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Lent 5A Sermon
John 11:1-45
29, 2020


Sermon Archives


John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ 8 The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Judeans were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ 9 Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ 11 After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ 12 The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

Pastor – I feel like we are living out the mood of this story right now. There is an overarching sense of illness and death about this story. Some people with whom Jesus has grown very close – the sisters Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus – are experiencing it. Lazarus is very sick and about to die. Knowing what we have seen about Jesus already in John’s Gospel, we expect him to drop everything and rush to Lazarus’ bedside to heal him. Instead, he lingers two more days before setting out for Bethany. Two days … two long days. When someone is sick, time seems to contradict itself: often, every second matters in treatment, and yet, the clock just slows down to a crawl. This week seemed to me to last for several weeks, and yet I know that every moment that our front-line health care workers are not inundated with new Covid19 cases, and are able to have the equipment that they need, it is a good thing. Jesus knows that his presence is crucial in Lazarus’ situation, but he intentionally delays. In the mysterious wisdom of Jesus, it will be better for his mission to wait and to raise Lazarus from the grave instead of healing him from his illness. His heart is with these loved ones, but they cannot at this point in the story feel his actual presence. It is another part of the story that we can identify with – inordinately long delays in healing or reconciliation of brokenness are often perceived as the absence of God. We join the psalm writer and pray, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord: O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.” Out of the depths we cry to the Lord now.

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Judeans had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27 She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

Pastor – Martha speaks for all of us here, especially as we experience a delay in healing: Lord if you were here, my loved one would not have died … and our world would not be in this situation. But Jesus reassures Martha of the healing presence that he brings in a simple promise: Your brother will rise again. She is thinking about the ultimate fulfillment of that promise, but Jesus assures her that the resurrection promise is not only for that future time of the perfect fulfillment of the Gospel … it is also to be experienced in all times – even and especially during present times of illness, brokenness and grief. So, he answers with the words that we sang to begin our worship today: I am the resurrection, and the life – all who believe in me will live a new life! Jesus is not only the faithful agent of God’s love that will one day defeat all of the agents of death; Jesus is the life, here and now. In Jesus we can come to know joy and peace in the midst of uncertainty and chaos. That is a promise for all of us in the next weeks and months.

28 When Martha had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Judeans who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Judeans who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Judeans said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37 But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

Pastor – Mary and Martha must have had this conversation with each other over the time of Jesus’ delay, and the four days of their brother’s death: Where is Jesus? I cannot believe he hasn’t arrived yet! If he gets here soon, I know he will heal Lazarus! Oh no … it’s too late … if only Jesus was here, he would not have died. The thing that strikes me about this short section of the story is the communal nature of grief in Jesus’ day. There were others present with the sisters to mourn Lazarus’ death, and I think there were many others present. They weren’t there to tell them to get over it, or to say things like, “I guess God needed another angel.” They were there to cry, to join Mary and Martha in their sorrow knowing that death is a part of life, and that sorrow is part of death. And seeing all of these who are weeping, Jesus begins to weep – yes, the Son of God cries alongside frail human beings. I am not sure if he does so out of empathy, having witnessed firsthand what his delay has done to folks, or if he himself is caught up in his own love for Lazarus so much that he already misses him. Whatever the reason, Jesus weeps – and in that short, simple verse, all of us who weep know the comfort of a close-by, loving God.

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40 Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’ 45 Many of the Judeans therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Pastor – There you have it – the one who was REALLY dead, having been in a tomb for four days until, as the old King James version of the Bible says, “He stinketh,” is called forth from his tomb into the light of the Judean hillside. Jesus commands them to unbind him and let him go – unbind him, loosen his fetters and set him free so that he might live! The experience of being caught up in the joy of that moment … that is what we desire at all times, especially during these days when the presence of illness and death has brought a certain stench to our world. As we watch and pray, we also admit from a faith perspective that we don’t quite know the right thing to do right now. We are all just trying to do our best as we watch and wait for healing to come. Our natural inclination is that “ministry of presence” that we are called to, but that is not possible right now. I have a feeling that things will feel more and more delayed in the next weeks … and that in that delay people will be tempted to call this an absence of God. But even though we may not know the exact right thing to do, we have Jesus’ promise of the presence of our God. God is faithful … in God we have hope. We not only have the promise that one day we will emerge from our tombs when Jesus calls us, but we also have the promise that one day we will emerge from our houses and fully embrace our loved ones to share the grief and the joy that live side by side in our homes. It is something for which we wait with patience and faith. In the meantime, we do what we can so that in our words, actions and inactivity, we experience Jesus as the life that he promised Martha – here and now, because we have the promise too.

In my own life during these days I have tried to do with my congregation, family and friends what I think brings life. Socially distancing from many of you is chief among them, but emails, texts, phone conversations, social media, video gatherings and streaming worship are the chief ways that I am trying to keep connected with folks. The meals that our family sits down to together are joyful reminders of days gone by when the kids were young, and we ate dinner together most every evening. I pray that you find ways to not only experience the presence of our Lord with you, but that you can find ways to safely share the presence of our Lord with others who may be having a hard time experiencing it. May the Lord Jesus Christ, who raised Lazarus and has promised to raise us, make himself known to all of us; and may his healing presence remove the stench of illness and death that hovers over our world and communities so that we experience God’s gifts of new life. Amen.