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The Raising of Lazarus: What part of your life craves divine resuscitation?



The Raising of Lazarus: What part of your life craves divine resuscitation?
A sermon preached Lent 5 (April 6, 2014)
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector,
The Falls Church Episcopal, Falls Church, Virginia

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." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep.

This morning I want to make five points about the raising of Lazarus story we’ve just heard. My first two points are very short. My third point is a long one – get settled in. My fourth point is short. My fifth point is kind of medium-length.

My first point flows from the fact that Jesus is "deeply moved" in this story. If you believe, as Christians believe, that Jesus was more than just a great man, a wise prophet, but God himself…God incarnate, God in human form…then this story reminds us that God is compassionate. God weeps. God is not distant, or far off. God does not stand far off from human suffering, but enters in.

So my first point is, “make your desires known to God, confident of God’s closeness, compassion, and love for you.”
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So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Notice there are two reactions: One, “look at how much Jesus loved him!” (or, “wow, how much God loves us!) And two, “well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he prevent his death?” (or , “if God loves us so much, why does he allow suffering?” “Why doesn’t he use his power to keep bad things from happening?”

Which brings me to my second point: yes, make your desires known to God, confident of God’s closeness, compassion, and love for you, but (my second point), “God’s closeness, compassion, and love does not mean everything goes our way all the time, or that we’re spared from heartache.”

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Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 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 four days."

God is close, compassionate, and loving; Jesus is greatly disturbed, and comes to the tomb. It’s a cave. A stone was lying against it, as a way to seal the tomb. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Lazarus’ sister Martha says, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

“Already there is a stench”

It’s been too long.

It’s too late.
                                
Gotta love the King James’ version:

39Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

“He stinketh.”

He’d been dead four days.

There are parts of our life that have been dead longer than that. There are parts of our life needing God’s closeness, compassion, and love that may have been dead for four decades.

Aren’t there, in each of our lives, aspects of our personality – deeply ingrained attitudes and habits – that we know don’t serve us well?

At one point in a particularly difficult part of my life, the very wise counselor I was seeing would ask me, “John, in what ways do you get in your own way?” “And what would it be like not to get in your own way?”

Couldn’t we all use God’s healing touch in some aspect of our life? It doesn’t have to be an outright crisis: Isn’t there some part in our life that feels dead and buried, no longer fully alive?

Isn’t there some part of us where we say, as “the whole house of Israel” says in the Ezekiel passage, “our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, we are cut off completely (NRSV)/completely finished (CEB).” and we say,

"I’m done." "It's too late."

"I've had enough."

Nothing is too far gone, too deeply buried, for God to get at it. So what part of your life craves newness, healing, divine resuscitation, restoration, revival, renewal?

Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your grave, and bring you up from your graves. … I will put my spirit within you, and you – that part of your life – shall live.

What part of your life craves newness, healing, divine resuscitation, restoration, revival, renewal? What part of your life do you fear, “it’s just too late, by now there’s a stench”?  

Thus says the Lord God: “Take ye away the stone.” 

And so my third point is, Don’t be afraid, or reluctant, to take away the stone because you’re convinced parts of your life stinketh. God is the Lord of life. Behind that stone, deep in the tomb, God brings life.  
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Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. 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." When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 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."

There are examples in the Bible (in fact, one at the very end of this story!) where a miracle leads to belief: people see something God do, and they go off with faith, or deeper faith.

But what’s interesting about so many of Jesus’ miracles is that the order is reversed: instead of a miracle leading to belief, belief leads to a miracle. If you believe, (then) you will see.

That’s my fourth point and I’m just going to let you sit with it for a minute: Sometimes miracles lead to belief…but sometimes belief leads to a miracle.

I took this photo on our first mission trip to post-Katrina New Orleans. It's not a bad daily prayer.
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As long as this Gospel story is, it doesn’t end here. When is Lazarus mentioned again? A little later, in chapter 12,

1Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

You get the picture? Jesus is eating at the home and dinner table with Lazarus and presumably other disciples because Judas is present; and Martha and Mary. Lazarus has been resuscitated only a little while ago.
Mary opens a large jar of expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus' feet, then wipes his feet with her hair.
Each of those gestures are over-the-top:  
  • It's a large jar, containing a pound or a pint of perfume: picture a pint of strawberries, or a pint of Guinness...that's a lot of perfume.
  • It's "costly" or expensive perfume: worth "300 denarii" nearly a year's salary worth of perfume.
  • It's exquisite perfume: a rare, precious possession
  • Mary pours it on - she doesn't just lightly, politely drip a few drops. She pours it on Jesus' feet.
  • Then she wipes his feet with her hair: letting one's hair down in public would have been unusual, and maybe even scandalous. "Letting one's hair down" still means to act in a free, uninhibited manner, to relax, let loose.
Here's the fifth and final point: we are blessed to be a blessing to others: being a recipient of the miraculous leads to over the top generosity.  
And this over-the-top abundance isn’t an isolated instance here. It’s a recurring, consistent theme:
  • Remember when Jesus was the wedding guest at Cana, and the scene of his first miracle in Gospel of John? It’s the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding feast: not just a little wine, but 150 gallons, 750 bottles: 64 cases of wine. And not just any wine: an exquisite wine, the “best wine.”
  • The miracle of loaves and fishes: Five thousand people are fed by the sea of Galilee…and we’re told twelve baskets of bread are left over. 
  • After fishing all night, Simon Peter will be told by the risen Christ to cast his net on the other side of the boat and he catches 153 fish…his nets are ready to break there’s so many.
There is abundance everywhere Jesus shows up.
Is Jesus showing up in your life?
So…


  1. Make your desires known to God, confident of God’s closeness, compassion, and love for you.  
  2. God’s closeness, compassion, and love does not mean everything goes our way all the time, or that we’re spared from heartache. 
  3. Don’t be afraid, or reluctant, to take away the stone because you’re convinced parts of your life stinketh. God is the Lord of life. Behind that stone, deep in the tomb, he brings life. 
  4. Sometimes miracles lead to belief, but sometimes belief leads to a miracle.
  5. We’re blessed to be a blessing to others: being a recipient of the miraculous leads to over the top generosity.


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