2 Pentecost Proper C5
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 7:11-17 Sermon
June 6, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
299 "I Know Of A Sleep In Jesus' Name"
484 "God Works In A Mysterious Way"
572 "Children Of The Heavenly Father"
478 "He Leadeth Me"
FREEDOM FROM THE ENEMY
TEXT (vs. 14-15): " 14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother."
Do you know what today is? Maybe you're kind of puzzled. There's worship and music committee meeting after church this morning, which usually means we eat pizza while we're meeting. But that's not anything out of the ordinary, or anything that noteworthy.
However if you ask anybody that's a World War II veteran, or the family of a veteran, or even a history buff, they will know why today is so special. It was 66 years ago today on June 6, 1944 that an event called D-Day occurred. And what a day that was too.
The term "D-Day" is military jargon, which translated means "Day-Day" or this is THE day of days when some sort of major military action would take place. So there were numerous "D-Days" in history, but none quite so noteworthy as the invasion at Normandy.
In doing my study on this subject, I discovered page after page after page of detailed history, which was way more than I was looking for or needed to know. I had no idea how intricate and far-reaching this day's activities were.
In 1962 a very detailed academy award winning movie entitled "The Longest Day" was made of this event, which incidentally was one of the last movies filmed in black-and-white. It had a cast of such great actors as Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Peter Lawford, John Wayne, and others. In addition to the actors, they employed a large number of former soldiers who were actually there, just so things were more realistic.
Or if you want a more modern movie about this, in 1998 Steven Spielberg produced another academy award winning movie about D-Day entitled "Saving Private Ryan" starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon. The movie is rather intense as it begins with a reenactment of the battle at Omaha Beach. Private Ryan, who is portrayed by Matt Damon is the last surviving brother of three fallen servicemen.
From what I can tell, these two movies, as great as they are, barely scratch the surface of what went on. In fact, I don't think many people can actually grasp the magnitude of what went on there. There were many facets of D-Day, for example there was Operation Neptune which began on D-Day and ended on June 30 after the allied forces were firmly entrenched in Normandy. Then you've probably heard about Operation Overlord that also began that day, and continued until the allied forces crossed the Seine River on August 19th. This began the lengthy process of liberation. From there on until the war ended on September 2, 1945, Nazi forces continued their futile battle with the allied troops.
When the allied forces began their attack on D-Day, they went in with over 175,000 troops which consisted mostly of American, British, and Canadian soldiers, and some Australians (most of the Aussies were stationed in the Pacific). They were up against an unknown number of Nazi soldiers. And when it was all over, there were approximately 10,000 casualties amongst the allied troops, and somewhere between 4,000 and 9,000 casualties for the Nazis.
One of the more striking sites I've seen (and it's only by photograph), are the cemeteries. If I've counted correctly, there are 27 of them, 22 of which are for the allied troops. One cemetery I remember seeing had these neat rows of white crosses as far as the eye could see. These were some of the graves of the soldiers who lost their lives at Normandy, and for whatever reason they were buried there. Those crosses represent one soldier who has died. And sad to say, the ACLU has been trying to get rid of those crosses for a long time, albeit unsuccessfully. And when you stop and consider not only the soldiers who are buried there, but the number who were shipped back to the United States in those generic metal boxes, you can get a vague idea of the absolute bloodbath that occurred there in France 66 years ago.
As we look at our Gospel Lesson for this morning, the main theme is death. In fact, it is the main theme of our Old Testament Lesson as well. In both instances, a mother has experienced the devastating death of a son. And in both cases, God saw fit to bring them back to life again.
Our Gospel Lesson is about a widowed woman. Her only son had already died--for how long, we do not know. But it would have been long enough for all the townspeople to come out and grieve with the woman. He is being carried from the house in a casket when Jesus arrives.
Verse 13 of our text says, "13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, 'Don't cry.'" Now here's a good example of where the English translation just doesn't do justice to the original Greek. The Greek word is "es-plag-chnis-thay," that is translated "his heart went out," to indicate that he had compassion on her. This is the same Greek word that's used in the parable of the prodigal son, that describes what the son's father felt when he saw his son approaching.
What "es-plag-chnis-thay," attempts to convey is a level of compassion that is so passionate that it is literally "gut wrenching." This word is used most often to describe a physical condition, where a person's bowels are literally churning. That is the intensity of compassion that Jesus felt for this widow who had lost her son.
This woman's grief was substantial enough to convince Jesus to bring her only son back to life. So he approaches the bier that held her son's body; and with just his divine touch, the son is brought back to life.
Another thing that makes this story memorable, is the way Jesus handled a dead body. The Jewish law was very strict about how a corpse was to be handled. And those who had the task of taking care of it were unclean for a month, according to the ceremonial law. But Jesus breaks through it all, and does what he has to do. He made himself unclean according to Jewish law so the dead could live!
