Tuesday, March 20, 2018

New Life in the Graveyard

This is a sermon that was preached on Sunday, March 18, 2018 at United Presbyterian Church, Sterling, KS. 
Listen to the audio here.
Read John 11:38-44, Job 9:1-12 here

“It ain’t over til it’s over.”
That’s what Yogi Berra, the coach for the NY Mets, said in 1973 when his team was in last place in the pennant race.  Fans may have been ready to give up on the Mets, but Yogi wasn’t, and they went on to win the pennant that year.[1]

There are a million stories like this, where people refused to give up even though the situation seemed impossible and went on to succeed.  Just this past week we saw another one during the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament when #16 U of Maryland-Baltimore County beat #1 Virginia.  UMBC played fearlessly because they had nothing to lose.  Virginia felt the pressure to hold their ground, and probably underestimated their opponents.  Yet again, the underdog surprised us and won the game.[2]

We claim it as the classic American story, but it’s really a story that belongs to all of humanity.

Because we’re stubborn.  It’s both our strength and our downfall.  We see it all the way back in Exodus when the people were wandering in the desert.  They were stubborn enough to keep going, but too stubborn to listen to Moses and to truly trust God.  At one point when Moses is pleading with God on their behalf, God says, “I have seen these people.  They are a stiff-necked people.” (Ex. 32:9)

God kept having to restrain himself from destroying Israel because they couldn’t help being who they were—“stiff-necked” people (Ex. 33:3), or as one translation puts it, “Impossible to deal with.”  And we too are stiff-necked and difficult, because we are human.
Job, in the passage that Diane read for us today, addresses this dilemma when he asks, “How can a mortal be just before God?” . . . if we were to try to defend ourselves in court, we wouldn’t stand a chance before the righteousness of God.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Eph 2:4-5).  Because of Jesus we are ok with God.  Which is a good thing because we’re looking forward to spending eternity with God, and that would be the opposite of heaven if God was having to try to stop himself from destroying us every moment.  Spending eternity faced with the wrath of God would be . . . hell.

Jesus came so that we might have life (John 10:10), both now and in eternity. This is one of the major themes of John’s gospel.  In the prologue to this book, John says, “in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:4)

In him was life. Jesus brings new life because Jesus is life. The sign of this is that he brings new life – literally -  to a graveyard by resurrecting Lazarus.

Each of the gospel writers shows us that Jesus is the messiah, the Son of God in a different way. 
·      Mark keeps it simple and tells it straight. 
·      Luke adds more detail and emphasizes Jesus’ concern for outcasts
·      Matthew connects what happens to the Old Testament prophecies. 
·      John gives us more of the theological significance, emphasizing Jesus’ divinity

John’s gospel tells us about seven signs.  The first sign, in chapter two, is Jesus changing the water into wine at the wedding in Cana.  John tells us:
“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)

The disciples believed, and so began their journey with Jesus.  John tells us at the end of this gospel that he wants us all to believe.  He says:
“These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31)
So that we may believe, and through believing have life.

Raising Lazarus from the dead is the seventh sign in John’s gospel, and John is the only gospel writer to tell us about this event.  Luke and Mark both tells us about another resurrection that Jesus performed. [3] Jairus the synagogue leader came to Jesus because his daughter was sick and he hoped Jesus would heal her.  But by the time Jairus reached Jesus his daughter had died, and people were telling him to give up because it was too late.  They didn’t know who they were dealing with.  Jesus said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  Well, actually, he said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” (Luke 8:50)

Luke also tells us that Jesus raised another man.  As they were passing through the town of Nain in Galilee, Jesus and his disciples happened upon a funeral procession.  Luke tells us that Jesus had compassion on the dead man’s mother because she was a widow, and so he resurrected her son. (Luke 7:11-17)

Maybe John doesn’t include these other resurrections because the other writers had already covered them, or because these both happened in Galilee, far away from Jerusalem.  John may have thought that raising Lazarus has more significance than the other two because this was the tipping point for those who were against him.  After seeing Jesus raise Lazarus, many people believed that Jesus was the messiah, and that made the religious leaders in Jerusalem realize it was time to take action.  They said, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (John 11:48)

If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him.  They didn’t realize that there would be one more resurrection, the most important one of all, when Jesus himself would be resurrected, when God said, “It ain’t over till I say it’s over.”

In the conversation that Jesus had with Lazarus’ sisters before he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)  And then he asked her, “Do you believe this?”

And she answered that she did.  She said, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” (John 11:27)  But then when they were about to open Lazarus’ tomb, Martha tried to stop him. 

She says, “It’s too late, Lord, we already cremated him.”
Of course, they didn’t, really, but even if they had, that wouldn’t have been a problem for Jesus!

That’s not what happened, but Martha did show us that her belief in Jesus didn’t include the expectation that he could raise the dead, especially after Lazarus has been dead for four days. That length of time is significant, because it’s one day longer than the amount of time that Jewish tradition said the person’s spirit was still hanging around.

