Sermon for Trinity Sixteen, 2012

SERMON for TRINITY XVI

23 September 2012

St. Luke 7:11-16

In our gospel today we are looking at a major collision that takes place in the city of Nain. NO, not the collision you see in your mind, like a colliding train, bus, car, or plane, but two groups of people clashing and in this case at the entrance to the city.  One is a procession of death and sorrow while the other is a procession of life and hope.  We have at the front of one group a man who has been defeated by death and at the other a man who WOULD defeat death.  Notice carefully the difference in that sentence for out of this collision will come a new group, one made up of victory and celebration.

Jesus is about to enter into the city of Nain.  Previously he had healed the Centurion’s son, and now we will see Him raise someone from the dead.  Through these miracles Jesus is showing us that He is almighty and the powerful Son of GOD. Each miracle that Jesus performs carries a specific lesson for all of us. In addition to spreading the truth about Jesus’ power these miracles also let us see His love and compassion. They just might even point out His concern for seemingly little things in our lives like food and drink. In some of His miracles he shows us His desire to teach spiritual truths and in others they are more practical in nature. For example the time Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee to join His disciples.

Back to our Gospel, as Jesus is approaching Nain, death and sorrow are going out of Nain in the form of a funeral procession.  We have an only son, the child of a widowed mother. You will agree with me that a funeral is a sad time, some more sad than others, especially if it was a tragic death. Usually in our society when an elderly person passes we are usually thankful for a long, prosperous life and the fact that their struggle with old age is ended. But when someone in their prime passes, or perhaps a young high school student in a horrific accident the sorrow is felt much deeper and we feel it is unfair. When parents have to bury a young child the natural order we come to accept seems turned upside down. The other thing that adds to our measure of misery is the circumstances of those that were closest to the deceased.  Their sadness and their future may also touch the hearts of those who are in attendance. ALL of these “misery factors” were present at this funeral in Nain.

Jesus was entering the city. A young man was dead. A grieving mother was burying her son. The mother had already lost her husband and now with the loss of her son she was alone. This meant short-term and long-term misery for her. She would face a future with little companionship and no financial support. Maybe a life of poverty was facing her from now on until the time when she is carried to the cemetery.  Funerals probably do not get any more heart wrenching than this one.

Surely it would have been a cold-hearted person not to be touched by this procession.  Many people at a time like this usually are thinking about when death will strike them. Am I next? What will happen when I pass? What will happen to my loved ones?

Now as we look at this scripture lesson today are we not also a part of that procession? From the time of Abel who was murdered by his brother to the final body that will be buried before the Last Day all living things are headed toward the cemetery. Hebrews reminds us, Just as a man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”  Why are all things dying?  The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans, Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned.  Corinthians tells us, The sting of death is sin. We are on a constant crash course with death because of the fact that we and all our kind have rebelled against God. One of the consequences of sin is death and all the misery that goes with it.

So we can liken this funeral procession coming out of Nain as one coming out of any city or town in the world at any time. The children of Adam and Eve in every corner of the earth must return to the ground from which they were formed. Because of death hearts of men are frequently broken, dreams are shattered, and tears are shed. It is a train of misery on which all must ride.

BUT thankfully we have “HOPE.”  When death and sorrow collide with life and hope everything changes. In our gospel today death met life, sorrow met hope, and THAT changed everything.   When Jesus saw the weeping mother, His heart went out to her and he said, “Do not cry.” He went to the coffin, touched it, and said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk. Jesus gave him back to his mother. The Lord of life spoke to the living and the dead. May we all learn from this collision at Nain to prepare for the times when we must walk among the procession of death and sorrow.

Things happen according to God’s time. The leader, JESUS, is in control of everything. So it was by no means an accident that he met the grieving group.  It is on HIM and HIS words that we focus in order to learn from this lesson. JESUS had compassion on the person at the center of this story. HIS heart went out to the widow about to bury her son. Even though JESUS is the eternal Son of God he is also the Son of Man. He has a human nature that feels pain and compassion, sorrow, and joy. If we are ever tempted to think that GOD does not know what we are going through when we stand at the grave of a loved one we need to remember that Jesus was fully human. That HE cried when Lazarus died. But thankfully HE can do more than just show compassion for He has the power over death, which He shows us in this miracle. Jesus was NOT sent by His father to bring only a short-term solution to death but to permanently end death’s power. In Hebrews He reminds us, so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  This is why Jesus could speak to the dead man directly and command him to get up. He was the one who would suffer the wages of sin for all dying men. He received the death sentence that every sinner deserves.

