Sermon: Lent 5 Sunday April 6, 2014. St Petri
John 11:1-45 The raising of Lazarus – Jesus’ last sign
….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.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
A GOOD DEATH?
Over these weeks of Lent we have been pondering the Good Life and what that looks like for the person who has the mind of the crucified Christ.
Taking Hugh Mackay’s lead, we reflected how Aussies go about defining and living “the Good life” and wondered if we Aussies, like all Westerners are living is a sort of Utopian Dream, where we are searching for this good life and we do so to operate in this Utopian fantasy land where we should never fail, suffer, have trouble, experience doubt or feel the pain of the world. As parents we are supposed to create the ‘perfect’ childhood for our children. As marriage partners we are supposed to have the “perfect” marriage. As young people we are supposed to find the “perfect” job or career, and “perfect” means that which makes me personally happy or at best, humanly whole.
THE DREAM ENDS
Well, the Utopian Dream has to eventually end. That is one thing even the most avid Good Life seeker must admit. I have noticed however that we do try very hard to diminish the small problem of death. I notice these days that the “D word” is hardly ever used. No one seems to die anymore. No we have this strange word “Passed”. “So and So “passed”, we say…. Passed to where? Passed what?
HOW WILL IT END?
In the golden age where technology, medical care, communication, entertainment, food and transport are very easy and mostly affordable by most (but certainly not all), we all deal with our own death before it happens. We have to.
In the Utopia complex we have all imagined a good death.
• I want to die in my sleep.
• I want to be awake, fully conscious of the moment
• I would rather have a heart attack while playing tennis that have a long battle with some disease.
• I would like to reach 100. I would like to die long before that….
Some people seem to think of death as the end. There is nothing more after it. I must say, this belief makes me wonder about why you would live life?
Others see death as a doorway to the great unknown.
Most religious systems offer life after death in some shape or form be it coming back as an ant if you did not do too well the previous life or as an elephant if you did really well!
Maybe most people seem to adhere to some kind of life after death? Why else would we constantly hear people saying, “So, and So “passed on”. Why else would you hear a civil funeral celebrant say things like “”He is in a ‘better place” or “She is in ‘good hands”….?
ONLY KNOWN FULLY WHEN YOU GET THERE
But the reality about death is that the after-life can only ever be imagined until we get there. You just cannot know everything about it or in fact much about it until you are there.
Blaise Paschal, the French philosopher famously proposed a wager. Because of this uncertainty, it is better to play it safe and believe that there is life after death than discover we were wrong in not believing and then be sorry!
Generally speaking, left to our own devices we have not much but fear about death.
It’s not that I’m afraid of dying – I just don’t want to be there when it happens…
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light (Dylan Thomas)
Woody Allen’s flippant line or Dylan Thomas’ furious poem strike a chord with most people because no matter which way you look at it death means loss and pain.
It did mean this for Lazarus and his close family and friends, and even his Saviour who wept at the tomb.
DEATH IS: DEATH IS DARK
Death is dark and it is no friend, as some seem to suggest. It does matter and it is death, and not mere passing. We may try to sugar coat death but it is and end and it hurts and it tells us we have our end and we are not as smart or wise or healthy, or in control or endlessly happy as we try to be or want to be.
But friends IN CHRIST, and that makes all the difference here – IN CHRIST.
Within a week of this incredible sign of the Kingdom’s presence in human affairs, he would suffer, and reach the throne room of the crucifixion and he would be death for us – he would be “crucified, dead and buried” in a dark death tomb, so he would be raised to life by the Father for our sake and to give us a good death and a life forever.
As the stench of death would soon surround him in the tomb so the perfume of God’s grace and power would fill the world by his mighty rising three days later.
IN CHRIST – that is us. Not apart from him as we live this life he has given us.
I wonder how Lazarus pictured his second death after he was resurrected by Jesus? He died and was resurrected once and then lived his days in that gift. I wonder how he lived that life approaching his second death and resurrection?
WE ARE HE
It is a real question because when you think about it we are Lazarus. We have been dead and buried and raised and now we await our second death and resurrection.
Remember how Lutheran funeral begins?
3 Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
Would Lazarus have known that Blaise Paschal’s wager to believe just in case we find out that unbelief was the wrong horse a total waste of time? Yes!
Would Lazarus have feared his second death? Not likely! Surely he would have been thankful everyday for the life he had been given and embraced his limitations with some joy because he knew for sure that life a good death is not dependent the good life but on Christ’s life.
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?” Cries Paul in a much better poetic moment!
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:54-58)
DEATH NO FRIEND BUT FOR JESUS
Friend, death is no friend to you except for the death of Jesus for you and the life we now live is only truly and fully lived in his victory over sin and the death it brings to our life.
The good life is not good without the goodness of God given in the grace of Jesus and the good death we all think about is only good because of the one who gives us his life for now and for that moment when we finally see him face to face and hear his words of affirmation – “Well done good and faithful servant, enter now into your rest with me”.
So, fellow believer in Jesus of Nazareth the Crucified king, stand firm in your baptismal death and resurrection. Receive the life-giving meal of God for your holy and pleasing life in him at the altar with your fellow saints on the journey.
Friends, let’s let nothing move us from faith in our crucified and victorious king, especially any unfounded fear of dying and death. People let nothing move us from working in partnership with the Lord in his mission to put to death the old idol making Adam within and raise up the new person of life and faith and joy in believing through our work and words.
Friends, let’s always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that on account of his death for us and his resurrection for us, given to us as it was to Lazarus, our work together at St Petri in the Lord is not in vain.
Read the text about Lazarus’ resurrection in small “chunks” following the long account bit by bit so that everyone stays aware and “with” the story. Discuss things that raise questions or make people begin to make links with Jesus’ own death and resurrection as they occur – noting things down as you go….
This is the last “sign” of the 7 signs in the gospel of John and the precursor to the greatest sign of God’s kingdom rule breaking into the world – the death and resurrection of Jesus. These signs match the 7 “I am” statements of Jesus. So we see that for John, the telling of this and all other stories of the events of Jesus’ life is very deliberate and everything has its place and meaning.
With that said, what “jumped out” for people in the group as they followed this rich story of an incredible event? If you could summarise the main things the group discerned, what would they be?
“A ‘good death’ is not dependent on a good life but on a good God”. What does this mean for you?
Death is no friend but is an enemy – except for the death and resurrection of Jesus for us. Now death has no lasting sting and no victory or mastery over those who trust in Jesus’ resurrection. What does this kind of faith statement enable you to be and do?
Have you ever wondered how Lazarus lived the rest of his life after being dead and then resurrected by Jesus? We said that this is what has happened to us and that in a way, we Christians are just like Lazarus. We have been buried with Jesus and raised with him. Take a look at Romans chapter 6:3-14. Paul says we have a new master. We were once mastered by sin and it consequence – death. Now we are mastered by God’s grace given in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Read Romans 8:28-39 to get Paul’s conclusion about how great God’s grace is and what this means for how we face life with all of its hardships and challenges……
We ended up in 1 Corinthians 15:54-58 and were encouraged to stand strong, giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord. Read that text to end and pray….
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