Friday, October 30, 2009

John 11:1-45 - Sermon - Lazarus

John 11:32-44

Lazarus

11-01-09

I’ll admit it, there wasn’t much I gleaned from my teenage years sitting in church, listening to the preacher go on and on. Sure, I may remember a few jokes but I don’t remember any major points. What I do remember is the announcements. Yes, the announcements. Now may people think that announcements are just the filler before we get to the meat of the service. That is true on some level but it is also important stuff in the life of the church. It is the life of the church. What I remember about the announcements that the Rev. Bruce Jones would make was when he would let us know a member died.

“Mrs. Smith won her battle over breast cancer yesterday. Her funeral will be on Tuesday at 2:00.” That is not how the news says it. The headline from September 14th on CBS.com read, “Actor Patrick Swayze has died, losing his two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. The 57-year-old is remembered for his famous role in 'Dirty Dancing.'” There is a major difference between those two proclamations. One shouts victory, the other defeat. For us Christians death is not the end, but merely the beginning of a new life with our Risen Lord and Savior. We can laugh at cancer, dance on the heart of illness and disease, and we can bask in the glory of being made whole again. What awaits us, the believer, when death comes knocking is more life, a deeper life, a whole life.

Those words sound great and we even start to puff up with pride a little, but where is the proof? Where the facts that we Christians are promised that death is not the end? Where does that idea come from? Where does our God make that promise, give us that proof, and grant us insight into the joy and hope that eternity brings us? It is found in the words “Lazarus, come out!” “Lazarus, come out” is a piece of scripture that allows all of us to realize the type of God we worship and the Savior that Jesus Christ is for the world.

The Bible starts off by telling us how the world was created. Day one, God created the light and darkness. Day two, God created the heavens. Day three, God created the dry land, the seas and plants. Day four, God created the sun, the moon and the stars. Day five, God created the creatures of the sea and the birds of the air. Day six, God created the animals that live on the land and humanity. Day seven, God rested and life began. We live in day seven. Day eight has yet to happen, but we will get there. God rested and life began but something also happened during this day. Soon, God’s creations, us, people, decided we knew better than God and we decided to taste the forbidden fruit. In day seven sin entered the world and so did death. Death came and changed what was created in the first six days. God sought out to change what had happened and when day eight comes it will all have changed.

We are familiar with Genesis 1-3 and the stories of creation, keep them in the back of your brain. We may know Genesis but are you familiar with the signs that are offered up in the Gospel of John. There are seven signs in this gospel. 1. Jesus turns water into wine. 2. Jesus heals the official’s son who is near death. 3. He heals the invalid who is near the pool and he does it on the Sabbath. 4. Jesus feeds 5000 men and countless other women and children with five loaves and two fish. 5. Jesus walks on water. 6. Jesus heals the man who was blind from birth and there is a big legal battle over it. Number 7 is the miracle, the sign that we get today. The day Jesus stares through his tears at the tomb of his friend and yells, “Lazarus, come out.”

Now I have just given you two lists. Rob Bell pointed this out in a sermon of his recently and it really stuck with me. If you place these two lists up to one another, you get some eerie similarities. The first 6 days of creation God is creating the world. In the first 6 signs, Jesus is performing miracles using and transforming the world. He turned water into wine and then walks on water. 5 loaves and 2 fish turn into food for thousands upon thousands. He takes the illness, and disabilities out of people. It is almost like Jesus is taking everything that went wrong with creation and making it new again.

On day seven sin enters the world, death comes and sets up camp. Jesus’ seventh sign is the fact that death has no power over God. Lazarus, after being dead for days, walks out wrapped up in his burial garb, still smelling like he was dead. It is in this act that Jesus tells us that death doesn’t hold any power any more. Death is done.

John Wesley [the founder of our denomination] preached his last sermon of Feb 17, 1791, in Lambeth on the text "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near" (Isa 55:6). The following day, a very sick man, he was put to bed in his home on City Road. During the days of his illness, he often repeated the words from one of his brother's hymns: I the chief of sinners am, But Jesus died for me! His last words were, "The best of all is, God is with us!" He died March 2, 1791. [1]

John Wesley knew what I hope all of us come to understand. He understood that Jesus was living up to his promise, to always be with us. As he left this earth he understood the joy that awaited him on the other side of death’s door. Today is All Saints Day. It is a day we look back and we remember those members of this church that have made the same transition that John Wesley did. As John Meunier, the minister of Prairie Chapel UMC put it in his blog, “All Saints Day is a day we look back to see the Lazarus in our lives that have seen death but found life in Christ.”

Today is not a day of mourning but a day of celebration. We may be sad to see their pictures, to remember our memories, but today we celebrate that Irene, Harvey and Ruby were called out and into a life in the presence of our own Risen Lord. Today we look forward, down the path that these three have traveled before us. We look with hope in our eyes and assurance that our God will call us out too.

We have that confidence because of the eighth miracle found in John’s gospel. The next sign that demonstrated Jesus’ divinity was his resurrection. There are only eight miracles in John’s Gospel and the last one doesn’t need anything to follow it. Jesus just didn’t call out another friend from beyond the dead. This time Jesus sacrificed himself, his body, his blood, and defeated death for us all. This is the eighth sign because on the eighth day, God will make a new heaven and a new earth. In Revelation we are told that what we are living in is not all that is to come. There is a new heaven and a new earth. This all starts with the empty tomb.

Today we celebrate our members who have gone before us. Today we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion because we celebrate the gift that has been given, his body, his blood. Today, we stand up and we look to our mortality with hope knowing that as we partake in the bread and wine, we are communion with the saints and our risen Lord. Lazarus reminds us that nothing can separate us from the Love of our God, nothing. Not illness or waves, not hunger or blindness, not emptiness or inability, not even death. “Lazarus, come out!” Through pain, grief, sorrow, and sadness comes a miracle, a sign, that Jesus Christ will stop at nothing to bring home the ones he loves.

And all God’s children said…Amen.

2 comments:

Rev Faith Lewis said...

I really liked what you said about the difference between the newscaster announcing a death.. and the pastor announcing a death. I wondered if you were reffering to our collegue in maryland?

Also, thanks for your reflections and bless your ministry.

Jim said...

Thank you for your comment. No I was not referring to your colleague in Maryland, but I am sorry to hear we lost a fellow clergy person.