|Burkett Lake, North of Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA|
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Faith for Life - The Lord of Tears and Eternity
Preached on Sunday, April 2, 2017
Scripture readings: Daniel 12:1-3; John 11:17-44
A four-year-old spilled his milk on the floor and he wanted to clean it up, so his Mom told him that the mop was just outside the kitchen door, on the porch. Well he ran to the door, and he opened it, and he saw that it had gotten dark outside and, all of a sudden, he felt scared.
He ran back to his Mom, and told her about it. And she told him that Jesus is everywhere, even in dark places, and that Jesus would always protect him and help him. This made him happy, so he ran back to the door, and opened it up, just a crack, and he yelled, “Jesus, if you’re out there, could you pass me the mop?”
When Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus, he was sharing the darkness with us. Jesus is God in the flesh, and you would think that nothing could make God cry, but maybe God understands the dark times that make us weep even better than we do.
Sooner or later we run out of tears, or we put the time for tears behind us, but Jesus, in his stay on earth, showed us that there is something in the heart of God that is always ready to weep in the presence of sorrow, and loss, and pain, and evil, and death. God has something in his heart that weeps when he sees these things: these wrenching, aching needs. Somehow, even in the middle of all the glory, and joy, and peace of heaven, God sees these things, all the time. As we see God in Jesus, we see God weeping.
How does the Lord handle it?
First, the Lord handles it with a plan.
We see this during his visible stay with us, in Jesus.
Jesus worked with Lazarus and his family according to plan.
There was a plan then.
There is a plan now.
Jesus never acted as though he were in the middle of an emergency, as though he were caught by surprise. He always knew what would happen, and he always knew what he would do about it. So, when Jesus heard about the illness, and the danger Lazarus was in, he said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (11:4) The Lord had a plan for Lazarus’ death, and a plan for Lazarus’ life.
We human beings have all kinds of wrong ways of dealing with God’s plans. We worry and we fret about the plan of God. We make other people feel guilty when we say, “If you had only had been more obedient to God, this bad thing wouldn’t have happened.” or “If you had prayed with faith, your prayer for healing would have been answered.”
It’s better to be silent and say nothing than to mishandle God’s way of working when we talk to others. None of us knows enough. Especially none of us knows enough about God’s ways of working with other people to try to teach others about God’s ways and plans. I try to be very careful about this, although I’m trying to shed some light on it here. You be careful too.
Martha and Mary had sent an urgent message for Jesus to come, and he waited instead. When Jesus came too late, they were upset. For them, saying, “If you had been here, this wouldn’t have happened” was no different from saying, “If only you had listened to us this wouldn’t have happened.” We have these false ideas of the plan of God that we use against others, against ourselves, and against the Lord.
We misread God’s will and God’s plan. When Jesus went to Lazarus’ grave, and ordered that the stone be removed from the entrance, Martha protested. I wonder if Martha was thinking something like this: “Don’t do it, Jesus. We were there. We know what happened. We know what God’s will is. Let it go. Let it be. Accept it. It’s all over now.”
But it wasn’t all over. They were thinking about what could be done and what couldn’t be done. But they were misreading the plan. They were misreading God’s intentions, and God’s will, and God’s heart.
Jesus was to blame for this. Jesus always kept them off balance about his plans, when all they wanted was just to know what to expect. But that was the problem. Instead of wanting to know what to expect, they should have wanted to know Jesus better, and trust him more.
We want to have confidence in things. Jesus wants us to have confidence in him; and not as a last resort, the way we normally do.
We don’t need to know the plan. We only need to know that there is one, and trust the one who knows what the plan is. Let’s trust Jesus.
When Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death,” Jesus is talking about his plan for all of us. This is what it means when he says: “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) Jesus is talking about his plan to share the power of his life with us, beginning now.
None of our sicknesses will end in death. Jesus gives us a life where we don’t have to be afraid when it looks like we, or someone we love, is coming to the end. We do not end in death, because death is not the end. He gives us a life that will never end. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
When Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life,” he is talking about his plans. Jesus dealt with darkness, with pain, and sorrow, and evil, and death, through the plan of the cross.
Jesus died on the cross, so that the cross would be a bridge of mercy, where we could cross over, and away, from our entrapment in everything that’s wrong with us, and we can cross over to the freedom that comes from the mercy of God.
The cross is his plan to take us across to safety, away from a life that will run down, away from a life that will run out, across to a life full of glory that will grow and grow. For us death turns into the glory of heaven. Then, in some future time, the glory of heaven will turn into the glory of the resurrection.
Then, someday, the glory of the resurrection will turn into an even greater glory. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another….” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Jesus deals with death, and all the bad stuff, by carrying out this plan of the cross. Faith means trusting this cross: trusting him.
