Tag Archives: Lazarus

The Church Alive: Called to Action Through Easy Indifference – Luke 16:19-31

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 25, 2016

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

Luke 16:19-31 There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

[sermon begins]

The first thing to note about this parable is that it validates dogs’ reputations for giving unconditional love. That dogs show up in a parable should come as no surprise to Coloradans.  There are so many dogs that each household could have two if they were spread out evenly.[1]  The dogs in the parable nurse Lazarus’ wounds and likely keep him company.  If anyone is looking for a theology of dogs – there you go.  Jesus gives them airtime…and in the gravitas of a parable, no less.

The second thing to note about this parable and parables in general is that they are generally considered exhortative, not predictive.  Many a Bible reader has attempted to predict and describe the afterlife based on this parable and other choice verses.  More than one Bible scholar would invite us to resist this impulse to predict and describe.[2]  Rather, we can hear this as an exhortation by Jesus which means there’s dire urgency that requires action now, here, in the present.

For the entire gospel of Luke, Jesus increases the intensity around caring for those who are suffering.  Time and again Jesus is either easing someone’s suffering himself or talking to his disciples about it.  Jesus also ratchets up his challenge about money, about how money can create distance between the moneyed people and the people who don’t have any money.  The parable today is a case in point.

The only thing the rich man and Lazarus have in common is proximity to the gate.  The rich man is walking inside it and Lazarus is lying outside it.  The gate binds them together and yet they are worlds apart.  The contrast between the two men is stark.  The rich man is covered with purple and linen.  Lazarus is covered with sores.  The rich man feasts sumptuously while Lazarus longs to satisfy his hunger with food that falls from the rich man’s table.  Jesus problem with the rich man doesn’t seem to be his wealth.  It seems to be with the rich man’s indifference as evidenced by Lazarus’s continued suffering at the gate.

If Facebook emoticons are any indication, people are moved by stories of people spontaneously helping people.  Starbucks just set up a media company led by a former Washington Post senior editor.  This company will focus on “stories featuring Americans who have inspired and shown extraordinary measures of compassion and citizenship in their own lives.”[3]  Humans seem to be hard-wired to respond with deep emotion particularly when someone risks something to help another person.  On the flip-side, there’s deep offense when someone doesn’t.  Jesus’ audience of disciples and Pharisees likely share these very human reactions.

Last week, Pastor Ann and I spent some time worshiping and swapping stories with clergy colleagues. Augustana is one of 166 congregations in the Rocky Mountain Synod of ELCA Lutheran Christians.  The Synod is made up of El Paso Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado.  The bishop convenes us for Theological Conference every fall.  This year we had the privilege of hearing from Andy Root, Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary.[4]  Dr. Root is convinced that the church is called to engage deeply with people’s stories.  Not to offer solutions to someone’s deep pain but to be present in the face of that pain.

At the same time, Dr. Root was telling story after story of his own and other people’s as examples of being present when someone is feeling deep pain. There was one story that came alive quietly for part of the room.  Dr. Root was going into detail about a wife and mother of two babies who had to identify the body of her husband at the morgue.  Some of us were sitting around a colleague whose husband died suddenly several years ago.  She too had to identify her husband in a morgue.  She sat quietly with her hand over her eyes as she listened to the story with the rest of us.  The colleague next to her put a hand on her back and continued to sit with her.

Similarly, there are some stories that hit deeply this past week.  It’s one thing to talk about someone dying in the abstract and it’s quite another to witness someone’s death – either in person or recorded.  As a country, we’re trying to talking about these deaths as a racial abstraction when for many people these deaths are real blood on the ground.  After reading and watching and reading more, I’m not sure what we’re going to do as a people.  What I am sure about is that indifference to the pain of our black brothers and sisters as well as the fear of police officers is not an option for the church.

With these large scale human issues, helplessness can immobilize people from responding.  Jesus’ brings it down to two people – the rich man and Lazarus.  The chasm that separates them is paper thin in life and cavernous in death.  Let’s look at how this parable ends.  Father Abraham says to the rich man, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”[5]  Luke’s audience for this parable would be in on the joke as they listened to this end of the parable because they know the end of the story.[6]

At the end of the gospel of Luke, Jesus is executed on a cross, dies and is buried.[7]  Three days later, at early dawn on the first day of the week, the women arrive at Jesus’ tomb to find it empty – no body to identify.[8]  At first, their grief and terror know no bounds. Then they are reminded of Jesus’ words to them while he was with them – “Remember how he told you that the son of man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”  Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women go tell the apostles only to be told that it is an “idle tale.”[9]

When Jesus finally appears more widely to his disciples, he has this to say…

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Can you hear the bookend with the parable there?  Father Abraham invokes Moses and the prophets in the parable.  Jesus, after his resurrection, invokes their fulfillment and says that forgiveness is for all the nations.  In the simplest of terms, Jesus on the cross hangs over and against the parable… There…Is…No…Chasm.

