Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Trinity
“God Has Visited His People”
October 1, 2006
We all know by nature that God exists. But we don’t know where to find him. God is not lost. We are. We don’t know where to look for God until God Himself chooses to tell us where He is. We could reason that since God is everywhere we can surely find him anywhere. It is true that God is everywhere. The Psalmist writes:
Still, the fact that God is with
us wherever we go is not of itself a comforting fact of life.
The mere fact of God’s presence is a bit frightening. If we are doing something God does not like we don’t want
Him there to see us. God
can discern our thoughts and motives when we hide them from everyone
else and when we think and want what is wrong and full of sin.
Besides, the fact that God sees
and knows everything about us is of cold comfort if we are left in the
dark concerning Him. Okay,
He is here. He is with us. Is
He for us? Is He on our
side? If He can see
everything wrong with us, what then must He think of us?
If He discerns every intent of our heart, how does He feel about
us? Is He angry? Will He judge? Will
He forgive? What does He
really think? Is He for us
or is He against us? How
can we know? If God is for
me, I want Him near. If God
is against me, I want Him far away.
Atheists define God out of
existence because they are afraid to face Him.
They are fools. The
fact of God’s existence is made crystal clear by the world He made.
Only a fool could believe that the ordering of the seasons and
the complexity of the human body (to mention only two of countless
wonders of God’s creation) could exist without a creative mind.
The natural knowledge of God is undeniable.
It is as St. Paul said, “For since the creation of the world
His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the
things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they
are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20) Paul
is obviously right. Those
who deny God’s existence are without excuse.
How can they deny what is self-evident?
They deny it because they are afraid.
They know that their lives are in the hands of the One against
whom they have committed offences.
This is why they deny Him. They
cannot bear to face the meaning of their own death.
St. Paul stated it so very simply: “The wages of sin is
death.” (Romans 6:23) Now
that’s a fact with which our conscience agrees and this agreement
comes forth especially when death itself strikes us and lays us low.
It’s easy enough to
philosophize about life and death when everything’s going well.
When you face death – up close and personal – you cannot deal
with it as with an academic subject.
Death strikes you. You
see God in death, but you don’t much like or want the God you see in
death because the God revealed in death is the God who sees your sin and
punishes you for it. We all
know what we won’t admit: The wages of sin is death.
I submit to you that the pain of
that woman from Nain was not at its very root the pain of losing her
only son. It wasn’t the pain of knowing that she’d be alone.
It wasn’t the pain of wondering why the boy couldn’t have
enjoyed a fuller or longer life. No,
deep down where we are afraid to look the pain we face when we confront
death is the pain of our own personal mortality and what this means.
It is the pain of facing the true consequences of our sins.
Death is bad because sin causes it and sin is bad.
Death is bad and that’s why we are afraid of it.
Death is bad and that’s why it robs us of joy.
Death is bad most especially because it is inseparably joined to
the sin deep down within us. Death
is God telling us what we all deserve on account of what we all are.
sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Folks call these words
mythological, as if by using such a word they can untie the bond that
joins sin and death. But
these words are no myth. These
words agree with our conscience and that’s why they hurt so much.
The dead body in the casket tells you that you are a sinner.
The breath of life is gone.
Only death remains. That
is your death, your sin, your corruption, your future, your loss, your
pain, and your condemnation. “And
to dust you shall return.” So
That was the pain that the woman
felt. Yes, she would be
lonelier than she was after losing her husband.
Her son was her future and his death closed off her future.
He was an only child and was too young to have become a father.
She was all alone in the world, with only her own inevitable
death to look forward to.
God was there.
God had visited her. And
that was what caused such deep and inconsolable grief.
God had visited her with death.
God had remembered sin and had spoken in judgment against it, and
the judgment was apparently irrevocable.
After all, her son was dead and dead he would remain.
Then God visited her again.
The Lord Jesus walked up to her and told her to stop her crying.
Then the pure and holy Lord of life put His innocent hands on the
bier of death. Holiness and
corruption met. Life and
death faced each other. The
incorruptible looked upon all human corruption.
What happened? Divine compassion happened.
St. Luke writes, “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on
her.” His heart went out
to her. He felt her
suffering as if it were His own. Her
pain became His pain. He
looked right into her grief and it became His.
Then her God and brother spoke words that revealed pure mercy:
“Young man, I say to you arise.”
God said that. Jesus said that. Jesus
is God. He is more than a
prophet. He is the almighty
When Elijah, the prophet, raised
to life the son of the widow from Zarephath, he stretched himself out
over the dead boy three times and cried out to God saying, “O LORD my
God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.” (1 Kings
17:21) The Bible tells us
that the LORD heard the prayer and answered it.
But Jesus did not pray, “O LORD my God, I pray for this young
man.” Jesus Himself is
the LORD God and so Jesus said to the young man, “I say to you,
What happened when Jesus said,
“I say to you, arise”? The
dead boy sat up and began to speak.
What happened when Jesus told the wind and the waves to be quiet?
He stilled the storm. Every
time Jesus speaks, his almighty words do what they say.
Jesus says it and so it is.
You confess your sins and when the pastor speaks Jesus’ words
of absolution, what happens? Your
sins are forgiven, that’s what happens.
When Jesus through the pastor blesses the bread and the wine and
says of the bread “this is my body” and of the wine “this is the
New Testament in my blood” the bread is his body and the wine is his
blood because of the words that Jesus said.
When Jesus says it, it is so.
We face death every day.
The funeral liturgy says it quite plainly: “In the midst of
life, we are in death. Of
whom way we seek comfort but of thee, Oh Lord, who for our sins art
justly displeased?” There
is the bitterest irony for you. The
only One who can comfort us when we face death is the One who has every
right to punish us for our sins. So,
human nature being what it is, we run away from the only One who can
help us. We run to what can
only kill us. The Author of
life appears to us as the Angel of death unless, of course, He appears
to us covering up his deity under the humble mask of Christ’s human
nature. Then, He is not
only the God who sees us and knows us and visits us.
He is the God who becomes one of us and bears all our sins and
carries all our sorrows. When
we see God as the widow from Nain saw God we see God joining us in our
great weakness and bringing life out of death.
The power to say words that bring a young man out of death to
life is the power to forgive all sinners all sins.
But while Christ’s words convey forgiveness and assure us that
this forgiveness is certain and true and intended for us, it was when
Jesus suffered for us that this forgiveness was gained.
It was in facing our death – not just by touching a casket –
but by bearing all of humanity’s sin that Christ our Life swallowed up
our death forever. What he
did for on the cross and what he proclaimed to us in the resurrection is
given here and now whenever his almighty gospel sounds forth.
God has visited his people.
He knows what we feel when we face death. He understands the cause.
We know where God is. He
is wherever Jesus is. Jesus
is here with us. He has
life and immortality to give. And
it is His holy and gracious will do to do.
Jesus promised to remain with his church here on earth.
Wherever his gospel is preached, and his baptism and Supper are
given there He will be with His mercy to cleanse us and keep us and
deliver us from death.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus