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April 2, 2017

“The Other Resurrection” John 11:1-45

Today’s story of Lazarus coming back from the dead has been called by some, “The other resurrection.” It takes a back seat in significance to the story of Jesus’ resurrection because THAT story is the foundation of our Christian belief. Christ’s resurrection is the defeat of death itself, and the promise of life eternal. It’s kind of hard to top that, so this story of Lazarus’ resurrection just doesn’t have the same theological punch, at least not at first glance. But there is hope to be found in all of Jesus’ teachings and stories- hope we can apply to our lives today.

As we look at today’s  passage, first, it is interesting to note that in the section just before this, Jesus took the disciples to a very important location for him- He went to the Jordan River, where John the Baptist had baptized him as he began his ministry. He went to the place where God said, “This is my son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him. He went back to where his public ministry all began, possibly to remember the great day of his baptism and God’s blessing of favor upon him. He’d had a rough start to his ministry in Jerusalem- he had been nearly stoned to death twice in the last couple of days as he began to confront the powers of the day. I think he needed to go back and remember the day of when it all began.

There is a place like that for me- It is the First Presbyterian church of Vallejo, CA. The place where I felt God’s blessing and the Spirit, as I preached my very first sermon while still a teenager. Like Jesus at the Jordan, it is a place of power for me as I remember in a sense when my own public ministry and sense of call all began.

What do we know about the location of the story? Bethany is about 2 miles from Jerusalem.-  As for the character of Lazarus-Lazarus is a shortened form of the full Hebrew name Eleazar- This name also appears in parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The name of the town was changed at one point to “El Azirayeh”, to commemorate his rising from the grave. If you go to the Holy Land, it is possible to go to the site where Lazarus was said to have been raised.

This story tells us that Mary, Martha and Lazarus were all friends of Jesus. He loved them. The sisters sent a note to Jesus to let them know that their brother, the one whom Jesus loved like a brother was ill. You might think his first response would have been to go to Bethany and heal him immediately. That certainly makes sense form an earthly chronos time perspective. But Jesus often operated form a different time and perspective- eternal Kairos time. Instead of running to his friend, he told the disciples that Lazarus’s sickness would somehow demonstrate God’s glory- that there would be a visible manifestation of God’s presence and favor, much like he said in our story last week about the blind man outside the temple gates. And so, Jesus remained across the Jordan with the disciples for 2 days.

After those two days had passed, Jesus told them it was time to go back to Bethany, near where he had been recently confronted by the temple leaders.  The disciples were not exactly enthusiastic, and wondered aloud why Jesus would want to return to such a hostile place.

This brings us to verse nine, where Jesus spoke of chronos time and Kairos time at the same time- He told the disciples, “Are there not 12 hours in the day?”- Jesus told them his time of death had not yet come. The day- His day- was not yet over. The night- his pending betrayal, trial and execution were not yet. But there is added meaning to this phrase. It is true that a man walking in the daylight generally does not stumble- I can testify to that from my own experience of heading downstairs at our home last week in the dark and falling down the stairs. We need light to see, to keep us from stumbling. The analogy-Jesus has already spoken of himself as the light of the world in last week’s passage-Those who walk in Jesus’ light do not stumble around in darkness. We can see those places in life that can trip us up and make us fall.

Then Jesus told the disciples that he knew Lazarus was dead, and that he let this happen so that the disciples would believe in who he was once they saw him resurrect Lazarus. Up until this point in John’s gospel, only Peter in John chapter 6:69 says, “You are the Holy one of God”- close to knowing who he was, but not quite there yet. Jesus saw this death of his friend as an opportunity to demonstrate new life and hope- to show them that Messiah had in fact come.

 In verse 16, you just have to love Thomas’ gallows humor-“Let us also go, so that we may die with him.”  Thomas, who, when Jesus was trying to tell them the way to heaven, needed clarification and said, “Lord we do not know the way. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5); Who also said after the others told him they had seen the Risen Lord, “Unless I see the nail mark in his hands and put my finger in the wounds of his hands and side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)Thomas was a realist, and a bit of a pessimist. But he was loyal- He understood that coming closer to Jerusalem meant danger and quite possibly death due to the hostility Jesus faced at the temple from just a few days before-and so, might as well die with him.

As Jesus and the others arrived, they were greeted by Martha, who said to him, “Lord if you had only been here my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask for.” This is the first of 2 very faithful statements Martha made about Jesus. She understood he had God’s power- power to heal, and possibly, even in the face of her brother’s death, the power to do even more.

Jesus responded, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha saw that statement as a consolation for her in her grief and loss- a future hope. He will rise on the last day yes. But that is a way off. She was mourning her brother. And yet, in the midst of that mourning, she was the first of Jesus’ disciples to know his identity and say it out loud-In verse 27, Martha says she believes he is the Christ, the Son of God- She believes Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

Yet it is Jesus’ response to Martha in verse 25 that is our focus for today. Jesus said to Martha, “I AM the resurrection and the life.” Martha was at first trying to find hope in a future far off resurrection. However, Jesus didn’t say, “One day, I will be the resurrection and the life.” It was a statement in the present tense. Jesus IS the resurrection and the life for Martha as she mourned her brother’s death, and for us here today. How can Jesus be the resurrection and the life before he even rose from the grave?

