Wednesday, March 21, 2012

5th Lenten Midweek SErmon

5th Lenten Midweek Service – I Am the Resurrection and the Life

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
We have sort of gotten used to death. Doesn’t mean we like it, but we’ve sort of gotten used to the idea, and now we human beings face it with a certain amount of weary and wary resignation. “It’s just what happens. It’s just nature taking its course.” And we know it is inevitable – death and taxes, the things we can’t avoid. And our reaction to it is… odd. We know it’s coming, but we do so much to pretend it isn’t there – it can be the elephant in the room that we never discuss, that we pretend is far, far away. And it’s getting worse in American culture today. We worship youth – you can’t watch TV for an hour without the latest diet or exercise fad that will make you look younger. We idolize being young, being a teen, being wild and rebellious… you know, being able to pretend that our actions don’t have consequences, even deadly consequences. We want to pretend that we can ignore death, push it off away. We’ll pretend that our bitterness and anger don’t bring death to our friendships, that greed and lust don’t kill relationships. And even when loved ones we know die – oh no, we don’t want a funeral, let’s have a celebration of life instead. We would rather live in our memories than confront the truth of death – that since the fall death has always been around mankind, snapping at our heels. And sinful man tries to deal with it, make accommodations with it, even drink it away or try to pretend it doesn’t happen, but the simple fact is that this world is full of stinking, bitter death.

Mary and Martha hadn’t held a celebration of life for their brother Lazarus. No. He died. And they had a funeral. And four days after he died – three days after the funeral, because in Jewish culture you buried the dead within 24 hours – three days after the funeral they are still surrounded by mourners. There was less pretend then. They knew that they were facing down death. I guess it came at you quicker then. You didn’t have the medicines to prolong life, the safety features, the antibiotics. If I had been born in the time of Christ, I wouldn’t have survived child birth, and I’m willing to bet most of us in this room have already faced things that would have been fatal then. It was harder to pretend that death wasn’t death then. So they didn’t. They mourned. Even Jesus mourns – He weeps. Jesus is God, God become man to enter into this fallen world, this world that is constantly attacked and berated at death’s every whim. And why?

Martha knew that Jesus was kind and loving – that He did good. But she thought there was only so much that He could do. And Martha, hearing that Jesus is coming runs out and she says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” I’ll admit, I’m not sure what to make of this. Is it a simple confession of faith – yes, Jesus, You could have healed my brother. Is it lamenting the what-ifs – oh, if only you had been here, Jesus. Is it accusation – golly gee willickers gosh darnit Jesus, why weren’t You here to heal my brother? You better fix this! I don’t feel bad being confused – I’d imagine Martha herself was feeling quite confused. And then Jesus speaks to her – “Your brother will rise again.” Again, this isn’t anything strange. How often do we say this to each other at funerals? It’s part of our faith – I look for the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. And even Martha thinks of the resurrection – “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” And there Martha is – thinking forward, sharing that same thought that so many of us have had at the funerals of loved ones, really looking forward for the last day, looking for it eagerly.

But then Jesus speaks again, and He turns everything on its head. “Jesus said to her, ‘I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’” Jesus did not come to be a mere miracle worker, healing the sick for a brief time. Jesus did not come to be a mere teacher of morality and kindness, showing us a better way. Jesus did not come to simply be a comfort and friend in the midst of the trials we face in this slow, tedious death that we falsely call life. No – Jesus Christ, the Son of God, stepped into this fallen, sinful, decaying world because He Himself is resurrection, because He Himself is life. Over and above all the nice things, the platitudes that people will say about Jesus, about His teachings, this truth stands out above all others. He is the resurrection and the life – and He has come to destroy death. He didn’t come just to heal Lazarus, just to stop him from dying for a time. If that was all Martha could have hoped for, her hopes were set too low. Jesus Christ came to destroy death. All around Christ was death. Of course there was death, He was surrounded by sinful man, and the wages of sin is death. But He came, and in His own body He put a stop to sin – He was sinless and perfect. And because of this, He said that He would take up our sin, take up our wages, and put them to death for us on the cross. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, takes it to the cross. He who is life Himself comes to die, in order that death might be forever broken, in order that death might be done away with.

Because Christ Jesus is life – everyone is going to rise. Those who believe in Christ rise to life everlasting, those who do not believe to everlasting condemnation – but they are going to rise too… because Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, the Word of God which called creation into being, is a Living Man, is Life itself, and because He lives, every man, woman, and child ever created will live forever. The grave will not keep them – He is the resurrection and the life. And this is His joy, what He loves to be. He delights in giving you life – not just then on the last day, but life now, life that shines forth in care and compassion, life that turns you into a light in the middle of this world of darkness and death, little foretastes of the life that is to come. He does that here in John 11 – after our text, well, we know what happens. “And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” Just a foretaste, a little snippet of what is to come. But it is going to be even better come the last day, friends. The same Lord who calls forth Lazarus will come with a cry of command and with the voice of an archangel, and all the dead will rise. That’s the way it has to be – He is life, He is the resurrection, and when He comes in Glory, when He comes with His power and divinity totally unmasked, life and resurrection will be the only thing around us to see. But there will be one slight difference then – with Lazarus, Jesus has to say, “unbind him.” That word “unbind” is another word for forgiveness. Sin binds, chains us. It had chained us to death. We are still somewhat wrapped up in death and sin, even now. But on the last day, when we are risen then, when forgiveness and life and salvation have taken their full effect – well, as John says in his 1st Epistle, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” On Easter morning, no one has to unbind Christ – the cloths lay there in the tomb. He is the resurrection and the life – and what He is, He gives to us. This is what He has come to do. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

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