finally—loved?

What if the son got his wish?

What would the mother say?

I ask these questions to root out and destroy the selfishness in us that always thinks we know best.

We don’t.

Jesus has compassion on the mother. He calls the dead boy forth, into life. And they all glorify God.

If the most terrible news imaginable must be delivered to you, do not think this miracle of Jesus to be a promise of what to expect.

This miracle doesn’t show us that we get our way.

Face the facts: we would all, at some point, have to tell that mother, today, “You will not get your son back.”

This miracle doesn’t show us that we get our way.

This miracle shows us that God gets His way.

And how?

Jesus is the one who overcomes and conquers death.

And He does so by speaking simple words: “Young man, I say to you, arise” (Luke 7:14).

How many mothers have stood over a son wishing Death a dream?

And how many times has Death smiled back, “Not today, Mother”?

And yet, against all the evidence of our eyes, Death has no power over Life.

The hymn by Martin Luther, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands,” has us sing it this way:

“It was a strange and dreadful strife / when life and death contended; / the victory remained with life, / the reign of death was ended…” (Stanza two).

“O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Jesus needs no smoke and mirrors.

He commands, and His Creation complies.

This miracle shows us that Jesus has power over even Death. God speaks life and all things into existence. He did it in the beginning, and He does it now.

But remember, I’m going to tell you an impossible thing.

Even for the mother who receives her dead son back to her, there’s something better.

Because it’s selfishness that prays for the boy to be returned to the mother, as if God did something wrong.

It’s selfishness that prays for the boy to return to the dust, again, as if God did something wrong.

It’s selfishness that seeks to prove God a sinner. To charge Him with wrong. To be better, more loving, and more faithful than the God who made the heavens and the earth.

Selfishness prays for those things.

Faith, though, prays for Mother and Son to be reunited, in praise of Christ, forever, in the Resurrection.

Face the facts: you will not receive your son back—until Jesus gives him back to you in the Resurrection.

And then—and here’s the miracle—then, there’ll be no memory of Death, only the joy of sins forgiven, the relief of a race finished and won, all selfishness set aside and forgotten, all glory to Christ who raised this widow’s son to show how He would love us—by overcoming Death itself—to show our enemies—sin, death, and satan—what they’re up against—to show us that God fights for us—that the victory—truly and against all experience—remains forever with Life—with Christ.

See it as David does.

On the seventh day, at the death of his son, “David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, ‘What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.’ [David] said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, “Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?” But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me’” (2 Samuel 12:20-23).

That’s the way of it.

“I shall go to him, but he will not return to me,” because, in the Resurrection, Jesus does give Son back to Mother.

And here’s a mystery.

Lest we turn abortion into a hellish form of evangelism, we confess against it and call it what it is: child murder, infanticide.

But do not pit God against Himself.

Do not pit the Word of God against itself.

Our Father in heaven is merciful, and—sinners, all—we flee for refuge to God’s infinite mercy.

That’s what a repentant mother needs to hear.

You will not receive your son back to you now.

But God is merciful.

And in the Resurrection, you and all believers in Christ, you will be reunited with your son.

Then, the blood that covers you will be blood that cries out not in accusation and for vengeance but for acquittal and vindication.

No anger. No resentment. No selfishness.

But there, in the flesh, you see and hear and remember and, impossibly, finally, love—as you have first been loved by Christ.

There, there’s only joy.

On that day you—and all the saints living now and now at rest—you will reign with Christ forever in perfect love, joy, and peace.

Jesus had compassion on the widow, then.

He has compassion on us all, now.

And He will, one day, say to us as he did the son: “Young man, I say to you, arise” (Luke 7:14).

And—unto eternal life—you and your son will.

That’s something better.

But it’s not impossible.

It’s most certainly true.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 16 Sermon, 2018
Luke 7:11-17
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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