Thursday, March 17, 2016

Lenten Midweek Sermon: "I AM the Resurrection and the Life"

+ Lenten Midweek Service – March 16th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
John 11

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Snow White eats the poison apple and dies and the seven dwarves hold a funeral. Spock dies and Kirk gives him a burial by photon torpedo. And Johnny Cash sings, “Ain’t no grave can hold my body down.”

Notice a pattern? I do, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. It seems that everywhere we look, even in our favorite books, movies, and music, people are battling the three-headed dragon of guilt, suffering, and death.

And out of those three, Death is the ugliest of the monsters. Take for example, how non-Christians approach funerals and dying, or the recent death with dignity law passed in California, even our silly obsession with skull and cross-bones on cars and clothing reveals a simple fact. People are more afraid of death than ever before, and are willing to go to great lengths to cover up their fear. No wonder St. Paul writes, the last enemy to be destroyed is Death. It shakes us to our core. We’re left weary and broken, wondering who can put us back together again.

In John 11 we find Mary and Martha wrestling with the same beast. Their brother Lazarus is sick. So they send word to Jesus:

Lord, he whom you love is ill.

Usually, our first instinct is to run to help the sick person. Call the advice nurse. Make an appointment. Get to the ER if necessary. Somebody, do something! But what does Jesus do?
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Rather unexpected, don’t you think? Jesus waits to go see Lazarus until after he died.
Why? Listen to John’s commentary: Jesus loved Mary and Martha. Jesus could have quickly rushed to Lazarus’ bedside, healed him, and shown that disease and the all the doubters who was boss. Yet, because he loves Martha, Mary, the disciples, and you, he waits to show us all something greater.

He waits in order to show the disciples, Mary and Martha, and all of us that we are not alone in our suffering, guilt, and death. This is why Jesus is born, why he’s headed to Jerusalem: to bear our sorrow, our sin, and to give us life in his death.

So, Jesus waits to draw us – with all our guilt, suffering, sin, and death – to his dying and rising for us.

Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.

It may sound callous at first but it’s not. Jesus reveals his loves for the disciples, and Mary and Martha, and us: he waits in order to reveal what could not be revealed in any other way; that he, Jesus, is Lord of all, even death itself. Illness, guilt, suffering, and death are no match for Jesus. Jesus waits that we may trust in him, even in the face of our guilt, suffering, and death – and look to him alone for rescue.

Still, the disciples didn’t quite get it. Of course, they wouldn’t understand until after Jesus’ resurrection. We’re no different, really: apart from Jesus’ death and resurrection, Lazarus’ death doesn’t make much sense. And more than that, guilt, suffering, and death – our own and others – doesn’t make much sense either, unless we see cover our naked eyes with the clothing of Christ Crucified and risen for us.

Finally, Jesus makes it to Bethany. Martha greets him on the way and laments:

Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.

Haven’t we all uttered that prayer: Lord, if only you had been there. Sometimes it’s a guttural scream – the great NO! of pain - in the face of death. Other times, we pray silently, thinking our pain is far too overwhelming to bear, let alone speak about out loud.

Jesus doesn’t chastise Martha for this. He bears her grief as he does yours. Jesus doesn’t even lay on the law: if only you had prayed harder, if only your faith had been a little stronger, if only you truly believed. No, none of that. Those are awful things to say to someone who’s grieving. The answer to guilt, suffering, and death isn’t more law. Like us, Martha needed the good news. And Jesus gives it.

Your brother will rise again, Jesus said. Jesus makes it sound easy, like someone who simply says, “I’m going outside to dump the trash.” Of course, for Jesus, rousing Lazarus and you and me from our graves will be that easy. Arise! And it will happen.

Martha replies, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.

Grief mixed with faith and hope. That’s the Christian way of mourning as well. Unlike the world who sobs and wails uncontrollably at funerals, we grieve, but not as others do in despair and hopelessness. For we have hope in the midst of sorrow, joy the midst of tears, life in the face of death. Unlike the faith of unbelief that looks only on death as an empty void, a return to nothingness, and part of the circle of life, Christians see death as the horrible consequence of sin, and yet a portal; our graves have been hallowed by Jesus who rested in our tomb. Death is destroyed in Jesus’ death. And after a short slumber Jesus Lord will awaken us as easily as he did Lazarus.

So, Jesus answers Mary and Martha’s greatest need, and our greatest need as well:
I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. 

Jesus’ salvation for you is always present tense and future promise: today you will be with me in paradise.

And then, to show that his words do what they say, Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb where the words he just proclaimed - I AM the resurrection and the life – take place before their very eyes.

This is why Jesus is in Bethany, why he’s on his way to Jerusalem – for Lazarus, Mary, Martha, the disciples, for you and for the world. To swallow up our guilt, suffering, and death by his own death. Jesus takes our guilt and declares you innocent instead. Jesus takes our suffering and all our problems of pain and replaces it with true joy and consolation in his cross and empty tomb. Jesus takes our biggest, baddest enemy – Death – upon himself, wrestles him to the death, and the dragon is crushed under Jesus’ feet…all for you.

Then, with a loud voice, Jesus cries out into the tomb: Lazarus, come out.

And the man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said, Unbind him, and let him go.

Jesus says the same thing to us in our guilt, suffering, and death: Unbind him. Let him go. Dear baptized Christian, come out. Arise!

I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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