Sermon for Trinity 16
Deuteronomy 32:39-40 + Ephesians 3:13-21 + Luke 7:11-17
The love of Jesus goes out in our Gospel today to the widow and the fatherless. So if there are widows among us, or children without a father in their life, there is special comfort here for you today. Even if you’re not a widow and have a father, there is comfort for you here, too. And if you’ve had a loved one die, or when you do have a loved one die, or if you just realize that death surrounds you in more ways than one, then today’s Gospel is, again, full of comfort.
Not that our Gospel contains anything “new.” Over and over in the Old Testament, God declares Himself to be the defender of the widow and the fatherless. He says, for example, in the book of Exodus: You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless. Or again in Deuteronomy: For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Or again in the Psalms: The LORD watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down.
Nor should it surprise us that Jesus brings the widow’s son back to life, because as we heard in the Old Testament lesson today, Now see that I, even I, am He, And there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal. That’s the kind of God we have, a God who punishes and a God who forgives, a God who disciplines and a God comforts, a God who loves the widow and raises the dead.
Now, to be a widow in Bible times was especially terrible, because not only did a woman suffer the emotional loss of her husband, which was terrible enough; she also suffered the loss of income, with little hope of replacing it, since women didn’t commonly have paying jobs back then. The husband and father didn’t bring in just half or ¾ of the family’s income. He generally brought in all of it. So to be a widow and to be fatherless in Israel was to lose everything. Remember Ruth and Naomi in the Old Testament, both widows. When they returned to Israel, Ruth had to pick up the leftovers in Boaz’s field, which is sort of the Old Testament equivalent of going on welfare, except that she had to work in the field even to get the welfare check.
Of course, if a widow remarried, as Ruth did, then she would be taken care of. Or if the widow had a son, she had hope, because when her son grew up, he could earn a living for the family and bring them out of poverty.
The widow in our Gospel had just such a son, but only one, as Luke is careful to point out for us. And he had just about grown up; he was no longer a boy, but a young man. Finally there was hope for this family! And then the widow’s hope died with the death of her only son.
Why? Why would a loving God allow this to happen? Why does He let women become widows and children become fatherless in the first place? All the tragedy around us, all the death. It happens around us, and it doesn’t make sense. It happens to us, and it’s hard not to ask, “Where is God? How could He let this happen? Doesn’t He care?”
And you know what? It’s OK to ask those questions, as long as you look for the answer in the right place, namely, in God’s Word. See, this is what the devil does. He’s been doing it since the beginning in the Garden of Eden. He always wants people to go looking for God where God isn’t, asking questions God doesn’t answer, seeking reasons other than the ones God has provided. He directs people away from God’s Word for answers, and leads them instead to look on the inside, to try to figure out the reasons for themselves; he leads you to ask, “Where is God?” but he doesn’t want you to find Him. He wants to leave you standing there, shaking your fist up at heaven. He wants you to leave you crumpled up in a whimpering heap of despair.
And, vile creatures that we are, we would fall for the devil’s trick, again, as our race has been doing for six millennia, off in search of the god on the inside, or the god who is out there, somewhere, with answers, maybe. But the Gospel draws our attention back away from ourselves and turns us toward Jesus, toward God in human flesh. Where is God? Why did this happen? Does He care? Watch Jesus.
Jesus knew all that the widow was suffering as He approached the city of Nain and saw the funeral procession coming out of the city. He knew how this widow had suffered, and how she would suffer, and what was behind all her tears. But it’s for our sake, not hers, that the Evangelist St. Luke, some 30 years later, recorded the following words: When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Jesus was deeply moved by her sorrow. Does God care? Watch Jesus. When you see Jesus, you see God. And God doesn’t change and He is no respecter of persons. The compassion you see here for this widow is the same compassion that goes out to all who suffer tragedy or loss. You don’t have to wonder whether God cares. Watch Jesus.
Well, then, why? If God is all powerful, why does He allow tragedy in the first place? Why doesn’t He just snap His fingers and get rid of tragedy and loss and death? Because God keeps His promises. “If you eat from this fruit, you will surely die.” When God threatens punishment for sin, He follows through, every time. And all the tragedy and loss that exist in this world are because Adam and Eve rebelled against God, and we, their children, cannot claim to be better. Tragedy and loss and death are part of the curse that rests upon this world and will rest upon it until the end of time.
But you know what God did about that curse. He didn’t remove it. Instead, He suffered it Himself. Christ became a curse for us, and so has redeemed us from the curse of the Law. Christ suffered loss, suffered death in order pay our debt of sin and reconcile us to God. Christ rose from the dead to begin the great reversal of the curse.
We see a small foretaste of that great reversal in the miracle Jesus performed in our Gospel. Only One who has conquered death and has power over the curse can just walk right up to a coffin and say to the dead man in it, “Young man, I say to you, arise,” and have His words obeyed. I kill and I make alive, says the Lord God. And He does.
But see, the miracle at Nain wasn’t the end of the curse on this world. Even Jesus’ own resurrection didn’t end the curse on this world. Instead, it gives us an escape route from the curse that this world is under. Faith in Christ is that escape route. The law accuses till the end of time; sin will keep corrupting this world, and death will keep calling as long as this world exists. But where there is faith in Christ, the law has no power to accuse; sin has no power to harm; and death has no power to hold. We have been baptized into Christ. God has forgiven us our sins. Christ has promised to put an end to this dark world, to raise us from the dead and to give us new life in a new heaven and a new earth, where the curse is no more.
So, if what you really want is for God to wipe out all evil and wickedness and death, then what you’re really asking for is for Christ to return and make all things new, which is most certainly something He will do. But understand, when Christ comes to wipe out all evil and tragedy and loss, that will be the Last Day, the Day of Judgment, the day when it’s too late for everyone who doesn’t trust in Christ for forgiveness. At what point do you think Christ should have ended the world and made all things right? Before you were born? After you were born but before you were baptized? Before your children were baptized? You are here in the holy Christian Church, you are now heirs of eternal life because Christ has postponed His second coming long enough to get you into His house. And God is still postponing it for a little while, because there are others who will become His children before the end by hearing and believing His Word. For the sake of the elect, He has not ended all things yet, and that includes tragedy. For the sake of those who will believe in Him through His Gospel, He allows this world to keep turning, with all of its sin and covered in death.
Until then, we keep turning to His Word for answers, and nowhere else. Until then, we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray it with all the meaning expressed in our Small catechism, and we mean every single petition.
We pray especially the sixth petition: And lead us not into temptation. What does this mean? God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.
And we pray the seventh petition: But deliver us from evil. What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.
We pray, and we trust that God will deliver us, because we have seen in our Gospel that in Christ we have a God who loves the widow and raises the dead, a God who has a good reason for all He does and a good purpose, even behind the suffering of His children. And if you ever wonder what that purpose is, all I can tell you is, watch Jesus. And listen to Him. Amen.