3 Pentecost Proper C5                                                               
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 7:11-17 Sermon                                                                                                       
June 9, 2013

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
281 "The Saviour Calls, Let Every Ear"
277 "I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say"
305 "Soul Adorn Thyself With Gladness"
45 "Now The Hour Of Worship O'er"


TEXT (vs. 14-15) “14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” 

            I’m guessing that by now, you have had the chance to look at your bulletin, and you have noticed the theme for my sermon this morning.  And I’m also guessing that after reading “how to break up a funeral,” you have some questions about it.  And I admit that it is a rather unique, perhaps even an odd theme to have chosen.

            Some time ago, and it has been some years back, that I read something a pastor wrote.  I don’t have the quote in front of me, so I’ll paraphrase it.  He said, “Of all the sermons Jesus preached, he never preached a funeral sermon.  Jesus broke up every funeral he ever attended.  Whenever Jesus showed up, the dead just couldn’t remain dead.”  Or to put it another way, Jesus has a way of ruining a perfectly good funeral.

            One of the things that make us squirm a bit about funerals is the stark reality of it all.  For many people, it’s a part of reality that they just don’t want to face or think about.

            Years ago, I was an usher at a rather large funeral.  Before the funeral started, I saw this young man who was noticeably shaken sort of creep through the entrance into the church building.  As he came into the narthex, he caught a glimpse of the casket and immediately turned his head away.  At this point, he was shaking quite a bit as he was ushered by someone else into the sanctuary.  He probably wasn’t sitting there even five minutes before he got up, hurried out of the sanctuary and out of the building.  A few moments later, I heard his car start and he drove away.  He never came back for the funeral service.

            He obviously was very uncomfortable with the whole thing, and he simply freaked out about it.  This was a part of reality that he just couldn’t handle.  And so his solution to the problem was to simply turn and run away.

            One of the things a funeral does is to preach a strong message of the law.  The very fact that there is a casket and a corpse lying inside of it, or an urn or container with cremated ashes inside preaches the law to us without the necessity of uttering even one single word.  A dead body is the stark testimony that we are sinners living in a world of sin.  It’s something we just can’t escape. 

            We must understand that death is not part of the original creation.  Death is something that we invited into this world by virtue of our sin.  Listen to what the Bible says:  In Ezekiel chapter 18 verse 20 we read:  “The soul who sins shall die.”  Moving into the New Testament, in Romans chapter 5 verse 12 we read:  “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned;” and then we move on to Romans chapter 6 verse 23:  “The wages of sin is death;” and finally 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  God did not intend for us to die.

            But yet it is a reality.  This morning we used the page 15 Communion Liturgy.  Remember those words in the confession of sins?  “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto thee all my sins and iniquities, with which I have ever offended thee, and justly deserved thy temporal and eternal punishment.”  Our sinfulness should only merit our eternal death and condemnation.  We deserve punishment both now and in the life to come.  We should experience death in this world, and eternal death for our souls.  That’s the wages of sin, as the Apostle Paul says in the Bible.

            One of the key things we see in our Gospel Lesson for today, and our Old Testament Lesson as well, is that God is more powerful than death itself.  And as we see this, we should also keep in mind the words God speaks in Ezekiel chapter 18, verses 23 and 32:  “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?  For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

            So let’s look at our Gospel lesson for today, and see how Jesus breaks up a rather sad funeral.  Jesus and his disciples were just entering into the town of Nain.  But as they were coming into town, there was another procession leaving town.  It was a funeral procession, and everything about it was decent and in order.  The body of a young man was being carried out on a bier.  A bier was not much more than a flat board with handles that was used to transport the shroud-covered body to the cemetery for burial.  There were pallbearers and the mourners following along.

            One of the sad aspects of this situation was the fact that the woman was a widow, and this was her only son.  In those days, the children cared for their parents in their old age.  But now this woman would be alone, having to fend for herself.  She was facing the prospect of living out her days in abject poverty.  It was not a good situation.

