Sunday, September 11, 2016
Homily for The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 16)
Luke 7:11-17; Ephesians 3:13-21; 1 Kings 17:17-24
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Back on July 31, The Tenth Sunday after Trinity, you heard the Gospel account of Jesus’ visitation of the Holy City Jerusalem. Then Jesus wept over the city because of its unbelief and apostasy, and for the destruction that He foresaw would befall it but thirty years later at the hands of the Romans. For, when Jesus entered the temple courts in visitation He found moneychangers and vendors of sacrificial animals extorting the faithful and stealing from them. In His righteous anger Jesus cleansed the temple of this corruption and disease, overturning the tables of the moneychangers and vendors, crying out, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Back then I explained to you that the word visitation meant ecclesial oversight, such as a bishop conducts when he visits the parishes of his diocese. Jesus had visited His people in grace, but what did He find? Greed, selfishness, lack of mercy, compassion, and love. And, what will Jesus find when He visits His people, even you, on the Last Day, in judgment? What will you be found doing? Will you be found extending His love, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness, or will you be found robbing and stealing from Him, and selfishly and unmercifully withholding, even stealing, from others, especially the weakest among you and those in greatest need? Truly, Jesus may come in visitation on any day, at any hour. What will you be found doing? Will you be found waiting, watching, and prepared? Therefore, keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith and you need not fear His visitation, for you will be found doing the loving, the merciful, and the compassionate thing, for even your imperfect and sin-corrupted deeds will be counted as righteousness through faith in Him. Therefore, always show mercy and compassion, always love and forgive, for love covers a multitude of sins: your neighbors’, and comfortingly, your own as well.
The people of Jerusalem did not recognize the time of their visitation. But, the people of Nain did. When Jesus entered the city with a procession of His disciples and followers, He met another procession on the way out of the city carrying a dead young man, the son of a widow, on a funeral bier. It was literally a collision of two processions – a procession of life, lead by Jesus, and a procession of death lead by the mourners and family of the dead young man. “It was a strange and dreadful strife when Life and death contended. The victory remained with Life, the reign of death was ended.” When Jesus raised the dead young man and restored him to his mother and his family, the crowds glorified God saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us! God has visited His people!”
Once again, your Lord was moved with compassion – a gut-wrenching empathetic grief. The widow’s loss was His loss, one for which He was even then making His own journey to death on the cross. Jesus approached the woman directly and He said to her, “Do not weep,” or, more literally, “Stop weeping.” You see, there was no need for her to weep, for, in the presence of Life Incarnate, the Word of Creation and Life made flesh, the boy was not dead but only sleeping. Then Jesus did the unthinkable in her mind, and in the minds of the crowds, He reached out and touched the funeral bier. The law forbade such a thing, for the body and the bier were unclean, and to touch either would make you unclean and in need of ceremonial purification before you could be restored to community and to worship in the temple and synagogue. However, that was of no concern for Jesus, just as it was of no concern for Him when the ten lepers approached Him, or when the Good Samaritan ministered to the man left beaten, bloodied, and left for dead in the ditch. It is not that the law did not apply to Jesus, but it was that His love was the fulfilling of the law. The loving thing is always the lawful thing.
It was a desperate situation the widow was in. She had lost her husband to death, and now she had lost her only son to death as well. In that culture, at that time, the widow herself was, socially, as good as dead, having no source of income, protection, or even a voice in her community. She was nearly as desperate and hopeless as the nothing into which God first spoke His Word, “Let there be light.” But, Jesus was that Word in the beginning, and Jesus was that same Word spoken to the dead young man. Jesus raised the young man by speaking His creative Word, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” As it was in the beginning, so it is now, and so it ever shall be, world without end. In fact, no one even asked Jesus to help this time. No one cried out to Him in faith and pleaded for mercy. No one in the funeral procession seems to have even noticed or recognized Him. But, Jesus came to the dead young man. Jesus came to this desperate situation. Jesus was moved by compassion for His people because they were lost and hopeless, like sheep without a shepherd. Mercy is who Jesus is. Mercy is who God is. Mercy is what Jesus shows, and what you, His people also show to others because you are in Him and He is in you.
Then Jesus reached out and touched the funeral bier. Yet, He did two things at once: He reached out and touched the bier, and He spoke His Word, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” Jesus often used His hands along with His Words. He put His fingers in the ears of the deaf-mute, and He spat and touched His tongue. At His Transfiguration He raised up His fearful-unto-death disciples by touching them and speaking, “Rise, and have no fear.” And, Jesus rebuked His disciples who forbade that their Master should be bothered by little children saying, “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” that He might bless them with His holy hands and absolving Word. Even still, your Jesus comes to you in your weakness, sin, and death and He speaks to you, and He touches you with cleansing water, His precious body, and His holy blood, ministering to you in your body and in your soul, in your flesh and in your spirit in which He created you, that you may be forgiven, cleansed, and healed, strengthened in faith, equipped for service, and sent to love and to show mercy and compassion to the most desperate and hopeless bodies and souls He places before you.
Jesus touches and He speaks. Forgiveness, healing, and cleansing come to you from outside of you. They come to you from God the Father, through Jesus His Son, in His most Holy Spirit. They come to you through the Gospel preached and through the Sacraments administered. They come to you here, in this holy house where the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps you in the true faith until Jesus returns for you on the Last Day to take you home. Jesus came to Nain. Jesus came to the mourners, to the widow, and to her dead son when all they could think about was their grief, their loss, and their sorrow. Jesus came to them with His Words and His touch and He spoke into being a different reality. “Let there be light.” And there was. “Young man, I say to you, arise. And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ ‘God has visited His people!’”
Truly, God visits His people still, even now. Your God comes to you in your sinful uncleanness and death. He comes from outside of you to raise you from death to new and eternal life, to heal you, to make you clean again, and to restore you to a right relationship with the Holy Trinity and with Christ’s body the Church. More than that, He enters you and He abides with you, He communes with you, He fills you even as He sends you, He goes with you, “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.” Indeed, He answers your prayer that His grace may always go before and follow after you, that you may continually be given to all good works, through Jesus Christ, His Son.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.