Tuesday, May 29, 2012



RUMC May 27, 2012


If only you'd known…

If only the captain of Titanic had asked his wife for directions. .

If only Abraham Lincoln had stayed home to watch America's Got Talent instead of going to the theatre…

If only you would have known I was preaching about death today, you might have slept in...  Right?


Americans have a very strange aversion to death. 

Our language denies it: we don't die- we "pass away"

Our customs deny it: we embalm the dead and then complain that they don't look lifelike.

Our families deny it: whereas at one time it was quite common to die at home, it is much more common to spend our last weeks, days, and hours in a hospital, nursing home, or hospice house.

The medical field denies it: Even though all patients will die sometime, try to explain that to a doctor.

Even our rituals deny the reality of death as people start veering away from funerals in favor of beer and brats at the Holiday Inn.  (I'm not kidding!)


In a death denying culture, the words of the service of death and resurrection bring us back to the reality of life and death

·        "Dying, Christ destroyed our death."

·         In addition, introduce Christian hope.  "Rising, Christ restored our life. "

In today's gospel lesson, we come to a story in which Jesus faces the death of a friend face on.


Mary and Martha were two of Jesus' dearest friends.  They had a little brother named Lazarus.  He became very ill.  We can all imagine what it was like around the little house. 

·        The long nights waiting vigil. 

·        I am sure Mary was the one singing Lazarus his favorite songs and reading his favorite scriptures;

·        While Martha made chicken soup for Lazarus, washed the sheets, and kept track of the med schedule. 

Both were important, but neither was enough.

It became apparent that Lazarus would probably die.  I suspect it was the always-practical Martha that sent for Jesus.  The messenger was hardly to the end of the driveway when Lazarus died. 

The two sisters were deflated.  They did the best they could for their little brother, but nothing would have been enough to help him.  They were both aching with grief.  Martha coped by making casseroles for the mourners and cleaning house.  Mary withdrew and wanted nothing more than for Jesus to come. 

As per Jewish custom, they buried Lazarus before sunset that night.  They wrapped his body with cloths and spices and placed it in the family tomb: which was a cave not far from the house.  All through the day and into the evening as the mourning continued, Mary kept looking down the driveway for Jesus.  But he didn't come. 

The mourning continued into the second day and the third, and the fourth.  Still Jesus didn't arrive.

Finally, four days after Lazarus died word comes that Jesus was entering the town.  Martha gets word first and goes out to greet Jesus.  Then Mary.  As soon as Mary saw her Lord, she burst into tears.  As soon as Jesus saw Mary crying, he began to weep as well.  Jesus heart was broken, over not only the death of his friend, but also over the hurting of his friends Mary and Martha.  It says that Jesus was deeply disturbed- profoundly moved- intensely sad.  Even knowing all he knew about eternal life, Jesus knew the hurt of human loss.  He knew the ache of grief. 

Finally, Jesus says, "Mary, show me where you laid him."  Mary and Martha take Jesus to the tomb.  The mourners followed them believing that he was going to grieve for his friend at the tomb.

Instead of bursting out in tears again or the traditional wailing and rocking, Jesus says abruptly, "Roll back the stone."

I suspect everyone looked at each other- thinking this was a bad idea.  Martha, ever-practical Martha, was the one who spoke.  "Lord," she said, "that seems like a bad idea.  He has been in there 4 days now.  You really don't want to smell that."

But Jesus wasn't dissuaded.  "Roll back the stone."  He said. 

The mourners complied and stood back, way back.

Jesus Prayed and then shouted "Lazarus, come out!

The way I imagine it, nothing happening for a while.  "Lazarus come out!!!"

Then you could see a little cloud of dust as Lazarus shuffled (hands and feet still wrapped in grave cloths) to the mouth of the cave.

Everyone must have stood still in stunned amazement, because Jesus had to tell them "Unwrap him."

The crowd was awed and many believed in him that day.



There are three things I want to point out here.

First- Lazarus was really dead.  That is the whole point Jesus waiting for 2 days.  By time Jesus got there, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days.  The Jews believed that the spirit hovered around for three days.  Jesus, however, waited to the 4th day in order to establish that he was really dead.  That is also the point of Martha telling him that there will be a smell.  If Lazarus were alive, there would not have been a concern about the smell of death.  But he was not alive...  Lazarus was dead, dead, dead.

This is important to us because of our death denying culture.   

·        We teach children that dead means that their pet or loved one cannot eat, breathe or move any more.  Lazarus was no longer eating breathing or moving.

·        Doctors define death as the cessation of brain activity.  There was not brain activity.

·        Most of us define death as a lack of a heartbeat.  There was no heartbeat.

Lazarus was dead, dead, dead.  Naturally so, because death is a natural part of life.  No one can avoid death, no one can beat death, no one can deny death … eventually, every living thing dies.  Including you and me.  Death is a universal experience for all living things.  Lazarus was no exception.




Second- Jesus was really grieving.  The story points out that Jesus loved Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus.  He is "one whom Jesus loved."  Yet, Jesus waited two days to go to them.

·        Do you suppose the human part of Jesus hoped it just wasn't' true? 

·        Do you suppose Jesus was still hoping that Lazarus would get better?

·        Do you suppose there is any chance that Jesus didn't want to admit that his friend was dead? 

I think there is!  After all, look how upset he was when he met Mary.  The Bible says he was deeply moved and cried.  This is not the only place in the gospel where Jesus is moved, but it is the only place he cries.  In this story, we have the famous shortest verse in the Bible.  "Jesus' wept."  Jesus knew the pain of grief and the tears of grief.  Who can come to see one of their best friends weeping uncontrollably and not have your eyes tear up?  My eyes fill up every time I watch a family at the first viewing before the public visitation.  Tears well up in my eyes at every Cherish the Child event.  Death is just really hard.  Jesus was not immune to the difficulty of death.  He really grieved for his friend.

As Christians, we face death with a certain amount of hope, but that does not make our loss any easier.  We console ourselves by saying, "He is in a better place" "There is no more suffering."  "She is with Jesus."  Which is all true, but it doesn't mean Christians don't grieve.  There is nothing in our faith that protects us from the harsh reality that death means that we will never see our loved one again.  .  There is nothing that shields us from the whirlwind of grief. 

You know what?  That's OK.  Grieving is part of living and loving one another in God's world.



Finally, in this story we see one more thing.  

Death is not really the last word.  Grief is not the last word.  What is the last word?  The last word is I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.   God in Jesus Christ, has defeated the last word of death.  God in Jesus Christ, has trumped the last word of death.  God in Jesus Christ, has made the last word, not "death," but "life."  Not "death," but "resurrection."  Not "death" but "Come out."

Come out! He says. 

Come out of the darkness of death.

Come out of the futility of a life aimed toward death.

Come out of the fearfulness of death.

Come out… come out.  And walk with Jesus. 

The promise of the resurrection of Christ is not sitting idly on a cloud playing a harp for eternity.  (A lot of us would be bored) 

The promise of the resurrection of Christ is not streets of gold and angel choirs, kind of like a heavenly Disney World.

The promise of the resurrection of Christ is perfect communion with Christ.  A timeless, endless, perfect resurrected, communion with the one who is the resurrection and the life. 

The promise of the resurrection of Christ is that we will hear Jesus Call, "Terry Come out and walk with me!"

__________come out, and walk with me!  (X5)

Jesus says, Come out, and commune with me.  AMEN


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