Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ,
God loves to give – he gives us the earth to live on, he gives food and shelter, happiness to children, the satisfactions of maturity to grown-ups, and rest to our senior citizens. Along with earthly blessings, he also gives spiritual ones – inner strength, hope for the future, the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of a better life to come. We praise and thank him for his never-failing generosity.
We Christians are people who receive. We receive all good things from God – salvation from sin, acceptance so that we don’t feel badly about ourselves, and release from the fear of death. Luther once defined Christians as a people who receive something from Christ and who have Christ within them and who cling to him. We do not become Christians because of good works or pious lives but because we hold onto Christ and receive him by the gift of faith. Christ is an inexhaustible stream who overflows with goodness and grace. He is always giving. He asks for nothing in return except that we acknowledge his kindness and grace, thank him, praise him and love him, even though the unbelieving parts of humanity despise him. Christ is always giving; we are always receiving.
Now, it isn’t human nature to be willing to receive. People like to do things on their own, even the most important things that lead to salvation. I once read about an idea from secular thought that illustrates this human preference for self-reliance. Some thinkers tell us that three basic needs govern human behavior – the need for community, the need for power, and the need for achievement. In most people, one of these three needs is supposedly stronger than others. One thinker argues that the most socially beneficial need is the need for achievement, and this is the one we ought to develop, because it’s supposedly best for us and the best for society. We ought to build up our ability to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps and to do good works that benefit society.
This way of thinking can set up a conflict in the minds and hearts of Christians like you and me. God declares that we are people who receive, while secular parts of society, though they mean well, encourage us to strive and to do.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with striving to better ourselves and the communities we’re part of. In fact, our Lord expects us to do good works. Paul wrote: “May our Lord Jesus Christ comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” And again, “Show yourself in all respects a model of good deeds. “And still again: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
The conflict is resolved as we turn to God and ask him to rule our souls so that the horse is always in front of the cart. We are receiving people first and then people who do. The gospel text illustrates this basic point. The daughter of the synagogue ruler received a second earthly life from Christ. She did nothing on her own to obtain this precious gift. It came from the generosity of God. now she can play with her friends, grow up, marry, raise children herself, live in hope, and have a life of her own – now and in eternity, all through the generosity of God. As a receiving person, and in God’s eyes all of us are receivers rather than achievers, she has a chance to give him thanks and praise and to go on receiving. God’s supply of good things will never run out.
He continues to reach out to all people through the Bible and the sacraments. He turns no one away who looks to him; he is eager to give the blessings of life.
As for ourselves, we may ask what the return to life of a young person about two thousand years ago means for us. The death of a child usually brings great sadness. I once chatted with a man who said that he lost his faith because his daughter died. Perhaps you know someone who’s experienced a similar calamity. When a great misfortune comes, it may seem that life has lost all meaning and purpose. At such times humans easily lose the will to achieve. This is the great fallacy in secular models of achievement. The people who make them assume that people are strong and that the path to opportunity will always be clear. The facts of human life cause even the most self-reliant to stumble. The generosity of God shines through and we understand why he has made us receiving people.
The gospel text invites us to see that in God’s eyes we are all like the daughter of the synagogue ruler. God gives us the earthly lives we now enjoy; we receive everything that’s good from him; we serve him and give him thanks. The story of Jairus’ daughter shows us at least two more things about the Lord’s generosity.
First, what looks like death to us is really sleep to God. Luther said that none of those who lived and died before our time are dead, but all are alive, just as live as the people we see before us every day. God has determined that all shall live; he holds their lives in his hands. The Lord maintains our lives and when we are asleep he does it without our will or our help. It isn’t hard for Jesus, therefore, in the hour when body and soul are separated, to hold in his hand the soul and spirit of a human being, even though we ourselves neither feel nor see anything, even though the body is entirely consumed. Since God can preserve the breath of life and spirit apart from the from the body, he can also bring the body together out of dust and ashes.
Luther wrote that we should understand our deaths in the right way, so that we are not alarmed. In Christ, death is a sweet and brief sleep that releases us from this vale of tears, from sin, and from all the misfortunes of this life, and we shall be secure and without care, until the time when Christ calls and awakens us along with his other dear children to his eternal glory and joy. Moreover, since we Christians call death a sleep, we know that we won’t remain in it, but that God will awaken us and we will live. It will seem, then, that the time between earthly life and heaven will be no longer than if we had just fallen asleep. We will suddenly come alive out of dust and ashes, and entirely well, fresh, with a pure, clear, glorified life. We will meet our Lord and Savior.
Now, here’s a second feature of our Lord’s generosity – that he’s in control of life and he’s waiting to surprise us with the joy of eternity in heaven. We may need to stretch our minds to grasp that this will actually happen, because as we’ve already said, the world influences us to think in terms of power and achievement and the bonds of social life. We help ourselves when we remember that the Lord isn’t limited to our frame of reference. Luther wrote that the Lord doesn’t think in tens or hundreds or thousands of years, nor does he measure the years consecutively the way we do. He sees everything in a moment – the beginning and the middle and the end of the whole human race and of all time. He sees what we measure by time at one glance so that the death and life of the last human being as well as of the first are to him as only one moment of time. Against this, human strivings are meaningless.
This is why we should entrust or bodies, our souls, and our whole lives with confidence and joy to our Savior and redeemer, just as we turn ourselves over to him before we fall asleep at night. It will be easy for him to awaken us on the last day, just as it was easy for him to awaken the daughter of the synagogue ruler.
But there is a catch. This revelation of God’s wonderful generosity makes sense to us only when we acknowledge that we are receiving people. We can earn some things – status power, the satisfactions of achievement. We can’t earn our lives with God, either our daily walk with him now or the promise of joy in eternity. We receive these as gifts.
Most of us can imagine how the ruler of the synagogue felt. He was an important man with many resources to call on. One expert I read assumes that he must have consulted several doctors and ordered various medications for his daughter. Jesus doesn’t despise his concern. Instead, he changed him from being a doing ;person into a receiving one. He’s no longer a man who looks only to human methods. Now he finds hope through trust in God. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” He brings the man assurance and certainty. In Christ, the human race finds hope.
The same assurance comes to us. Chances are the conflict between the world’s demand for action and achievement and God’s desire that we receive from him will continue. It would be wrong for us either to give way to the world or pretend that we can overcome it on our own. The solution for us is to open our hearts and minds to take hold of Christ and the promise of everlasting life he offers, to humble ourselves and to ask him to help us remember that we are people who receive from him.
It’s a wonderful thing to be a receiving person when the giver is God. As we take hold of Christ by faith, we find that sorrows vanish and heartaches are healed and empty places are filled. As Jairus" daughter wakened to new life, so do we – and not just once but every morning if we take hold of God’s forgiveness and ask his blessing on the day ahead. It’s a joy to give up our cares to him and acknowledge that he is in control of our lives. It may be hard for us now to let go, so we ask him to build up our trust in him. We seek more and more to be receiving people so that we may be ready to accept the great and wonderful gifts that he plans for us now and on the day of his return. In his name we give thanks. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.