Sermon–April 2, 2017


Lent 5-Year A, April 2, 2017

William Bradbury

Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45

Last week we saw that the gospels were never meant to be read as dry history about what Jesus said and did in the past. John himself says he wrote his gospel so that the reader could have the same experience of Jesus as the community in which he lived many years after Jesus left the physical scene. That church never met Jesus of Nazareth, but they had a profound experience of the Risen Christ Jesus in the here and now. John wants us in 2017 to know the joy of being in communion with the Creator of the cosmos in and through Jesus the Christ, the Word made flesh, who has overcome sin and death and filled his people with the Spirit of Jesus.

Saint Paul also never met the historical Jesus. All he knows is the Risen Christ who appears to him in a mystical vision that explodes his mind and heart. Paul’s proclamation, like John’s, is that anyone may have a direct experience of Christ Jesus, because the Christ is, quite simply, not trapped in any particular place or historical moment, but lives in the here and now. See Dr. Alexander Shaia Heart and Mind, Page 42

That’s why Paul tells us today in Romans that if you just stick to the flesh of things—that is, for example, to the external history of Jesus of Nazareth, then you won’t get anywhere except more caught up in trying to use this past tense Jesus as a means to bolster your ego in the world.

So Paul says to the church in Rome, who also never met Jesus, they too are filled with the Spirit of Jesus and heirs of God’s kingdom in the here and now, even while suffering persecution.

Paul writes: But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you….But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of [God’s] covenant faithfulness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

  1. T. Wright uses the analogy of two boats in the harbor: a power boat and a sailboat. The difference is in the source of power. So too the difference between being in the flesh and in the Spirit is not an external difference but an internal one: which power runs us—the power of the self we are born with or the power of God’s Spirit which we receive through faith and trust in Jesus.

Therefore, John is telling us the story of the raising of Lazarus so that we may be grasped by the power of the Spirit of Jesus. We are not being given a You-Tube video of one amazing day in the life of Jesus. Rather we are given a template for how Jesus works in our lives every day.

And it begins in a normal way: “The sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

We are the ones Jesus loves. This whole story is wrapped in the love of Jesus—for Lazarus, for Martha and Mary. He weeps because of his compassion for their suffering. His Love heals the sick, raises the dead, and at the end, says “unbind him and let him go.”

But this story then goes weird: “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.”

Jesus delays and this delay can only look and feel like Jesus doesn’t care. Theologian Emil Bruner puts it this way: “Jesus’ delay always hurts. Our text [from John] is honest.” In thompson, page 245

Anyone who calls on Jesus knows that Jesus answers prayer in God’s time and not in our time. Many of us have kept vigil around a hospital bed where the suffering and need are great and prayers are offered but Jesus delays.

Jesus delays and we become impatient.

This is especially hard for those of us who are always in a hurry: Those of us who get angry when a webpage on our smart phone doesn’t load quickly enough.

It’s like the fishing guide my son and I had one Thanksgiving 20 years ago, down off Fort Myers, Florida. It was a raw, blustery day and we’d been fishing for several hours with nothing to show for it. Finally our guide starts calling his fellow guides to see if they’d found any fish. And after several attempts his phone just won’t connect with anyone, so he takes his foot and kicks up the top to the live well which is filled with water, and throws his phone in it and says, “Take that Bell South.”

Jesus, however, is never in a hurry though he is often on the move. Sometimes he goes right to the person in need, like when he heals the man born blind. We pray for Jesus to come and he comes and heals.But then, at other times, we sit and wait and wonder if all this faith business is just a fantasy. We wonder that because we forget that we are not God. We forget that having God succumb to our desires for instant answers may not be the best thing for us.

We forget that one of the greatest spiritual practices is the practice of waiting on the Lord. Our psalm today says:

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.

5 My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.

Andrew Murray, the late 19th century South African pastor wrote a book of meditations called Waiting on God. He says, “What God asks of us, in the way of surrender, and obedience, and desire, and trust, is all comprised in this one word: waiting for His salvation. “[Waiting] maintains the place of humility and stillness, and surrender, until God’s Spirit has quickened the faith that He will perfect His work: It will indeed become the strength and the joy of the soul.”

Jesus himself models this waiting, because he spends those 2 days praying and waiting and listening to the Father.

“I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.

5 My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.

The watchmen wait on the morning in the absolute expectation that the morning will come. When we wait on God we wait in expectation, serenity, and stillness.

Here is a paradox of our faith: We rest in Christ’s presence as we await Christ’s appearing.

Let me say that again: We rest in Christ’s presence as we await Christ’s appearing.

Therefore Paul tells us today, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” When we drop our hurry and our demand for instant answers and wait on Christ as we rest in Christ, we know the peace and love of God. Lady Julian of Norwich lived through several attacks of the plague in 14th century England. She knew suffering and death up close and personal. Yet, after the crucified Jesus appears to her in her sickness, showing her the love of Triune God, she writes:  “If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.”