This story in our Gospel Lesson hits home for me too. All you have to do is go and talk to my mother and ask her how she felt almost four years ago.
As most of you are aware, my dad passed away on May 31 of 2006. Then in the first part of August I wound up in hospital with major surgery. When I went in, I had no idea that things were as serious as they were, and how close to death I actually was. My mother recalls the four plus hours she spent in surgery waiting, and how difficult and stressful those hours were. My cousin was there with her, and my mother told her, "I just lost my husband; I can't lose my son now too!" And you know, I can't even begin to fathom what things would have been like for her today if I would have died at that time.
I am firmly convinced that I am standing behind this pulpit today because we have a compassionate God who hears and answers prayer. I was literally within hours of being on a mortician's table instead of an operating table. And so it is with a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving that I am here today, and I can tell you about it.
There's a saying I heard long ago. I don't know who said it, but it is something well worth remembering. Do you know that Jesus, in his entire ministry, never preached a funeral sermon? That's right! He never preached a funeral sermon! That's because he broke up every funeral he ever attended. The dead just couldn't stay dead whenever he was there.
As I think about all those tombstones at Normandy all the way over in France, I look it as a gruesome reminder of sin. If you study any given war throughout history, it has come about because of sin. Maybe somebody coveted something that wasn't theirs. Maybe somebody was greedy for power. Maybe somebody even wanted to set themselves up as a god. You can look at any war and say to yourself, "Okay now, which broken commandment started this one?" But the most blatant examples of wars caused by sin are those where disciples of heathen religions are fighting wars because of their peculiar religious tenets and doctrines. Sad to say, those who claim Christianity are guilty of starting holy wars as well.
We have death in this world because of sin. In Romans chapter 5 verses 12-14 the Apostle Paul writes: "12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned- 13for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come."
God did not create human beings to die. That was not his will. But because of sin, humanity brought sin upon themselves. Because the perfection of God's world was now ruined, we have to deal with death. Regardless of how it might happen, the human mortality rate is still one hundred percent.
As we continue with our Gospel reading for today, the reaction of the people following this miracle is noteworthy. Verses 16-17 read: "16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. 'A great prophet has appeared among us,' they said. 'God has come to help his people.' 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country."
This miracle certainly had its desired effect. Instead of the criticism and threats Jesus received from the Pharisees, the people gathered here recognized right away that God was behind it all. And so they praised him. They saw him as a compassionate and loving God who wanted only the best for his children. And they also recognized Jesus as being true God, because they exclaim: "God has come to help his people!
I don't think better words could be used to describe Jesus and his ministry. He came to this earth to help us, to be our Saviour from sin. Everything he did on this earth was to help us, all the way from his birth at Bethlehem to his sacrificial death on Calvary. Through faith in him, our sins are forgiven and we are members of his household. We are his children. And like all parents, he only wants the best for his children. He always has our welfare in mind.
As I consider all of those graves at Normandy, I do so first with a heart-felt appreciation for what those soldiers have done for me. They died in order that I would be protected and kept safe. They weren't out to prove anything or get glory for themselves. The task at hand cost them their lives. And so we thank the Lord for them as we realize this is but one way he looks after his children.
I can't help but imagine though how many tears have been shed for each one of those white crosses. That's one cross marking the grave of one person. Each one of them had a unique life all their own. They each had parents who grieved. Some had spouses and children. And who knows how many lives have been altered in some way because the only thing left is their memory.
But there is one great truth we need to remember: each one of those many crosses mark a person for whom Christ died. And for those who died as true believers in Christ, each cross is a sign of victory for them. Each cross is a symbol of hope for those who mourn their passing.
June 6, 1944. 66 years ago, the D-Day invasion happened which eventually brought World War II to an end. The enemy had been defeated. Unfortunately, Hitler didn't immediately throw down his weapons and raise the white flag. Even though they knew their defeat was certain, the Nazis battled on for more than another year before it was finally over.
2000 years ago, a crucifixion and a resurrection happened which brought an end to death. Satan the enemy has been defeated. Unfortunately, Satan hasn't thrown down his weapons and raised his white flag either. Even though he knows he's been defeated, he continues to battle on and on, and he will continue to do so until Christ returns to judge the living and the dead.
Today, just like long ago, Jesus has come to help his people. He comes to us through Word and Sacrament. He not only forgives our sins, but he also gives us the weapons to effectively fight Satan. And when we breathe our last on this earth, we know for certain that death will not hold us captive. The widow's son is a picture of what will happen to us. We will rise and enjoy a new life for all eternity.
And so on this anniversary of D-Day, we not only remember those who have fallen with a sense of gratitude, but we are encouraged and strengthened in the battle fight every day with Satan. And so, be encouraged by the words the Apostle Paul uses as he concludes his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6 verses 10-18: "10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. "