The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
It’s clear from this morning’s appointed texts that today’s theme revolves around suffering. Even if you’ve never had to grieve the loss of a loved one (like the widows in the OT and Gospel lessons), we can still all relate to suffering. (These past several months haven’t exactly been a vacation, right?) We all wear sinful flesh, which means we all suffer, to one degree or another. We all bear crosses. That’s part of living in a fallen and sinful world. No one is immune. Can your faith be shaken during trying/difficult times? Can suffering cause unbelief? Absolutely! In fact, it can be very difficult to believe in the power and compassion and love of God when you’ve been brought so very low and you feel the weight of the cross you’ve been given to bear. “Why, God? What have I done to deserve this?” Worse yet: “What kind of God does this? What kind of God would allow this?” No one here can deny that we haven’t at least doubted or questioned the wisdom of God a time or two. No one here can deny that we haven’t felt at least a little undeserving of the misery we’re made to endure, especially during these past several months.
Why did Jesus raise the widow’s son? Luke answers the question very plainly: Because He had compassion on her. Understand: That doesn’t mean that He merely felt sorry for her. No. This goes way beyond simply feeling sorry for somebody; pitying somebody. Splagnizomai is different. Jesus loved this grieving widow/mom. Her pain splagnizomai’d Him; that is, it tore His insides up. It was a very visceral, stomach-turning, heart-rending feeling. His divine compassion—His love—can’t help but act. Splagnizomai leads to action. Splagnizomai causes Jesus to do something about this woman’s suffering. Jesus—God’s love and compassion in the flesh—reaches out and stops this somber procession. The Lord of Life reaches out and touches the unclean; the dead…out of His great compassion and love. No mask. No hand-sanitizer or bleach. No anti-vaccination shaming. No social distancing restrictions. No fear. Just love; pure unconditional love. He reaches out and shows/proves, not just to the mom but to everyone present, who is in charge. Death doesn’t have the final say. “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Luke tells us that the resurrection of this young man caused the whole crowd to erupt in praises of thanksgiving. They feared and glorified God as a result of this mighty sign and wonder. “A great prophet has risen among us! God has visited His people!” And this report, as Luke says, spread all throughout the surrounding region. EVERYONE was hearing about the Lord of Life and His compassion…all because of a funeral! Think about that. We’re still hearing about this today. Some 20 centuries later (and 28 centuries later, if we include Elijah and that widow and the resurrection of her son), and we’re still hearing about the divine compassion and almighty power of the Lord of Life.
I wonder… we don’t know the names of these ladies, nor do we know the names of their sons. They are all anonymous. Their names are forgotten to history, but their suffering is not. Would you be willing to endure suffering in anonymity if it meant that others would be brought to faith and/or strengthened in their faith and come to praise God as a result of your suffering? Careful before you answer, because the fruits you bear may already be contradicting your confession.
Does God work all things for the good of those who love Him? Absolutely! Okay… even funerals? Even cancer? Even divorce and depression and chronic pain and illness and job loss and imprisonment? Even pandemics and tyranny and crooked politics and natural disasters? God is working these things for our good?! Yes! Now, I’m not going to get into the whole “God is NOT the cause of evil, but God does permit evil” thing. There’s simply not enough time in the day. Besides, you know this already. But…maybe that’s the whole point. We know the Truth of God’s love and compassion…and yet how often we forget. How often we hit a few bumps in the road; we get knocked out of “comfy cruise control,” and we immediately kick into our default setting of lament and doubt, raising questions as if God has somehow made a mistake or isn’t paying attention. Worse yet, we begin to question God and His love for us. He had such compassion on the widow that He had to act. Why doesn’t He show the same compassion to us? Why doesn’t God act for us? We’re suffering too! Do something God! It’s easy to praise God’s compassionate mercy and love when things are going great in life. It’s quite another thing, though, to give thanks to God for all His mercy, grace, and undeserved benefits when you’re feeling the weight of the cross you’re bearing at the moment.
