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Saturday, 17 February 2018

February 18, 2018

Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead - Lent 1

Jesus Raises Lazarus – Lent 1

February 18, 2018

John 11:1-44


I’ve shared the story before.  My sister-in-law called a little before 5:00 one December morning.  She told me that the doctor at the hospital had said that, if I wanted to see my brother alive, I had better get to Waukesha as quickly as possible. 


My brother Tim had almost died from a staph infection.  He’d been in the hospital for almost a month and they said everything was going well.  But on the December morning, his lungs were filling with fluid and nothing seemed to be able to stop it. 


There was freezing rain that Tuesday morning.  Highway 41 was ice covered.  They were telling people to stay off the roads.


So what if I would have told Sara, “I have to work today. Sorry, I can’t come.”  Or if I had said, “The roads are really bad.  If things clear up, maybe we’ll try to get there later.”  Or if I had said, “You know, we were planning on coming down on Friday.  We’ll see how things go and we’ll see you then.”  How do you think my brother’s wife would have reacted?  I have a feeling she would probably think I didn’t really care.


When Jesus received word that his friend Lazarus was ill, he didn’t seem too concerned.  He made it seem like he was sure that Lazarus was not going to die and that God would make something good come out of the illness.  He stayed away two more days and then said it was time to head for Judea, where Bethany was located. 


The disciples knew that there were people who didn’t care for Jesus in Judea. Jesus enemies had almost tried to kill him when he was in Jerusalem and his followers were afraid they would try to kill Jesus again. That’s when Jesus’ diagnosis for Lazarus turned from sickness to death. 


Today’s lesson tells the story of Jesus’ seventh “sign” in the Gospel of John.  The signs are:


1. Changing water into wine at Cana in John 2:1-11 - "the first of the signs"

2. Healing the royal official's son in Capernaum in John 4:46-54

3. Healing the paralytic at Bethesda in John 5:1-15

4. Feeding the 5000 in John 6:5-14

5. Jesus walking on water in John 6:16-24

6. Healing the man blind from birth in John 9:1-7

7. The raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45


The signs are all intended to bring the same message; Jesus is living proof that God cares.  The kingdom to come will be a place without emptiness, illness, danger or death.  And God wants those who struggle to know that he cares about their pain and turmoil.


In last week’s lesson, Pastor Stuart pointed out that Jesus told his followers that sin had not caused blindness at birth for a man begging in Jerusalem.  Instead he said that the man’s blindness would enable God’s works to be revealed.  In today’s lesson, Jesus implies that Lazarus would die so that God’s glory might be revealed.


Why?  That’s a popular question, isn’t it, especially when bad things happen?  And when bad things happen, I’m not sure that I’m comforted if I believe it’s because God wants it to be that way.  We can struggle with that or we can just believe that God wants good things to happen out of bad things.


Lazarus’ sisters were both angry.  Martha and Mary both believed that Jesus should have come sooner and saved their brother’s life.  When we can’t control things, when things don’t go the way we want them to, we can and usually will become angry.


And they were sad.  They had lost the brother they had loved.  And others were weeping, too.  When we hurt, tears will often come.  And that’s okay.  Even Jesus began to weep. He felt the pain.  He felt the pain of death and the grief it causes.


“Lazarus, come out!”  The stone had been rolled away and Jesus had prayed to show his connection to God the father.  And he did come out. Three days dead, Lazarus came out of the tomb.  Jesus had told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  And he proved it. Jesus also proved that he cared.


And he would prove it again.  A short time after calling Lazarus from the tomb, Jesus was in a tomb.  He had been betrayed, arrested, tortured and crucified.  Then, on the third day after his death, the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty.  Despite our faults and failures, Jesus suffered and died to give us forgiveness.  God’s glory is shown in his care even though we don’t deserve it.  We all face death in our future.  Jesus promises us that, through him, we will never die.  God’s glory is shown in love that never ends.


I had done a fifth step with a young woman who was in an alcohol and drug treatment program.  She had told me about her life and shared some horrendous things she had done.  It was my job to tell her that she could put those things behind her, that she was forgiven.  But part of her was afraid to care.  She was afraid to care about her own life and afraid to care about others, afraid she would only be hurt or hurt others again.


I did something I’d never done before or since. I took my finger and wrote “care” on the palm of her hand.  I wanted her to remember that God cared about her and that God gave her the power to care about herself and others. 


I usually wasn’t able to find out what happened to people I did fifth steps with, but Sue joined the church I was serving.  She met a man who was also recovering.  They got married and had two children. Sue became a Sunday School teacher.  Sue became a sign.  Sue became a sign of the glory of God’s life giving love.


Lazarus would be a sign, too.  Even the smell he gave off would remind others of the sign Jesus had done in raising him.


My brother Tim became a sign, too.  He lived and still does.  And a guy who never really liked going to church goes (almost) every Sunday.


And we can be signs, too.  Our lives can be a sign of God’s work in the world.  Our lives can be lived to share God’s glory.


Would you do something for me?  Take your finger and open the palm of your other hand.  Write “care” on the palm of your hand with your finger.  Remember that God does care about you now and always.  And we can remember that we can care about ourselves and others and be signs of the glory of God’s love are work in his world today.  AMEN