Never too Dead PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Ireland   
Saturday, 05 April 2014 16:33

First Presbyterian Church, Cottonwood Falls, KS

Never too Dead: John 11:1-45

Rev. Pat Ireland, Pastor

April 6, 2014


John 11:1-45

1A certain man, Lazarus, was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (2 This was the Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped his feet with her hair. Her brother Lazarus was ill.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”

4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it.” 5Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.  6When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was.  After two days, 7 he said to his disciples, “Let’s return to Judea again.”

8 The disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jewish opposition wants to stone you, but you want to go back?”

9 Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours in the day? Whoever walks in the day doesn’t stumble because they see the light of the world. 10 But whoever walks in the night does stumble because the light isn’t in them.” 11 He continued, “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping, but I am going in order to wake him up.”

12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he’s sleeping, he will get well.” 13 They thought Jesus meant that Lazarus was in a deep sleep, but Jesus had spoken about Lazarus’ death.

14 Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died. 15 For your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you can believe. Let’s go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (the one called Didymus) said to the other disciples, “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus.”

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was a little less than two miles from Jerusalem. 19 Many Jews had come to comfort Martha and Mary after their brother’s death. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.”

28 After she said this, she went and spoke privately to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here and he’s calling for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. 30 He hadn’t entered the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave, they followed her. They assumed she was going to mourn at the tomb.

32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. 34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?”

They replied, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus began to cry. 36 The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”

40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

45 Therefore, many of the Jews who came with Mary and saw what Jesus did, believed in him.


We are so near - to Jerusalem, and Calvary, and the cross.   Next Sunday is Palm Sunday and then we are immediately plunged into the drama of Holy Week:  Jesus’ betrayal, trial, crucifixion and burial.  The narrative emphasizes this saying “Bethany was a little less than two miles from Jerusalem."

In church time we are only two weeks away from the empty tomb.  How fitting, then – and how challenging – to read, on this Fifth Sunday of Lent, not one, but two resurrection stories.  I did a graveside this week, and was reminded again how inseparable life and death, grief and hope are. They are like the miracle set in the midst and entangled with the plots and controversy that swirls around Jesus.

Let us Pray: Holy Spirit, guide the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts that we might find hope even in our dyings.  Amen

The story of Lazarus is unique to John’s gospel.   In the other gospels the cleansing of the temple- the overturning of the tables of commerce- is the event that triggered Jesus arrest and execution.  John, however places that event in chapter 2, right after the wedding in Cana.   John implies the raising of Lazarus, an unprecedented miracle performed just outside the home of all religious, political and economic power, just before that 3rd Passover  prompts the events of holy week.

Though the lesson begins, “A certain man named Lazarus” it soon makes clear that this man is the brother of Mary and Martha who regularly provided hospitality to Jesus.  He was a good friend.  Naturally, the sisters sent for Jesus as soon as Lazarus got was sick.  But Jesus delayed, and Lazarus died before he arrived.  How painful that must have been for the sisters, like the sorrow of an entire generation watching loved ones die while awaiting for the return of the risen Lord.

John says, Lazarus was already dead several days when Jesus approached the house.  He wants us to know that Lazarus is really dead, not simply in a coma.  Martha ran out to Jesus and said: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Yet even that accusation is followed by an extraordinary statement of faith:  “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

To which Jesus responds with an “I am” declaration that has sustained generations, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”   Then he adds, “Do you believe this?” John 11:21-26

This, of course, is the question for John’s community, and for every succeeding generations.  Do you believe this?   Can you hold on to that hope even in the midst of turmoil and death?

The story is told to help us believe that Jesus is the eternal Word of God, the giver of life, and that eternal, so lets now rush to quickly to the resurrection.

After mourning with and for the sisters, Jesus went to Lazarus tomb.   There, before that still-sealed tomb, we witness the meaning of God’s incarnation.  The holy and eternal Word of God, incarnate in human flesh, wept!   Jesus cried - just like us.  Jesus was flesh and bone and emotion, fully human and you know what that means: means God knows how you feel!

This, for me, is the real and unique miracle of Jesus.   In Jesus, we see the Eternal Divine,  Creator of all that is, crying for a friend; crying with friends in their loss.  As kids we learned it was the shortest verse in the Bible.   I want to suggest it is the tiny seed that when planted in the ground epitomizes the Kingdom of God.  “It’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32

Jesus wept!  God still weeps for and with us.  But tears are not the end of the story.  God acts.  Over the resistance of the sisters the tomb is unsealed and the stench of death fills the air.  Jesus prays to God and then calls Lazarus from the grave.  What’s more Lazarus walked out, though I can’t try to imagine how without giggling.  You see, he was still all wrapped up in burial clothes.  So Jesus instructed the family to unbind him.

