Monday, April 3, 2017

The Story of Lazarus

John 11:1-45
4-2-17 Lent 5

Like the woman at the well,
The story of Jesus raising Lazarus
only shows up in the gospel of John.
This seems like it would be a significant
miracle for everyone to remember but only John tells it.
But John never talks about miracles, he only talks about signs.

Miracles for John are a sign of something larger.
Jesus doesn’t do miracles for their own sake,
they are there to show us something about the activity of God
and Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our world.
Raising of Lazarus
John Reilly
So what is this miracle showing us?
Let’s review the story a little.

So Jesus is in another 
town and he gets word
that his friend Lazarus is very ill.
Now , you think he might 
go quickly to see him and help him.
It says Lazarus and Mary 
and Martha were special friends of Jesus.
He had gone to help other people, 
you might expect that he would
a special effort to go and help Lazarus. 
But no.
Jesus takes his time and stays a while longer wherever he was.

To be honest, this is kind of frustrating when you think about it.
Why would Jesus want to do that?
I understand that he wants to reveal God’s glory,
but Jesus waiting has caused a lot of pain in the process.
But eventually, Jesus decides to go to Lazarus.

So it’s four days after Lazarus is dead,
for four days Mary and Martha were grieving over their brother.
And when Jesus arrives at Bethany,
you can kind of feel the anger in the air.
Martha meets Jesus on the road and says,
“If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
I mean she’s seen him cure so many people before,
so many strangers, he could have come and helped his best friend.

So Jesus tells her “Your brother will live again.”
And Martha tells him:
I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”

Now, Jews at that time believed in the resurrection on the last day,
It was what the Pharisees were teaching,
the Sadducees were the ones that didn’t believe it.
So Martha is giving this line back of normal rote stuff
everyone would have been taught in their religious education classes.
“Yes, Yes, he’ll rise on the last day. I know eternal life.”
She’s kind of annoyed by this response.

And I can completely understand that.
When someone dies, lots of people’s inclination
is to tell the person who is grieving
“It’s okay, your loved one is in heaven now”
or “God needed another angel” or some other platitude like that.
But telling someone those things are not always consoling.
Especially when the death is unexpected, or the person is young,
their loved ones still have to remain here,
and deal with the pain and loss,
and pay the bills, and live alone,
and raise the kids by themselves.
Practically speaking, saying to someone,
“Your brother, or wife, or child is in heaven”
is not always comforting in every situation.
And it wouldn’t have been in this one.

But it’s apparent that is not what Jesus meant.
Jesus doesn’t quite correct her, but he says,  
 “I am the resurrection and the life.”
He’s not talking about the after-life like the Pharisees did.
He’s talking about resurrection here and now.

So it’s odd and sad that lots of people  
in the Christian church haven’t moved much passed
the idea that Martha and the Pharisees had.
Lots of us still make Christianity all about the after-life,
and going to heaven or hell after you die.
Even after the corrective in this story, we still can’t see that
Jesus has important things to do in our world here and now.

They go on further, and Mary comes out and there’s more tension.
She says the same thing that Martha does.
“Lord if you have been here, my brother would not have died”

Now I have told you before, and I tell you again,
that when I hear two people using the same exact phrase,
I know that they have been complaining together,
and it seems like Mary and Martha were complaining
about Jesus together.
And we have all been there, praying and hoping and waiting for God to act on something, and just getting silence and nothing.
Most of us have gotten angry with God too.

By this time everyone is crying.
Emotions are contagious and Jesus is not immune to this or above this.
Jesus is moved by the situation of his friends and their sadness,
and he cries with everyone else.
  
Then he goes to the tomb that Lazarus is lying in
and tells them to move the stone away.
Martha, always the practical one,
warns Jesus that since he’s been in there
for four days, “there is a stench” or, as it more expressively
says in the King James version of the bible: “he stinketh”.
Just one more reminder
that we’re talking about real, honest, stinky death here.
Lazarus wasn’t just hibernating.

And then Jesus calls to the previously dead man:
“Lazarus come out” and he walks out,
his body still wrapped up in the cloths
he was buried in, and Jesus tells the
rest of the people to
“Unbind him and let him go”.

Stories like this,  give us images and complex thought.
They can teach us more about life and God and Jesus
than a hundred essays or letters could.
And this story is chock full of truths about God and Jesus.
Stories also have a living quality to them that tell us
different things at different times that we might need to hear.
  
Here are some things that I learned  about God and Jesus
from listening to this story this time:

1. God doesn’t work on our time table. 
We may want God to come and help us right now,
without haste, but God doesn’t always act on our request.
And, at the same time, God can accept our anger about that.

2. Being a close friend of Jesus
Doesn’t free us from pain and suffering and death.
Being a beloved disciple doesn’t make us immune from pain.
And suffering is not a sign that we aren’t loved by God.

3 .Our suffering is not caused by God
(as was suggested in the story of the blind man last week),
God and Jesus are actually moved to tears by our suffering.
But every time we suffer, every grief, every obstacle,
IS an opportunity for us and others to see God’ power and glory
work through us to overcome those obstacles.

4. Jesus best work is done with the dead.
Not just nearly dead but really dead.
When we’ve given up control and we realize how hopeless we are,
that is when Jesus does his best work.
That goes for us, for our lives, for our country, and for our world.
Even when we’re so dead that “we stinketh”, there is still hope for us.

5. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, right here and right now. 
Even though Jesus is not raising up dead people these days,
and it’s never been a ministry of the Christian church,
resurrection is happening in our world and in our lives right now,
all the time, and that is God and Jesus at work.

It’s not only about heaven and what happens after death.
We don’t have to wait for the after-life for God’s promises to kick in.
Once we let Jesus into our stinky tombs, and open our eyes,
we can see amazing and miraculous things right here.

 6. Jesus and God do the major work of resurrection,
but the community of God helps with the unbinding and letting go.

7. And finally even when death comes,
which will happen to each one of us, it is still not over.
God is not done with us. 
Jesus will not leave us alone.

Maybe you got some others that I didn’t.
Stories can do that, the living word can do that,
different people can see different things at different times.
That’s how God speaks to us right now. Through stories.
And our own stories are like that too.

Maybe our stories aren’t as dramatic or memorable
as Lazarus story. But every tragedy we have experienced,
every disappointment, every hard time we’ve come through,
Those are signs of God’s presence with us and
they are a testament to the power of resurrection
that his found in Jesus Christ.
They tell us how God moves in our lives, and what is possible.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

And we are being raised with Christ every day.

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