Sunday, June 6, 2010

Second Sunday After Pentecost

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen. +

Text: Luke 7:11-17
Theme: Hope and Life

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Jesus took a measured approach to miracles. Every specific act of healing, each individual display of power, every precise application of restoration was part and parcel with the full scheme of redemption inaugurated by Jesus Christ. They were flashbacks to the original state of creation and previews of the new. His miracles were never random anomalies. They were never sentimental concessions to human weakness. Each one involved integration into His kingdom that is “not of this world,”1 and was never meant to be.

So displays of His divinity were seldom without controversy. When people were offended at Jesus’ because of His teaching He didn’t do more miracles to try and win them back. Miracles confirmed that He was the Messiah but the truth of His identity was not dependent on them. Jesus would still be the eternal Son of the Father even if no human being ever heard of Him; even if a single miracle was never performed.

Christianity is at its core a supernatural faith. But it is grounded in the historical activity of God. Incomprehensible is the teaching that the triune God existed eternally and then at some point decided to create. That is a statement of His sovereignty. It is in a sense His first miracle. Of greater concern to us is God’s activity of redemption. The Almighty sovereign entangles Himself in the fallen world by sending His own Son in human flesh. The fact that God is responding to the sinful state of the fallen world is a secondary cause. God is not reactionary. God prepares the sacrifice from eternity. He executes our rescue in the crucified, risen, and enthroned Jesus. This is His final miracle; yet one that has eternal effect.

The miracle of God’s love is accomplished in piecemeal fashion whenever and wherever the contrite soul is forgiven, the sick are healed, the despondent are given hope, and the dead are raised physically and spiritually. Today’s gospel is a case in point. In a town called Nain Jesus encounters a widow who is about to bury her tender, young son.
“When the Lord saw her, His heart went out to her and He said, ‘Don’t cry.’”2 Christ buoys the heart stricken with grief. The compassion of Christ is unsurpassed. If the Greek word were understood literally it would indicate the complete emptying out of the inner parts. This is the source of the phrase “My heart went out to them.” Christ’s heart is opened in mercy towards this grief-stricken widow. The prophet Elijah’s raising of the son of the widow of Zarephath prepares hearers for what Jesus does. They understand Jesus to be the prophet par excellence.

The Bible tells us this was the only son of the widow. The practical implications of his death were significant. He was her only means of support. To loose all male relatives was often viewed by others as a sign of God’s abandonment. It was a lamentable situation. But with the coming of Christ comes the presence of God. The spiritual implications are more important still. The importance of this son to His widowed mother is paralleled in Jesus’ importance to the world. The sinful world is widowed because she has by her own hard-heartedness and spiritual adultery forsaken God, her true Husband.

But the Heavenly Father doesn’t abandoned this estranged relationship, He sends His only-begotten Son. What does the Scripture say, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, [His only-begotten Son] that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”3 In the Nicene Creed we confess belief “in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God.” Reconciliation between God and man happens in no other way.

No mention is made of the widow’s faith, or of anyone’s at all for that matter. Yet Jesus restores the young man to life. This is a miracle of sheer grace, as all are; but more so because there is no request for Jesus’ help and no evidence of faith is presented. Our faith or obedience is not required to trigger God’s grace. God isn’t handcuffed until human beings muster the strength and determination to free His hand. The intent and efficacy of the Holy Spirit is not dependent on human initiation.

Popular messages of Christian electronic media commonly put the onus on the individual, demanding that a person first demonstrate obedience to which God will respond by giving spiritual and material prosperity. The image of God waiting anxiously and hopefully for us to tap into the blessings He has prepared mishandles His truth and compromises the understanding of the gospel. This misrepresentation must be carefully assessed and faithfully addressed for it also tends to make sanctification dependent on human effort.

The gospel exists prior to all human action. God takes the initiate from the start to seek out the lost sinner and grant life to the spiritually dead. Baptism promises new life in the Spirit. But this initiative of God in no way compromises the call to repentance. God’s law justly condemns sinners. Recognition of His wrath against sin is the fertile soil in which the seed of God’s word germinates. People can and do turn away from the Holy Spirit’s work. They can and do neglect and reject the means of grace, ignoring the promise of their baptism, showing apathy to the private study and public preaching of God’s Word, failing to avail themselves of the gift of Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion.

But these are activities of the Old Adam, the sinful nature within us. The new life in Christ daily strives to overcome the old. Faith always seeks further spiritual blessings from Christ. And the more faith matures the more it does this with transparent honesty. We cannot manipulate God; as if the more pitiful we appear the more likely He is to have compassion on us. No, His compassion is impassible. That is, His pity, His, love, His zeal for our well-being does not rise and fall like the tide, or ebb and flow like human emotion. God’s compassion is always ardent, always expressed with unwavering fervor. The cross stands as the irrefutable source of this truth. Apathy, rejection, and denial are constant temptations which we can never be fully rid of, but the fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”4 Through the Spirit’s power these prevail in the end.

Dear friends, we commonly attribute cycles in life to the activity of nature; but it is God who has set these rhythms in place and He still sustains them. Everything would collapse in an instant without His support. The universe has no independent power to govern itself. Consider it a miracle every time the seed germinates, the sun rises, and the rain falls. Take nothing for granted. Consider it a miracle each morning you open your eyes and find He has given you the breath of life for another day.

The compassion of Christ is not a temporary fix or a vain hope. Precisely because Jesus died and rose again we look forward to “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”5 The purpose of all other miracles reaches its fulfillment in that great and eternal resurrection. The Holy Scripture says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”6 Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Second Sunday after Pentecost
6 June 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 18:36
2 Luke 7:13
3 John 3:16
4 Galatians 5:22-23
5 The Nicene Creed
6 Revelation 21:4