Martha is certain it’s too late for a resurrection. She says, “It’s stinky in there. He’s been dead for four days.”   But Jesus says, “It ain’t over till I say it’s over.” 

He said, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40)

If we truly believe, then we will see the glory of God.

Whether we believe or not, God is still God, Jesus is still the son of God, resurrection still happens, but if we believe than we get to see, and if we don’t then we miss it.  After Jesus raised Lazarus, John tells us that many believed. (11:45)  He doesn’t say that everyone believed.
The religious leaders believed…they believed that Jesus was a big problem, so they began plotting to have him killed.
What about us?  What about you?
Do we believe?  And if we truly believe, how does our belief affect our lives?
In the book we’re reading together for Lent, Easter Earthquake, James Harnish says, “Because of the Resurrection, our lives are no longer a long day’s journey into night; they are an ongoing journey into light and life.[4]

He reminds us that resurrection is not just about what happens after we die or at the end of time, resurrection is also about the new life we have through our faith in Jesus now. 
How do we see that new life now?
If we believe it ain’t over til God says it’s over…we demonstrate the hope of resurrection
We know that it’s not over until God says it’s over.  We don’t give up and we don’t lose hope, even in tough situations.  Our Old Testament reading for today shows us that although Job has lost everything, all his children and his possessions, he still trusts that God has the power to change everything.  He knows that God is the one “who shakes the earth” and “commands the Sun” and “does great things beyond understanding, and marvelous things without number.” (Job 9:6,7,10)
There’s a church that was in the Presbyterian news this month that didn’t give up.  They were down to fifteen members, and had given up doing everything they used to do, but they still gathered each Sunday to worship.  They weren’t ready to give up on God, though, so they did some soul-searching prayer about how they could show God’s love in the world, even though they were so small. They decided to open up their church to hikers as a hostel.  The church is in Delaware Water Gap, PA alongside the Appalachian Trail. Hospitality became their focus and they are thriving. They offer hikers food, showers, and campsites.  Since that decision in 1976 they have hosted hikers from all over the world, and they have grown from 15 to 130 members.[5]  They believed and saw the glory of God at work among them.

If we believe it ain’t over til God says it’s over …we tell everyone
That’s what happens after Lazarus is raised.  Everybody’s talking about it.  The crowd that gathers on Palm Sunday came to see who this was that raised the dead.  The leaders get worried because everybody’s telling about it. 
Sometimes, we have Martha’s problem.  We believe, but we get stuck on the difficulties. 
·      It’s going to stink. 
·      People might not believe us or want to hear about this. 
It’s true, faith does get messy, and Jesus told us that we would be challenged for believing.  It happened in the media twice recently, once when Vice President Pence said he heard from God and people said he’s crazy[6], and just this week when another politician[7] was challenged by a reporter because he said he sought God’s will when making decisions.  It was bold and brave for both of them to say what they said, and not surprising that they got challenged by people who don’t believe.

We should expect that we will also face challenges and even ridicule.  We need to be thoughtful and prayerful about when and how we speak, but we must speak. 

We have news that can change the world.  If the good news of the gospel has changed our lives, and we truly believe that God does what he says he does, how can we keep it to ourselves? If we believe and tell, we will see the glory of God at work among us.

Because we believe it ain’t over til God says it’s over …we watch for signs of new life

John’s gospel gives us seven signs:
1.    Changing water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-11) - "the first of the signs"
2.    Healing the royal official's son in Capernaum (John 4:46-54)
3.    Healing the paralytic at Bethesda (John 5:1-15)
4.    Feeding the 5000 (John 6:5-14)
5.    Jesus walking on water (John 6:16-24)
6.    Healing the man blind from birth (John 9:1-7)
7.    The raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45)
Jesus says that if we believe, we too will see signs of life, signs of God’s glory. 

Job sees them in the Sun and the stars, and in the changes that have happened in his life.  Paul tells us we will see the signs of God’s work in ourselves and in one another whenever we see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23)  Though it seems impossible that hearts and minds can change, with God all things are possible! (Matt 19:23-30)
2 Cor 5:17 If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
In Hanover, England, there is a cemetery next to a small country church.  In the middle of the cemetery there is a large stone monument with steps leading up to it.  The date that it was built is etched into the stone.  1782.  And along with the family names, there is this statement carved into the stone: 
“The sepulchre, purchased for all eternity, is not permitted to be opened.”
Whoever purchased the monument was determined that it should stand undisturbed for all eternity.  But at some point in its time in that place, a small seed fell into one of the crevices of the foundation of the monument. 
The seed took root, and grew into a large tree, splitting apart the stones, and reminding us that despite that carved warning to future generations not to open this grave, God is the one who has the last word.[8]

It ain’t over til God says it’s over.

Jesus says, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”

May we believe and watch and see and give thanks for all the ways that new life keeps coming into our lives through Jesus Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment