Archive for the ‘John 11:1-45’ Category

Moving From Wondering to Worship!

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

  Faith; Resurrection; Worry; John 11:1-45; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 8:1-11; Lent 5A

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Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 9, 2008

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

We are all by nature, afraid of the unknown.  If we can’t perceive something through our senses, we find it hard to wrap our minds around it.  Yes, fear of the unknown is a very real fear for many of us.  Some of us try to compensate for that fear by turning to familiar surroundings, family, and friends.  These are what we call “coping” measures, but can we really trust something that brings only temporary comfort and security? 

What is real assurance?  Where do you go to find peace and comfort?  In our gospel reading this morning, Martha and Mary were confronted with their brother’s illness, which as we know eventually led to his death.  They needed help and assurance so they sent for Jesus.  As they waited for Jesus to arrive, they went through 3 things that are common to all Christians who’ve been confronted with illness, tragedy, and death: Wondering (Will Jesus be willing to help me?  Does He really care?); Worrying (What if God doesn’t help me?); and Wrestling (Why did God let this happen?).  But where they ended up is where we to will find peace.

I. WonderingWhere’s Jesus? Wondering is just another way to say doubting.  In verse 3 of our gospel reading, a messenger sent by Martha and Mary finds Jesus and the apostles some four days travel away from their village of Bethany.  The message that he gives is: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” Why did they insist that the messenger refer to Lazarus as “He whom you love?”  Maybe they had doubts as to whether Jesus would come, so they sweetened the plea with the reminder that Jesus loved Lazarus?  If they truly believed that Jesus was sent by
God, then why did they doubt God’s love for their brother?  We aren’t that much different-we all have doubts at times.  We wonder if God is really paying attention to us, especially in times of trouble.

A defendant was on trial for murder in Oklahoma. There was strong evidence indicating guilt, but there was no body found. In the defense’s closing statement the lawyer, knowing that his client would probably be convicted, resorted to a trick. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you all,” the lawyer said as he looked at his watch. “Within one minute, the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this courtroom.” He looked toward the courtroom door. The jurors, somewhat stunned, all looked on eagerly. A minute passed. Nothing happened. Finally the lawyer said, “Actually, I made up the previous statement. But you all looked on with anticipation. I, therefore, put it to you that there is reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and insist that you return a verdict of not guilty.” The jury, clearly confused, retired to deliberate. A few minutes later, the jury returned and pronounced a verdict of guilty. “But how?” inquired the lawyer. “You must have had some doubt; I saw all of you stare at the door.” The jury foreman answered: “Oh, we did look. But your client didn’t.”  Are you as sure of God’s goodness and presence as that convicted man was of the finality of his evil act?


Author Phillip Yancey in his best-selling book Reaching for the Invisible God wrote, “Doubt is the skeleton in the closet of faith and I know no better way to treat a skeleton than to bring it into the open and expose it for what it is: not something to hide or fear, but a hard structure on which living tissue may grow.”  In our Old Testament Lesson,  after showing the prophet Ezekiel a valley full of dry bones, God asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  To which the prophet Ezekiel answered, “O Lord God, you know.”  This is always the best place, in fact the only place we should ultimately take our doubts and fears, to the loving care and knowledge of our Creator.  But when our sickness, disease, addiction or tragedies set in, we can become afraid and begin to doubt God’s active presence in our lives.  It’s then that we begin to do what God calls sinful…we worry.

II. WorryWhat if God doesn’t stop this?  Maybe He is mad at me?  Our worry tells God, “Even though I have now finally come to you with this problem, I still don’t completely trust that you will help.” Worry says that “because I can’t sense you in my life right now, I don’t completely trust that you’ll help me.” 

There’s a story about a woman who for many years couldn’t sleep at night because she worried that her home would be burglarized. One night her husband heard a noise in the house, so he went downstairs to investigate. When he got there, he found a real burglar.

The husband with a grin on his face, said to the burglar, “Please come upstairs and meet my wife. She’s been waiting 10 years to meet you.”  A real burglar can steal from you once; worry can steal from you night after night, for many years. Worry not only steals our sleep, but worry also steals our health and our abilities to cope with life productively.   

Yes, worry is a sin and it is a sin that can eat us alive from the inside out, but sooner or later like Martha and Mary, we’ll call out to God with a heart felt and sincere prayer, “HELP LORD!  The one you love is sick.  The one you love is addicted.  The one you love’s in big trouble.”  This is the prayer that God is waiting for.  It is a prayer from a heart that realizes that there is a God who can help.  It’s a good start, but as it is, it lacks faith.  It lacks faith because it comes with expectations.  It comes with timetables and directions.  When help doesn’t come as expected, then sinful worry takes over once again.  “What’s going on?  Where is Jesus in the middle of my crisis?”  And to this, Jesus comes to us as He came to Martha and Mary, and he answers: “This illness (this problem, this addiction, this tragedy) will not lead to death.  It is for the glory of God, so that (I) the Son of god maybe glorified through it.”  To this the worrier asks, “But what does this mean Lord?  Do you want the one you love to suffer?”  And before we receive His answer we are on to our next challenge to His presence in our lives.  We say like Martha and Mary…

