Homily for 4.6.14
5th Sunday of Lent
The Lectionary Gospel reading for the 5th Sunday of Lent takes us to the grave, in fact beyond the brink of death, to one of the most startling miracle accounts in the New Testament. Here we are in fact confronted with the power of Jesus in raising of his friend Lazarus from the dead.
Of course, there are many insights found here in this narrative, besides the Lazarus miracle, many more than we have time to open this morning. So, let me attempt to share two insights from the text, and then, at the close, I will offer some thoughts on the Lazarus miracle.
GOD'S PLANS ARE NOT ALWAYS OUR PLANS
The first insight offered by the text is the rather pungent thought that GOD's plans are not always our plans. That is, outcomes and directions that seem so plain to us, so natural that there could be no other answer, seems somehow, curiously, to have escaped the Almighty's notice!
Think about it...
The sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.”
[Which being interpreted means -- LORD, come and save us. I know you do miracles, you've done them for others, do one for us now. We need you, come quick! Can't you hear the pleading in this small, pithy statement, can't you smell the panic? We can because most of us have smelled it before, on our own skin.]
But Jesus did not come; he chose not to come, and Lazarus died.
"Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died...'"
The sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus, saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
"So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was."
Seriously, now, because this has a life and death seriousness to it, we must somehow see the truth that GOD has a plan, and very often to us this plan makes no sense at all. We say God will never leave us or forsake, us, but is this true? How could he allow his friend to die? How could he allow this family to experience the grief of death when clearly he could have prevented it? We do not know.
It is the same in our lives. We face a challenge or potential tragedy, and the way out seems clear -- GOD must do thus and so; GOD must act; GOD must deliver. But, in the end GOD did not do what we thought should have been done.
As the prophet Isaiah reminds us:
"My thoughts are completely different from yours," says the LORD. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT)
We would do well to remember three additional insights here. First, while GOD could have prevented this death, he is not its author. GOD does not cause tragedy, this is quite simply part and parcel of the human condition.
Second, while it is quite acceptable to offer GOD our plans and desires, which we often do in prayer, in faith we know we must wait for the LORD's plan to unfold. That is, we trust GOD's providence and creativity to take the worst situation and somehow, someday, to make it whole.
Then finally, we would do well to remember that, quoting Karl Barth in another context -- "God always has his surprises." Sometimes the LORD's plans align with our hopes -- “Lazarus! Come forth!”
This is the cause for great joy and rejoicing-gratitude because it is an unexpected grace.
JESUS IS POUNDED BY THE HUMAN CONDITION
The second insight offered by the text is the rather amazing truth that Jesus himself is here pounded by the human condition, just as we are.
"And Jesus wept."
Can there be any more important words in the New Testament? The one person who uniquely presents and represents us to GOD and GOD to us, weeps! Think of it…
Take from your mind the stone-hearted GOD who cannot be moved or touched or changed by our experiences. This, so called, immutable GOD, the God with an inability to change, to feel, to emote, will not pass scriptural muster here.
Jesus, the writer of the Hebrew letter tells us, learned obedience through what he suffered, and here he suffers as his friend lies entombed, and as his friend's family lies in ruins, cracked and brutalized over death.
Notice the text closely, Jesus' weeping occurs as he approaches the tomb. As a pastor, I can tell you that this is where the weeping occurs, when we see the truth, when we see the reality of our loved one's death.
So, here the text straightforwardly opens to us Jesus' joint venture with us in the great human triad: Suffering-Sorrow-Death, which gives depth to a scripture like this one from Hebrews 4:
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 NRSV)
THE LAZARUS MIRACLE
Finally, then, let us think-through the Lazarus miracle. Of the many things that could be said concerning this event, we would be wise to open ourselves the primary truth that GOD is the GOD of life:
"Jesus told her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?'”
If we deny the possibility of new life -- resurrection life, then we really don't have much to say to ourselves or to the world. For, if we say that this is all there is -- what we see, taste, touch and measure -- then we, quoting Paul, are of all people the most miserable. This is true not only because we believe a lie, but because we perpetrate one as well.
The text asks the most pertinent question of all --
"Do you believe this?"
That is, do you believe that the Christ is the great life-giver?
Unlike Martha, we must wait for the truth of our faith to emerge. And this "one day it will happen" waiting is no easy task for we are left to pick up the pieces when someone we love dies, even as we contemplate the event our own death.
To counter this reality, we must finally assert that because the Christian -- the Christ follower -- has miraculously met the risen, living Christ, who is the first-fruit of resurrection, we have by faith seen the future that awaits. That is by faith we have hope for the future.
Therefore, we face hospital ER's and graveyards with a unique insight, with the singular perspective that there is more to the story, that there is a second chapter beyond the human condition, or as St. Paul describes it here — as the blessed hope:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11-13)
To which we respond, “Even so, come LORD Jesus.”