I don’t know what particular struggles you’re dealing with right now. I do know that we all have them. We’re all suffering to one degree or another. We’re not going to compare scars either. (I say this because somebody is always quick to point out how their suffering is so much worse than everyone else, and no one could possibly relate, as if Job himself would thank God that he wasn’t in their shoes.) Whatever your situation may be, your reality—your Truth—before God is the same no matter what. Whether you’re up or down, richer or poorer, in sickness or fear of sickness or in the greatest of health…whatever, you are a sinner who needs saving. Apart from Christ, you, o child of Adam, are dead in your sin. But…because of Christ, you are redeemed. Baptized into Christ, you are a beloved child of God. That’s your Truth and reality, regardless of what may be happening in your life; regardless of what the devil, the world, and even your own sinful heart will try to tell you otherwise. You belong to Christ.
I know the world we’re living in. Sometimes it feels like you need to keep your head down. Look up. This is what the faithful do. This is what the faithful have always done. Look up and look to and focus on the cross of Christ. Here is the compassion of almighty God, on full display for all the world to see. God so loved the world; God had so much compassion on this fallen and sinful and evil world, that He sent His only-begotten Son to trade places with us; to take our place in death so that we may have everlasting life with Him in heaven. Here is God’s love and compassion, right here and right now…ALWAYS. And God didn’t wait for you to cry out to Him before doing something about your sinful condition. That’s as foolish as God waiting for the corpse to sit up and ask to be resurrected. No! God took the initiative. God’s splagnizomai—His love and compassion for you—caused Him to take action for you. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. While we were still dead in our sin, Christ died and rose again for us. His great compassion and divine love led Him to the cross to suffer our justly-deserved punishment, long before we even knew there was anything wrong.
And this divine compassion continues today. It’s not a “one and done” type of thing that happened one Friday a long time ago in a distant land, far, far, away. No! God’s loving compassion still reaches out to you today, His gentle touch calming and halting this funeral procession we dare to call “life.” No mask. No social distancing fears. God doesn’t show compassion and love only to people who’ve been vaccinated. Nope. Instead, He comes into our midst, reaching out and gently stilling us as we make our way through this grand funeral procession wending its way through the dark and shadowy valley of sin, death, and suffering, assuring us of His presence (I am with you always), drying our tears. This is why we “sabbath.” This is why we take to time to rest in the presence/midst of God and His holy house—so that the Divine can serve us and comfort us and nourish us and heal us with His Word and Sacrament. “Divine Service” –This is what it means!
Look to this altar, this font, this pulpit/lectern; look to Christ in your midst… be at peace. No matter how bad things may seem (or actually get), by virtue of your baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, you belong to Him. Nothing and no one can ever take this away from you. The gates of hell will not prevail, so neither will pandemics or cancer or corrupt governments or depression or unemployment or anything else…even death. There is nothing new under the sun, and like all the faithful who’ve gone on before us, we grieve, we suffer, but we grieve and suffer in faith. We don’t grieve and suffer like those who have no hope.
Folks: Here is Christ! In the midst of all the suffering and tumult happening right now, in your life and in the nation, and in the world, here is the compassion of God, reaching out to you to still you and comfort you, bidding you to come to Him and “Take and eat. Take and drink. This is My body. This is My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin.” God has visited His people. God still visits His people. Here He is! The Lord of Life reigns and rules in your very presence. Here is your joy! Here is your reason to rejoice, even as you suffer. And let me remind you: You’re not just witnessing all this like some spectator on the sidelines. You’re receiving all this. You are on the receiving end of God’s compassion and love and mercy. This is all for you! That said, may your report of this great and undeserved compassion reach out and go out to all those whom God brings you into contact with, and may the ever-present reality of God’s compassion and love for you guard you and keep you in the one true faith, now and into all eternity.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
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