My friends, we have a God who goes to hell and back in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We are reminded by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesian church that:

“God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.[10]

A God who goes to hell and back for you…and for the nations; with you and with the nations.  Jesus death on the cross is where the story of our deepest pain is held and met by God.  Not only our pain but the pain of the world because darkness is not dark to God. [11]  Darkness is where light is born.[12]  As Church we are alive in Christ as we hear and proclaim this good news.  This is our call to action through easy indifference, by our baptisms through the cross of Christ.  Thanks be to God.

 

[1] Dogs Vs. Cat Map of the United States. November 2, 2015. Brilliant Maps: Making Sense of the World, One Map at a Time. Link: http://brilliantmaps.com/dog-vs-cat/

[2] Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, and Matthew Skinner.  Working Preacher podcast on Luke 16:19-31 for Sunday, September 25, 2016.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=795

[3] Aamer Madhani, “Starbucks CEO Dipping Toe Into Media Content” USA Today, September 7, 2016.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/09/07/starbucks-ceo-dipping-toe-into-media-content/89922526/

[4] Andrew Root, Biography and Work, Luther Seminary. https://www.luthersem.edu/faculty/fac_home.aspx?contact_id=aroot

[5] Luke 16:31

[6] A word of thanks to Dr. Matt Skinner and Karoline Lewis, Luther Seminary, who makes the connection between the parable and the end of Luke on the Working Preaching podcast for September 25, 2016.

[7] Luke 23:1-56

[8] Luke 24:1-12

[9] Luke 24:11

[10] Ephesians 2:4

[11] Psalm 139:12

[12] Genesis 1:1-5

Hymn sung together following the sermon:

ELW 655 Son of God, Eternal Savior

Son of God, eternal Savior,
Source of life and truth and grace,
Son of Man, whose birth among us
hallows all our human race,
you, our Head, who, throned in glory,
for your own will ever plead,
fill us with your love and pity,
heal our wrong and help our need.

As you, Lord, have lived for others
so may we for others live;
freely have your gifts been granted,
freely may your servants give.
Yours the gold and yours the silver,
yours the wealth of land and sea,
we but stewards of your bounty,
held in solemn trust will be.

Come, O Christ, and reign among us,
King of Love and Prince of Peace,
hush the storm of strife and passion,
bid its cruel discords cease;
by your patient years of toiling,
by your silent hours of pain,
quench our fevered thirst of pleasure,
shame our selfish greed of gain.

Son of God, eternal Savior,
Source of life and truth and grace,
Son of Man, whose birth among us
hallows all our human race,
by your praying, by your willing
that your people should be one,
grant, O grant our hope’s fruition:
here on earth your will be done.


Words: Somerset Corry Lowry (1855-1932), 1893

MIDI: Everton (Henry Thomas Smart (1813-1879)

 

A Baptism in the P.I.C.U – John 12:1-8

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on March 13, 2016

[sermon begins after the Bible story]

John 12:1-8 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

[sermon begins]

There are Bible moments so absurd and disruptive that they are difficult to imagine.  Mary’s anointing of Jesus is one of them.  Oil and hair and fragrance are dripping, cascading, and emanating.  There is no ignoring this moment if you’re around that dinner table.

Lazarus is there, having just recently been raised from the dead by Jesus.  His story is told in the chapter just before the reading today.[1]  We can imagine this dinner as a celebration.  Lazarus is back and people are ready to party.  His sister Martha is serving. Judas is there enjoying the circle of friendship as a disciple of Jesus.  Then there’s Lazarus’ other sister, Mary of Bethany. Her exuberance knows no bounds. Her adoration of Jesus must be expressed.  And so it goes, with dripping oil, cascading hair, and emanating fragrance.  A feast of the senses at a table set for dinner.

