The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Looking over the lessons today, there are a couple of recurring, common themes. For one, the theme of suffering runs throughout all three texts. The widow from Zarephath suffers when her son dies. St. Paul suffers in prison as he writes to the Ephesians. There’s also the widow from Nain, who suffers when her son dies. Suffering ties all these texts together. Suffering ties us to these texts too. We can relate—every one of us. Who among us hasn’t suffered? Who among us hasn’t lost someone close to us? Who among us hasn’t had to grieve the death of a loved one? Some of you have even known the very same suffering as these two widows who had to bury their children. You’ve been there too. You know the suffering these ladies experienced. Some of you know it in a very “present tense” kind of way. You continue to suffer and grieve your loss. You can definitely relate to these women.
And that brings us to another common theme: the miracle of the resurrection. The widows’ suffering was turned to joy. Both these widows experienced a profound miracle—the resurrection of their beloved sons. More than that, it was by means of these resurrection miracles that people were brought to recognize and glorify almighty God. Elijah comes down the stairs with her now-alive son in his arms, and the widow of Zarephath states very plainly, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the Word of the Lord in your mouth is Truth.” Think about that. This woman had spent weeks, probably months, with Elijah. Her flour and oil never ran out during that time, just like Elijah (and God) had promised. And yet during all that time she never truly knew or believed in Elijah’s God; the one true God. Things were good. And then her son died. She sure was quick to blame God, wasn’t she? She never recognized God in the bottomless stores of flour and oil, but when life came crashing down, she immediately knew who to blame. It took the resurrection of her son to finally wake her up and convert her to faith. “Now I know…that the Word of Yahweh in your mouth is Truth.”
And the same can be said for the Nain townsfolk. Nain was a small town only a few miles from Nazareth, where Jesus spent the first thirty years of His life. There can be little doubt that they knew Jesus. They were all good Jews too. They knew Yahweh. They weren’t like the Gentile widow from Zarephath. They were good and faithful, Yahweh-loving Jews. And yet…it takes the resurrection of one of their own for them to truly recognize and glorify God. “A great prophet has risen among us! God has visited His people!” They didn’t recognize before, but when the dead boy sat up and started talking, that all changed in an instant.
And I guess that’s where we could look to each other and find commonality. The miracle of the resurrection worked profound change in all these people’s lives, didn’t it? Gentile or Jew, when something as powerful and crazy as the dead coming to life happened in their midst, everyone’s “faith” red-lined and maxed out. They were now glorifying God because they now knew—without a doubt—that His Word and His promises were Truth. Man…I wish I could experience some of that. I’m sure you do too. How much easier would it be for you to be strong in your faith if you bore witness to such a miracle? I think of St. Paul. I’m not surprised at all that he can be so faithful, even as he’s flogged and beaten and shipwrecked and confined to death row. He met Jesus face-to-face in blinding light and booming voice on that road to Damascus! He was rendered blind, and then given the miraculous gift of sight! You know…I think a Damascus Road experience would change me too. Miracles have a way of changing people. Can you imagine if in the middle of a funeral the deceased sat up and began talking, glorifying God? Our pews would be FULL the next Sunday! Everyone who bore witness to such a miracle would be profoundly changed.
But maybe that’s the problem. IF we bore witness to such a powerful miracle, we would be changed. IF we bore witness to such powerful miracle, reports would go out immediately to every climb and place. *What would those reports sound like? What would we say? Could we—MAYBE—be reporting the wrong things? Keep in mind that St. Luke makes a point of telling us that Jesus had compassion on the grieving widow. This is critical. Contrary to popular opinion, death is not natural. I know death happens to one out of one people, but that doesn’t mean that it’s natural. God has never intended for His children to die. He didn’t create man with the intention of killing him. Death is NOT part of God’s plan. Death grieves the Lord of Life. Such grief is unmistakable with our Lord Christ when He encounters the widow going out bury her son.
It is here, in the midst of death and sorrow, that we see our Lord’s mercy and compassion put on full display. When this merciful, life-giving compassion of God was witnessed first-hand, the people erupt in fearful joy. The townsfolk of Nain now glorify God. “A great prophet has risen among us! God has visited His people!” What are they praising and glorifying though? Do they praise and glorify God for His great compassion, or do they praise and glorify God because they witnessed a powerful miracle? There is a difference.
Folks: Look around. Here is God’s gracious compassion and love on full display. Here is Christ Himself, working the miracle of life and forgiveness and peace in our midst. Here is Christ, right where He has promised to be; right where He tells us to look and listen and seek after Him. Just this morning, in our presence, we’ve witnessed the miracle of resurrection; the dead being made alive. We witnessed it right here at the font as little Zach, who was dead in his sin, was made alive in the waters of Holy Baptism. No, the heavens didn’t rend, a blinding light didn’t beam down, and loud booming voice didn’t rattle the foundations, but here was Christ, in our very midst, baptizing this child and giving life to death…just like He’s already done with you in your baptism. Yes, you, too, have been baptized. Your body of sin and death has been washed and made alive in Christ. Has it changed you? What does your report sound like?
Look to this altar. Look to this rail. In just a few minutes our Lord Himself will kneel down from heaven to feed us with His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of all our sin and for the peace that surpasses all understanding. In just a few minutes heaven is going to meet earth; eternity is going to meet temporality, right here in our midst! And this happens each and every Sunday we meet here in God’s holy house. This doesn’t happen anywhere else; anywhere that denies and rejects Christ’s own Word and promise regarding this sacramental gift and means of grace. All these people in Greenwood, and the only ones receiving Christ’s true Body and Blood today will be the ones who come to this rail. What does your report sound like? What do you glorify and praise?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: I lay this out in such a way because it matters. It’s important. Here is the life-giving compassion of God…for you! Look to this cross. Here is the greatest compassionate miracle of all. God doesn’t punish us children of Adam for our sin, even though we justly deserve His present and eternal punishment. Instead—miraculously—He has compassion on us. No, we don’t deserve it. We haven’t earned it, and we’ll never be able to earn it, no matter how hard we try. This compassionate love and mercy is a free and undeserved gift. Here is the miracle of God’s compassion for you and for all people, made flesh and hung on a cross to die for you. Death grieves God so much that He gave His only-begotten Son to suffer it in your place. God took on flesh and died so that you may have life, and have it in eternal abundance.
And this isn’t a “once upon a time” kind of miracle either. God’s compassionate love and mercy is ongoing. This cruciform compassion is brought to us and bestowed upon us as He continues to visit us, His people, and feed us and nourish us with His Word and Sacraments. He brings His victory over sin, death, and the grave to us. He brings His victory and His compassion to us, even as we suffer; even in the midst of our sorrows and griefs. That’s probably the most difficult thing for people to understand. Suffering hits, and we’re so quick to blame God. We don’t recognize the Truth. God is right here, in all His grace and love and mercy and compassion, even as you walk through this veil of tears; even as you feel your crosses bearing down on you and crushing you under their terrible, sinful load. “I am with you always.” Here He is, right where He promises to be.
And this is where a truly great miracle takes place in our lives: We hear this Good News and we believe it. Through the working of the Holy Spirit in these, God’s means of grace and life, we hear and we believe. In faith and through faith we are able to recognize and glorify God, even in the midst of our sufferings. You see, faith just sees things differently. So often we’re so quick to assign blame to God when suffering enters into our lives, as if it’s His fault. That’s how Old Adam sees things. It’s God’s fault. Faith sees things differently though. Even when all hell breaks loose in our lives and things are at their darkest, faith recognizes our loving and merciful God in our midst. Through faith, we understand that God is working all things for the good of those who love Him. He is working through the darkness and suffering to bring us (and others) closer to Him and His compassion. He didn’t cause the pain and suffering, but He is working good out of such pain and suffering. Faith understands this. Faith recognizes and runs to and holds fast to our loving God and His miraculous compassion; compassion which He bestows upon us in very real and tangible ways—Word and Sacrament. The miracle of faith is that we glorify and praise God, even as we suffer, for His great mercy and compassion; for the fact that we are His, and nothing and no one can ever steal that away from us.
My prayer for you (and for me) is that through the God-given miracle of faith you are always able to recognize and glorify God in these very humble, yet powerful miracles of His grace and compassion. May it not take something tragic to get your attention and get you to finally look up and acknowledge God. And may you never cast blame on God for the suffering you are facing. May it not take something miraculous, like a resurrection from the dead, to get you to recognize and glorify God. Instead, may the miracle of His resurrection and these, the fruits and gifts of His resurrection (Word and Sacrament), be all you ever need for all joy and peace and believing. May His compassion and real-presence visitation be your report and your glory. May it be witnessed in all that you say, think, and do.
And now may this ever-abiding and unfailing compassion and peace of our Lord and Savior strengthen and preserve you in the one true faith, and may this same compassionate peace be and remain with you always.
In His name and to His glory…AMEN.
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