March 13, 2005
5th Sunday of Lent
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
About ten years ago I read an article about a judge in Yugoslavia who was electrocuted when he reached up to turn on a light while standing in the bathtub. He was zapped fell out of the tub. His wife called the doctor who pronounced him dead.
In accordance with government health regulation, the judge's body was immediately placed in a vault beneath the cemetery chapel. In the middle of the night, the judge regained consciousness. He had no idea where he was or what had happened. When he DID realize where he was, he ran to the closed vault door and began shaking it and yelling for help. The guard who was there was terrified and fled. Fortunately, the guard got some help; came back; opened the door and released the newly revived judge.
The judge phoned his wife that he was coming home. She screamed and hung up the phone. Next he tried going to the homes of several friends. They took one look at him, thought he was a ghost and slammed the door in his face. Finally, he found a friend who hadn't heard he was dead. He convinced that friend to act as a go-between. Gradually, the judge was able to convince his friends and family that he really was alive!
Lazarus from John's Gospel could identify with that judge. The raising of Lazarus is remarkable not just because of the miraculous event but because the story has so many levels. It is the seventh and greatest miracle in John's Gospel. It is Jesus' final step toward the cross. It is this miracle which pushes all the buttons of the Pharisees and Sadducees and sets them on their path to destroy Jesus.
This miracle also has a message for us about resurrection living. We come into this story already knowing the outcome. We've read the last chapter of the book. We know there is still one more miracle up Jesus' sleeve. Another stone will be removed. Another grave will be found empty. And a whole group of people, many of those there the day Lazarus was raised, would witness the Risen Christ and know Him to be the Lord of both Life and Death.
This passage teaches us about living the resurrection.
A. First it teaches us that Resurrection Living Replaces Fear With Faith: When Jesus finally showed up in Bethany, Lazarus was dead. There was no doubt about it, he was dead. The tomb had been sealed and the mourners had gathered. The sisters were in tears. Lazarus was dead and as Martha tells us, death stinks.
It's in the midst of this grief and despair that Jesus comes. His very presence brought peace and comfort. Even though Martha questioned why he hadn't come sooner, she still had faith and trust in her friend; the one whom she considered to be the Messiah. She had faith and that faith removed her fears.
A little girl and her family arrived at their vacation cabin in the woods. It was late and it started to drizzle while they were unloading everything. The drizzle turned into a storm. They were all tired and turned in early. But the new surroundings, the darkness and the thunder and lightening of the storm were frightening to the little girl. She kept calling out to Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad assured her that she would be OK. And as added assurance, Dad reminded her that she didn't need to be afraid because Jesus was with her.
The little girl quieted down but Mom and Dad heard her say: "Jesus, I know You're in here with me, but could You please just stand still? 'Cause if You move You'll scare me to death."
B. There are a lot of frightening things in the world. Death, though possibly the greatest, is but one on the list of many. Here, as in every case, Jesus confronts that fear and asks us to replace it with faith, like Martha's. Jesus followed the entourage to the tomb then commanded those present, "Remove the stone."
That's what Living the resurrection and acting on faith are all about: Removing the stones. You see, sometimes we allow the fears of life to wall us in, to surround us and entomb us. We seal ourselves off from others. We entomb ourselves in our fear and prejudice. We close ourselves off against anything new or different or challenging. We protect ourselves from being vulnerable but in so doing, we die a little. We never grow in faith or trust.
Jesus calls us to live by faith and to trust Him. He calls us to "Remove the stones" that separate us from the living. Jesus calls us to replace our fear with faith.
A. The second aspect of Resurrection Living that we learn from this passage is that Resurrection Living Obeys Christ: That would seem to be self evident. But the truth is that it's not. We always have the choice to say, "No!" to God. When Jesus got to Lazarus' tomb and commanded them to, "Remove the stone," Martha objected. Remember, it was Martha who had just professed her faith in Jesus as the Messiah. And then she is balked at what he wanted them to do. Jesus reminded her that if she would believe, she would see God's glory. She did. They obeyed and removed the stone.
Jesus shouted loud enough to wake the dead: "Lazarus, Come out!" Lazarus obeyed and stepped out of the tomb. We're not talking "Night of the Living Dead" here. We're talking Day of the Dead Now Living. Lazarus heard the call of Christ all the way across the vast reaches of that area that separates life from death. Lazarus heard the call of Christ and obeyed.
B. That obedience is what sets the faithful apart from the mere believers. It's easy to believe in Christ. It's easy to believe and accept all that Christ teaches and proclaims. It's easy to accept the message of love and forgiveness; the message of resurrection, hope and new life. BUT IT'S HARD TO OBEY.
It's hard to love your enemy. It's hard to pray for those who persecute you. It's hard to do good to those who hate you. It's hard not to judge. It's hard to tithe. It's hard to give without thought of reward or wondering "What do I get out of it?" It's hard to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength; there are so many things to distract us. But to do any or all of these is to obey. That is what Christ calls us to do; "to trust and obey" as the Hymn says.
A. Faith leads to Obedience and Obedience allows us to move beyond ourselves. And that's the third aspect of Resurrection living. Resurrection Living Replaces Self With Service: When Lazarus stumbled out of the tomb, his hands and feet and head were bound by the burial cloths. It had to have looked like a scene from one of the old Sci Fi flicks like the Mummy. His movement was hindered and impeded by the wrappings.
Jesus commanded them, saying: "Unbind him and let him go." Lazarus was unbound, set free and he stepped into new life. Jesus offers to set us free from whatever it is that binds us. Whatever burden or grief or problem is causing us to hold back or that is keeping us entombed, Jesus calls us from the tomb and offers to unbind us and set us free. Jesus offers us new life.
B. Unfortunately, a lot of people are like mummies, all wrapped up in themselves. And they don't want to become unwrapped. All they do is come unwound at the thought of coming out of their safe tomb or stepping out in faith. But Jesus calls us out of the tomb, sets us free and calls us to move beyond ourselves into a life of faith, commitment, obedience and service.
On the old Merv Griffin Show. There was a time when he was interviewing some body builders. As he was standing there looking at these guys with all these muscles, he asked a powerful question: "What do you use these muscles for?"
One guy answered by flexing his muscles in one of those body builder stances. But Merv said, "No, you don't understand. What do you USE all those muscles for?" The guy said, "I'll show you." And he flexed again in another stance.
Again Merv said, "No. You still don't understand my question. Read my lips. What do you USE them FOR?" The guy posed again.
Jesus calls us out of the tomb, sets us free and calls us to move beyond ourselves into a life of faith, commitment, obedience and service. When we just come to Church and sometimes read our Bibles and just enjoy the fellowship but nothing else, then we're like those body building guests. We're like mummies, still wrapped up in ourselves. Jesus calls us to move beyond self to a life of faith and committed service.
A famous preacher of another generation, John Henry Jowett once said, "God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters."
Jesus calls each of us to remove the stones, to come out and be set free so that we can live the resurrection in our own lives. Jesus calls us to replace our fear with faith, to obey his call and to move from self centered living to a life of service and commitment.
It is through the presence of our friend Jesus and our committed service and obedience that we discover for ourselves and convince our friends and family that we really are alive!
www.SermonWriter.com (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000)
www.rockies.net/~spirit/sermon.html (Richard Fairchild Lectionary Resources)
Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)
Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)
Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)
The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)
Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)
Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)
The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)
The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)
Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 2002) SermonPrep Version.
Preaching the Miracles, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1998) SermonPrep Version.
Preaching the Parables, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1997) SermonPrep Version.