Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost year B-Br. Luke

Kneeling Friar (C) efo 2003

Kneeling Friar (C) efo 2003

The Blue Mountains Franciscan Church in the Care of the Ecumenical Franciscans
Sermon preached by Br Luke at Springwood on Sunday 1st November 2015:

Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost year B

Gospel: John 11:32-44

Most times I think the Lectionary compilers do a wonderful job at selecting the passages that relate to each other. But sometimes I think they get it somewhat disjointed. Today’s selection is both nicely connected and somewhat missing. We pick up the gospel passage halfway through the story about Lazarus. In what we just heard, the story seems to start with Jesus and Mary talking at Lazarus’s tomb, but the tale starts much earlier on. So I’m going to read you the bits that are missing.

1 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 for 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.

So why, you are probably asking, did I read this to you? No it’s not because I wanted more time to think about what to say or because I wanted to have less time to talk with you – it’s because I think these verses explain some missing links in the short version we just heard.

Jesus knew Lazarus was dying and that in fact he would die. Yet he delayed leaving for 2 days. As Lazarus was in the tomb 4 days when he arrived, it took Jesus 2 days to walk there. I wonder if at times the disciples just got plain confused. Here they tell Jesus that he’s just escaped death and now he wants to go back there. Um perhaps they thought he was a candidate for the 1st century equivalent of Pialla? Thomas, certainly thought they were all going to their deaths.

Then Jesus talks about the light and not stumbling in the dark. What I hear you ponder is he talking about? Has John inserted a part of a story that really belongs elsewhere? Well no, not really. Remember that Jesus is described in other passages of the gospel, as the light of the world. So John is hinting at the question Jesus will put to Martha and also pointing to the explanation Jesus gives the disciples. Lazarus’s death was for a greater purpose. It was to show the people gathered at the tomb that the “light of the world”, has authority over the darkness of death. Jesus’ actions at the tomb, yet unknown to the disciples, will be “for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it”. John is also foreshadowing Jesus’s own death and resurrection.

When Jesus got there both sisters tell him that if he’d come earlier, Lazarus would not have died. One can almost hear the slight tone of rebuke in their voices. They have an expectation that Jesus should have come sooner and healed him, before he died. John tells us that Jesus was moved and wept. Do we get here a rare glimpse of Jesus’ human nature? Are his tears here, because his delay had caused them pain, or was he just overcome by the tide of emotion that swept over him?

Before Mary got to the tomb, Jesus quizzed Martha on her belief in him. He sought a response to his query of whether Martha believed that he was the resurrection and the life. He was seeking her acknowledgement of his divinity and she gave it to him. If he asked us the same question, what would we say? Would we like Martha say, “yes I believe”? Or would we perhaps say “um can I think about this some more and get back to you, when I’ve explored all the rational scientific models and other theories or faiths available to me?”

Notice also that Jesus raised Lazarus with his voice alone. Jesus did not go in and touch him, he simply called Lazarus to come out the tomb. So he really did not do anything more than he had done for many others. Many times he simply told someone, your sins are forgiven, or go your faith has made you, or your loved one, well?

Notice also though, there is something slightly different here. Before he called to Lazarus, Jesus spoke to the Father. “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.” Why this statement, why now? I think there are two reasons. Firstly, Jesus is affirming and asserting his divinity and his place in the Trinity. Secondly, among the mourners there were people who were questioning his authority to heal and resurrect. They were in fact denying his divinity. So he addresses them by proclaiming it and then he proves it with Lazarus’ resurrection. Put another way, there are two types of people gathered around the tomb that day. Those who saw Jesus with their heart and those who saw him with their head.

Do we see Jesus with our head or our heart? Are we willing walking in the light of the world or do we seek to somehow make some sort of logical sense of an event, of something that requires us to stop thinking and to respond with our heart? If we see with our heart, like Mary, Martha and yes like Lazarus as well, then the question is not difficult to answer in the affirmative. If we believe, all things are possible. The psalmist told us earlier “They shall receive blessing from the Lord: and recompense from the God of their salvation.” What was the blessing and recompense for the sisters? The rising to life of their brother. So now what’s your answer to Jesus’ question?

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