The Sixteenth Sunday after Holy Trinity – Luke 7:11-17
I love Florida. I’ve lived there twice in my lifetime. If you spend any significant time there, you know that the question isn’t “if” you’re going to experience a hurricane, but “when.” I vividly remember spending a night in a racquet ball court waiting out a hurricane in my youth. When hurricane Ian hit Florida, it is probably the fifth strongest hurricane to hit landfall. It has caused a horrific amount of damage to southwest Florida where I have family members. God be praised, they are okay, but they have a long road ahead of them. And God be praised, Cindy Little and family, who are connected with us here at Grace, are okay. But this, like every other natural disaster, is a reminder of two important things: one, God hates sin. And two, death is inevitable.
[I. God Hates Sin]
If you are following along with the psalmody for the Treasury of Daily Prayer, you read part of Psalm 119 Friday. One of the keys to understanding the Psalms is to put them in the mouth of Jesus first. Listen to these verses from Friday:
“I rejoice at Your Word like one who finds great spoil.
I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love You Law.” (vv. 162-3)
This really struck me as I was preparing today’s sermon. Jesus rejoices at the Word of God because it is the Word of His Father in heaven. And Jesus hates and abhors falsehood. If sin is nothing else, it is indeed falsehood. And Jesus hates it. His righteous judgment against sin is annihilation. Consider Sodom and Gomorrah.
According to Deuteronomy 29 the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah “in His anger and wrath” (v. 23) over their sin. According to Genesis 18 and 19, the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin reached up into heaven. And it had nothing to do with hospitality. Sodom and Gomorrah were evil and committed all manner of sin including, but not limited to, homosexuality. God destroyed them in His righteous anger and wrath, not only as a judgment against their sin, but as a warning to everyone else. The immediate question that comes to my mind in light of God’s righteous wrath against sin is “Why am I so flippant most of the time about my own sin?” Or another way to ask the same question, “Why do I so casually sin at times?” Do we really understand the personal cost of sin and the cost God paid for our sin?
Let’s say you’re like me, not necessarily poor, but certainly not rich. Now imagine, if the thing that you wanted more than anything else in the whole world was a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO. Every fiber in your being yearns for this car. Your life will only be fulfilled if you own this car. Since the cost for this car is only $70 million dollars, you’d have to realize at some point, you’re never going to get this car. No matter how badly you want it or how hard you work for it. There’s nothing you can do. This is kind of like life after sin.
Even if you want to be righteous with every fiber of your being, you have to realize at some point that you cannot make yourself righteous. No matter how hard you try or how much you want it. You inherited your sinful condition which means you had no chance. You’re born sinful and there’s nothing you can do about it. At some point, earlier rather than later, your sinful heart will express itself with actual sin. You know Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death.” So, when you strive your hardest, with you’re whole heart, your wages is death. And, as you know, death is the one certainty in life.
Even though we know death is certain, we’re often surprised by it. This widow that Jesus comes across loses her only begotten son. Death has struck her family twice. First, her husband dies. Next, her only son dies. She is left alone with no means to support herself outside of the charity of others. I’m sure she is feeling like the full wrath of God is aimed at her. As Luther says, “It is written in the Psalms and the Prophets that God threatens that He will root out the godless root and stem, just as when one roots out a tree so carefully that no leaf or twig remains from it.”
If we look at our circumstances to know God’s attitude toward us, we will find very little comfort there. I’m sure the people in southwest Florida aren’t feeling like God loves them. Natural disasters are the result of sin. They are part of God’s judgment against sin. You might say the world suffers along with us because of our sin. Our flesh’s natural tendency when something bad happens to someone is to wonder what they did to deserve it! We tend to fall into the same way of thinking as the Pharisees… God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked. So, if you’re blessed, you must be righteous and if you’re cursed, you must have done something wicked. But how does Jesus respond to this attitude?
“There were some present at that very time who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And [Jesus] answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)
Today, Jesus might say, “Do you think the southwest Floridians were worse sinners than all others who live in Florida? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The proper response to any natural disaster is repentance because it reminds us of God’s righteous judgment against our sin. And natural disasters, like the death of the widow’s only son, are always untimely. Yet, we are always seem so surprised.
[II. Death is inevitable.]
