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Two Realities: Death and Life

St. Luke 7.11-17/I Kings 17.17-24


Pentecost II
Lutheran Senior Services at Meramec Bluffs  
Ballwin, Missouri

Sun, Jun 6, 2010 

Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.

Two Realities: Death and Life

St. Luke 7.11-17/I Kings 17.17-24

Pentecost II/June 6, 2010

LSS @ Meramec Bluffs, Ballwin, Missouri

Rev. Keith R. Weise, Chaplain

Invocation In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Today our scripture readings hold two realities before our eyes.  Death.  And Life.  In I Kings, and in St. Luke's gospel we see a young boy and a grown man die, each the only son of his widowed mother.  This is the harsh reality of the world.  People die.  Some when they're young.  Some when they're old.  But come what may, we will all die.  And when people die, everyone around them suffers.  In her grief, the widow of Zarephath cries out to Elijah:

[I Kings 18.18]

What have you against me, O man of God?  You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!

In St. Luke's gospel, the widow of Nain stands weeping by the coffin as her son is led to the cemetery outside of town.

2 Death is a reality, but it's one we never like to face.  When we're not the ones directly effected; when it's not someone in our immediate circle who's died, we betray our distance from death and say things like, "Oh, you'll get over it."  "Time will make this all better."  "You'll be fine in no time."  And worse than that, we say some deaths are worse than others.  We think it's worse when a young person dies, like the boy from Zarephath.  But really his death is no worse than the grown man whose mother mourned his death in the town of Nain.  All you'd have to do is ask her, and if she were here, she'd tell you.  Dead is dead, no matter how old you are when it happens.

4 Death has a way of putting things into a different perspective for us.  When death hits close to home, we stand with the widow of Zarephath, reminded of our own sins; reminded, as St. Paul tells us that

[Romans 6.23a]

the wages of sin is death.

Every time a loved one dies, we stand along side the widow from Nain and we weep.  We cry tears of sorrow and our hearts break with the realization that we, too, will one day die.  So we weep.  There is nothing else to do.  The reality of death is that no matter when it happens, it's bad.  It hurts.  And it's horrible.  That's the first reality our scripture readings hold before us today. 

5 But there's also another reality at work in our lives.  This one, too, is right here in the scriptures for us to see and hear.  This reality is life.  Life from God.  When the boy in Zarephath dies, Elijah prays to God for his life, and God hears! 

[I Kings 18.22]

. . . the LORD listened to the voice of Elijah.  And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.

God did not ignore the death of that little boy.  And God did not ignore the prayers of anguish and grief brought about by death.  He listened, and in answer to Elijah's prayers, he revived the boy and gave him back his life.

6 And that was only a preview!  In the gospel, we see God bringing life into the midst of death.  Christ, the Son of God, God in the flesh, approaches the grieving widow of Nain, and even before she prays he says:

[St. Luke 7.13b-15]

"Do not weep."  Then he came up and touched the bier , and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you arise."  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

This is how God reacts at the death of his saints.  He comes with grace and mercy, and says to those who mourn, "Do not weep."  And he has promised to come to all who have died in faith on the last day, and say to each of us, "Arise."  And rise we shall.

7 Christ our Lord does not ignore the pain and hurt that death brings into the world.  He is not far away in some remote heaven.  No, he's here beside us when we mourn, offering words of comfort when we grieve as did the widow of Nain, and the widow of Zarephath.  When we struggle with death, Jesus struggles with us.  When we weep, Jesus weeps, as he did when he walked up to Lazarus' tomb.  The reality of death is just as real to Christ as it is to us, and he shares our grief.  The blessed David says as much when in Psalm 116 he prays:

[Psalm 116.15]

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

Because death among us is real to Christ our Lord, he brings the reality of life that death cannot conquer.  This reality of life is the reality of Christ.  And that reality is this: He's here, calming our fears and working faith in our hearts, even in the midst of our grief.  For Christ has promised us the same thing he promised Martha, as she mourned her brother Lazarus:

[St. John 11.25-26a]

I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.

8 The great irony of it all—and the greatest blessing—is that Christ himself had to die to give us this reality of life.  But it was the only way.  His death on the cross wiped out the sin that death calls so vividly to our minds.  His death on Calvary transforms our sorrow into hope the looks to the day of resurrection.  His death brings forgiveness and grace that give us strength to carry on through our grief and into certain hope of everlasting life.  In Christ, these two realities—death and life—are joined together in Christ on the cross, so that for us, the horrible, worldly reality of death will not have the last word.  In Christ, resurrection conquers death.  Living cancels dying.  And life will win the day.  And on the last day we shall stand with the widow of Zarephath and her son.  On the last day, we shall rise from our graves and stand with the widow of Nain and her son, too.  On the day of resurrection we will hear Christ say, "Young man, young woman.  Old man, old woman.  I say to you arise.  And rise we will.  We will rise up from our graves, and we will stand with all the saints, and we shall see the horrible, worldly reality of death give way to the divine, heavenly reality of life, which is ours even now in Christ Jesus. 

[I Corinthians 15.54b-55/Isaiah 25.8/Hosea13.14]

Then shall come to pass (says, St. Paul) the saying that is written:

Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory?  O Death, where is your sting?

9 This is the ultimate reality which we see by faith and cling to in all heavenly hope.  Yes,

[I Corinthians 15.56-57]

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

That victory is none other than the great reality of everlasting life, through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. May his name be praised forever.  Amen.

Invocation In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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