I’ve heard powerful sermons about the church’s call to unbind those who are caught in the trappings and entanglements of death.  As I think of them now I remember Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of Luke’s gospel, when he read that prophesy from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, ?because the Lord has anointed me.?  He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, ?to proclaim release to the prisoners ?and recovery of sight to the blind, ?to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”   Then he told the congregation “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” Luke 4:18-21

It seems to me that perhaps that point of the story of the raising of Lazarus is in Jesus instruction to unbind him.   This resurrection story is the commissioning of the community of faith, after the resurrection, to continue Jesus’ work of  proclaiming good news to the poor, release to the prisoners, vision for the blind, liberation to the oppressed and the presence of the Reign of God.

Hundreds of years before Lazarus and Jesus, Ezekiel had a vision of a wasted battlefield strewn with dry bones.  God asked: “Mortal can these bones live?”  To which Ezekiel responds, ‘Only you know.’  That’s when Ezekiel was commanded to preach, and the bones were animated and reassembled, but there is no life in them.  Then, when the bodies were ready, the wind of God came from the four corners and filled those corpses with breath and they are filled with life!

It is quite clear from the text, this is not meant to be a story of individual resurrection, but a declaration to the whole house of Israel, as dried up and dead as it might seem, that the Spirit of God can and will enliven and sustain a great host of God’s people.   In this story the people of God are expected to preach, to unbind, to call people to receive the living Spirit of God.

At their meeting this week,  Session decided to read and study Bounty, Ten Ways to Increase Giving at Your Church by Kristine Miller and Scott McKenzie.  I purchased the book and went to two workshops on it the Stewardship conference last month.   Despite the title, this book reminds us that stewardship is not just about money but how we approach our role as stewards of all God’s good gifts, especially the gospel!  What hooked me was the books foundational prayer, “Lord, what do you want to do through me?“

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we all faithfully prayed that prayer daily from Easter to Pentecost! “Lord, what do you want to do through me?“

I think both Bible stories point to the overall desire of what God wants to do through any and every community of faith even those who feel like dried up old bones.   God desires to bring new life, even out of death.

Erik Kobell in his book, The God of Second Chances, recalls an old Celtic legend set in the days when Ireland chafed under British rule.  It seems well no close with it.

In those days, insurgents would go from town to town to stir up the spirit of rebellion among the locals.  The roads these insurgents traveled were hazardous, so that would often travel at night, when it was more difficult for the enemy to spot them.   They would tie a little pouch of corn kernels to their belt so they could eat and walk at the same time.

They were often successful, but just as often they were not, and it was not uncommon to hear of one brave soul or another captured on the road from Galway to Kilkenny or Kilkeny to Cork.  Rather than take a prisoner, the soldiers would kill him and bury his body in a shallow grave by the side of the road.  That way his death was to supposed to serve as a lesson to others that resistance to the crown was futile.

The British, however, had not figured on those pouches of corn, because the following spring, wherever a brave Irishman had lost his life for the good cause, those kernels had taken root and sprouted.  Great green shoots would coax their way out of the rich country loam, timid at first, but then growing boldly heavenward, to sway in the wind like the palms of the pilgrims upon Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem.  Those stalks bear witness to a divine promise that tough their oppressors could kill the flesh, they can not kill the spirit.



Ezekiel 17:1-14

1 The Lord’s power overcame me, and while I was in the Lord’s spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones. 2 He led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry.

3 He asked me, “Human one, can these bones live again?”

I said, “Lord God, only you know.”

4 He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, Dry bones, hear the Lord’s word! 5 The Lord God proclaims to these bones: I am about to put breath in you, and you will live again. 6 I will put sinews on you, place flesh on you, and cover you with skin. When I put breath in you, and you come to life, you will know that I am the Lord.”

7 I prophesied just as I was commanded. There was a great noise as I was prophesying, then a great quaking, and the bones came together, bone by bone. 8 When I looked, suddenly there were sinews on them. The flesh appeared, and then they were covered over with skin. But there was still no breath in them.

9 He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, human one! Say to the breath, The Lord God proclaims: Come from the four winds, breath! Breathe into these dead bodies and let them live.”

10 I prophesied just as he commanded me. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company.

11 He said to me, “Human one, these bones are the entire house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely finished.’ 12 So now, prophesy and say to them, The Lord God proclaims: I’m opening your graves! I will raise you up from your graves, my people, and I will bring you to Israel’s fertile land. 13 You will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, my people. 14 I will put my breath in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord. I’ve spoken, and I will do it. This is what the Lord says.”





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