GiftsEden On The Bay

All are welcome ~ Come as you are

Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Unbound & Shimmering - 04/02/2017

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord. (John 11: 1-44)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

This is about us.

This whole story begins by setting the scene of a community – not by telling us where it takes place, what the weather was like, what the people were eating or anything like that – but by revealing things about who these people were. By doing this the gospel writer is trying to pull us in – presenting us with characters and motives and word choices that build bridges into our times and our lives. They could just as well be our own character traits, our own motives, our own reactions and word choices.

Maybe you relate to how the people of this community are feeling increasingly like outsiders in their own homes and places of worship. They have become the “other” – as far as the Jewish authorities are concerned. There are many reasons we might feel like outsiders – differences of opinion or skin color, difference in sexual or gender identity, differences in how our brains work, conflict or even the challenge of living into our Jesus-following ways of loving God and loving one another in a world where that does not always fit very well.

Perhaps you identify with Thomas – he, along with other disciples, are concerned about Jesus' decision to go back into Judea, knowing that the Jewish leaders are antsier then ever to do something about this Rabbi from Galilee and the mounting public opinion that he is indeed the long-awaited Messiah. But sometimes we cannot stop people we love from doing things that seem so utterly self-destructive or illogical or needlessly risky. But we stick with them anyway and in the end we either admit they proved us wrong or help them pick up the pieces.

But it's in the words of the messengers from Bethany I think we may find the strongest common ground. “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Many, if not all, of us in this house today can relate to that message.

The word used for ill or sick in this story may also mean feeble, without strength or power; needy or poor. And it is no accident that Lazarus goes unnamed in this message. It drives home that it could have been a message for any one of us who has gotten news of someone we know getting that dreaded diagnosis, any one of us who has worried about a child or an elder, any one of us who has experienced the helplessness of accompanying a friend or family member struggling with addiction, thoughts of self harm, depression.

We are most definitely connected to the cares and concerns of this ancient community that has sprung from the ground of Jesus' ministry somewhere on the way to Bethany. In that connection we become part of the people there, listening to what Jesus is saying, following him from place to place, witnessing the signs he is performing and hearing how he responds to those who are so diligently questioning his authority.

And like them, we are the subjects of this teachable moment. Jesus says, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

So now as part of the community Jesus is addressing, let's return to the story and see how the teacher works through the death of his friend Lazarus for God's glory – to glorify the Son of God.

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 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.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep.

Children's Message

  • Jesus wept. I don't think you have to be a child to be moved by that sentence.
    • What does this tell us about Jesus?
      • Crying is actually good for us, for one thing.
        • Three kinds of tears
          • regular tears – salty, keep our eyes rinsed and protect them from infection
          • Reflex tears – similar to regular tearsbut, for there are more of them. They spill out of our eyes when we chop an onion or yawn
          • Weeping tears – emotions – sad, happy, angry, frightened, have hormones and painkillers in them that help heal us
  • So crying is part of our human experience, Jesus knows this. Jesus has felt what this kind of crying is like.
  • Sadness was not the only thing going on here was it?
    • Martha yelled at Jesus. “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died?” But Jesus doesn’t' get angry back at her.
    • So what can we do when we get mad?
    • When I was thinking about this I to imagine what the world would be like if we vented our anger to God more – rather than one another. God and can it – we cannot always take it – and God can answer those prayers of anger too.

          Pray together and then we'll hear the rest of the story.

Loving God, sometimes we are sad or angry about things that happen to us, in our families, in our lives. And some days it feels like you are pretty far away. But we do know you are with us always. You cry with us like you laugh with us. You feel our anger like you feel our joy. Help us to be reminded of your unshakable love us for in all our days. Amen.

So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 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.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 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.” Th Gospel of the Lord.

I think it's interesting that the big reveal in this account – the major revelation Jesus makes in this story is right smack in the middle of it. There are seven signs in John's Gospel and there is no doubt we are moving toward the final sign – the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In John's Gospel, it is the pinnacle of Jesus' ministry before he begins the last leg of the rip to Jerusalem, the cross and to another tomb that will change all of creation for good.

But it's before all that, before he even gets to the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus, before he raises Lazarus from the dead, that he makes this revelation about who he is. “I am the resurrection and the life,” he says.

When Jesus comes to Martha and Mary in the midst of their deepest days of grief, Lazarus has been released from illness. The funeral is over and their beloved brother is laid to rest. But it's still very early in that grieving process. They still cannot imagine how they will live the rest of their lives without him. They still have to remind themselves that he is gone every morning when they wake up. The tears that flow are still made up of hormones and chemicals that will gradually help soothe the sharp pain of loss.

And that is where Jesus meets them and says to Martha “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” he asks her.

Martha represents the blossoming belief of that community – and ours – when she answers. “ Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, coming into the world.” Through her pain and loss, Martha is able to affirm for all of us that we live this life in the belief and freedom that although we suffer loss and heartache, that although we will all die, it is not the last word.

In Jesus, our Redeemer, we are freed from the bondage of our sin in our baptisms – where we renounce the devil and forces that defy God; where we renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God; where we renounce the ways of sin that draw us from God.

And in the unchained wideness of freedom from that bondage we then  proclaim and fully live into our belief in One God, our Almighty and nurturing parent; our belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, with whom we make the final push toward Jerusalem in these last days of Lent; our belief in the Holy Spirit, the great unifier and healer of God's creation. 

And once Martha declares our belief in the midst of pain and doubt we can all relate to, it is then that Jesus goes to the tomb and calls Lazarus out into the light. “Unbind him,” Jesus commands, and Lazarus is released from all that bound him in death. It is the final sign, the apex of his ministry on earth, that in Jesus, the true Messiah, God is up to something new and wonderful. It is beyond the influence or control or manipulation of the Jewish authorities, the Roman empire or any other earthly power – then, as it is now.

And when we find ourselves in our own days of stoney-cold grief we too reach back into the middle of this story and call the truth and hope we have in Jesus out of it, just like Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb. We unbind it, and we expose it to the light of the day where we let it shimmer into our lives and the community of Christ that lives on in us.

Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life. Then. Now. Forever more.


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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