Sermon: November 4, 2018


by The Reverend Jeffrey C. Johnson

Gospel: John 11:32-44

Through the raising of Lazarus, Jesus offers the world a vision of the life to come, when death and weeping will be no more.

32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Grace and Peace to your from our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Feast of All Saints Sunday has its origins in the 7th century in the church primarily around the notion of martyrdom. Because of the grisly notion of Christians being martyred, being given over to wild animals for sport, being burned alive as human torches in ancient Rome, the Church felt called to have a commemoration of those who had gone before us and given their life’s blood to the Faith. All Saints has taken a an additional notion for us these days. It’s a time not only to remember our loved ones who are amidst the cloud of witnesses of the faith or the Church in Heaven, but a celebration of the life and the faith here and now.

But let’s get back to the Gospel at hand and the phrase that leaps out at me is this? Lord, he stinketh. Or at least that’s what the King James Version of the Bible says as Jesus approaches Lazarus’ tomb after he dies. Jesus is surrounded by Lazarus’ grieving and disappointed sisters, Martha and Mary and especially Mary who cries out in their grief. And Jesus is sadly late. Because in Mary’s mind, if Jesus had been there earlier, Jesus could have saved Lazarus. But unfortunately, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus resided in Bethany which is a twelve-mile walk from Jerusalem. So, who knows what happen to make Jesus late.

One of the hardest parts of this gospel to hear is “Lord, if you had only been here, my brother would have not died.” Ouch. There wrapped up is not only grief, but guilt. And I’m sure we’ve all been a part of that conversation in someone beloved to us as they are dying. If I weren’t in seminary in California in June 2013, I could have been in Florida and saved my dying mother. It was a conversation I had with myself every day for a while. It’s natural and but that doesn’t make it easy. It’s a part of grief.

The same grief here is displayed by Martha and Mary. And the same grief displayed by Jesus as we know by the shortest verse in all scripture: Jesus wept. This is probably one of the most vulnerable moments of all of Jesus’ ministry that is by weeping at his dear friend’s tomb. I cannot think of Jesus being more vulnerable and embodying something as deeply human as weeping. There are no words but the silence of this phrase, “Jesus wept.” The writer of John, indeed, wants us to come to a complete stop and realize Jesus’ depth here as a human being.

We live in a world where death is a constant force but at times we, as a society, don’t want to grapple with it, to wrestle with it, to weep as Jesus does. We are surrounded by death not only in our personal lives, but in the world around us.

We’re surrounded by it and because it overwhelms us, we become numb to it and just carry on with the day-in-day-out events of our lives. For me personally, death is that feeling like treading water in the open sea without land in site and with only my head above water.

In short, Death stinks. Let’s not sugar-coat it whatsoever. Death is hard and overwhelming and we are left with grief as a companion. Trust me, I know this feeling. We see death and I hope life in the list I will read momentarily as a part of our All Saints Liturgy and I know you will name those gone before us in your own hearts in years past. Yes, my friends, death stinketh. But, my friends, I am not rubbing your noses in it.

Because we are in the land of the living. We are all the Saints here and now in these seats, in this beautiful church, in this community we call Brockton. We are that church on earth called to do God’s work with our hands. We have to do the work that God has called us to do. For me, this gives me deep meaning and purpose and I refuse to let death or grief have the last word in my life. And it should be the last word in your lives. It is my call and my personal stewardship campaign to be with you because you and this beautiful historic structure God has called me to be the steward. You are entrusted to my care because as Psalm 24 says today: “1The earth is the Lord‘s and all | that is in it, the world and those who | dwell therein.” WE BELONG TO THE LORD EITHER LIVING OR DEAD. For me, that is of great comfort. This sermon has been dark, I will not fool you. However, Lutheran theology and common sense tells me that there is great hope and great life because as we see in the NT reading from Revelation:

“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

God is here now. God is here in the midst of our suffering and yes, our tears. That’s a part of it. But we have assurance that Death will be no more. As the Slave Song/Spiritual says, “No more more weeping or a wailing.” Because now the first things are now passed away.

So, let’s go back to the Gospel…what does Jesus do after he weeps? He calls Lazarus out of that tomb! How shocking and unbelievable that must have been! Jesus, consumed in guilt, moves on to Resurrection, with “Lazarus, come forth!” Unbind him and let him go! Jesus too, a week later would be bound and put in a tomb and that stone would be taken away.

I ask you now to unbind yourselves and go into the ministry and world that God has called you to. What a day that is when we are all unbound and the stones in lives are taken away and we usher in the Kingdom of God. For that day as it says in Revelation, we will be all made new. I pray deeply that we can be unbound and let loose on this part of the Kingdom of God here in Brockton

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