Lazarus Come Out

John 11:1-45           Lazarus Come Out!        Lent 5      April 10, 2011

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law–indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.  (Romans 8:6-11)

We are Spirit and we are flesh.
We are living creatures; filled with the Spirit of God!  We are children of the Resurrection with an eternal vocation modeled upon the example and the redeeming life of Jesus Christ our Lord.
And yet we are physical beings with dramatic limitations upon our lives.
We inhabit a fallen world where evil is more than just an academic term.
We live in broken bodies that fail.  We will watch loved ones pass away; and in the end we ourselves will also die.
We are Spirit and we are flesh.
We are suspended if you will, like dust particles caught in the sunlight coming through a window…suspended in some kind of mixture of spirit and flesh and life and death and darkness and light and…hope.
Hope that there’s more to our existence than what we see happening.
Maybe that’s what it means, to be “sure of what we hope for”.
Mary and Martha were sure of what they hoped for.  Have you ever noticed that they both respond to Jesus’ arrival in John 11 with the exact same words?
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
They both understand that Jesus is a healer, and they both have enough faith in his healing touch to confront him about his absence in their hour of need.
“Lord, you could have done something, but you weren’t here”.
You didn’t show up.
Jesus, it doesn’t matter to us that people were ready to kill you just a few verses ago and that you narrowly escaped across the Jordan.
It doesn’t matter to us that you were keeping a low profile, or that many people came to believe in you there where John used to baptize.
It doesn’t matter to us that you’re making some people mad enough to actually kill you.
None of that matters, because you didn’t show up and we needed you.
Our brother Lazarus was dying.  You could have done something about it, but you weren’t here.
You didn’t show up.
He’s been dead for four days; long enough for the act of dying to really be done, you know?
It’s been long enough for the smell to tell us all we need to know.
But thanks for coming Jesus; thanks for the gesture.
In the words of the country song, “You’re just a little too late to do the right thing now.”

One thing that’s interesting about this passage is the different ways that Mary and Martha respond to Jesus when he does show up.  Both are legitimate ways of dealing with grief, and both are legitimate ways of approaching Jesus.
Martha responds with her mind, she rationalizes the situation as she tries to move beyond her pain.  To her, maybe Jesus becomes a symbol of hope for the future.  “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask”, she tells Jesus.
In other words, I still have faith in what you can do…I’m trying to hold out hope for the future of what your reign will look like in the resurrection at the last day; but right now I’m grieving what you didn’t do for us.
What I hear Martha saying is the same thing I’ve heard so many of us say in our own way, when bad things happen and we’re left to pick up the pieces.
She says “I know there is hope for the future, but that doesn’t really matter to me right now, because my brother is dead and it hurts.”
I’ve got cancer, and it hurts.  I’ve been wounded, and it hurts.  My body is letting me down, my family isn’t there for me, I just can’t see my way out of this predicament and this isn’t how I thought my life would turn out….and it hurts.
We go on to acknowledge that Jesus could have done something, but he didn’t show up, so obviously the opportunity is gone for him to make a difference in our pain.
Now, Mary responds a little bit differently.
She says the same thing when she comes to him “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  But then her emotions take over.
She breaks down.
She falls at his feet and weeps openly.  She was overcome with emotion.
It’s just as valid a response to pain as Martha’s logic, especially in the presence of Jesus.
She weeps, and an interesting thing happens; Jesus doesn’t comfort her.
His first response is the same as mine when I’m with people who are weeping.
It says he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
I can identify with that.
It’s natural; it’s part of our divine vocation; to mourn with those who mourn.
It’s just how we’re wired; when someone openly weeps, our hearts go out to them.
When someone can’t keep their emotions to themselves anymore; when they’re consumed by grief…it affects us.
It troubles us, especially when we’re close to them, like Jesus was to Mary and Martha; like Jesus is to each of us.
So he’s troubled and he weeps.
And I think that’s the picture of Jesus that we can take with us this morning.
He doesn’t come in with his guns blazing, ready and willing to put things right.
He’s not the hero who rides into town and starts taking names.
Rather, he’s one who weeps with us in our brokenness, whether we respond to him with cool logic and a calculated hope for the future or with overpowering emotion that can’t see beyond right now, Jesus weeps.
Many of us are in situations that call for weeping.
We can’t see why Jesus didn’t show up.  We can’t understand why Jesus is absent from the scene, even though we still stubbornly believe he is the Son of God.
And that’s OK.
Jesus wept…and I think Jesus weeps.
But there’s another part of this passage that I just don’t get.
Jesus weeps, and then he goes to where Lazarus was laid and tells the people to roll the stone away.
He proceeds to pray for the benefit of those who are standing around, and then he calls out “Lazarus, Come out!”
And the dead man walks out of the tomb!
This story makes me feel like too much of a skeptic to be a preacher.
I just don’t get it because I just can’t imagine it (and I’ve got a pretty good imagination).
He walks out of the tomb, and Jesus tells the people that were standing around, he tells them to help him off with the grave clothes!
I think it was last year when I compared Easter to Halloween.
This is another story that I think fits better at the end of October than early Spring.
This is not natural stuff that Jesus is doing.  It’s a little scary, and it’s a little offensive, given the customs they had around tombs and death.
It’s no wonder Jesus was making enemies; he doesn’t even respect the dead enough to let them stay dead, you know?
It’s no wonder the Pharisees went on to plan his death; they knew that the stakes were high.
They were right about one thing; that the controversy around Jesus was a matter of life and death, and they were prepared to defend the status-quo.
I’ll be honest, I don’t get the resurrection part of this passage, because I don’t see Jesus doing that in my own life.  I don’t see Jesus performing miracles, bringing new life into the brokenness that’s all around me.
But you know, as I was working on this sermon this week, I started to understand that just maybe the reason I don’t see it is because I’m the guy he called out of the tomb, you know?
We’re the ones Jesus has called to ‘come out’.  We’re the ones who need help removing our graveclothes; strips of linen over our hands, over our feet, and over our heads.
We’re the ones who have been called from death to life, in spite of what people expected or the cultural norms that pervade.
I once was greedy; and now I’m less greedy.
That’s a movement towards new life.
I once was arrogant, proud, and self-sufficient; now I’m working against those things.
That’s a movement out of the grave.
I once focused on the flesh, now I try to focus on the Spirit.
That’s a movement from darkness into light!
Jesus is still the hope of the world, and the power that raised him from the dead still gives us life.

Resurrection is not natural, and that’s what makes it so…awkward.
We need help coming out of the tomb.  We need grace as we blink in the light and try to find our place in this new life.
It’s not natural, but resurrection is our calling!

Pray with me…

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