How are we to understand this adoration she pours on Jesus?  The purity and price of the nard are emphasized.  A rare, imported Himalayan treasure.  A year’s wages.  The nard’s purity and price lead me to wonder about the purity of Mary’s adoration and the cost to herself as she disrupts the dinner party.

One cost is Judas’ poor opinion.  Judas feels free to give his opinion. He demeans her adoration with pious words.  He attempts to put her into her place and uses the poor to do so.  His argument is a vulgar appropriation of the poor – using them as a means to an end.  Jesus is having none of it and slams Judas’ argument.  There are plenty of other Jesus stories that assure us of his determination to eradicate poverty and not leave the poor to their subsistence or our hands clean of their plight.  Regardless of Jesus’ intervention, what does Judas’ poor opinion matter?  He can put it into pious language all he wants.  Mary’s joy will not be stolen by him or anyone else.  Judas’ disapproval is but a pittance.

A few years ago, a fellow seminarian said about Mary’s anointing of Jesus that if he had long hair this is what he would do for someone similarly important to him.  His comment opens the story slightly differently as the imagination plays across gender and time between Mary of Bethany and our moment in time today.  What does adoration look like on a personal level this century?  Set celebrity culture aside for a moment.  Groupies are a different conversation. Mary is in her home. Jesus is known to Mary and her family personally over the course of time.  Her adoration of Jesus is pure and costly.  And she is breaking gender barriers all over the place.  She is a woman of her time whose hair should be tucked away.  She should not be touching a man in the company of others.  In fact, it is life-threatening for her to do so. He, a man, would ordinarily rebuke her like Judas does.  Yet, there they are, oil dripping, hair cascading, and fragrance emanating.

There is something else happening in parallel to Mary’s adoration.  After raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus is now a target for death himself. The story of Lazarus raised from the dead is followed by the plot developing to arrest Jesus and kill him. [2] And then we get this dinner party. Mary of Bethany calls Jesus “Lord” in previous texts and now anoints him.  Jesus talks openly about his death when he says to Judas, “Leave her alone…She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”[3]  The implication is that she is anointing him for his death.

This past week I received a phone call from a man who asked me to come baptize his one month old son who was on life support.  They were at Children’s Hospital having been flown in by Flight for Life.  He was not expected to live. We arranged for me to come out that evening.  Via text, the father rescheduled our time for the following morning since the baby’s mother was arriving in the middle of the night from out-of-state.  When I arrived, they were both in the room along with the baby’s grandparents.

We talked briefly.  I assured them that, despite whatever we thought we were doing, this moment is first and foremost about God’s promise to be present for their baby even in this most painful time.  Then, with water from a clay bowl, this little one was baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  His head dried with the linen baptismal napkin from the church.  I told him he was sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever while making the sign of the cross on his forehead with oil-lotion scented with frankincense and myrrh.

As the fragrant cross was made on his forehead, Mary’s anointing popped into my mind along with these words from Thanksgiving for Baptism in the funeral liturgy which begins, “When we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death.”[4]  These words took on new meaning for me in the P.I.C.U. this week.

After this little one was baptized, I handed the parents the un-lit baptismal candle and told them that his light was shining even in his short life and that God is with him.  The family and I shared the bread and wine of communion and then the grandfather asked if I would give this little one “last rites.”  I briefly explained that I would pray what we call the “Commendation of the Dying.” And so we did.  He died within the next few days.

The anointing of this little one in baptism echoes with Mary’s anointing of Jesus before he entered Jerusalem for the last time.  It also echoes the prayer and anointing for healing that you can choose to receive during this worship service.  The Health Minister will anoint your hands with olive oil and say this prayer for you: “May our Lord Jesus Christ uphold you and fill you with his grace, that you may know the healing power of his love…Amen.”

Lent invites reflection on our own baptism.  We reflect on the things that are being “put to death” in us so that something else, something we cannot imagine on our own, may come to life in us by the power of the Holy Spirit through each of our baptisms.  This is part of the healing for which we pray.

Jesus is about life and living.  Lazarus discovered it first-hand. Mary of Bethany adores and anoints Jesus.  She adores and anoints him for the life he brings even as she prepares him for the death he will face because there are those who find his life threatening.  But, even in Lent, we are an Easter people – celebrating that Jesus brings life even through the darkest times by way of his death on a cross.  We remember this promise at funerals with these words, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life.”[5]  This new life is for today.  For you.  Our baptism is God’s daily promise by way of a cross and a savior in whom “we live and move and have our being.”[6]   All glory be to God for this indescribable gift![7]

 

[1] John 11:1-44 – These verses tell the story of Lazarus’ illness, death, and being raised from the dead by Jesus.