First, we can receive new life in the power of God today. We can find places in our lives of resurrection, here and now. We see this unfold as Jesus summons his dead friend, Lazarus, to new life in the face of death. He says to him: “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43). And he is released for new life.  He is resurrected. This gift of new life is the wonder of the gospel -- the power of God. Are there modern day examples of this? Oh yes.

Consider the resurrection of the life of a now very famous Christian author, Anne LaMott.  She had a difficult early life, which led to substance abuse and a sordid lifestyle. By her 30th birthday, she found herself pregnant from a boyfriend who she knew would’ve made a horrible father. Despite the pregnancy, she drank heavily and used drugs to numb her pain. One place she went to religiously on weekends was the Marin flea market.

She writes in her book, Traveling Mercies, If I happened to be there between eleven and one on Sundays, I could hear gospel music coming from a church right across the street. The church looked homely and impoverished, a ramshackle building with a cross on top, sitting on a small parcel of land with a few skinny pine trees. But the music wafting out was so pretty that I would stop and listen. I knew a lot of the hymns from the times I’d gone to church with my grandparents and from the albums we’d had of spirituals. Finally, I began stopping in at the church from time to time, standing in the doorway to listen to the songs. I couldn’t believe how run down it was, with terrible linoleum that was brown and overshined, and plastic stained-glass windows. But it had a choir of five black women and one rather Amish looking white man making all that glorious noise, and a congregation of thirty people or so, radiating kindness and warmth. During the time when people hugged and greeted each other, various people would come back to where I stood to shake my hand or try to hug me. I was as frozen and stiff as Richard Nixon. After this, Scripture was read, and then the minister would preach about social injustice and Jesus, which would be enough to send me running back to the sanctuary of the flea market.”

She went back to the church about once a month. The baby inside of her was overwhelming to her. The father was married and not someone she could raise a child with. SO a friend took her in one morning to have an abortion. She came home that night and drank herself until early dawn. She did the same thing the next day.

After 7 days of excessive drinking and drugs, she found herself in bed, shaking and sad. She continues, “ After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there – of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this. And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends. I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die.” I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with. Finally, I fell asleep and in the morning, he was gone.

The experience spooked her, but she couldn’t stop feeling the presence of Jesus in her life, like a little cat following her. The experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self-loathing and loss of blood. And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hungover that I couldn’t stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which I thought was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling – and it washed over me.

I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along me heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams, and I opened the door to my house, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, “[Okay,]. I quit.” I took a long deep breath and said out loud, “All right. You can come in.” So this was my beautiful moment of conversion.”

 

Jesus was the resurrection and the life for Anne LaMott. He drew her out of the tomb of her dead life and resurrected it. Jesus IS the resurrection and the life for us, here and now! What places are dead in you? Where do you need new life? Let Christ come in, and bring new life to you. Have hope for today, here and now!

But that isn’t all there is for today’s story of the other resurrection. Remember what Jesus said in verse 26-“Whoever believes in me will live, even though he or she dies; and whoever believes in me will never die.” There is hope for us when this life is done. Jesus has conquered death, and one day we will live in eternity. Theologian Jason Byassee says, “Consider that, in verse 33, Jesus does an odd thing. He gets angry (John 11:33). Others mourn, but he gets so angry he snorts! He hates death. Hates what it does to us, his people. Hates the delay before all will be raised and made whole. Tyrants love death. It’s their tool of choice to keep folks behaving. But what would it mean not to fear it? What would it mean to have a Lord who snorts at it? What would it mean to be a people who know the grave is only temporary and until the last day Jesus sneers at it?”

Jesus is also the resurrection and life for our future- which means there is also hope for tomorrow. On my shelf I have a picture and a bowl that remind me of this. This is the bowl- It has some old dried up rose petals in it. At the center is something known as a Resurrection plant. It looks like a dry dead mini tumbleweed. Buy when you put it in water, it turns green and unfolds, hence the name. It is a visible reminder for me that there is hope for my future with Christ. Next to it is a picture of our very young family- Paula, me and our first child, Sarah. She was born in June of 1990, and lived only 18 months before she died. Her brief life was full of difficulties-pain, seizures, hospital stays, surgeries. But the grave is only temporary. Death does not have the last word. We know that one day, we will see her again, and that is my stubborn hope for tomorrow. And he brought new life to our family today, as we adopted 2 beautiful children in Sam and Abby.

So give thanks for Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life for us here and now, giving hope to all of the tombs in our lives. He is also the resurrection and the life for tomorrow, when this earthly life is done. May you therefore go from this place, holding onto hope for all of your days. Amen.

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