            So for whatever reason or reasons there might have been, Jesus has pity on her.  And he proceeds to break up this perfectly good funeral in grand fashion.  He stops the procession and tells the widow, “Do not weep.”  Do not weep??  What kind of words are these?  Why should Jesus interfere with her grieving process?

            But then he goes to the bier and simply says, “Young man, I say to you, arise!”    And he does!  He gets up and begins talking and carrying on a conversation.  That’s how Jesus broke up this funeral.  Certainly there were lots of preparations for this event; and with just a few words, Jesus turns it all upside down.  

            Wow.  Just who is Jesus anyway to do something like this?  And this isn’t the only instance of this either.  The 12 year-old daughter of Jairus was also dead with mourners around and everything.  Jesus brings this funeral to a screeching halt when he says, “Little girl, arise!” 

            And then consider Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha.  Here was a man who had been dead for four days, and there was the odor of decomposing flesh.  Mourners were all around.  And Jesus tells them to open the tomb.  He says, “Lazarus, come out!”  And he does, still wrapped in the burial cloths. 

            And that still wasn’t all.  Jesus broke up his own funeral as well.  When the women went to the tomb to complete the process of embalming, Jesus was gone.  The tomb was empty and the grave clothes had been folded.  Jesus even conquered his own death.  How’s that for amazing?

            When we consider our own future, there is one word Jesus tells us today.  The word is “arise!”  And with that word we have a sure and certain hope for the future.  And that is something worth celebrating.

            Jesus is more powerful than sin, death, hell, and the devil.  Jesus shows us without any doubt that as our Saviour, he has conquered all these things on our behalf.  The sinless Son of God suffered the punishment we deserve and even tasted death so we would know the forgiving love of God and be reconciled to him.

            The only power death has is the power that comes from sin.  In 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 21 Paul reminds us: “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Jesus fulfilled the claim that death had on us because of our sin.  Now, death has no claim.  It had no claim on Christ and it has no claim on us.  And that is some awesome news indeed!

            If we look at 1 Corinthians 15, this is known as Paul’s great resurrection chapter in the Bible.  I think that I have included a portion of this Epistle at every funeral I have ever conducted.  The entire chapter gives us a view on life that is positive and hopeful, considering the goal that is in store for the believer.  Listen to verses 51-57, the words Paul shares at the conclusion of this chapter:   51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:  “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

            I know I’ve been at funerals, and I’m sure you have too, where the entire time is spent remembering all the great things that person did in his or her life.  We can talk of the love they had for family and friends.  We can talk about their generosity.  We can talk about supporting the community. We can talk about membership in organizations.  We can go on and on about the wonderful life that this person lived. Nevertheless, there is still a dead body in the casket proclaiming the death of a sinner in a sinful world.

            Now don’t get me wrong.  It’s nice to hear the events of a person’s life at their funeral.  It’s nice to hear about their popularity in the community.  It’s nice to keep the memory of a loved one alive.  But there is no eternal comfort in these things.  The true comfort is in the power that Jesus has over death.  That’s the power that he demonstrated in both the Old Testament and the Gospel readings for this day. 

            The true comfort is in the promise of forgiveness that Jesus earned for us on the cross.  It is in the salvation and eternal life that comes with that forgiveness.  It is in the confession of faith that our loved one made before death; the faith whereby the Holy Spirit joins us to Jesus Christ, the one who has the ultimate power over death.  For it is in that faith that we know that our bodies will not lie in the grave forever, but will rise in immortality to live forever in a heavenly mansion where there is no sin and no death.

            So do you want to know how to break up a funeral?  Just look to Jesus for that.  Our faith in Christ takes the sting out of death, replaces despair with hope, turns tears of sorrow into tears of joy, gives us the thrill of victory instead of the agony of defeat, and turns our mourning into rejoicing. 

            In our Old Testament Lesson and Gospel Lesson for today, two widows had God come into their lives and completely turn their world upside down by changing death into life.  God has come into our world and has done the very same thing. 

            Therefore we can take to heart the words of the Apostle Peter in the opening chapter of his first Epistle:  3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (3-4; 8b-9)