[2] John 11:45-57 – These verses tell the story of the plot to arrest Jesus and put him to death for bringing Lazarus to life.

[3] John 12:7

[4] Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Funeral. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 280.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Acts 28:17

[7] 2 Corinthians 9:15

Looking Backward to Move Forward – John 11:32-44

[sermon begins after the 3 Bible readings]

John 11-32-44  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.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 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.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 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.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 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.”

Isaiah 25:6-9 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Reveleation 21:1-6a  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

[sermon begins]

One of the things I get to do at Augustana is work with a Faith Community Nurse as part of the staff here.  Sheryl is so titled because (a) she’s a nurse and (b) she works in a faith community.  See how that works?  She has a Master’s Degree. She’s a Nurse Practitioner.  She has worked in an ICU.  She has worked in an outpatient clinic. She has a passion for wellness.  She has a heart for the gospel.  She brings an amazing amount of knowledge to the congregation.  We all benefit.  She’s on vacation this week so I get to brag on her all kinds while she’s out of town.  That has to be some kind of reverse gossip, #Lutheranhumility, right?

Sheryl is part of our weekly Care Team meeting that also includes our Children and Family Minister and the pastors.  Two weeks ago she told us about a conference she attended to prepare for the upcoming Grief Support Group at Augustana.  The conference was led by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transitions in Fort Collins and known for healing and grief.[1]  Sheryl summarized Dr. Wolfelt’s three main points in this way – we need to say hello to the person who died before we can say goodbye, we need to sit in the darkness before we see the light, and we need to look backwards before we can go forward.

All three points are worth addressing.  And Sheryl will facilitate the Grief Support Group beginning on Sunday, November 15th between worship services.  I encourage you to take advantage of it.  However, it was the last point that really caught my attention.  “We need to look backwards before we can go forward.”

The story of Lazarus is a long story in the Bible.  We are only privy to part of it in the reading today.  Lazarus has died.  Jesus takes his time getting there.  Martha, Lazarus’ sister, is in tears.  Mary, Lazarus’ other sister, is also tears.  The Jews are in tears.  Jesus ends up in tears.  There are a lot of tears.  The Isaiah and Revelation verses reference no more tears but we are not there yet.  We are in the Gospel of John with a lot of tears.  Mary says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Mary is looking backwards.  She is looking backwards on the event of her brother’s death with Jesus by her side and with her people, the Jews, by her side.  She is doing the work of grief and the people around her are doing the work with her.

Funerals happen here in Augustana’s Christ Chapel and Sanctuary.  Sometimes the funeral is for a member of the congregation.  Sometimes they are not.  As a pastor, I make no distinction between member or not.  We are a visible church on a busy road and a lot of people know people connected to the people here.  Sometimes they just know that the building is here.  Sometimes they know the Early Learning Center is here.  Regardless, this congregation offers hope and healing in Jesus Christ and there is no more significant moment in which God’s promise is more alive than at the time of death.

A few weeks ago, Pastor Todd was the officiant for one such funeral here in Augustana’s Christ Chapel. The Early Learning Center children were on their way to lunch.  I was headed downstairs as they were headed up.  Their teacher was reminding the children to walk quietly with the funeral going on upstairs.  I crouched down and whispered to the kids, “There are people upstairs who are sad because someone they love died a few days ago…can you all help them by being quiet on your way to lunch?”  They all nodded at me, big-eyed, some serious, some smiling, some telling me their names, some waving wildly.  The children became part of the community doing the work of grief with the people at the funeral.  They started ever so quietly on their way to lunch while looking backwards up the stairs before moving forward.

There is sometimes a misconception that tears show a lack of faith. Or that funerals should be only a celebration of life – no sadness allowed.  Indeed, funerals are a celebration of the person who lived.  But they also make space for our loss and surround us with people who also feel that loss.  In the Lazarus story, Jesus cries with Mary and the people with her.  When people we love die, Jesus cries with us too.  There is indeed a time for tears to be cried and we do well to let our bodies do what bodies do cry them.  When we allow the tears to come, we are looking backward to move forward.

