Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 5, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s nice to have visitors. New faces and familiar friends alike provide a little breakup of the monotony that plagues the daily grind. I particularly like having visitors to New Haven to show off how much fun our town and surrounding country is. Usually I can get them to come to church on Sunday to see with their own eyes what a blessing this congregation is. Having visitors is like adding a spice that makes a dish over-the-top.
But then there are some visitors that are unwelcomed. There’s an old Saturday Night Live sketch called “The Thing that Wouldn’t Leave” where John Belushi does all the stuff that make you want to kick someone out of your house. Impolite, discourteous, uncivil. These are the kinds of visitors that make you wish you’d never made the invitation, that make you want to pull the shades, turn off the lights, and hide in a back closet when you see their car pull up the driveway.
The story of life is a tale of two visits. The first is a most unwelcomed visitor; the second is a must unexpected visitor with a most astonishing end.
The first visitor started knocking at humanity’s door when the first man and woman considered the temptation that was laid before them. Sin was crouching at the door, waiting to be welcomed with open arms by those who desired to be like God.
But when the door was opened to sin, another visitor snuck in with it—death. And it only took a generation for death to tighten its stranglehold on humanity as the first son of the first sinners took his own brother’s life.
Since the advent of sin, death is a most unwelcomed visitor. Sometimes it announces its visit months or even years in advance. Sometimes it shows up unannounced.
Today we hear of two women whose lives had been invaded by sin and death. The Old Testament reading is a continuation of last week’s reading about the widow of Zarephath. She was no stranger to the visit of death, which had taken her husband from her. Last week, we heard her worries that she and her son would eat their last meal and then await their own deaths from scarcity and famine. God had preserved their lives through a miraculous provision of food only to have her son take ill and die. “Leave me alone, man of God,” she told Elijah. “Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my boy?” (1 Kings 17:18).
When death visits, it’s a reminder of the visitor we have all welcomed—sin.
The Gospel for today tells of a similar woman. A widow, death had left her with only one son—the only one who would provide for her. After his death, her own death probably was not far off.
These two widows are certainly not the only two who have been visited by death. Their stories are the same as those of all people—different times, different places, but the same death.
Everyone here has been visited by death in one way or another. If it hasn’t affected you directly, it will. Whether you’re a widow or widower, a parent whose unborn child died in the womb, or a son or daughter who has lost a parent, your story is not so different from the story of the widows of Zarephath and Nain—and not so different from the stories of every other human being.
Death stings. And, “The sting of death is sin” (1 Cor 15:56), says St. Paul. Like the widow at Zarephath who remembered her sin when her son died, death is a constant reminder that we are the ones who opened the door to sin, we are the ones who welcomed sin into our lives, we are the ones who are responsible for death’s visitation.
The other, unexpected visit was recognized in Nain. “God has visited His people!” (v 16b), shouted the crowd. In the person of Christ, God has paid a visit of His own. He has visited His people—death and all. And
A Visit from God Ends with Resurrection from the Dead
The two widows who suffered from the visitation of death in their lives were both paid a visit by God. Years before the birth of Christ, God visited Zarephath by sending His prophet. Elijah came to the widow’s house of death and brought life. When there was hunger, God gave food. And when there was death, God gave life.
“Give me your boy,” he said to her. He took him from her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying and laid him on his own bed. Then he cried to the LORD. “LORD my God,” he said, “would You also bring misery on the widow I’m staying with by killing her boy?” Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and called to the LORD, “O LORD my God, please make this boy live again.” The LORD did what Elijah asked, and the life of the boy returned again to his body and so he lived. (1 Kings 17:19-22).
And in the town of Nain, as another widow wept over her dead son, God visited again—this time in the flesh. And seeing her, the Lord had compassion upon her and said to her, “Stop crying.” And coming forward, He touched the bier; and the bearers stood there. And He said, “Young man, I am saying to you, be raised.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak. And He gave him to his mother (vv 13-15).
Christ’s visitation wasn’t just for friendly chit-chat over a cup of coffee. He visited for a reason. Zechariah, as he held the baby John in his hands—the baby who would prepare the way of the Lord Jesus—prophesied, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people” (Benedictus, Luke 1:68).
Christ visited our race, and He also visited our unwelcomed visitor. For He too visited death and the grave. He went were the widows’ sons went. He went where your loved ones went. He went where you will one day go. But His visit doesn’t end with end death—it ends with resurrection.
Just as death is an ever-present reminder of our sin, so also—and much more—is resurrection a reminder of our redemption and the forgiveness of our sins. Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God, who is giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:54b-57).
Though death stings, that sting is no victory. Stings go away after time, and so the death of the saints will go away after time, in the resurrection of the dead.
Christ’s visit with His people seems to have ended when He ascended into heaven. But it was only a change in where He visits.
No longer does He visit on foot in towns like Nain, but He visits upon each and every Christian altar. As we eat His body and drink His blood, we are not only reminded of His death and resurrection, but the very forgiveness of sins that His resurrection reminds us of is delivered to us. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there also is life and resurrection.
While we are yet sojourners here on earth, sin will continue to crouch at our doors and its unwelcomed visitor will continue to squeeze into our lives. But the Lord Jesus has promised one more visit. On the last day, He will visit us again. His visit will result in the resurrection of all flesh—of you and me, your friends and loved ones, the widows of Zarephath and Nain and their sons. And He will give eternal life to all believers in Him.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard