Archive for June, 2010

“Don’t Look Back!”

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Fifth Sunday in Pentecost, June 27, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Luke9I want to tell you a story about a man named Dave.  He works in one of those major high rise banks downtown.  Each day he walks the long twisting corridors, and uses the elevator to visit all 45 floors as he daily delivers and picks up mail.  “No big deal” we think, “it’s just a job!”  Well you would think that it’s only a job unless you stopped him and asked him, “What’s up?  How are you?”  Immediately you would hear his answer: “God is good and Jesus saves!”  This isn’t just a slogan for Dave; it’s his way of life!  Everyone that God puts in his path hears a word about God’s love through Jesus Christ.  If you watch him closely, you will hear him quoting scripture to himself as he pushes his mail cart along.  Some people rudely tell him to keep his Jesus talk to himself.  And after he passes by, some will even say pretty mean things about Dave.  Dave knows that this happens, but still he goes on with a smile in his heart, because he knows that he is really working for Jesus!  If you got to know Dave, you would find out that he even learned to speak Spanish so he could witness to his Latino neighbors.  While the rest of us fight to get on top of our world and make big money, Dave quietly lives out the mind and heart of Jesus through daily contact with others; whether he visits file clerks, corporate executives, or Spanish speaking neighbors, Dave loves to tell them about Jesus Christ.  Most of us would see him as one of the least of the community, but Jesus most likely places him amongst the greatest!

This morning let’s consider both God’s Word and His desired effect that His Word would have on us!  Our Old Testament reading asks us to consider the call of Elisha who left his family farm and followed God’s call with no regrets.  Our Epistle reading reminds us that we are living in the spirit and not according to the flesh.  We have been freed from the slavery of the Law and our fear of sin, death, and the devil.  And in our gospel reading, Jesus Himself tells us that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God!”  In all three of these readings we are invited to do the same thing… we are invited to pick up our cross and follow Jesus!

In our gospel reading we discover that James and John are angry at some people in a Samaritan village because they rejected Jesus.  They wanted to call down fire upon that place and destroy it, but Jesus reminds them that He must go to Jerusalem.  Why?  Why is Jesus’ face set towards Jerusalem?  So that he could fulfill His mission, which is also His calling and His vocation.  Jesus must go to Jerusalem so that He could carry His cross and suffer and die for the world; even for the people in this little village that rejected Him and deserved punishment; even for you!

Just after this we read starting in verse 57, “Someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.””  What a strange thing to say.  What was Jesus trying to tell this man?  I believe that Jesus was telling him that he was too ready.  It was the same thing he saw in Peter, when Peter said, “Even if all the others leave you, I will never leave you.”  And to this Jesus warned Peter, “Before the rooster crows, you will have denied me three times.”  And he did!  Why?  For the same error this man was making; he failed to count the cost of what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus.  I have a friend who was a US Marine recruiter.  He said that his job was to talk people out of becoming a Marine.  He said that many times people are enamored by the uniform and the excitement of serving, and they failed to see both the demand and the dangers that this high calling brings.  So he would tell them many truthful stories with just one purpose to force them to see the cost of becoming a United States Marine.

Jesus neither accepted nor rejected this young man’s request to become a disciple; He simply informed him of the truth.  This man needed to see what his offer would involve, not in some idealistic world, but in a sober and sane sense of reality.  Jesus wasn’t merely asking the young man to exchange his easy life for a hard one, instead He was using His homelessness as a way to illustrate the path that every true believer must walk.  Each Christian must choose to live by faith and not by sight.  We must realize that by following Jesus we are choosing a spiritual reality instead of a physical one.  By following Jesus each disciple is asked to live a life with eternal purposes instead of temporary physical ones. 

Next in verse 59, Jesus initiates the conversation.  He says to another young man “Follow me.”   But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  What strange words these are, and we may even be thinking, “That was a cruel thing to say!”  But Jesus knows the man’s heart and He knows our hearts because He created them.  This man hesitated in following Jesus.  He had parents who were still living and he depended on them.  He would follow after they died; after he buried them.  He would commit to an uncertain future but not the present moment. 

Jesus’ answer probably shocked that man just as it shocks us.  “You aren’t responsible for the dead, but for the living.  People with no commitment to me—people who are dead spiritually—can bury those who die physically.  Leave the burying to them and follow me.  Commitment to me must take precedence over all of your other commitments, traditions, politics, and even your family!”

Finally, in verses 61 and 62 we read: “Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to those at home.  Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  In all three of these conversations, God is asking each of us to truthfully ask ourselves how we would answer Jesus.  No, He is asking each of us this morning, “How DO you answer me?  I have heard your profession of faith.  I have invited to you to follow me.  What is your response?  Have you counted the cost of being a true disciple?  Are you willing to forsake all other concerns to follow me?  Are you willing to not look back on what you use to have, should have had, or could have without me?” 

This morning dear friends God is telling us not to look back.  He is asking each of us to pick up the Words of St. Paul and say, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto the things which are before (me), I press on toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 3:13-14]  What is that high calling?  It is the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is the sacrifice of self so that you can be one in Jesus Christ and one with your brothers and sisters who make up the universal church.

Friends, Christ is asking each of us to not just be committed to him but to live out the freedom that He gave us through His suffering, death, and resurrection.  This is the freedom that He gave to each of us in our blessed baptism.  But He also warns us not to take this freedom for granted.  Do not use your freedom to serve the desires of your flesh in this life.  Instead, remember that your high calling is to walk with Jesus in the spirit and to love your neighbor as yourself.  To remember that we must put our neighbor’s need of eternal life and happiness above our own needs.  God warns us that if we are not living out this spiritual reality, the result will be that we will bite and devour one another and eventually consume one another. [Ga. 5:15]  What is the only way to prevent this sinful behavior and protect the gift of salvation that we’ve been given?  To walk by the spirit!  To pick up our cross and follow Jesus!

In God’s Word we are ensured that by faith in Jesus Christ we do enjoy the full favor and approval of God.  God is not against us but for us. [Rom 8:17]  But on the other hand, God has determined that our high dignity of being a Christian is that we should not become entangled in this life, but instead we should receive the same humility and character that the earthly life of Jesus portrayed. [1 Peter 4:1]  And this humble life that we are called to live, which conforms us to the image of Christ is called the cross of Christians.  The things that we Christians suffer because we are living live out our faith in Christ in a sinful world is our cross!  If you follow Christ and confess the Gospel which is Him crucified, you will be stumbling block and an offense to this sinful world; you will receive the same treatment the world gave to Jesus.  But by your faith in Christ and His daily assurance that your sins are forgiven, you will no longer look at your suffering as a punishment but as the assurance of God that He loves you and is with you in your suffering. 

Friends, God is ever present with you through His Word assuring you not to fear the wrong judgment and ill treatment of this sinful world and the devil.  Because you hold fast to His Word in faith, put your hope in the Son of God, comfort yourself with His death and resurrection, fear God and desire to live according to His will, and sincerely desire to share your hope with others that God puts in your path, you can have confidence that nothing could ever separate you from God’s love which is yours through Christ Jesus!  But because our sinful flesh hungers and lusts for things that are by nature against God’s Word, will and order; and because our sinful flesh refuses to submit to suffering, and bearing crosses, God invites each of us into confession to admit that without His aid we are powerless to help ourselves.  He asks us daily to live out our baptisms by renouncing everything that interferes with our relationship with Jesus Christ and the building of His kingdom within our hearts and within this world, even at the expense of our own peace and tranquility, honor, possessions, affection of family members… even at the expense of our own lives!  Bearing our cross means that we must forsake all things that separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus! 

Dear friends, you can do this because Jesus did it for you!  You can do it because He is working within you to do this very thing.  Stay in His Word… trust in His Word… and hunger for His Word.  Speak to Him in prayer and ask for His strength and protection… and believe that what He has said is a certainty.  He will never leave nor forsake you.  Believe and don’t look back!  May God give each of us the strength to do this very thing; I pray that you will believe this, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

“Away from us!” Cries Our Sinful Flesh!

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Fourth Sunday in Pentecost, June 20, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

jesushealsthedemonpossessedman“Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.” [Gal. 2:20]

This morning, these words cause me to wonder how many people turn away from a real relationship with God because they are afraid of Jesus.  How many people are afraid of the change that they know will come once Jesus is truly Lord of their lives?  But I also wonder how many people are afraid to follow Jesus because they think that God is angry with them.  Maybe they received Him and His love, saw real change take place in their lives only to fall back into the same sinful behavior that He once freed them from. 

At this very moment, God’s Word declares to each of us who have been harassed, captivated, and even possessed by sin, that He is spreading out His hands “to a rebellious people”; people who aren’t even seeking Him or asking for Him.  He calls out to you with an invitation to come to Him in peace through His Living Word, Jesus Christ.  Will you listen?  Will you come?

I. In our gospel reading this morning we are taken to a rural area outside of Galilee, on the shore of Lake Galilee.  Jesus has just gotten out of a boat with his apostles when he’s immediately confronted by a man who’s been possessed by a demon.  Where did this guy come from and why is he confronting Jesus?

Well, he came from some vacant tombs near the shore of the lake.  Yes there were vacant tombs there and occupied ones as well, because you see, this was a cemetery.  In the Jewish mindset, this was unclean land, because it housed the dead.  Isn’t it fitting that an unclean spirit would be inhabiting an unclean… and unholy place?  But why has this demon possessed a person and why is it confronting Jesus?

We don’t know how this poor man came to be possessed by a demon; in fact we don’t know much about him other than he was most likely from one of the two towns close by.  We don’t know what his life was like before he became possessed, but we do know one thing… he wasn’t alone!  In Matthew and Mark’s accounts of this same incident, we know that there was still one more man living in the tombs with him who was also possessed.  We know that they demonstrated both supernatural strength and a foul disposition.  We know that they were naked!  Ok, you would expect these things from someone who isn’t in their right minds… someone who’s possessed by an unclean spirit, but why confront Jesus?  Wouldn’t you think that the minute they saw Jesus from a distance they’d run away and hide from Him?  Why are these demons drawn to Him like a magnet?  They actually run up to Him and scream, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you do not torment me.” [vs. 28]

Friends, isn’t it apparent that the very will and power of Jesus drew the demon to Him?  This shouldn’t surprise us at all, because you see, just as Jesus is the supreme master of the wind and waves, He is also the Supreme Master of even the demon world.  When and how He determines to summon anything in creation, that thing must respond, because He is the Creator, the Son of the Most High God!  The demons know this and they can only tremble in fear and acknowledge His control over them when He calls.  And so it was in this case as well.  But why did He think that Jesus would torment him?  Because that is the inevitable future of all evil spirits; each and every demon knows that they have no future other than eternal suffering and torment in the very pit of hell where their leader Satan is already bound!  So the demon begs not to be sent away before the appointed time of final judgment.

And what is Jesus response?  He asks the demon his name.  And what is the demons response?  Legion!  The reading says that many demons had entered this poor man.  Legion is actually a Roman term.  It refers to a Roman Legion that signifies more than 6,000 soldiers.  Imagine, this poor guy had over 6,000 demons inside of him!  And now because they are being confronted by the very Living Word of God, they are in a panic wondering if this was in fact the end of them. 

“And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” [Vs. 31-32]  What a fitting place for these demons… they fled into an animal that God had designated for the Jews as being unclean!  These demons had no place living in a child of God, a man created after the very image of God.  The truth is, they possessed this poor man only to mock God.  And now, God mocks them; He places within their hearts, the desire to inhabit pigs.  “Done!”  Jesus says, then they left the man and entered the pigs, and everyone of them ran off a cliff and into the lake and were drowned!  But why?  Why destroy the only home they had left?  Because dear friends, it is in complete harmony with their nature.  They are self destructive.  They destroy anything that they possess, because anything they can possess is a creation of God, and remember, demons hate God and because they hate God they hate all of His creation; they hate you!

 II. “When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. [vs. 34-35]  Dear friends, that is you sitting at the feet of Jesus!  You have been clothed in the robe of Jesus own righteousness, washed clean in the waters of your baptism, given a new mind and a right spirit; you’ve been placed at the feet of Jesus here in this Holy house to hear Him speak to you and teach you with His Living Word!  Each one of us have been freed from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  Each one of us can and should give an account of just what evil we have faced in our lives; what evil spirit has harassed us and for some even possessed us!  But Christ has set us free!  By His stripes, by His suffering and death we have been healed.  And because of His resurrection and our own promised resurrection which He gives us within our baptism, He asks us to believe that He will never abandon us within the very pit where each and every demon and unclean spirit will inevitably be sent!  God does not want you to go to hell… that place was not meant for you!  He has freed you!

But some may say, “I know that Jesus loves me, and I know that He wants me to be free, but the demons that chase me are just too strong to resist!  I keep falling to the same temptations.  At some point He will just give up on me.  Maybe that point is now?!  And to this, God answers, “No!”  He will never leave or forsake you in that pit of hopelessness.  Whether the unclean spirit has moved you into addiction, lust, depression, or pride, God shall never abandon you because He has sealed you for eternity in the waters of your baptism as His very own!  All of us, with no exception, have been enslaved and driven mad by the attacks and accusations of the devil, and each of us has been set free by the Word of Jesus Christ!  He has drown and destroyed the old Adam within us and each day He brings out of that death a new creation, the new you that was born in the waters of Holy Baptism.  We are no longer living naked in our shame amongst the dead; instead we have been brought into the kingdom of God, the Lord’s house, fully clothed by Christ.  And all He asks us to do is to not give up; don’t lose hope! He asks us to daily put to death our old sinful nature and walk in his forgiveness and love.  He wants us to walk in His Gospel Word that ensures us that no matter how many times we sin, no matter how many times we fall, we are forgiven!  But not just forgiven…

 III. We are forgiven with a purpose!  “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” [vs. 38-39] Dear friends, when we come to church and hear the sweet words of the gospel and listen to the Holy Absolution, when we eat and drink the Lord’s body and blood at His table and taste forgiveness, we have a tendency to wish we could stay in this protective environment and be with Jesus.  We want to stay where we feel protected and loved.  But Jesus says, “Return to your home, and declare how much I have done for you.”  But Lord, those are the same people that continually reject you and ask those of us who love you to shut up!  “Yes, that’s true.  But they only do that because they are afraid of Me.  That’s why I am sending you to them.  Through you, they will know about my love for them.  They will see Me in you, and they will hear your story, your witness about My love for you and then they will hunger for the same thing, and I will never turn away any of them who come to me.”  Remember, just as your sinful flesh does not want to die, neither does theirs!  Just as God works to kill the sin within you every day, He wants to do the same work within them.  So tell your story!  Proclaim it to anyone who will listen, and then watch Jesus give them freedom and a new life just as He gave it to you!  I pray that each of us will take on this calling and always declare how much God has done for us!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Crucified With Christ!

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,  who loved me and gave himself for me.” [Gal. 2:20]

These Words from our text are perhaps the best news you could ever hear.  They’re the Words you were first given in your baptism, and they are the Word’s you hear each time you listen to the Holy Absolution… You are forgiven!  Another way to say this is that these words are God’s reset button in your life.  When I bought my first computerized phone I accidentally downloaded a virus.  The phone completely shut down.  I thought I had fried it, and I didn’t even have insurance.  I took it to the store where I had just purchased it and the tech fooled around with it for a while.  He scratched his head and then stuck a pen in a small hole in the side of the phone he called the reset button.  In a few moments the screen began to twinkle and then “ta-dah” it was working again!  “Oh I’m sorry to have to tell you this” he said, “but you lost all of the data on your phone.  You’ll have to reload all of your programs.  Just try not to load the virus again!”

In our Epistle lesson this morning, St. Paul is showing us so to speak where our spiritual reset button is.  We’ve been crucified with Christ!  It’s no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you.  And oh yes, you know the life you are now living in this fleshy body?  Well you are actually living it by faith in the Son of God… Jesus Christ, who proved that He loves you by giving Himself for you in death; death upon the cross!

St. Paul first communicated this message in order to fix false doctrine, from a false teacher.  And who do you think that false teacher was?  It was St. Peter!  I know that may come as a shock to some of you but it is true.  You see Paul and Peter were in a Greek city named Antioch, and they were ministering to a group of non-Jewish Christians.  They ate with them, worked with them they… lived with them as one of them!  No big deal you say?  Well for Jew it was a huge deal.  They were taught since childhood to avoid all contact with anyone who was not a Jew.  But God had continuously revealed to both of them that there was now NO separation between Jew or gentile.  He revealed that they were all under a new Law, the Law of Grace!

So what happened?  Well it seems some of the Jewish Christians came down from Jerusalem to pay Paul and Peter a little visit (that’s code for… they came to spy)!  They came to kill the freedom that this little church had in Christ Jesus, and they intended to do it with the law!  When they saw Peter and Paul living like and with the Greek gentiles they immediately communicated their disdain.  Well that was enough to intimidate Peter.  He immediately separated himself from his Greek brothers and sisters, and began following the Jewish customs again; customs that were supposed to keep him ceremonially clean and separated from sinners.

Paul immediately went into action and rebuked Peter to his face and in front of the other hypocrites.  Well, Peter repented of this false teaching, because he stood condemned (vs. 11), and so he did what any true Christian would do; he turned away from his sin of false doctrin and turned to Christ and His grace!  What did Paul say to Peter?  He reminded him of the most important doctrinal principle ever spoken.  In Christ we are saved by grace alone.  We are justified solely on account of what Jesus has done for us and not what we do for Him!  We have been crucified with Christ!  Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, Paul confronted Peter and pushed his spiritual reset button!

Like Peter, we too must be reminded that we can never be pronounced righteous and holy by God because we are trying to follow His law.  Oh we try; we do our best to live a good life and then we tell ourselves that because we’re trying, and because were better than most people, that should count for something in God’s eyes.  But it doesn’t!  It doesn’t gain us any favor with God.  No matter how many good things we try to do, we will always discover within God’s law and our own hearts that it is never enough.   The only way we can ever find peace with God is to fall into His loving arms which are only opened by means of faith in Jesus Christ!  If you come before the judgment seat of God with Jesus Christ, God the Father immediately pronounces you holy and righteous.

“Ah hah” you say!  “I see; I must have faith!”  Yes, but not just any faith.  You can’t simply have faith in your desire to please God by doing good things, as we learned, that will get you nowhere.  Instead, you must have faith in Jesus Christ alone!  Think of faith as a drinking cup.  If I am dying of thirst and you offer me an ice cold cup of bleach, not only will it not satisfy my thirst, it will kill me!  But if there is water in the cup, you would be saving my life! You see, it is the content of faith that justifies and saves us, and never faith alone.  It is Jesus in the faith that saves you and never faith without Him.  So you see, faith in Jesus is the opposite of all good deeds and kind acts.  Good works and faith, in regards to salvation excluded each other.  To be justified… to be saved because of faith in Christ is the complete opposite of being saved because of your good deeds.  In regards to your salvation, the two can never be mixed!

“But what about doing good and not evil?  Are you saying there is no place for that?”  No, not until you’ve been crucified with Christ!  When Paul said that He was crucified with Christ, he was speaking a spiritual reality that each one of us must live out.  What Paul is saying is that you must see yourself as being crucified together with Jesus.  “But how can that be?  Jesus was crucified long ago!”  Yes that’s true, but the amount of time that’s passed is immaterial.  But there is a difference as you suspected.  You see, Christ’s crucifixion was done as a physical sacrifice for you; Paul’s crucifixion and ours if we will live it out is spiritual.  And in this spiritual crucifixion we were allowed to escape the judgment that comes through God’s Holy law and our own sin.  This is the reality, no; this is the gift that God has given to the whole world.  Of course, the next step is to have faith in this crucifixion and enter into a joint life with Jesus. [Romans 6:4]  The ability to do this was given to you in your baptism.  There you were given the living waters of Jesus Christ as the object of your faith.  There in your baptism you were crucified and buried with Him.  You have been crucified with Christ!  You must be crucified with Christ friends, it’s the only way you can escape the punishment of death that your sinful flesh deserves.  If you are crucified in Christ then simply put, you die to the condemnation of God’s Holy law.  You see, your death is the only means of escaping judgment.  If you refuse to die to your old sinful self, then I am afraid that the law will grab you by the throat and destroy you.

But now comes the good news.  You may have died with Christ.  Your old sinful flesh may no longer be alive in the eyes of God, but Christ lives within you.  And the life you are now free to live in the flesh, you are living by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself for you!  Do you hear this wonderful Word of life?  Do you see what a gift God has given you?  Christ lives in you so that your mind and heart will always respond to Him in your thoughts, words, and actions.  Now you can now do the good that you want to do,  because the work that your heart is leading you to do isn’t interested in saving your own skin, but to please God because you love Him who first loved you!

