Sermon from Sunday, April 10, 2011
Paradise Lutheran Church, Thomasville, PA.
What’s shocking in today’s Gospel is that when Jesus is about to perform one of the greatest miracles in the New Testament, Martha says to Jesus…wait…hold on….
Isn’t that what Martha and Mary were initially upset about? When Jesus heard of Lazarus’ illness, he waited two extra days to get back to them. They agreed he could have prevented Lazarus’ death – not that they were angry with him according to the text – but let’s face it, I’m sure they were a little angry. Wouldn’t any of us be angry? Jesus, who had performed many miracles up to this point, could have done something. So why stop him now, when he is about to do something?
Martha and Mary were not the only ones in the story trying to stop Jesus. Up to this point, the Pharisees and Jewish leaders were trying to stop Jesus. His teachings were too radical. It was too much to handle. They felt it was blasphemy for Jesus to say “I am the Son of God.” or “I and the Father are one.” In their eyes Jesus had to be stopped.
In today’s Gospel, when Jesus tells his disciples he is finally going to go to Bethany where Martha and Mary are because Lazarus has died, they too, try to prevent him from going. What a minute! Hold on! You are heading right back to Jerusalem where the Jewish leaders are trying to have you arrested and killed! Don’t go! Think this through! It’s too dangerous! But Jesus had to go.
When Jesus arrives on the scene where Martha and Mary are – there is a crowd of mourners – which at that time was not uncustomary to be publicly mourning for some time. Everyone is weeping. They are overcome with grief and we see a side of Jesus that we have not seen before. The Son of God is weeping. We don’t know exactly why he is weeping. The original word in Greek indicates a sense of strong emotion, perhaps even anger. What could Jesus possibly be angry or disturbed about? Some suggest it is because they are mourning excessively as those with no hope? Didn’t they get it by now as to who he was? Is he grieving the loss of his dear friend Lazarus too or weeping in empathy with Martha and Mary? Is it that he is overcome by the nearness of his own impending death? I think he’s weeping for all these reasons and more. In times of great trauma, the depth of emotions is overwhelming to any of us. Jesus is not excluded from this. And it is comforting today to know that Jesus is truly present, experiencing and feeling our pain right along with us.
But then, at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus prays, and he is ready to act. When again, he is told to wait. Hold on, Martha says. “Jesus, there’s a stench. Lazarus has been dead for four days.” In other words, don’t open that cave, that tomb! He is decomposing, rotting. You open that tomb and it’s going to let all that horrible smell out and make us all unclean! Jewish customs were very strict on laws of cleanliness and being in contact with death was not a good thing at all. He’s dead. What’s done is done. What’s the point.
Can we really blame her here? I mean, who wants to smell something rotting, especially a human corpse? We try to avoid foul smelling odors as much as possible and that’s not a bad thing. For years, my parents ate blue cheese and as much as I love cheese, that stench was just too much for me to handle. Sure, they told me it was good for you, but no way was I going to eat cheese that according to research was injected with mold and in some cases grown in dark temperature controlled caves. And that’s just cheese. There was something even worse growing in Lazarus’ cave. So, no, I can’t blame Martha at all for saying what she did to Jesus. Hold on…think this through. Do you really want to open that cave?
But the truth is, Jesus did think this through. He deliberately waited to arrive back in Bethany until after Lazarus was dead for four days so that God’s glory could be revealed. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. It was Martha, and Mary who didn’t have a clue what Jesus was up to. And, it’s all of us who don’t have a clue what Jesus is up to today. We want to tell Jesus what to do. We want to tell God how our glory should be revealed, not his. We want God to act in our time, in our way, and according to our plans. We don’t want to wait and we want fairness – according to our standards. It’s not fair when bad things happen to good people. It’s not fair that Lazarus, who loved Jesus, had to get sick and die. It’s not fair when people today get sick and sometimes die tragic deaths. It’s not fair when people lose their jobs, their homes, their minds. It’s not fair, according to our standards. It doesn’t make any sense. There’s too much suffering in the world and we want God to fix it all and more importantly to prevent it, just like Jesus could have prevented the death of Lazarus. But by doing this, are we getting in the way of allowing God’s glory to be revealed? Because even though God does not always cause suffering, he can always bring good out of what was meant for evil, even if it doesn’t make sense to us at the time.
The point of the Gospel today is that while we are busy asking God to do something about all of our problems we are forgetting two very important things. The first – and most important – is that God has already done something about all our pain and suffering. Jesus’ death on the cross has released us from the bondage of sin and death. The words spoken by Jesus to Martha are the same words spoken to us today. “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. Do you believe this?” He’s not just speaking to Martha.
This leads to the second point. If we truly believe this, why are we getting in the way of the tomb? Why like Martha are we saying, don’t make us open it up. Don’t make us open up the things we have hidden away in the dark corners of our life. It’s dark in there. There’s something rotting in there. Whatever is in there is too far gone for you to do anything about. But, Jesus answers no! No, you’re not too far gone. No one is too far gone. No matter how dark and smelly and rotten and decomposed your life is, I can breathe new life into it. I can make you come alive again! I will call you out of your lives of darkness and into a life of light with me, the Light of the world!
And Lazarus came out, his hands and his feet bound and his face wrapped and Jesus said to those standing near, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Jesus breathes new life into us today and because he has unbound us we can’t be afraid to bring God’s word of hope to others who are trapped in darkness. We need to unbind those who are trapped in the stench of despair, the stench of poverty, the stench of addictions, the stench of homelessness, the stench of isolation because they are different from us. We are called forth to unbind others with the Good News of hope and the promise that God is with us even in those times when all seems hopeless. Let us not stand in the way of God’s glory. It is time to unbind each other with the Gospel of hope and life. Amen.