Sunday, September 15, 2013

God Has Visited His People

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 15, 2013
Where do you start? With life? Or death? Do you start where God started it all, with life? Or with where we’re at, with death? If you start with where it all started, with life, you see very clearly that you are not where you started, with life. Because death is the norm. You were born into this world, given life, but you are going to die. You are born into this world, but you are born of this world, and that means you are born into sin and you are spiritually dead. Even if you start with life, you can’t really grasp what it is. You can’t know what it truly means to be alive; to have life as God intended for you to have it. Without sin. Without imperfection. Without sorrow or trouble.

So start with death. Start where it was with the woman in the Gospel reading. She lost her husband. Now she lost her only son. We meet her where she was at. In death. She was alive but staring straight into the face of death. This is where it started with her. If you are to see what it means that God has saved you, you must start where you’re at. With death. You are staring it straight in the face, because you are no different than that woman. She was alive, but her life was consumed by death. Her husband, now her son. At some point she too would die, and even so, certainly was sad to live the rest of her days without her husband and now her son.

So yes, this is the place to start. This is where we’re at. And this is where Jesus starts. He meets the woman in her sorrow. His beginning with her is in her experiencing death. And the people who witnessed His raising this young man from his death got it right: “God has visited his people!” In our current state, we were in death. But God visited His people. God came to us in our death. He who began with life came to us in our death. So that’s where we should begin. With death. We should begin with where we’re at. We’re born into death, we’re living in death. We are going to die.

Now coming to church is supposed to be uplifting, so we certainly don’t want to talk about death the whole time. But would our time here in God’s House truly be uplifting if we ignored the clear state we are in? Would it really help to ignore the fact that we are wrapped in sinful flesh and that our life thus ultimately ends in death? It wouldn’t do us any good. It rather would end up harming us.

Even so, we don’t focus only on death. After all, when Jesus came to the woman where she was at, in the midst of death, He did bring life. He truly brought her out of her sorrow. He physically brought her son back to life. Just because we start with death doesn’t mean we continue in it. But as they say, naming the thing you’re battling is half the battle. So let’s name it. It’s death. You and I are spiritually dead. Of our own sinful nature we are rotting corpses that ultimately will burn eternally in the lake of fire. And it is a fire that will never be quenched. Ignore this to your peril.

There’s another plain fact, though. You’re here. You’re exactly where you need to be to face this death head-on. If you are critically ill, you need to be rushed to the hospital. Otherwise death will overtake you. You will succumb to it. The man in the Gospel reading didn’t even outlive his mother. On a very basic level, this place, the House of God, is a hospital. Here you are healed. You come here so that you may receive the medicine you need to keep you from dying eternally. Here you are given the spiritual care for your soul so that you may not die but live forever. This is how meeting the problem head-on actually is uplifting. When you see what you’re facing you can then see how to face it.

The woman was given grace to see this. In her grief, God visited her. Jesus came to her in her need. God saw that her problem was death. She could not escape it. But He began everything with life. Even though our experience begins with death; even though He meets us where we’re at, in our living with death; He brings into the midst of it life.

How does He do this? By coming to us. God has visited His people. God has come to us where we’re at. He has brought life into our death. The one thing that the entire Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, hones in on is that thing. God has come to us where we’re at. He has brought His life to us in our death in the person of Jesus. God has visited His people. The one who brought life into existence is the God who brings dead people back to life. He does it by Jesus coming to us right where we’re at. And we’ve already established where we’re at, we’re in death. There’s no sense in ignoring it. It’s to our ultimate ruin if we do.

But if we boldly face it, well, then we’re in a position to be brought back to life! That’s what Jesus does. He brings back to life. So you and I are here today for just that purpose. You and I are waking up each day to a day in which we are spiritually dying; our sinful flesh bringing us to our ultimate ruin. It is only by the act of God visiting us, coming to us in this death we have, that we are able to be raised up to new life. In Baptism God visited you, His son, His daughter. In Baptism He touched the coffin of your sinful flesh and spoke to you to get up. And you did. Because He raises from the dead. He brings people to life. As He spoke creation into existence, He speaks new life into you by His Gospel; by absolving you of your sins; by giving to you His body and blood, saying, “Take and eat, this is My body, for you. Take and drink, this is My blood, for you.”

He doesn’t do this to you and for you because you’re alive, but because you’re dead. On your own, you’re dead. But when He raises you to life, well then you have life! Only then are you able to live; and live eternally!

Our problem is that we want to think that on our own we’re alive when we’re really dead. We want to think things are okay when they’re really not. We want to ignore what we need to face head on. When we come here, into the House of God, into this place, and are diagnosed with our sickness, namely, death, then we’re able to see clearly that we need to be treated. We’re also in the place where God does what He does, and that is bring dead people back to life! Ignoring that you are dead and need to be brought back to life by God is ignoring Jesus and Him dying on the cross for the sin of the world. Jesus would not have suffered for the sin of the world if it were not needed. If you aren’t spiritually dead then Jesus wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of dying for you.

Our problem is that we don’t want to deal with our problem. We want to be uplifted without facing what stands in our way. But the good news is that God visits His people. He comes to us right where we’re at, even if we’re not hot on seeing that we’re dead. We need help. We need to be revived. We need to be brought back to life.

So turn things around. Instead of thinking of heading your problem straight on as a discouraging thing, that you’re spiritually dead, realize that this is a blessing from God. He is working for you just as the doctor would in telling you that are critically ill and need to be treated. Your doctor is acting for your good. Your doctor is doing what you need.

This is why God came in the flesh. It is why the entire Scriptures point to Christ and are centered in Him. You are dead and you need to be brought back to life. He is how it happens. You can’t do it on your own. That woman wasn’t able to bring her husband and son back to life. Her son certainly wasn’t able to raise himself back to life! He was dead and only Jesus could bring him back to life. And He did! The woman was experiencing the effects of death and only Jesus could bring life to her, and He did!

This is what He does for you. He died so that you may live. He rose so that you may rise with Him. He Baptized you so that you could die with Him and rise with Him. He gives you His body and blood in His precious Supper so that you may partake of the God who visits His people. So that you may eat and drink of the very flesh and blood of the one who came in the flesh and shed His blood on the cross for all of your sin. So that in partaking of His body and blood you may be brought back to life. So that you may have life and have it in abundance.

Going back to the start, where we debated how to start, whether with life or with death, there is one answer. Christ. You start with Christ. In Him you have both life and death. In His life you have life, in His death you have life, in His resurrection you have life. In Baptism God comes to His people because you are united with Christ in His death and resurrection. In your Baptism you have death and life. The putting to death of your sinful nature and the rising to life of your new Man, your new and eternal life in Christ.

You don’t need to wonder if you should start with death or life. Start with Christ. Because it ends with Him. But even so, it doesn’t so much end with Him as it continues with Him. Forever. Amen.


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