Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
“Left All Alone”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. Luke 7.11-17; 1 Timothy 5.5-6
06 October 2019
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Would you please turn with me to your bulletin, page three and read with me the verse for today’s Family Catechetical Time from the first epistle to St. Timothy?
She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. [1 Tim. 5.5-6]
In his commentaries and sermons, Dr. Martin Luther says that the one who is “truly a widow” and is “left all alone” is one who has no kin for whom she can care. “She is simply by herself.” She has no husband to provide for her and defend her, and thus no husband or children for her to nourish and support. She also has no parents to care for her, no parents for her to devote herself to caring for, no aunts, and no uncles needing care. All alone. Destitute of all human support by which she could be helped.
The apostle Paul says that the one “truly a widow” and left all alone has hoped in, put her confident expectation in God in the past, and still continues to do so with the now added weight of being left all alone. She has set and is now setting her hope on God in the past, present, and for the ongoing future.
The person left all alone has no other place to turn. Death is bad, terrible, unnatural, an enemy. Facing the end of life with a loved one is a hard and cruel place. Death is God’s holy wrath over the sin which resides in our flesh, inherited from our first parents. Sin’s wage is paid by each of us. Knowing that does not make dealing with death easy.
The letter to the Hebrews says we are those “who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.” (Hebrews 2.15) Dwellers in the land of the shadow of death. When young people die, or when anyone dies unexpectedly, or before we are ready for it to happen, we especially feel the impossible weight and power of the dominion of death. We pray for a holy, peaceful death, and not an evil one, for ourselves, for those around us. Death either way is an enemy. It is not natural. It is not what God intends for His creation.
In Psalm 68, David declares, “In his holy dwelling, God is a father for the fatherless and a judge who defends widows.” Today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings both back David up on this. In days of old, up to modern times, war was a near constant companion, and famine and plague were never far off. All three sorts of calamity had a tendency to create both orphans and widows, and often they did it at exactly the same time. Famine or pestilence had come along to rob both the widow at Zarepheth and the widow at Nain of their husband and their son.
Death leaves people behind who are truly “widows” – truly all alone. Today, I’d surmise, we see people left truly all alone with and without death. Fathers leave mothers and abandon their spouse and children, or vice versa. That’s similar to having a death in one’s family. Or when a spouse dies, or perhaps an elderly loved one dies, the children and other relatives and friends all have their own life, and the widowed one left all alone has his or her own life, and we all attempt to keep going down our chosen paths hoping everyone will be okay.
For we have a cultural preoccupation in these post-modern times with being independent and shunning interdependence with community, family, and fellow Christians. It is the dead fruit of the dead tree of living a self-indulgent life. Everyone retreats today to their corner of the world, to their home, to their phone and electronic devices, able to enjoy their chosen pursuits without ever having to interact personally with others. We think a person is “okay” if they are chiming in on Facebook, or perhaps we get an email response, or maybe for we Christian hold-outs, that we see them in their spot in the pew on Sunday.
There is a “left all alone-ness” that is easy to feel today, even when in the midst of a crowd of people. If you’ve ever ridden a New York subway or a Chicago El train, or if you’ve ridden alone on the airplane with everyone staring at phones or devices and ear buds firmly in place, you get just a glimpse of an enforced loneliness.
More than that, in the face of death, or just the cruel effects and corruption of sin upon us, it is easy to feel alone, cut off from God and neighbor, even perhaps while you sit right here in this pew. If you experience being left all alone, seek help and allow yourself to be helped in your need. We should be looking out for those around us, recognize those who are or may be feeling all alone, and step forward as a beacon of hope in this dark world where those we love may struggle to see light and life around them. Perhaps we just need to do simple things like put down our screens and enforced busyness and just take time to engage in conversation with those we are given to, and simply lend the ear and listen to someone.