Today is All Saints Sunday.  Today we remember by name those who have died as part of the Augustana congregation or loved by those in the congregation over the last year.  Some of us are in worship today to hear a particular name.  Like Mary, there are people with and around us.

Today is All Saints Sunday so we also remember the saints who came before us in last two millennia.  Today there is a sign marking the stairs to the choir loft.  It reads, “No seating upstairs in the choir loft for worship today. We leave them empty in remembrance of our ancestors in the faith.”   I like the idea of seats held empty in remembrance of the people who came before us.

Saints, so named by their baptism, whose lives and voices proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ so that we might live in faith today.  Some of whom went on to lead extraordinary lives that we can look to as examples for our own lives of faith. Looking back toward the saints, we look forward in faith.  We can look as far back as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  Slightly more recently through history to Hildegard of Bingen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Rosa Parks.  We look backward and hear them crying with grieving people, proclaiming Christ crucified and risen for you, and setting the captives free.

In the Lazarus story, Jesus cries with Mary and the people with her.  There is a time for grief.  Jesus spends time looking backward with them.  And, only then, Jesus looks forward.  He rejoins them with Lazarus raised from the dead.

Jesus is the one who turns death into life.  Jesus turns death into life for Lazarus.  Jesus turns death into life for you.  This is an unconditional promise made by the power of the Holy Spirit through the cross of Jesus Christ, through Christ crucified and risen, for you.

God, the Alpha and the Omega, cries with us and opens our future through Jesus Christ.  “[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”

Amen and thanks be to God!

 

[1] Alan D. Wolfelt. Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart.  (Fort Collins: Companion Press, 2003).

John 11:1-45 “Tomb-Vision”

John 11:1-45  “Tomb-Vision”

Caitlin Trussell on April 6, 2014 at Augustana Lutheran Church

 

John 11:1-45   Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But 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.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus 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. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
28When 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.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The 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. 32When 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.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus 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.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I 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.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The 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.”
45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

[See Ezekiel reading at end of sermon]

Some of us know what it’s like to watch someone’s life leave their body through an illness.   Mary and Martha certainly do.  There is enough time after Lazarus became ill to send word to Jesus.  There is more time after the sisters sent word and even more before Jesus arrived after Lazarus died.  Some of us know how long those days, hours, and minutes can seem while we wait to see what will happen.   Will the outcome be life?  Will it be death?  We know the fear and the despair as we wait and as we watch…as we lose.  We develop tomb-vision as we try to look everywhere but toward the downward spiral of life on which our loved one is attached.  We try, but we cannot keep from seeing the tomb edge closer and closer.

The prophet Ezekiel knows this despair too.  In the early 500s B.C.E., Ezekiel became part of the first deportation of the Southern Tribes of Israel at the hands of the Babylonians.  They were taken into exile to ancient Babylon, located in what is now modern day Iraq.  The Northern tribes of Israel were long gone, taken by the conquering Assyrian armies in the late 700s B.C.E..  Everyone knew that the temple in Jerusalem was God’s dwelling place.  Everybody knew.  And yet Ezekiel and the Southern Tribes ended up far, far away in a land where their God was not known.  From this reality, comes the lament of the people in verse 11, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”   After all, their cousins in the Northern Tribes had disappeared just a hundred or so years before.  It was in the realm of possibility.  These people can’t even pretend to look anywhere but the tomb that edges closer and closer.  Their tomb-vision is sharply honed; with death seemingly inevitable they make the leap that God certainly doesn’t seem to be anywhere in sight…in this valley of the dry bones.

Mary, Martha, and Ezekiel are not the only ones with tomb-vision.  Variations on tomb-vision connect natural disasters, or illness, or accidents to the absence of God…or, even worse, attributing these events to the intentional hand of God.  The temptation is to deny God’s presence in times of despair and presume God’s presence when things go well.  Many, many of us actively worry about where God is and where God isn’t.  We add this to some additional worry about what’s going to happen to the people we presume that God has abandoned because of certain actions.  Presuming God’s absence in this way is antithetical to the crescendo of the cross and the silence of the tomb that we are edging toward as Palm Sunday and Holy Week loom on the calendar a week from today.

We are treated to whispers of Holy Week in the first few verses of the John reading today.  Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet is remembered to us even though we don’t actually get to that part of the story until the beginning of the next chapter.   Anointing is done for divine kings and for the dead.  Jesus’ anointing conflates the two.  In verse 25, using yet one more divine “I am” saying, Jesus claims to be the resurrection.  In verses 4 and 40 Jesus talks about God’s glory in conjunction with the Son of God being glorified.  When the word “glory” is used in the Gospel of John, it is code for Jesus hanging on the cross. We tend to think all kinds of things when we hear the word “glory” but hanging on a cross is not typically one of them.