We know that death is inevitable, yet it still seems to sneak up on us. Now it is especially tragic when someone young dies. But there’s tragedy when someone in their 90’s dies. Death is unnatural. It’s unnatural because it’s the direct result of sin. I don’t know when it crept into Christianity, but the idea crept in that babies are innocent. Even some who believe that babies should be baptized see them as sinless little beings. If that were true, no babies would die. This is where the doctrine of original sin is helpful.
David rightly and boldly confesses, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5) This iniquity and sin that you’re brought forth in is enough to damn you. But let me clarify. Just because I say your cute little grandson is a sinner doesn’t mean I think he’s Jeffrey Dahmer. In the civil realm, he’s certainly innocent. But in God’s eyes he’s a little sinner. And someday he will die because of it. Everyone after Adam and Eve in the natural manner is sinful and will die. It is truly inevitable.
Earlier, I quoted Romans 6:23. Well, I quoted the first half. Thanks be to God, it continues: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What we cannot earn no matter how hard we try; God gives to us as a free gift through faith. As you know, you receive this incredible gift through the hearing of God’s Word and baptism.
Two things happen when you’re baptized: 1) you are declared righteous, and 2) you’re given God’s Holy Spirit. First, you’re declared righteous. The perfect picture of this is a court room where God declares you innocent of all sin. O.J. Simpson, in the eyes of the law, is innocent of killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. Even though, by all manner of reasonable judgment, he is guilty, in the eyes of the law he is innocent. You, no matter how much sin you’ve done, are declared innocent in the eyes of God! Second, you’re given God’s Holy Spirit so that you begin to love both God and your neighbor. And I stress that you begin to do these things. No matter how hard we try, even with the Holy Spirit’s help, our thoughts and actions are tainted by our sin. God still declares you righteous. This doesn’t mean you don’t try to love God and your neighbor. You should get better over time. But you will never reach perfection, or anything close to it, in this lifetime. This is why you still die.
Your death completes your baptism. What God begins in your baptism, He finishes in your death! For the Christian, death is no longer something scary. It is even something to look forward to. Here we see and know in part, there we will see and know in full “breadth and length and height and depth” of God’s love for us. (Ephesians 3:18) But that doesn’t mean that death isn’t tragic on our side of glory. Death is tragic. Just because we are looking forward to our own deaths doesn’t mean we don’t mourn when other people die.
Jesus mourned at the death of Lazarus. And He knew He was going to raise Him from the dead! We can certainly mourn at the death of those close to us. Just because we don’t mourn as those with no hope doesn’t mean we don’t mourn. We do and we repent of our own sin and place our trust in Jesus.
Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus because He had compassion on those who were feeling the loss of Lazarus. It’s the same compassion He had on the widow who lost her only son. This compassion drove Jesus to the cross. Jesus was not conceived in sin. He was not born naturally, but from the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary. He had no original sin. And He didn’t commit any actual sin. This means death had no claim on Him. He showed He was the master over life and death when He raised the widow’s son. He showed He was the master over life and death when He raised Himself from the dead. When death tried to claim Jesus, He claimed death instead. He won the victory over death not for Himself but for you.
And He gives you this victory through faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) This is why we don’t look to circumstances to see whether we have the victory over sin, death, and the devil. We look to the cross and to our baptism. We look to cross to see where your sin is paid for. Sin always has a price. God doesn’t turn a blind eye to sin, but fully punishes it by pouring out all His wrath on His only begotten Son. The widow’s only-begotten son’s death profits no one, but the death of God’s only begotten Son profits the whole world. The second thing you look to is your baptism. What about faith? We never separate faith from baptism. I like how the Large Catechism puts it: “Faith must have something that it believes, that is, of which it takes hold and upon which it stands and rests. So faith clings to the water and believes that in Baptism, there is pure salvation and life. This is not through the water, but through the fact that it is embodied in God’s Word and institution, and that God’s name abides in it.” (LC IV.29)
Circumstances change until you die. Some days are good and some days are bad and some days are downright terrible. What doesn’t change is Jesus’ love for you. When you look to the cross and to your baptism, you see Jesus’ love applied to you. Those in southwest Florida had a downright terrible day and are in store for some more really bad days. But what doesn’t change is God’s love for southwest Florida and His Christians there. Just as God’s love for you doesn’t change. So continue to look to the cross and to your baptism, and God will continue to love you in both good times and bad times. Until you die. And then there will be no more bad times. Amen.
 A Year in the Gospels with Luther, Sermon for Trinity 16, pg. 953