Pastor James Hopkins preached on the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, 9/24/2023. The service was broadcast live on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity16 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Old Testament lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
In our OT text from last week, it appeared as if this young man was going to die. They were out of food and out of water. But, by God’s own providence, through His prophet, Elijah, He gave them all they needed.
This week, however, that same little boy has died without explanation. But whatever it was that killed him, it wasn’t starvation. Despite all the grace, and all the mercy that inhabited and surrounded that home, despite the glorious conversion of that woman and her son, he died; and that at an age so tender that the prophet Elijah can pick up his lifeless body, and carry him up the stairs.
In the Gospel, we’re not given much background. An only child. A grieving widow. In losing her son, she has pretty much lost everything. It’s a serious enough loss that it draws a considerable crowd.
They’re remarkably similar situations: A widow loses her only son, and God brings her son back to life. Superficially, they’re the same story, and that’s what folks gathered around recognized.
In the Old Testament lesson, Elijah provides the woman no words of consolation. He does not tell her how sorry he is for her loss. He does not tell her that God will raise her son on the last day. He doesn’t tell her that God will work this for good in ways beyond her understanding.
Every single one of those things are true, but they are not what the prophet says. All he does is give her a command: “Give me your son.”
Likewise, Jesus. He does not give her a hug, because she doesn’t want a hug – at least not from Him. She wants a hug from her child.
Neither does Jesus give her words of wisdom and consolation. As with the options available to Elijah, there would have been nothing wrong with any of those things. But it isn’t what He was there to do. Like Elijah, Jesus gave her a command: “Do not weep.”
Elijah did not know perfectly what would happen. He complained to God and even asked why He killed the child. And that’s okay. As anyone who has prayed the Psalms knows, God can handle our dissatisfaction, and gives us words so honest we’re often embarrassed to pray them, even though they’re in the prayer book He gave us.
Elijah prayed as one who knows that God can do all things. He prayed knowing that in virtually every other circumstance, dead people stay dead. But he also prayed with the boldness and confidence of a man who just told a widow to give him her dead child.
Jesus, on the other hand, did know how it would go. That’s why He could tell the woman not to weep. In any other circumstance, it would have been utterly tone-deaf, cruel, and insensitive – the kind of thing someone says who can stand on another person’s foot for a half an hour without recognizing it.
But Jesus was not being insensitive. He was wiping away every tear from her eye by wiping away the reason for tears. He did this in confidence because he knew what was coming next, both for this child, and for Himself.
That brings us back to what these miracles have in common; and that is the cross of Jesus.
Elijah, you will remember, was a prophet. His job, in word and in deed, was to point to Christ. Thus, he took a child who was dead and put him in a room meant for the living. But not any old room. He did not take the child to his mother’s room or to the kitchen. He took the child to his own place. Let it not be lost on us that in order to get there, he carried the child upward.
And in that place, Elijah stretched himself out over the child. He covered him. Face to face, body to body – three times, imploring God to let the child’s life come into him again.
Jesus, on the other hand, simply reached out His hand to touch the bier. No audible prayers. Just another command: “Young man, I say to you, arise.” It was perhaps the only thing He could have said that was more audacious than to tell a widow to stop crying over the loss of her only son.
Jesus’ stretching out was still to come. On the cross, He too would spread out his arms and cry out to His Father to spare His children. So that these widow’s sons would be raised up, Jesus allowed Himself to be laid low. So that they would live, Jesus gave Himself into death.
The ending is the one that every mother wants. Elijah took the child and delivered him to his mother. Jesus took the child, and gave him to His mother.
This is what Jesus has lived and died and lived again to accomplish: Not only to give mothers back their children, whom they have entrusted to God; But in the same breath, to also to give back to God the Father His own children: To lead them out of darkness and into light; to take them out of death and into life.
This is why mothers often cry for joy at Baptisms, and it is why the angels rejoice. And we don’t tell them to stop crying, just as we don’t tell angels to stop rejoicing. For in that font, in a way as ordinary as a man carrying a child up the stairs, you and yours are buried with Jesus into His death and raised up to His resurrection.
As this story draws to a close in the Gospel, the astonished crowds recognize that a great prophet has arisen among them. Of course, they mean Jesus. And this is explained in their follow-on statement: “God has visited His people.”
But we can also say this: That because God visited His people, a great prophet rose up among them. “For the dead man sat up and began to speak.” He did not rise from the dead in that dusty street to say how happy he was that he would be able to read the last chapter of the Iliad.
Though Scripture does not tell us his words, what was there to say, but to proclaim the glory of God who brought him from life to death?
You see the point, I’m sure. You are this child. Once you were dead in your trespasses. But Jesus of Nazareth has taken your place in death. He has stretched Himself out over you, and breathed life into you as He did into Adam.
And He has done better than merely giving you back your own life. He has given you His life. What He has is yours. Thus, as we approach His Feast in His House, and we call His Father, Our Father.
Let us, then, live in this way: As those who have been restored to our Father in heaven, and restored to one another. Let us live and speak as those who have been raised from the dead: Proclaiming the glory of God and embracing those to whom we have been given.