III. WRESTLING-“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (vs. 21,32) This is what we might call wrestling with God.  When Martha and Mary said this to Jesus they were expressing their deep sorrow, the deepest of regret and confusion.  “Oh, if only you had arrived sooner, then our dear Lazarus would still be here to warm our hearts.  Why didn’t you come when we sent for you?”  How many saints before and after them have echoed the very same sentiments?  How many of us here today have wrestled with God over the same thoughts.  “Why Lord? Why?!!”  So much pain and so many unanswered questions to wrestle with, but God has not left us alone to struggle for the answers.  In our gospel lesson, Jesus came to Marry and Martha to give them assurance; in the same way He also comes to us to ensure that we know that our faith has not been misplaced.  Through His Holy Spirit He comes to us.  Through His Spirit he comes to us in His Word and Sacraments so that the eyes of our hearts, the eyes of faith may be opened.  Mary and Martha were given this same faith as we see by Martha’s statement, “But even now I KNOW, (even now I believe) that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

In this simple statement is the smallest variety of faith-the size of a mustard seed, but as small as it is, it is saving faith because it trusts completely in what Jesus thinks is best.  It comes with no preconditions and no demands.  It is saving faith because it seeks assurance from outside of itself.  When this faith calls out to God, Jesus answers us and says, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live.  Jesus is saying to us dear saints, “Whatever you see with your physical eyes is not your reality, for your flesh can only see death, because that is the penalty for your many sins.  But I have come so that you might have an abundant an eternal life.  You must not live by the flesh but instead your world is the world of faith; it is a spiritual and eternal realm.”  It was our dearest Jesus who moved St. Paul to write in our Epistle lesson this morning: “If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.  He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give (back) life to your mortal bodies through the Spirit who dwells in you.”  (Eph.8:10-11)  It is this same Spirit that is now moving your heart to listen and believe this Word you hear preached to you today.

IV. WORSHIP– This morning dear friends, Jesus asks us the same question He posed to Martha.  The answer that we give will either follow Martha’s statement of faith or it will follow the Jewish leaders and people who shouted, “Crucify Him!  We have no king but Cesar!”  And here is the question: “Do you believe that I am the God of creation, the creator of your body, soul, and spirit?  Do you believe in me as your Savior and loving God?” (Pause)

Do you remember that smallest of faiths we mentioned?  Well it is working within you now, because along with Martha and Mary, I trust that you too feel your heart crying out like a lost child, “Yes Lord, I believe!!  I believe you are my Savior and my God-Help me with my doubts and worries!”

Allow me to share a final story with you that will complete God’s Word to us today: A family was out vacationing at the lake one summer. Dad had been puttering out by the boat house. Two of his sons, a 12-year old and a 3-year old were down playing along the dock. The 12 year old was supposed to be watching his little brother, but he got distracted. The 3 year old, little Billy, thought that would be a good time to check out the shiny aluminum fishing boat tied up at the end of the dock. So he went to the dock and put one foot on the boat, and one foot on the dock. He lost his balance and fell into the water, which was about 6 ft deep.The splash alerted his brother who let out a terrified scream. Dad came running from the boat house, jumped into the water, swam down, but unable to see anything, came up for air. Sick with panic, he went right back down into this murky water, and began to feel everywhere around the bottom. He couldn’t feel anything. Finally, on his way up, he felt little Billy’s arms locked in a death grip on one of the posts of the dock, about 4 ft under water. Prying the boy’s fingers loose, they burst up together thru the surface to fill their lungs with life giving air.Finally when the adrenaline had stopped surging, and their nerves had calmed down a little bit, the Father asked his son, “Billy, what on earth were you doing down there hanging onto the post so far under the water? And little Billy’s answer was a classic, laced with the wisdom only a toddler could give. He said, “I was just waiting for you dad. I knew you would come.”  The simple unwavering trust of a child is precisely what God is asking from us this morning-He’s asking us to believe that whatever we are experiencing, He is with us in all things working together for good, because He loves us.  He is with us and He will never leave our side.

Friends, when we realize and believe who Jesus is we can rest in what He is.  The who he is, is simply God our creator who took on our flesh.  The reason that He took on our flesh answers the question of “what He is”.  He took on our flesh so that He could plunge into this dark, murky world of sin on a rescue mission, a rescue mission for all of us who are drowning, a rescue mission for all of us who are barely hanging on, a rescue mission for all of us who are lost in the darkness of sin.  But He didn’t enter our drowning waters as a spirit; no He entered as one of us so that we would not be afraid.  He entered in our flesh, and when He entered those waters, something wonderful happened, He gave us His Spirit and He took on our sin!  He took our place in those dark cold waters and died the death we were to die.  Why?  So that even though we die we shall not taste death, but instead we will live forever with Him in paradise.  It’s a special place prepared just for you.  A place where there will be no more wondering, no more worrying, and no more wrestling with the unknown.  Why should you believe this?  Because He has told you so, and even now His Spirit is speaking to your spirit, moving your heart beyond wondering, worrying, and wrestling with God to a place that is simply called “Worship”.  It is here that your heart will be enabled to believe and cry out to Jesus along with Martha, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into this world to save me!”