Dear friends, if your mind is focused on this world and the hunger of your dead sinful flesh then you are choosing to live a life that is hostile to God.  You see, your flesh will never submit  to God’s will or be able to please Him.  But for each one of us who are living for God by faith in Jesus Christ; to each one of us who have faith in the name of Jesus, we have been given the power to become children of God; children who are not born of flesh or of the will of man, but of God! [Jn. 3: 14-16]  Because we see Christ crucified for us; because you see Him high and lifted up for you, God promises that you will not perish but instead you will have eternal life!

If you will hold onto this most important truth of Christianity, the truth that assures you that you are saved by faith in Christ alone, then your relationship with God will remain pure and your salvation sure.  So in times of trouble, when the law and your conscience whispers and accuses you of being outside of God’s love because of your sin, simply answer: So what!  I admit that I am a sinner.  What’s that to me?  Point out my sin all you like!  I admit that I’ve committed so many sins that I can’t even count them.  I also admit that I will most certainly sin again.  That does not affect me at all!  I can’t hear you, so there’s no point in accusing me, because I have died to you.  But if you insist on bothering me about my sins, then go talk to my flesh.  Talk to my hands, feet, and body; teach them to be afraid; hound them and crucify them.  But you can never trouble my spirit, because you see I have died to you, and now I am alive in Christ Jesus.  Friends, let’s never leave God’s gift of grace and go back to the law, because if righteousness came through the law, then Christ died for no purpose!  Instead let’s remember that we’re saved by grace alone and faith in Jesus Christ who has allowed us to be crucified with Him!  In Jesus name… AMEN!

Christ’s Compassionate Touch

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

 “The unthinkable!  My son is gone!  My only son is ad and I am alone.  Why has God done this to me?  Now who will take care of me?  I have….no one.  Is their truly a God who loves me?” 

While the Bible is silent on the worries and concerns of the two widows in our scripture lessons, it makes two things clear:  They were widows, and their only child had just died.  In the Jewish culture, they were considered abandoned to the charity of others.  They couldn’t work, because they were women.  We assume that because the Bible does not mention any other relatives, they were essentially left alone. 

Do you think that these two woman were feeling abandoned by God?  Let’s turn to our gospel reading and see if we can empathetically relate to them.  Jewish custom dictated that when a person dies, they must be buried as soon as possible, usually within 24 hours.  The widow in our gospel reading is alone.  With no other family, the task of preparing her son for burial was hers and hers alone.  You see, Jewish custom also dictated that if anyone had contact with a dead body, they were ceremonially unclean for seven days.  There were no morticians in those days.  Preparation of the dead always fell upon family members.  And so this heartbroken mother had to wash the cold, lifeless body of a son who was not just her pride and joy, but her very life.  His hair and nails had to be trimmed, and the new suit of clothes she made for his future wedding, would finally be worn for the first and last time.  Her very pride and joy was gone, indeed the hopes of her entire future lay lifeless on the floor. 

We can only imagine how much sorrow this woman was going through.  Our text tells us that “she was a widow.” Think of it; this was the second time the crowd had carried out a dead man from her home—the first was her husband. After that sad day, she had only one comfort left, she had her son. But now her son, her only source of support is gone as well. No wonder “a large crowd” had gathered to accompany her out of the city to the cemetery; they felt sorry for her. But this sympathy couldn’t make-up for her terrible loss!  We can imagine that this poor woman was left faithless and broken… that is until Jesus touched her son’s coffin with His hand and his dead body with His life-giving Word.  “Young man, I say to you, arise.”  Yes, that mother needed the touch of Christ!

I. Who Else Needs The Touch Of Christ?  Well anyone separated from God by sin and the brokenness of sin.  What kind of sins?  Well how about pride.  “The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.”  (Prov. 16:5) “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.  (Prov. 18:12)  Or perhaps sexual sins are the cause of someone’s separation from God.  “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” [Heb. 13:4]  But wait, what about greed and theft?  “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.  Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”  [Prov. 23:4,5]  Then there are always those who put their best strength and energy into chasing after the pleasures of this world.  “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”  [1 Cor. 6:9,10]

But it isn’t just those burdened by sin that Jesus wants to touch; He also wants to touch anyone burdened by the troubles and sorrows caused by sin!  He calls out to anyone who is suffering from the death of a loved one or the reckless life of a family member who seems to have lost their Christian faith that they were taught as a child.  Jesus reaches out to touch anyone who has been scared by tragedy, sickness, and financial worries.  But He also reaches out to touch any of you who have lost your passion for Christ.  Listen: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” [Rev. 2:4,5a]

II. How do we receive the touch of Christ?  In your baptism, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” [1 Cor. 6:11]  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” [Rom. 6:3-4]  You see, “in Christ Jesus you are all (children) of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” [Gal. 3:26-28]  The truth is friends, in your baptism; Christ touched you in a way that no one else could ever touch you.  In your baptism, Christ gave to you His entire suffering, death, and resurrection, so that He might bring you to God.  Your baptism has put to death your flesh and made you alive in the spirit.  In your baptism, Christ not only touches you but He saves you! [1 Pet. 18-21]

 III. What Happens When We Live Out The Touch Of Christ?  Well, our old way of thinking and living dies more and more every day.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17)   But we also begin to experience what Jesus calls rebirth.  “Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3)  When you begin to live out these spiritual realities, God’s Word promises that you will experience a powerful renewal.  “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.”  (Acts 3:19,20)   And after God renews you, He promises just one more surprise… restoration!  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  (1 John 1:9)

IV. Why Does Jesus Want To Touch Us?  Because God loves to decorate our hearts.  Let him live long enough within you, and your heart will begin to change.  Portraits of hurt hanging upon the wall of your heart will be replaced by landscapes of grace.  Walls of anger that once stood strong will be demolished and your shaky foundation will be restored.  God can no more leave a life unchanged than a mother can leave her child’s tear untouched.  It’s not enough for him to win you; he wants to change you.  Where you and I might be satisfied with an unfurnished studio apartment, he refuses to settle for any dwelling short of a mansion.  After all, our bodies are His temple.  No attention to detail is skipped and no corners are cut.  “Oh, the utter extravagance of his work within those of us who trust in Him.”  (Paraphrase of Max Lucado)  Why is that?

Because our God is a God of love and compassion, and because He has come to us in our flesh and lived as one of us, He is sympathetic to each one of our pains, worries, and fears.  He “is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. [2 Peter 3:9]  So Jesus wants to continue His touch.  Touching you in baptism is not enough for Him; He wants to embrace you throughout your entire life.  And He does this by inviting you to daily to live out His touch by staying centered in His Word.

V. What Happens After Jesus Touches?  Lives are changed.  Hope is restored.  Faith is increased.  Love is increased.  We serve the Lord with Joy and we become living examples of Christ’s love to others.

Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old child, whose next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap and just sat there. When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”

Both of the widows in our readings this morning must have longed for the touch of their sons just one more time.  Instead they got the touch of God!  Therapy, psychoanalysis, ignoring, forgetting just can’t give you what God wants to give.  Our liturgy, hymns, and prayers, our music, art, and architecture are all designed to help us see God’s touch; a touch that confronts the terror of death with the hope—the beautiful dream—of first His resurrection and then our own resurrection.  This is the true balm of Gilead… the balm against deaths mortal wound!

While both widows had their son’s returned to them, the truth is, those boys would die again; sin would once again have its way with them.  But the touch of Jesus, the living Word of God wipes away all of our fears about this ever present enemy   You see dear friends, just when all seems lost to us, the Living Word of God speaks to us and teaches us that God’s own Son rose from the dead and promises us that because He has touched us… because He has touched our loved ones and neighbors, each of us will experience the exact same thing… eternal victory over death!

CONCLUSION: At the end of our Old Testament reading, the widow says a strange thing.  She says to Elijah: “Now I know that you are a man of God and the Word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”  The widow knew the truth when she saw it!  Her son was dead, but now he was alive.  Dear friends, that’s not just truth, that’s eternal truth!  And that eternal truth calls out to us today: “The Word of the Lord in your heart and in your mouth is truth.”  It’s the Word of the Lord you hear in your Baptism; you have been buried and raised with Christ.  It’s the Word of the Lord you have at His table in, with, and under the bread and wine; this is my body and blood given for you for the forgiveness of your many sins!  You hear it in the Absolution; your sins are forgiven!

Dear friends, the Lord wants you to receive this truth, because within it you receive His touch… a touch that promises you not just forgiveness of your many sins but the certainty of your resurrection and the gift of eternal life!  I pray that you will not reject this touch.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!