March 29th, 2020
New Life on the Way
Springdale Lutheran Church
Pastor Paul Rohde
March 29, 2020
Dear friends at Springdale,
Are you a journey or a destination person? When you head for the Black Hills do you drive 80 mph on I-90 or do you allow time for the Corn Palace, the Destiny statue and a buffalo burger in Chamberlain, and then the scenic loop through the Badlands?
Because this sermon is going to meander, I want to give the destination people the ending: Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life” and brings Lazarus back to life! The reason the sermon meanders is to see this promise of life meeting Mary, Martha, and all of us along the way, in all our circumstances. It’s like the difference between seeing God in the breathtaking view from Black Elk peak, and discovering that God is active and alive in Woonsocket, Murdo and Pukwana, too. God is as present in the ditches as the passing lanes. I hope the story helps us see that resurrection speaks even and especially when we get stuck or detoured.
I have told you multiple times that I am feasting on these long, intricate stories in the Gospel of John this Lent. In each of these stories, Jesus helps us see that resurrection is not just a gift at the end of life, but his real encounter with real people on the way. As we identify with what the characters in the stories face, we hear hope, trust and love here and now.
Read John 11: 1-6 Resurrection takes time.
These verses are like highway historic markers that help us know a place is important for reasons we may not see. The first part of John’s Gospel is called the Book of Signs. This the last of seven miracles that point to the glory of God. Like the healing of the blind man last week, this miracle will point to the glory of God. The signs help us see things we would have missed had we not taken time to stop.
Verses 5 and 6 seem to be an odd contradiction. John affirms Jesus love for these friends. His times in their home are among the most intimate portrayals in the Gospel. He loves them, but even getting an emergency message, he stays two days where he is! Meandering is one thing; this seems irresponsible—God is willing to take God’s sweet time. I think we don’t see any “signs” of “glory” yet.
John 11: 7-16 Resurrection enters the night
Do you identify with the disciples? “Jesus, Judea was trouble before, don’t go there.” I think of the phrase “where angels fear to tread.” Then Jesus meanders into this teaching about hiking in the daylight [I’m all for that!] and the danger of stumbling in the dark. That Lazarus is sleeping sounds so innocent and then Jesus makes it emphatic. “Lazarus is dead, but this is NOT about Lazarus. It is about you believing.” Resurrection enters the dark so that disciples believe.
John 11: 17-27 Resurrection tells the truth
I love John’s portrayal of Martha. We’ve met her headstrong character in Luke when she’s upset with her sister for doing nothing. Here we meet a strong, assertive, and deeply faithful person.
“If you had been here. . .” she says. Roberta Bondi paraphrases her, “Where the heck were you?” Can you imagine such truthfulness with Jesus. “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” Can you imagine such faith? Martha was counting on Jesus. I honestly don’t know what to make of Jesus pokiness then or now. [None of the stops on I 90 are that interesting!] Then and now, resurrection, healing from grief, enduring pandemics, takes so much longer than we’re expecting. “If you would come NOW” may be a very truthful prayer these days.
Martha affirms her faith in God and resurrection. And Jesus meets her with words that stretch and intensify this promise. “I am the resurrection. . . .those who believe will never die.” Resurrection is about seeing God’s glory in places we least expect it. Next time you stop to admire the beauty, strength and vision of the Destiny sculpture in Chamberlain, think of Martha’s strength and faithfulness. There is so much strength and faith in our native neighbors that we often fail to see.
But notice the story doesn’t stop. Stopping here would be as ludicrous as getting the first glimpse of the Black Hills west of Wall and turning around to come home. You may have glimpsed the Hills, heard the promise of life to come, but it’s really only the beginning of the story. Faith keeps pressing us forward, yearning for more.
John 11: 28-37 Resurrection weeps.
Mary says exactly the same words Martha had said. It doesn’t bring her to speak her faith; it brings her to tears. Mary may be more of a heart person. When Martha spoke her faith, Jesus met her with words of promise. When Mary wept, Jesus wept with her. Resurrection meets us where and as we are.
The year after my dad died, my mom took my brother and me and our wives to Norway. We explored the terrain of her mom’s side—an island named Bokn off Stavanger. We drove tunnels the Norwegians have drilled under the ocean to get there. Bokn is the most desolate, rock strewn terrain I’ve ever seen. I think we all were thinking, “How could they have survived here?” My brother said simply, “I feel tears.” I wonder if the immigrants in Western SD wept when they saw the land. Mary helps us know that this is prayer, too.
For the things we cannot describe, God not only gives tears, God comes to bring compassion by sharing them. Jesus began to weep. Even though I knew they memorized this and “I thirst” because they were so short, I never minded that my confirmands memorized these potent verses. Resurrection, new life, knows our grief—and our thirst—and meets us in it.
John 11: 38-45 Resurrection brings life and faith.
When the miracle begins, Martha resists. Again, she is truthful. There could be stench. Jesus could be making things worse. But Jesus persists and his words speak about seeing God’s goodness, believing God’s promise—even in the face of death. This does not explain or end death—but it is a sign of God’s promise and power in the face of it.
The raising of Lazarus is an unbinding. This is a graphic picture of the ways we get bound in grief, tied up in fear, wrapped in isolation. And it is a sign of a faithful God, who hears and calls us out, who inspires trust, who shares our tears, and who brings to life again..
John 11: 45-53 Resurrection will face more death.
The people believe. It is an amazing moment. [Unbinding Lazarus may be the Black Elk Peak in this story.] But it is not the end. In the height of irony this amazing sign of life intensifies people seeing Jesus as threat. Caiaphas speaks more truth than he knows. One man will die for the people. Jesus will persist even at the cost of his life that we know the glory, power, compassion and love of God keeps moving, touches everything, until we know God in every spot.
Did you know that before we were called Christians, believers in Jesus were called followers of “the Way?” We read this at least 5 times in Acts. The point of faith is not about arriving, but about meeting resurrection in questions, promises, tears, threats, and amazing gifts of new life along the way. I used to tell Augie students that faith and love are not answers, they are stories. To a college student, of course, it looks like figuring out your vocation or finding a mate is an answer. At best these are chapters or themes in a much bigger story. I hope this story helps us imagine again that resurrection is not merely an answer or an end, but a way, a promise, of a God who comes in Jesus every day, in all circumstances, to renew life in astonishing ways.
I pray for the honesty of Martha, the tears of Mary, and the unbinding of Lazarus to help us live the truth, compassion, and new life of Jesus even and especially when we get called onto grand detours we could never have predicted. Most of the time we think about getting to resurrection. Jesus gives us signs that say, “Oh, no, the power of the Gospel is the resurrection getting to you.” Amen.
Prayers of the People
God as the pandemic deepens, we pray that you show us the way. We pray for all who are ill and all who care for them. We pray your protection and our gratitude for all who work in healthcare—spare them the contagion. We pray for all for whom the isolation is especially difficult—and for those for whom isolation is impossible. God, we need for you to come now. Lord, in your mercy ; Hear our prayer.
God of life, we pray for the promise of resurrection to meet all who grieve the death of Judy Herting and Roger Iverson. Bless Laurie, Tony, and their family; bless Elline, Jerry and their family with the promise of your presence and compassion. Help them know our love and support, though we cannot be with them in person. Lord, in your mercy; hear our prayer.
God of beauty and new life, we thank you for the dawning of spring, for the return of birds and the greening of your prairie, for those who prepare to plant and for all that will grow. Make us faithful caretakers of the precious gifts of your world. Make us as grateful and generous as your earth. Stir generosity to share with those who have little. We pray especially for all who have lost jobs or fear the loss of their income in this season. Help us know how to be helpful Lord, in your mercy; hear our prayer.
God of healing, we pray for all who live with cancer, who await transplants, who heal from accidents and injuries, who await babies or face complications in pregnancy. We also pray healing for all who are anxious, distraught, depressed, addicted, who live with violence or the threat of violence. Teach us to yearn together for a sign of your presence and promise, your peace and life. Lord, in your mercy; hear our prayer.
God of peace, we pray for all who serve communities and nations as leaders. Bless departments of health, centers of disease control, presidents and governors, mayors and councils with your wisdom, your courage, and your will for your people to live together in peace. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of time, we turn to you with our urgency that you come quickly. When time turns slowly, deepen our trust and expand our honesty that we may tell you frankly how this feels. We pray that the candor of Martha, the tears of Mary and the unbinding of Lazarus be signs of you coming for all of your people Lord in your mercy; hear our prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer
God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bless you now and always and keep you in peace. Amen.