In the text for the message today, we revisit the Old testament Lesson from the 3rd Sunday of Pentecost as follows:
Now it happened after these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. And his sickness was so serious that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, "What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?"
And he said to her, "Give me your son." So he took him out of her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. Then he cried out to the LORD and said, "O LORD my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?" And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the LORD and said, "O LORD my God, I pray, let this child's soul come back to him."
Then the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. And Elijah said, "See, your son lives!"Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is the truth." I King 17:17-24 (NKJ)
President Ronald Reagan wrote about "What July Fourth Means to Me" . . .
-- There is a legend about the day of our nation's birth in the little hall in Philadelphia, a day on which debate had raged for hours. The men gathered there were honorable men hard-pressed by a king who had flouted the very laws they were willing to obey. Even so, to sign the Declaration of Independence was such an irretrievable act that the walls resounded with the words "treason, the gallows, the headsman's axe," and the issue remained in doubt.
The legend says that at that point a man rose and spoke. He is described as not a young man, but one who had to summon all his energy for an impassioned plea. He cited the grievances that had brought them to this moment and finally, his voice falling, he said, "They may turn every tree into a gallows, every hole into a grave, and yet the words of that parchment can never die. To the mechanic in the workshop, they will speak hope; to the slave in the mines, freedom. Sign that parchment. Sign if the next moment the noose is around your neck, for that parchment will be the textbook of freedom, the Bible of the rights of man forever."
He fell back exhausted. The 56 delegates, swept up by his eloquence, rushed forward and signed that document destined to be as immortal as a work of man can be. When they turned to thank him for his timely oratory, he was not to be found, nor could any be found who knew who he was or how he had come in or gone out through the locked and guarded doors.
Well, that is the legend. But we do know for certain that 56 men, a little band so unique we have never seen their like since, had pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Some gave their lives in the war that followed, most gave their fortunes, and all preserved their sacred honor.
What manner of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists, eleven were merchants and tradesmen, and nine were farmers. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. . . . They had achieved security but valued freedom more. --
This is what the Fourth of July, Independence Day, is all about –– freedom and separation from tyranny, taxation without representation, and government imposed worship. It is about men who shared a common ideal as expressed in the New Hampshire state motto: "Live free or die."
Odd isn’t it – that these men would value freedom even more than life itself?
While this has been a very good thing for us, for the U.S. and arguably, even the world, if we look back to the beginning, we see it is also the very source of all our problems. For in the beginning, "the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Gen 2:16-17, NKJ) But the first man and woman decided that freedom to eat of every tree in the garden but one wasn’t freedom enough. So Adam and Eve declared their independence from God that day in the garden and they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and with their eating brought certain death to themselves and all their kind. And thus their motto, and the motto for all of sinful man to this day has been not, "Live free or die," but "Live free AND die."
But there is another analogy to be drawn, another lesson to learn as well – the cost of freedom is blood. The Revolutionary War established the freedom of this country by the shedding of blood. Whether you know it as the Civil War or the War between the States, blood was shed so that all men might be free. Two World Wars, Korea, Viet Nam and others too many to name in our time this morning are witness to the value of freedom. Tens of thousands shed their blood for freedom for their loved ones and even for freedom for those they never knew.
We are experiencing that again today in the battlefields of the Middle East. Men and women shedding their blood so that we can remain free at home in our country and the people of Iraq may have the hope of becoming free at home in theirs. It is a solemn and sobering reality -- without the shedding of blood we would have no freedom, no country, for it seems there is no end to those who would shed their blood to take it away from us.
In our Gospel lesson today we are reminded of another who willingly shed His blood for us, "The Christ of God." This Christ of God Himself tells his disciples, and reminds us today, why he took on human flesh for us, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day." Luke 9:22
All this because of our insatiable appetite and thirst for freedom. Yes, the cost of freedom has and always will be the shedding of blood, the giving up of life – including our own.
As a result of our Declaration of Independence from God in the Garden of Eden, God says we will surely die. He also said that His Son would surely die as well.
These are harsh realities, but necessary and in the end very, very good. For they are also the realities by which God makes us truly alive and truly free once again for eternity.
The poor widow in our sermon’s text was providing room and board for God’s prophet, Elijah – and loses her only son for her trouble. So she said to Elijah, "What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?"
So that she, and generations to follow including ourselves this day would know that Elijah was a man of God, and more importantly, that the word of the LORD in [his] mouth is the truth, the Lord let this child's soul come back to him in answer to Elijah’s fervent prayer. The word of truth of Elijah was a call to repent and return to the Lord – preparing the way for the Christ, the promised messiah of God who would deliver His people from their sin.
Yes, the Lord raised this widow’s son back to life, demonstrating His power and His love. But the truth is, even though raised that day, the widow’s son as well as the widow would surely die. Remember the widow’s plaintiff cry? "What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?"
Because of our sin, our declaration of independence of God, the truthful answer to that question when asked of God, is an emphatic yes. Yes, I sent this man of God so that your son would be killed. And I will send mine to be killed as well.
'Now see that I, even I, am He, and there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; nor is there any who can deliver from My hand. Deut 32:39 (NKJ)
God gives us the Word of His law, indeed, to kill us. For unless we die to sin we can never know true life with Him. The prophet Ezekiel puts it this way, "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord GOD. "Therefore turn and live!" Ezek 18:30-32 (NKJ)
Our sin must be put to death, separated from us.
According to The Smalcald Articles Part III:
Repentance... does not debate over what is a sin or what is not a sin. Instead, it simply lumps everything together and says, "Everything is pure sin with us. What would we want to spend so much time investigating, dissecting, or distinguishing?" Therefore, contrition is not uncertain because there remains nothing that we might consider a "good" with which to pay for sin. Rather, there is plain, despair concerning all that we are, think, say, or do, etc.
Confession cannot be false, uncertain, or fragmentary. All who confess that everything is pure sin with them embrace all sins, allow no exceptions, and do not forget a single one. Thus, satisfaction can never be uncertain either. For it consists not in our uncertain, sinful works but rather in the suffering and blood of the innocent "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world " [John 1:29]. (paragraphs 33-38)
So the harsh reality is that we and our sin must indeed be put to death. In the death of sin is the certainty of life. This killing of sin is what the Lord does in our Baptism . . .
Q. What is the meaning of such a water Baptism? A. It means that the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance, and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, in turn, a new person daily come forth and rise from death again. He will live forever before God in righteousness and purity. Q. Where is this written? A. St. Paul says to the Romans in chapter six: "We are buried with Christ through Baptism into death, so that, in the same way Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, thus also must we walk in a new life.'' [Luther’s Small Catechism, Baptism Part IV.]
This daily living in our baptism is also what Jesus is speaking of in today’s Gospel when he says, "anyone who desires to come after [Him], let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily." Luke 9:23
United with Christ through Baptism, we do not have to fear our certain death to this world, because like the widow’s son, our soul will be returned to us – but in a permanent and everlasting way. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. Rev 20:6 (NKJ) -- and even forevermore.
A most blessed Independence Day to you all. Rejoice and be glad in the freedom we have in this land by the shedding of the blood of many who have sacrificed themselves for you.
But even more may you rejoice and be glad every day in the freedom from sin, death, and the devil that Jesus Christ has won by the shedding of His blood for you and for the whole world -- the same blood he gives to you to drink this day for the forgiveness of your sins. And may you celebrate today and everyday through your Holy Baptism, that the Holy Spirit has delivered you back into that dependence on God we call faith, so that you will most certainly partake in His resurrection unto eternal life. Amen