The Rev. Dr. Walter Steele, our former vicar, now missionary to Kenya, was mentioning last week during his visit that Lutheran pastors are good at being preachers of faith in Christ and love for God and neighbor, but perhaps have a tougher time with being bringers of hope to the suffering, to those left all alone. He’s right, and I know I have much in this area where I can grow and be a better pastor and just plain better Christian and a more empathetic human.
Jesus felt this crushing weight of the presence of one before Him who is left all alone. The three people He raised from the dead all caused our Lord to feel it in His inmost being. He was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” at the grave of His cousin Lazarus, He wept openly. He had deep compassion when He saw the widow at Nain processing her only son to the cemetery. He let forth an angry retort against and drove out those mourning and playing the death flutes for Jairus’ daughter – be still, this child is not dead, but only sleeping. In the days of Elijah His prophet, He took through His prophet the stinging rebuke of the widow at Zarepheth, turned the other cheek, and heard the prayers of His holy prophet.
Our Lord is not just empathetic however, not just willing to acknowledge the problem, and not just leaving it to the point of feeling it inside. His feelings, His love, leads Him to act. He steps forward for our sake into our world and touches the casket, stops the procession, steals the widow’s tears away from her, commands with the voice of creation and breathes His Spirit into the dead bones to bring them back alive and sit up, and He gives Nain’s son back to his mother, gives Jairus back his daughter, gives Lazarus back to Mary and Martha, gave the widow her little boy from Elijah’s prayers.
And yet He did not stop there. Our God and Lord took upon Himself our humanity and felt upon Himself our every crushing load, including that He would be left all alone in the face of death and hell and an evil and cruel death. Even as He died hanging on the cross bearing the wrath of God for our sin in our place, He acted to give His mother to John at the foot of the cross, acted to give John to His mother – that they would not face the times ahead all alone.
And yet He did not stop there. Our Lord tasted for Himself the pangs of death. He commended Himself to His Father, in earnest supplications and prayers day and night on His cross, finished the defeat of sin, death, and Satan, and went down alone into His three-day tomb. There He has robbed the grave of its sting. Robbed it of its victory.
When Jesus arose, He could no longer die, death had no more dominion over Him. He possesses a glorified body, the first-fruits of the new humanity and the new world to come. The first to rise from the dead. And so we are never alone, He is with us always, even to the very end of the age.
One day, God grant it soon, the whole world will be born anew on the great and awesome day of the Lord, the trumpet shall sound, the voice of the arch-angel will cry forth, the dead in Christ will arise at the command of Jesus, and heavenly Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth, will descend and take be our everlasting home. There will be no more death, no more being left all alone, there will be a family there beyond all imagination, gathered around the one, true, and living God.
So we say that Jesus has practiced what He preached through His apostle St. James:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1.27; ESV)
To visit orphans and widows and those left all alone is more than to make a social call. It is to visit with authority, concern, and relief. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.” He visits you with resurrected authority, real hope for today and tomorrow, light in the darkness, and relief of loneliness given in His real presence in Gospel proclaimed, Body and Blood given from altar and rail.
The first charity embarked upon by the Jerusalem church after our Lord’s Ascension and Pentecost in the book of Acts was care for the widows. It is no surprise James writes as he does of pure and undefiled religion. He saw it embodied in his Savior and Lord. The Church, the Body of Christ, is God’s reconstruction of His paradise – and is obligated to do as our Lord has done – to alleviate as much as possible the evil consequences brought about by sin and death. To bring hope and comfort to those left alone. To bring the fatherhood of God to those bereft of earthly fathers. To bring the hope and life and lifted weight that only Jesus can deliver through His cleansing blood – that is, to give you who are afflicted in this world the cleansed and purified heart, mind, and conscience He won for you on the cross, and by His Holy Spirit’s power keep you unstained from the world.
God grant us to turn to our neighbors in their great need, the widowed, the fatherless, those left all alone in any way, and following after our Lord, reach out to them with His gifts of love and mercy and hope.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +