Preached September 19th, 2010
St. Luke 7:11–17
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today on the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity we take up the fourth topic in our five Sunday sequence, Patience, particularly patience in difficult times and situations. It is one thing to love and serve God with an undivided heart when times are good, but it is often far more difficult to do when our lives become strained and our burdens heavy. That is when we particularly need patience and forbearance to continue on, despite the complications that have come our way. Last Sunday was about the anxious, thus finding it difficult to trust in God. Today is the Sunday for those sad and overburdened.
In our Epistle lesson for this morning, St. Paul is concerned that the Ephesians not become overwhelmed and discouraged by dwelling on his many sufferings, particularly if it might lead them to conclude that the Christian life was beyond their attainment. Thus he begins with Ephesians 3:13 Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. The final phrase, “which is your glory” means “that which is done for your benefit and honor,” so St. Paul is explaining that his sufferings are for the benefit of the Church.
Then Paul offers a prayer, beginning with these words, Ephesians 3:14-15 14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, We notice right away that St. Paul is on his knees addressing the Father, the source of all comfort, by the constancy of His care, the tenderness of His love. God is Father, or more accurately THE Father, not because he is like earthly fathers, but rather they are so named because they are like Him. He is the source of fatherhood, and every family of men or angels is a type and distant semblance to the great family of which God is the Father.
St. Paul prays for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Ephesians 3:16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; When we think we are all alone, when there is no human relief to aid us, the one always reliable helper is the Holy Spirit who needs no human agent. The power of the Holy Spirit is in no ways limited, but rather is completely unlimited, “according to the riches of his glory” as the Scripture says. This is the remedy for the faintness of heart that the Ephesians were experiencing, and that many of us may feel as well. The power of the Holy Spirit is more than adequate to overcome our fears if we will but appeal to Him.
As we seek the Holy Spirit from the Father, we will also gain the presence of Christ from the Spirit as the Scripture says, Ephesians 3:17-19 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. In this way, we will realize our position fixed in the temple of God’s Grace, and we will come to an understanding of the breadth of liberty in that Grace, the depth of security in that Grace, the length to which that Grace continues, and the height of Glory of that Grace. Only through Christ’s personal presence within us can we have the peace that passeth understanding. Our earthly situation, with its physical and mental difficulties has the potential for many sorrows, and there is much need for comfort. We are blessed with a holy mystery of comfort in both Jesus Christ as Comforter and also the Holy Ghost, sent as the Comforter by Christ, and both of them come to us from God the Father, the source of all Comfort. Thus we see all three parts of the Holy Trinity coming to our aid in our distress.
All of this leads to St. Paul’s closing doxology, Ephesians 3:20-21 20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. This is a prayer to the One who is not limited by our inability to pray properly, by our fears, our weaknesses, our doubts, or any other impediment. It is a prayer for the limitless power of God the Father.
Jesus came for several purposes, but one of them was to reveal to man more clearly the characteristics of God, particularly things like tenderness that might be thought inconsistent with the majesty of His Godhead. Jesus showed the humanity of God as we see in our Gospel lesson today, the miracle raising to life of the son of the widow of Nain.
Our Gospel lesson begins with the words, Luke 7:11-12 11 And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. 12 Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. Now the wording makes it sound like it was pure coincidence that Jesus arrived at the city as the bier was being carried out, but it would be a mistake to think so. Jesus Christ knows our sorrows, and He does not leave it to chance to be present when we need Him. He arranges both our path and His own in order that they cross at the necessary points, never too soon or too late. He is ever aware of our situation, what our burdens are and just how heavy they are. He stands ready to lighten the load for us as needed, and it is never by accident, but rather by arrangement.
The Lord sees the scene as described in Luke 7:13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. Jesus saw her and had compassion on her. But then we hear the comfortable words, “Weep not.” There is real comfort in those words because there is real power in their source. Jesus has a heart to love, to sympathize, and bear with us.
The power in Christ’s words, “Weep not,” is enabled in the events of Luke 7:14-15 14 And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. 15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.
There are those key words, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” Similar words are recorded in two other raisings: (1) when the daughter of Jairus is raised from the dead, Jesus says, “Maid, arise.” (Luke 8:54) and again (2) when Lazarus is raised from the grave, Jesus says, “Lazarus, come forth.” (John 11:43). It matters not how long the person has been dead, a matter of moments, a day, or several days in the grave, all rise on the command of Christ in exactly the same manner. It did not matter how old they were when they died, but they all respond to His call to come into His presence and the presence of the others. Ultimately, He will restore all the living and the dead to each other at the end of time in the great act of pity on mankind.
Thus is the sympathy of Christ, exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, and the power that worketh in us, shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you (Romans 8:11b), to splice together two phrases from St. Paul.
This is one of two Sunday’s in the Church year when the Collect prays specifically for the Church itself corporately, the other Sunday being Trinity 22. This short Collect asks for three things: (1) Cleansing, (2) Defense, and (3) Preservation, all acts of God’s pity upon His Church struggling in duress.
Cleansing means the removal of inward sin. The One who first cleansed the Church by one Baptism for the remission of sins must also continually cleanse it by His Holy Spirit to drive out error, inventions, and all manner of abuse. It is abundantly clear as we look around us today that the Church is in great need of on–going cleansing. The list of questionable innovations that have come about in the past half century is shockingly long, and most have been accepted almost without any question.
The best defense of the Church is her cleansing, but also she must be defended from attack by those who seek her destruction. We see today both aggressive atheism and aggressive Islam, each seeking the destruction of Christianity. It is vitally important that the Church be well defended from both of these enemies who attack her doctrines, and her rightful liberties.
Preservation of the Church is necessary in order that it be able to continue to function as Christ’s Body here on earth. It is at risk from dangers both inside and outside, and left to its own devices, it would have been swept away long ago. It is preserved only by the pity and power of Jesus Christ who called it into existence and wills that it continue until the Final Day in order to serve Himself.
In times of adversity, individually and corporately as the Church, we are sustained solely by the power of the Holy Ghost and Spirit of Jesus Christ that we receive thereby. To think otherwise is simply to over rate ourselves and set ourselves up for an eventual fall. This life is too much for man alone.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.