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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Compassion, Glory and Majesty

16th Sunday in Trinity 2010

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Sept. 19, 2010

“O Lord, let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be alway acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. ”

Luke 7:14 “And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.”
What is miraculous? What is a miracle? One source says that a miracle is”An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God:”
Seen in this light, the selection from the Gospel of Luke for today is nothing short of miraculous. In it, Christ shows his complete mastery over Nature and the afflictions of Man. Recall that for the week before last, the 14th Sunday after Trinity, Jesus healed the ten lepers, freeing them from the bondage of a grievous disease. In this week’s selection, Christ raises a young man from the dead. Why would He do this? Did He have a goal in mind, or was He simply seeking Glory for Himself? What was his motivation, if there was one? Let us hold that question while we consider the passage.

Luke tells us plainly that Christ had “compassion” on the widow. Why? Christ, knowing all things, knew that this woman had only one means of support, her son. According to the story he was now dead in his youth. Recall that the state of widowhood was dire in 1st century Palestine. If a woman was young enough, she could remarry and be a wife. Her other option was to be a prostitute; if she was young and attractive enough. Otherwise, poverty loomed over many virtuous but unfortunate women. These were the very limited options for females in those days. Without family or riches, a woman’s place could be perilous indeed.

But, Jesus had compassion on her. He tells her, “Do not weep.” Then, he touches the funeral bier, causing those carrying it to stop. It is obvious what kind of authority Jesus Christ exuded. He stops the death procession with a touch and with his Presence, then commands the young man to arise from the grip of mortality: (Luk 7:15) “And the one who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He delivered him to his mother.’

We must notice several important points about this story. First, it is very important to note that the young man was actually dead, not just sick. Christ comes to him and raises him from his death. Thus, the first parallel is that in the same way He will raise us up at the last day. This is the most obvious and easily gleaned insight of the passage. Second, note that the young man begins to speak immediately upon being revived, presumably with the words of praise for God. Christ then heals the situation completely by delivering the young man back to his mother. This mends the rupture made in the family by his premature death.

Without being too simplistic, there are some very powerful parallels here to our lives. First, we know that we meet Christ dead in our sins. St. Paul tells us in Colossians 2:13: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;” In short, as Paul is fond of telling us, and rightly so, we are actually dead in our sins before Christ calls us to salvation. We also know that in some strange and wonderful way, God calls to Himself those who will be saved. We, who are called and hear that clarion call of salvation, as the young man did, will be saved through God’s Grace.

Note also that it is Christ who stops the procession towards death, vividly illustrated in this story by Jesus physically stopping the bier from its appointed destination. Not to belabor a point, but only Christ can do this, stopping our journey towards eternal death by his personal intervention. Not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Allah, not Sun-yat-sen, nor even the multiplicity of Hindu gods can halt one’s total oblivion, or in truth, one’s damnation. Only Christ can reach into the shady abyss that is death and extract from it the shining kernel of an eternal soul, to be loved and cherished with Him forever.

Let’s expand just a bit on that point. We truly don’t come alive until Christ touches us. True, we can seem vibrant, happy, full of zest and enthusiasm, but are we really? History, especially very recent history, is literally “chock full” of celebrities who seem to have it all, but after a period of meteoric success, succumb to depression and self-loathing, even to the point of drug overdose or outright suicide. Why? One can seem to have it all and still be desperately unhappy.
One can have it all, yet be empty inside. Perhaps this is obvious to the Christian, for he knows that only Christ can give true fulfillment and satisfaction.

Yet, when Christ approaches the funeral bier that is our soul, absent Him, and touches it, miraculous things begin to happen. We begin to have new life. We too sit up and speak new things, testifying to the Glory of God. It is Christ that halts our slide into death and damnation.

Forgive me for being painfully obvious, but the story as related in Luke is very straightforward and perhaps our understanding of if should be so as well. As we live in Christ, so shall we die in Christ and so shall we be resurrected in Christ. It is that point that St. Luke wants us to get.

Returning to the original question, why did Christ have compassion on the widow? Why did He bother to raise her son? What, really, was the point? That is a question that can be answered only by God. It is answer that is caught up in the whole mystery of God. It involves issues such as God’s Glory and His magnificence, but most of all, it deals with His love. We don’t understand this love, nor are we truly able to comprehend it. We don’t understand a Being that truly loves us more and better than we love ourselves. How? Why? It is a mystery of the first magnitude.

Yet, although we truly cannot comprehend it, we can recognize a demonstration of it. For example, this love was demonstrated very clearly and tangibly in today’s Gospel. It is love that is universal yet incomprehensible, vast, yet localized, transcendent, yet immanent.

Thus, we must ask, is it enough merely to bask in the immensity and profundity of God’s love? Are we merely to be passive receptors of it? The question is rhetorical but the answer is intensely personal. We will submit to you that Christianity is a call to action tempered by the Holy Spirit.
That is, rather than just be passive and appreciative; we ought to be active and reciprocal. May the light inside us be so intense that it shines through the fissures of our being to help illuminate those around us. Let them see the light and want it too. After, there is something different about a committed Christian. There is something different about us. Let is simply be that the world knows us by our love.

Therefore, we must leave it up to St. Paul to summarize this magnificent love, as he says from our Epistle for the day: (Eph 3:20-21) “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, forever. Amen.” This is our Christ. He is the supreme example of divine love for us.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.