Sermon, Lent 5A, Sunday April 2nd, 2017, Pastor Adrian Kitson
Better Together under the Cross – Remove the Clothes!
Now a man named Lazarus was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay ill, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is ill.’
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This illness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea.’
8 ‘But Rabbi,’ they said, ‘a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?’
9 Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the day-time will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.’
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’
12 His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’
Jesus comforts the sisters of Lazarus
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 ‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’
23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’
24 Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’
25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’
27 ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here,’ she said, ‘and is asking for you.’ 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.
‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews 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?’
Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 ‘Take away the stone,’ he said.
‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.’
40 Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’
Do you ever get to the point that you don’t want to hear any more bad news? I am struggling to hear much more bad news of the Trump administration, the Syrian conflict, the power supply slanging match here is SA, the death and destruction of the Ice epidemic in our own community, the suffering in Queensland, and so it goes….
Sometimes for people like us, who know the hope of Jesus, the whole place can still dark. I sometimes feels like the whole planet is living in the “shadow of death”; in that lifeless valley of dead bones, of which Ezekiel speaks.
So much so that I really struggle imagine what life would be like without bad news, ill-health, the alienation of being different to others, the grief of loss, the pain of conflict between people.
We hear today that three of Jesus close friends could not imagine life without these things either. Mary, Martha and Lazarus, were close friends of Jesus. Mary sat at his feet and attentively listened to his words.
Martha had washed his feet with her tears and her hair in front of angry and embarrassed men. Mary, Martha and Lazarus, the three siblings from Bethany, respected, trusted and loved Jesus. They regarded him to be the beloved One – the Messiah promised to make a new and give life beyond all of this dark stuff – even death. As they retold that hope-filled vision of the Valley of dead, dry bones, they must have thought their new Ezekiel had finally arrived.
Whenever Jesus was in the city he would stay at their house just a few km’s away. They ate and drank and probably stayed up late and talked. And they surely sensed the love of the man and his inner strength despite the venom he was regularly punctured with by many.
But something happens to disrupt this closeness that will stretch faith to the limit. Lazarus is very unwell. He is at the edge of death. Love is about to be torn apart.
A messenger sent by the sisters reaches the far away Jesus with the news. Jesus responds, but in a way that they neither want nor expect. He stays where he is. He does not immediately come to help.
His disciples seem to think they know why. It’s too dangerous. There has already been some very close calls in the city. Better to keep your distance. Better to play it safe……
After a two day wait, and despite the safety for which the disciples long, like a company leader taking a highly fortified town, Jesus says to the troops, “We are now going into harm’s way”.
He arrives and you can hear the grief and pain in their voices. “Jesus, if you had been here Lazarus would not have died. You could have done something like you have before”, the sisters say.
When God does not seem to come through when and where we want, it is easy to feel angry and betrayed by God. And yet there is still trust. “You could have done it, Jesus. We know that”.
Jesus affirms their faith. But then gives another strange response. “Your brother will awake”.
And then he says that striking statement that no one had ever dared to say. Jesus says, ” I am”… “I am the resurrection from death and life over death. I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live. Even though he dies, that person will live beyond that”.
As clear as our bell ringing, Jesus declares that life and death are in his hands. The bad news of life cannot match his good news. All the bad news is only PART of the story here in the Valley.
There is another reality for our lives that raises us beyond the pain we see and experience. There is resurrection, renewal and regeneration even in the midst of sickness, suffering and, as we are about to see, even death.
And then Jesus does what he says.
“Lazarus, come out!!”
What a moment! “Is that something moving in there? Can I see a wave of a white cloth somewhere?”
The dead man walks out with embalming cloth still wrapped around him. They are coming off. The tomb of dry dead bones lives. The last of the seven signs is complete and all is ready for the great sign of signs.
Friend, are the clothes of endless daily worry, doubt and fear beginning to slip off you this morning?
Jesus declares to you that it is he who really has your life and death in his hands.. By faith in his word we can receive the stark and wonderful promise, that in the midst of grief, danger, malice, sorrow, criticism, pain and the shadow of death, “I am the resurrection and the life for you”.
But he is more than that too. Why did Jesus do this death defying sign? Was is just to really show ‘em this time? Was it just an act of pure power for the sake of it?
No. Jesus raised this dead person because he loved him. He loved this man and his sorrowing sisters. He loves people. He obviously feels human sorrow and he weeps. He weeps that we are bound up in the burial cloths of human wrong, inner fears and the shadow of death wrapped around us. He weeps when we settle for moping around as if we are already dead and buried.
But he does more than weep. A week later he will stripped naked for the world to see – all for us. He will bleed for us. His clothes will be stripped off him and won by game of dismissive dice.
Friends, again, can you sense the cloths coming off?!
The Spirit of Jesus is breathing life into us dry bones this morning! The dark pall that covers us has been removed and is now being removed again today – just that little bit more.
At our baptism he called us by name out of the tomb with him. Our burial cloths were untied. They are still being untied as we let his Spirit speak to us, change our hearts, free us from all that still tries to keep us under deaths shadow.
Throw away the old clothes of self and fear and all that goes with them. Do this because others’ lives depend on it.
We Christians are in the business of removing burial cloths from people. By love, action, song, listening, hands, feet and words we are authorised by the grave robber to breathe life into dead hearts. We are sent by the Resurrection and the Life to raise up the dead from their sleep and bring the sweet smell of life to people.
Why do we do it? To ‘really show ’em” in a show of superior weaponry? No. To love them as he loves us. To weep with them and laugh with them and eat and drink with them, as he did and does with us.
Let him weep with you. Let him stay up late and laugh with you. Let him change the mourning into dancing and the sorrow into the joy of life beyond all the bad news. For he is good news.
Read the account carefully, noting the world, love, weep, and the dialogue between trusted friends 9mary and Martha to Jesus and back. What do you hear, feel understand is going on? Share your response.
What makes you laugh?
What makes you weep?
What makes Jesus weep here?
Why does he say he did not come straight away? Share your experience of waiting for the Lord when he did not seem to immediately respond to you.
Look out for the word “love”. How many times can you hear it in this text? What and who does Jesus love here?
Compare this to the Ezekiel 37 account of the Valley of Dry bones. How does the4 Lord show his love there too?
I suggest that we do not engage in bearing witness to Jesus to ‘show ’em” some superior argument or power. Why do we give our time, effort, money and heart to Jesus’ mission as you hear this account of Jesus as he responds to Mary, Martha and Lazarus?
Give us, Lord, your weeping heart of love for people yet to be loosened from the darkness of not knowing your love. Give us the words to say, the prayers to pray and the life to live in your resurrection service! Amen.