Years ago, I had a strong aversion to Holy Week.  I just wanted to go from the Transfiguration straight to Easter.  After all, Lent is quiet and grey culminating in Holy Week that is dark and gloomy and ends in a tomb.  It runs smack up against the addiction to optimism, smack up against our desperation not to look at the ever-so-obvious tomb.  But these days, as I look forward to sinking into the depths of Holy Week, focusing on cross and tomb simply feels like freedom.  It feels like freedom because it feels true.  There is pain in the world and human beings are the cause of much of it.  Since I include myself in the ‘human beings’ category, the relief of Holy Week is enormous.  Facing this truth head-on, using the clarity of tomb-vision that neither looks away nor blocks out God in the midst of it, reveals what Jesus does when confronted with a tomb.

In the tomb of Lazarus, lays a man who’s about to walk again.  Jesus tells him to come out.  Lazarus comes out.  His disorientation must be staggering.  Jesus looks at the people and says, “Unbind him.”  They are participants in Lazarus’ moment.  Among the people who unbind Lazarus are surely many who participate in Jesus’ crucifixion.   A lot of us might be able to relate – after all, how many of us participate in a moment of new life only to turn around and call for a crucifixion of one sort or another?[1]

Raising Lazarus is Jesus’ final sign – at the same time declaring his divinity and inciting his execution.  On Palm and Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday we are confronted by Jesus’ passion, all the events that lead to Jesus hanging on the cross and dead in a tomb.  It is a week during which we can relate to those people at Lazarus’ tomb who unbind a man into life one moment, and march off to court to call for the execution of another man in the next moment.  The people are ready to crucify because the fear that the one who brings life might get noticed by the powers that be in Rome and bring death to them all.  So as Holy Week whispers to us from the faraway place of next week, we pause with the crowd of people who unbind Lazarus.  We, like them, wonder about the power that can resurrect.  The power that can draw unwanted attention.  Lazarus isn’t the only one standing there dazed and disoriented, afraid.

There’s this one thing that occasionally pops up during Holy Week on Good Friday.  It’s called the Solemn Reproaches.  The accusations come fast and furious from the Crucified one and, in turn, the refrain from the people gathered is a cry for mercy.   Here’s one example:

O my people, o my church, what more could I have done for you?  Answer me.

I lifted you up to the heights, but you lifted me high on a cross.

I raised you from death and prepared for you the tree of life,

but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.

[and the people gathered together on Good Friday respond]

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.

And as we the people acknowledge the mercy of God our tomb-vision gets clearer still.  We see the fullness of life that God pours through us in the face of our fear.  We see what is already there; our asking merely unveils what is already there.  We see the Christ, Word made flesh.   We see Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross simultaneously revealing the breadth of divine power poured out to reveal the depth of divine love. [2] We see each other receiving the Spirit who breathes life into our bodies – here, now, today, with these people whom Jesus calls to help unbind us as we are called into resurrected life.

 

Ezekiel 37:1-14 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD.”



[1] Personal conversation, April 2, 2014, Nadia Bolz-Weber reminded of her friend “Sara’s” question about this Lazarus story.

[2] Koester, course notes, 12/1/2010.  For further study see: Craig R. Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).

John 11:1-45 “Lazarus: A Buried Hope?”

John 11:1-45 “Lazarus: A Buried Hope?”

April 10, 2011 – Caitlin Trussell

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Aurora, CO

 

John 11:1-45 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  2  Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.  3  So the sisters sent a message to Jesus,  “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  4  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.”  5  Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,  6  after having heard that Lazarus  was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.  7  Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”  8  The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”  9  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.  10  But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”  11  After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”  12  The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”  13  Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.  14  Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.  15  For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”  16  Thomas, who was called the Twin,  said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  17  When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus  had already been in the tomb four days.  18  Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles  away,  19  and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.  20  When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.  21  Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  22  But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”  23  Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  24  Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  25  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,  26  and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  27  She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,  the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”  28  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.”  29  And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.  30  Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.  31  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.  32  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.”  33  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.  34  He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  35  Jesus began to weep.  36  So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  37  But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  38  Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.  39  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.”  40  Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”  41  So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.  42  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.”  43  When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  44  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.”  45  Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

 

 

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was in college for the first time.  I had a good friend and fellow dorm-mate, whom I’ll call Rickie, who struggled mightily with many things about her life.  My door was open more often than not and one of my vivid memories of that first year of school was Rickie, regularly moving into my doorway, throwing her forearm up to her forehead and lamenting, “My life is a graveyard of buried hopes.”    Her melodrama would crack us up into belly laughs and help to lift her dark clouds for a little while.  While there were moments when her gesture was simply over-the-top theatrical, it was her truth as a fully loaded lament…“My life is a graveyard of buried hopes.”

