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Jesus and Lazarus: Prayers Like These
This sermon is an adaptation of 2 wonderful pieces: Lazurus, from He was in the World by John Bell, and Prayers Like These
John 11:1-45 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
We begin with the simplest and most common type of prayer. A simple cry for help. We have a problem, or someone we love is ill, a situation arises that we know needs God's attention, and we need God's intervention. We turn to Jesus because of our relationship with him... we have, in the past, wiped his feet with our hair... we know him as Lord, as healer, as savior. He has been there for us in the past and we look to Jesus now for a miracle. And so we pray, "Lord, he whom you love is ill," or in our own words, we lift up (silently or aloud) those people or situations that need God's healing. God hears prayers like these. Lord in your Mercy...
But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.
How difficult it is to say prayers in the silence- when we are waiting for God to move or act. Though we trust Jesus with our lives, we grow impatient when things don't happen immediately- a minute seems like an hour, an hour, a day... when God, when? Don't you know I'm still in pain? And in our waiting we begin to interpret Jesus' perceived lack of action on our own- "Hurry up and move God- wait- but don't do it that way God... that way may be painful... please heal, but don't make me suffer at all... and please don't let me be put in a situation where I have to be anxious, or stressed... or have to be around any bullies, or frankly, any people I genuinely don't like or have been working very hard to avoid... " We want Jesus to fix our situations but in the way we best understand. And so we pray from the silence- we pray now for patience- for peace in those situations that we have been waiting for God to move- where Jesus seems to be taking his sweet time to act, or where we are worried and scared. (silence) