Monday, April 3, 2017

Father Riley's sermon for April 2, 2017

LENT V - A - 17               JOHN 11. 1-45

The story of Lazarus, as the gospel of John tells it, is detailed and vivid. It is a story of illness and death, of burial and resurrection. Told as a sign of Jesus’ power it contains the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” It is the seventh sign in John’s gospel and the one that sealed the Jewish authorities’ decision to put Jesus to death.
Most of us know the essence of the story very well. Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha is ill. The sisters send word to their friend Jesus of their brother’s condition expecting Jesus to come immediately and heal him. Jesus sends word back to the sisters not too worry. Their brother’s illness will not lead to death.
Then, as strange as it might seem, Jesus delays two days before making his way to Bethany, a small village some two miles south of Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Christ has recently had a close call with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem who tried to stone him. He has escaped to the other side of the Jordan. When he announces to his disciples that he is going back in the vicinity of Jerusalem. They warn him not to.
He is determined to make the journey and Thomas, speaking for the other disciples who were present, declares that they will go with him expecting to die. Instead, Jesus informs them, that Lazarus has died. Why did he wait? What was Jesus doing during those two days?
By the time he reaches Bethany, Lazarus has been dead four days. The mourners see Jesus approaching and inform Martha who goes out to meet him. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
The sisters had believed the message Jesus sent back that Lazarus would not die. But he was dead and dead for four days! The number of days was significant. At the time, rabbinical teaching proclaimed that after four days the body and soul were permanently separated with no hope of resuscitation.
Martha, as well as her sister Mary, believe in the power of Jesus to heal and make whole, but have not enough faith to believe that he could raise the dead. If only he had come earlier. He could have cured their brother of his illness.
It is to Martha, rather than Mary, that Jesus engages in a deep theological exchange concerning resurrection. Martha believes that the dead will one day rise, as most Jews of her day did. But to her, it would be a future event.
Her faith and hope was in the last day. Jesus, however, summons her to faith and decision now with the powerful words -“I am the resurrection, and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live…Do you believe this?” Martha says she does believe.
Neither of the sisters, nor the mourners, nor the disciples expected what came next? Mary now meets Jesus, and expresses the same feelings as her sister about his coming sooner, and how she knew that things would have been different if he had.
Jesus asks to see the tomb and Mary leads him to it. The mourners are weeping and wailing and following along behind. Mary and her sister begin to weep as they reach the tomb. Jesus over come with compassion weeps with them.
Then he commands that the stone be rolled away. Mary cautions him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” He negates that idea and challenges her faith once again. He speaks to the father out loud so all can hear. He thanks God for having heard his earlier prayer. His earlier prayer?
In the two silent days the other side of the Jordan, before he told his disciples of Lazarus’ illness, he was praying. Praying that though Lazarus would die, he would be preserved from corruption; praying that when they eventually arrived at Bethany, the body in the tomb would be whole and complete, ready to be summoned back to life.
And when they take the stone away, he knows that his prayer has been answered. There is no stench of death.
But he was praying also for wisdom and guidance as to his own plans and movements. The fate of Lazarus and Jesus are connected. In praying for Lazarus, Jesus was aware that he was walking towards his own death, thus he was praying for the father’s will for what would come thereafter.
What Jesus was going to do for Lazarus would be, on the one hand, a principal reason why the authorities would want him out of the way. But it would be, on the other hand, the most powerful sign yet, of what Jesus’ life and work was all about, and of how in particular it would reach its climatic resolution.
The difference ends there. “Lazarus come out! “Lazarus came out of the tomb still wearing his burial clothes. Although resurrected, he would die again. Jesus’ journey would be through death and out the other side into a new sort of life. His burial clothes would be neatly folded and left in the tomb.
The story is not about Lazarus, but Jesus. The unspoken clue to it all was prayer and faith. The prayer of Jesus and the faith of Jesus in God’s power to give life. If Jesus needed to spend time in prayer and waiting how much more do we? A good Lenten question as we now approach Palm Sunday, the events of Holy Week, and the cross.
None of us likes to wait, for anything, especially for God to act on our behalf. His ways are not our ways. His timing is not our timing. He acts for our benefit, and not always in the ways we want, but always in accordance with our need and His will. And our prayer to God is not always one of thanksgiving, but most often, one of asking.
As we continue our Lenten journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and its climatic resolution, let us commit ourselves to model our relationship to God after that of Jesus by learning to wait on God, believing that His actions on our behalf will always be in our best interests.
Let us learn to pray with a thankful heart knowing that God has heard our prayer and will respond, for He knows our needs better than we ourselves. And let us give thanks to God the Father for the gift of new life now, and the hope of the life to come that is ours through faith in Him who died and rose again, even Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Do we? AMEN+

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