In verse 3, we hear the sisters’ words to Jesus through a messenger, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”  Jesus loved Lazarus and Lazarus was ill, not yet dead and buried, a dwindling hope.  The story is uninterested in the origin of the illness but rather tells us that Jesus’ love and Lazarus’ illness both existed at the same time – “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”  Jesus’ love did not prevent the suffering that was happening.  And when Jesus showed up in Bethany there was more for him to hear.

Martha ran to meet him with a faith-filled lament, “Lord, My brother is dead, if you had been here, he would not be dead and, beyond that, I know that God is still listening to you.”  Her lament echoes with accusation even as it echoes with faith.  What follows between Martha and Jesus is a conversation of faith.  Jesus met Martha’s faith-talk with his own faith-talk.

Mary also ran to meet Jesus but collapsed at his feet sobbing, “Lord, my brother is dead, if you had been here, he would not be dead.”  Period.  Mary, like her sister Martha, is in a faith-filled lament but in no condition to speak further.  What follows between Mary and Jesus is a connection of heart.  Jesus met Mary’s pain with his own pain, and Jesus wept with her.

Maybe you’re sitting here today overwhelmed by the thought of losing someone whom you love into the arms of death and you wonder how you will live without this person you love so much.  Or maybe you have already loved and lost someone, or more than one someone, into the arms of death.  Sitting at a bedside watching illness capturing the person you love little by little, moment by moment, breath by breath.  Lamenting either the speed at which death happens or frantically praying for death to end the suffering or desperately hoping for physical cure even to the last breath.

Know this…Jesus, God in the flesh, God with us, meets you where you are in your moment of loss, in your moment of pain.  Powerfully communicating the “the immeasurable depth of human worth” through his tears.[1]  And that can feel like the end of the story; indeed, many sermons end right here.  In our grief and in our fear, Jesus both speaks a comforting word and weeps with us, offering provisional comfort in the midst of our grief.  But, in the quiet, in the dark hours, in the honest moments, in the fear of dying, in the terminal prognosis of our earthly bodies, many of us come face to face with our fear of death.  This fear builds out into tunnel vision, or maybe we could call it tomb vision, that all we experience here on the planet is all that there is…that we end up dead…entombed…done…gone…

But then, there’s Jesus, standing and staring at a stone in front of his friend’s tomb foreshadowing time soon spent in his own tomb.  There is Jesus who says, “Lazarus, come out!”  And the man came out.  Lazarus, loved by Jesus, was given temporary reprieve from the terminal condition we call living.  Nobody has seen Lazarus still running around have you?  Clearly he had to go through death a second time.  But I invite you to consider that the inevitability of death is not ultimately not the end.[2]  Jesus gave life to Lazarus which intensified Jesus’ death spiral toward the cross.  And the cross is the place where Jesus finally destroys the inevitable so that the ultimate of resurrection is possible.

Lazarus, a specific person, in a specific time and place, dies and comes back into life through Jesus – signifying all the people of the world whom God so loves, across time and place, who also die and are raised to new life in resurrected bodies by the power of the Spirit.

And so, Jesus, whose death on a cross stirs up faith through that same cross,

Jesus, whose death on a cross pours out grace upon grace in forgiveness and healing,

Jesus, whose death on a cross reveals the depth of divine love,

Jesus, whose death on a cross unleashes the power of truth and love over the power of death,

Jesus, whose death on a cross sweeps us up into relationship with the eternal God,

And Jesus, whose death on a cross sets you free to love and care for your neighbor,

Jesus will stand at your tomb and say to you, “Come out, I refuse to live without you!”

 

 

 



[1] Justin Nickel, personal correspondence, April 6, 2011.

[2] Nadia Bolz-Weber, personal conversation, April 5, 2011.