Not only did Jesus take away the cause of death, He also conquered death by walking away from the tomb. Romans tells us: For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.  To the whole world He brings life and hope. If we are going to learn from this lesson today we need to listen to the One who speaks to the living and the dead. John tells us: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will never die.  And in Revelations we find: I am the Living One, I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and hell. As we journey closer to our collision with death may we hold tightly to the words of the one who has defeated death’s power.

In Nain we have death and sorrow going out and life and hope coming in. The wages of sin are going out and the sacrifice for sin is coming in. Jesus faced death with compassion for those it affected. He undid death’s damage using His undisputable power. The effects are tremendous. We can see the results everywhere. Two groups were made one. They were amazed at the miracle. The disciples and the crowd were given more evidence that Jesus was the Savior. Their joy was increased. They were filled with hope. A grieving widow received back her son and so gained a future, someone to support her and love her. Those who had questions and concerns about their own death found some answers. Although we cannot be sure what the people thought back then we know they recognized that God had come to help them.

Does Jesus teach us anything from this?  I surely hope so! When Jesus meets the funeral procession you come face to face with victory and celebration.  For He brings life and hope.  It tells us to face death with confidence just like the Apostle Paul tells us: Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O Death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The results of this collision that took place at Nain are still with us two thousand and twelve years later. Just like those people who saw this miracle said: God has come to help his people. YES, HE came to them, and HE comes to us today!

Today’s Gospel lesson has invited us to step back and look at this collision at Nain.  If we let it, it will strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ. It will give us confidence. Death and Sorrow are going out and LIFE and HOPE are coming in!  HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! AMEN!

Sermon for Saint Michael and All Angels

Sermon for Sunday, 30, September, 2012

St. Michael and all Angels ( 29th )

Gospel: St. Matthew 18:1-10

The Kingdom of God! There are secrets about this kingdom that Jesus wants to reveal to those who will hear, to those who will see, and to those who will seek to understand. The Kingdom of God is not something that you can point to and say, “Here it is, or there it is.” It is a kingdom that is found wherever God rules in human hearts, and wherever His will is done. It is a kingdom that is very much an internal reality in the life of the believer and is manifested through the church of Christ.  It is also a kingdom that is coming – a literal kingdom that will be established in a very real external sense when Jesus Christ returns.

At church one Sunday morning the Sunday school teacher was about to start her 4-year old class when she noticed a little boy without identification. She managed to get his first name, but couldn’t find out his last name. “Brian” she said, what is your daddy’s name? “Daddy” he replied. She then asked, “What is your mother’s name? You guessed it, he replied, “Mommy.” Suddenly she realized exactly how she could get the answer she wanted.  “Brian, what does your daddy call your mommy?” His face lit up, and with a grin and deep voice he replied, “Hey, Babe!”

Another four year old went to the doctor with a fever. The doctor looked in her ears and said, “Who is in there? Donald Duck?” “NO”, she said. He looked in her nose and said, “Who is in there? Mickey Mouse?” Again she said, “NO.” He put his stethoscope on her heart and said, “Who is in there? Barney?” The little girl replied, “NO, Jesus is in my heart. Barney is on my underwear.”

JESUS said that there was something more to the people we call children than just their entertainment value. He makes the claim that children are actually models of what it means to enter and grow in the kingdom of God. In fact, Jesus said that there is truth that only a child can teach us about the conditions for entrance and greatness in the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was not joking when He took that child and told His disciples that they had to become like a child before they could enter, or grow up in God’s kingdom. In fact, Jesus makes it very clear: The key to spiritual life and growth is a child-like humility. 

GREATNESS IS NOT MEASURED BY HAUTINESS OR PRIDE. People are strange characters: they want the front of the bus, the back of the church, and the center of attention. The biggest question with the disciples was, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  Mark tells us that Peter was the spokes -man, he would surely be the greatest. John protested, yes, Peter has a big mouth but I am the favorite because I am the disciple that Jesus loved. Matthew pointed out that he had left a very lucrative position as a tax collector. Andrew said that he was the first to follow Jesus. And Judas was the man with the money so no doubt he mentioned his trustworthiness. So they waited for Jesus to settle the dispute and he tried to teach them the way to climb the ladder in the kingdom was not going up rung by rung, BUT BY COMING DOWN.

This shows us that human pride always wants to clear its own path to greatness. Pride is a dangerously deceitful attitude that can even poison the pure water of spirituality.  It is too easy to think that our service to God earns us some special place of honor with the Lord, as if the more we do, the more valuable and important we are to Him, and the higher and better we are than those around us.

Remember this, we do not have to earn God’s love. God loves us now, and though He certainly will reward our devotion and service to Him, what we do for God does not make Him love us any more or less. Salvation does not come to us by our works, but by our FAITH.

GREATNESS IS MEASURED BY HUMILITY.

