John 11:1-1-3, 17-26, 33-36, & 40-45, March 29th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Fifth Sunday in Lent
“Let us open our ears to today’s scripture lesson from the gospel of John, chapter eleven, selected verses from one through forty-five.”
1 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.”
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews 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. 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews 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 Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 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 upward 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 Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
“Having heard the account of Lazarus’ death and the astonishing, the miraculous restoration of his life, at the hands of Jesus, let us now consider what this means for us living in this time and place.”
As I sat down to write on Tuesday afternoon, I saw that one hundred and forty-five viewers have logged onto Facebook and viewed our worship broadcast last week. Thank you so much for joining with us then and now. It truly touches our hearts to know we were able to reach out on a Sunday morning to so many. I must admit, it took a leap of faith to imagine you there as I looked out upon an empty sanctuary. I suspect if one of Jesus’ early followers heard me make this remark, they would simply say: “God works in mysterious ways.” Yet, you and I know that the technology which made possible our broadcast and your viewing came from skill, knowledge and expertise over an extended expanse of time. None of which would have been possible without the gift of life and the inspiration of countless people who all owe their very lives to our Creator God! As I begin our discussion this day, I want you to know how humbled I am that I have the privilege to stand here today to offer you, prayerfully, some fresh insights into an old account of one of the clearest signs of Jesus’ identity; clarifying his incarnate connection to the Creator of life
As a pastor I have officiated at numerous memorial services. What a responsibility it has been, what an honor to be asked to do so. While I was in seminary, just before my first Easter, I traveled to Ohio as a close family member was dying. As that week dragged by, I struggled with my role as a family member verses a minister in training. The first day I sat up all night reading scriptures to Jack, as he lay there unable to speak because of the ventilator. As he fell asleep behind the oxygen mask, I continued to read prayers till morning’s light. At one point, as those eight long days went by, a chaplain intuitively saw my struggle and graciously told me a story of a very prominent pastor’s experience. She told me his beloved family member was near death and as his grief began to overwhelm his human emotions, he set aside his position, his role as the pastor that so many counted on at such time, and he sat down over in that corner (which she pointed to) and cried his eyes out. She then excused herself to leave me with my thoughts. At his wake I was invited to say a prayer. The next day a local pastor did the service. There is a big difference between my official duties as a pastor and what my own personal needs are. I have cried at a multitude of funerals and memorials for others and the longer I get to know someone: the harder it is! I imagine that a large percentage of us here gathered today, know what grief and sorrow is about. If you do not, God bless you, and I pray that through God’s grace you will have a guide to help you through; someone like the chaplain that day, so long ago, offered to me.
This narrative about Jesus’ friend Lazarus is a moving passage. “Jesus began to weep.” /John 11:35/ I can feel his pain. Surely, you can too? This is perhaps the most powerful moment in the entire reading. Jesus began to weep. Weeping is for us humans, and there the son of Mary, raised as a carpenter’s son; he was crying his eyes out! Knowing Jesus was fully human is so vitally important as we struggle to know him and who he truly was! In the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke, especially Luke’s writing, we get a clear sense of what the parent’s of Jesus had to endure… as they were forced to make the journey to Bethlehem to register to pay their taxes; even as Mary was heavy with child. Jesus was born in a stable, a barn where farm animals lived. In stark poverty, forced to travel and ultimately to become a refugees, Mary and Joseph took Jesus into Egypt as an infant. Yes, this Jesus knew all about human suffering and pain. Ultimately, he grew up to be a compassionate and kind man. Thank God he is the chosen one! Let us be grateful that the writer of the gospel according to John showed us this human emotion, as Jesus neared the tomb of his friend Lazarus; Lazarus who had died four days before Jesus arrived at the tomb.
Ginger Barfield, a professor of theology, reminds us of deaths reality. “Death is real and harsh. No resuscitation of Lazarus from the dead should sentimentalize or simplify that truth.” As we, continue our ‘social distancing’, we are becoming more and more aware of the impact of this to our economy, but even more aware of the human suffering and loss of life that this new virus brings to the world. I can add no new insights into our common calamity caused by this pandemic which is sweeping over the earth. I, like all of you, pray that our medical experts and our government leaders will work together making the best ethical choices for the wellbeing of all humankind. Prayerfully, leaders throughout the world will seek guidance and consult, from a cross section of solid ‘religious leaders’ as they are ultimately forced to make hard choices and decisions along the way. Personally, we can be hopeful as signs of compromise and bipartisan support throughout our government have made some breakthroughs that are sorely needed. Leadership is oftentimes not easy, yet, with God’s guidance and open discussion between groups there is hope that we as a people, we as a country, shall move forward into our future. May we all fervently pray that this shall be so! As professor Barfield has said: death is ‘harsh and real’, we cannot accept it easily for ourselves, nor are we to except it lightly for others.
The looming question, in the hearts of millions, is how many shall die, succumb and parish, as this wave of pestilence washes over the world, washes over these United States? For most of humankind, we have a high probability of survival. Yet, the weak, the old, the vulnerable and yes, even a great many vibrant and younger ones shall be lost. We, like Jesus, we shall weep and wail, we shall cry out to God asking why and we shall not get an answer. We shall grieve and mourn, begging our Creator to spare our loved one. Yes, being human can, at times, be difficult and trying. It is times like these in which we need to come together and support one another. We need to turn to our faith, our personal and joint understanding of a Deity who cares about us enough to have come to us in human form. The scriptures give us hope. History tells us that hope is not always enough as many of us understand – healing often takes time. Yet, faith, coupled with prayer and fellowship can ultimately give us hope. Let us pray that these reminders, that we are not alone, will give us comfort as we endeavor to move forward with life.
John van de Laar, a Methodist minister offers us a bit of a challenging motivational moment. “If you had the capacity to give life to someone, to enable them to live more fully, more vibrantly, more meaningfully – to discover what it means to be truly alive – would you do it; if your doing so would cost you your own life?” Even as we try to grasp the enormity of this lesson, which first shows us Jesus’ humanness as he feels the pain and sorrow over Lazarus’ death, we must now grapple with the miraculous as Jesus calls out to Lazarus and amazingly he is brought back to life! In so doing we see his outpouring of compassion, kindness and that spark of his divinity. Ultimately, as we continue to move ever closer to our Easter celebration, which is truly the “Morning After” when the miracle of the resurrection is revealed in all its glory. What Pastor John is seeking to tell us, it seems, is that we can also help others to more fully live their lives. The question being are we willing to sacrifice as others have done and as we know Jesus did?
We can begin to live into the challenge put before us, as we acknowledge the sacrifice the man Jesus gave for the sake of humanity. This is exponentially dramatic when we accept that God through the third person of Jesus, was indeed fully human within the man Jesus, and ultimately died for us that we might live! So, as we live through this chaotic and trying time, ask yourself, are you willing to help others with the essence of your own wellbeing? Are you willing to give up some of your needed items such as your ‘overstock’ of paper products and give it to a neighbor who needs some? Are you willing to go to the grocery store for someone shut in because they are at high risk of catching the virus, to buy their needed groceries? Are you? Are you willing to pick up the phone and call others and ask how they are doing offering to help where you can? The hard part about calling of course is they may really ask you to do for them something you don’t really want to do. It may be inconvenient, ill-timed and awkward. The question comes full circle as we acknowledge that Jesus was able to weep and feel the pain of others, yet, we may struggle to do the same for another.
As we continue our journey in these uncharted waters, let us ask God to give us the strength, courage and tenacity, to give of ourselves where we can.