And then, Jesus deals with sorrow, and pain, and loss, and evil, and death by grieving. The shortest, plainest verse in the Bible says it. “Jesus wept.” (11:35)
Something in God’s heart knows how to weep.
Why would the Lord weep when, all the while, he knew that Lazarus would live again? Why would Jesus weep, when he knew he had the power to conquer death?
Jesus wept because of what his friends were going through; because his friends had to experience the loss and absence that come from death. More than that, Jesus wept just because there was such a thing as death in the world.
Jesus was surrounded by people who were hurting inside. Jesus knew that the whole world was like this. It’s reputed that there was a Jewish rabbi in the first century who said, “Be kind to others, for everyone has a hard road to travel.” (Philo of Alexandria)
The Bible tells us that human death and suffering were not originally part of the world, as God created it. Suffering and death came from our rebellion and conflict with God. They came from the original human beings cutting themselves off, and passing down their isolation to their descendants: separating them and us from true oneness with God and with each other.
It’s in this sense that death is normal, but death is not entirely natural. Our life and our relationships were not designed for death, and that’s why grief (much more than death) is natural. Jesus grieved because he saw what was wrong with the world, and so grief came naturally to him. Jesus looked straight into the mess we had gotten ourselves into, and he wept, and then he did something about it.
We need to grieve deeply. But then we also need to look beyond our own losses and hurts, and see how we are not the only ones hurting.
We need to look at the things that are causing hurt and grief in the world around us, and decide to be healers, if we can be. We need to look at the causes of hurt and evil around us, among our neighbors, in our society, in our world. We need to identify what’s wrong, and grieve for it, and pray about it, and see what we can do to go against the flow, to cut against the grain, and stand for something different. We need to live for the kingdom of God in a sad world which has no idea that things can be any different than they are. And this begins with the ability to see and to grieve.
Jesus deals with sorrow, and loss, and pain, and evil, and death, by asking us to believe him: by asking us to trust him. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (11:25-26) “Do you believe this?” he asks.
He means, “Will you believe in me? Will you trust me? Will you depend on me?” Ole Hallesby, the old, Norwegian Lutheran theologian, in his book on “Prayer”, says that the secret to true prayer is helplessness: that you can never learn to pray until you come to the point where you know that you are not able, but God is able.
When I drive down to see my relatives in Southern California, and when I’m driving through downtown Los Angeles, or in the suburbs in Orange County; all through those places, I see how God’s creation is being covered over by human creation. They have so little chance to see God’s world. They have practically built God right out of their world. Yet we are not so far away from them as we think.
The original sin grew out of a desire not to need to depend on God alone. Maybe we all take pride in some part of our life which we have reserved for ourselves, to prove something to ourselves, and say, “I can do this all by myself. Here is one place where I don’t need anyone’s help.”
If we insisted, I think that this would be fine, unless we wanted to see the power of God.
Martha tried to keep Jesus from making a fool out of himself by opening Lazarus’ grave, even though he had already told her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” When Martha tried to stop him from trying to get at Lazarus, Jesus scolded her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the power of God?”
Martha was falling back on her ability to be prudent and practical. She was falling back on her own strength.
Jesus wanted to take her to a place where she was absolutely helpless. There was no way for her to contribute to what Jesus wanted to do. Jesus could do it, but Martha had nothing to give. Here was a place where she couldn’t make anything happen. She had to just believe. It must have felt awful. It was a crisis.
There is a crisis that the Lord sets up in people’s lives (as he did with Martha, and Mary, and Lazarus) where we are powerless, but God is able. And we must break down and truly believe at last.
We are faced with something that proves we are helpless. We are not able, but God is able. Then we can see it. Then we can experience it: the power of God.
There is a freedom and power that comes from finally letting God be God.
As I thought about his, I do believe that there are just a couple things we do in worship that tell us that we are truly helpless without God. They’re the sacraments.
Baptism is about dying with Christ and rising with Christ from the dead. You can die by yourself, but you can’t do anything to rise from the dead. Only God can make that happen.
The Lord’s Supper tells us that there is something absolutely necessary for our life that we can’t do for ourselves. In the Lord’s Supper, God is our food. We can’t live without food. We can’t live spiritually without the food of God.
Life in this world brings us up against many brick walls: sorrow, loss, sickness, evil, death; and we are all mostly powerless. But the Lord’s death on the cross makes things possible for us that are beyond our power; and his rising from the dead, and his living presence with us today, is part of a plan to give us a life that will not be defeated by anything; not even by death.
Jesus has a plan to show us his glory and his love. Jesus is the Lord of our tears, and he is the Lord of eternity, and eternal life. Jesus calls us to live in faith, so that we can see and experience the power of God.