The disciples meant to use the word greatest in the sense of being most important, but I believe that Jesus wanted to use it in the sense of being grown up. That is what makes His choice of an illustration for what constitutes true greatness in God’s kingdom so astounding. Jesus is using this child as an object lesson to these self-seeking men. He is going to use a child to teach them how to grow up spiritually. As the child stands there among the startled disciples, Jesus drops a bombshell. He says: “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” All of these words/phrases are emphatic, stressing the importance Jesus is placing on the truth. He is telling them. We can divide his teaching into two parts:  the necessity of humility to enter the kingdom, and the necessity of humility to grow in the kingdom. Literally this means to turn around and face the other way. There must be a turning away from sin. One must turn to Christ. This is what the Bible calls repentance. As in John 3:3, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  You must become humble, like a kid, before you can grow up in God’s kingdom.

To the Jews of that time children were not despised, but loved. However, they were the most powerless members of an ancient society. It was only as they grew in age and stature that they became able to be heard and given rights as members of the community. Apart from the love of their families, they had no power or privileges. This in fact points out some of the qualities of the humility of children that would characterize those who were part of His kingdom.

Humility: Without power or rights, they were low in more than just stature; they had no voice in the home, the city, or the nation.

Trust: The final aspect of the humility of children was the trust of a child.  Even today, children will believe what most adults say to them (until they learn that some will lie). This is especially true of parents with small sons and daughters who trust them implicitly unless this trust is violated.

Dependence: The final aspect of their humility is seen in the fact that they are utterly dependent on their parents for even their basic necessities of life, as well as the emotional support and education that they need to survive.

Jesus is telling us that spiritual life begins with a change in direction in our hearts and minds. We cannot keep going in the direction of our own choosing and expect to meet God at the end of our journey. It we are going to come to know God, we must turn around and go the other way. We must turn from the path of sin, and face the direction of righteousness.

And when we turn, we find that we are no longer walking alone. Like a child, Jesus says that we begin to trust Someone higher, Someone stronger, Someone Who loves us, helps us, leads us, provides for us, essentially Someone who wants to be our life! Salvation is not just a humble turning from sin, but a constant trust in a Companion. One who will walk with us. It is not just receiving the forgiveness of sins but acknowledging the new life that God has given through His Son. We humbly begin to trust this Guide, this Friend, this God who allows us to call him “FATHER!” Our journey becomes an adventure of trusting and depending on Him to guide us, provide for us, as we walk by faith day by day. We have no strength or power to keep us going, but we can trust that He will feed us, He will clothe us, He will keep us healthy and clean, if we will hold His hand and follow Him – even more if we will let Him live His life in us.  You see Jesus is telling us that all of the authority, all of the strength, all of the provision for salvation does not come from us, BUT from HIM. He alone is able to give us what we need to sustain us spiritually. Our spiritual life and growth depends on our willingness to be humble enough to obey Him, humble enough to trust Him, humble enough to look to Him to provide for us.

Robert Fulghum wrote in the Kansas City Times: “Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school. These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone. When you go out into the world watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.” To me this writer has captured part of what Jesus meant when he said, “Unless you become like little children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Most of us understand how important faith is to God, but how many of us understand how important the people who have this kind of humble faith are to God? This is not easy to understand, Jesus Christ identifies Himself with anyone who casts themselves humbly at His feet in faith. Jesus says that when you welcome one like this, you welcome Him; when you hinder them from walking by faith with Him, He takes it personally – so personally in fact that He promises severe punishment. This should make us tremble both with joy and with fear.  We should tremble with joy knowing that our Lord is not some fickle friend that does not care about us. His love is loyal and willing to claim us as His own. He shows us how special we are to Him and how concerned He is that we be welcomed in His Name as His Children.

But you should also tremble with fear – the fear of knowing our responsibility to fellow Christians. There are many who are strangers to Christ. There are those who try to corrupt the relationship of trust that exists between believers and their Lord. But they are not alone, and we should be careful of leading these little ones away by a bad example of neglecting to help those who are weak. Jesus promises to punish those who lead others into sin, whether they are a part of His family or not. There was once an old man who knew he was about to die. He seemed greatly troubled and someone asked him why he was so upset.  He replied, “When I was a boy at play one day we reversed the signs at a cross-roads.  So that the arms were pointed in the wrong direction and I have always wondered how many people were sent in the wrong direction by what we did. How careful we must be to keep from sending someone the wrong way!

Christ wants to remind us what God is like, and what we must be like if we want to know Him. God wants to be your Heavenly Father, but the only key that will unlock the door is found in becoming humble like a little child – turning away from sin and self to the Saviour, trusting in Him, and Him alone. You can come to Him this morning and become a child of God by doing that which He commanded you to do. Eat of my body and drink of my blood, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom all honour and glory belong! Behold the Lamb of God; behold Him that taketh away the sins of the world.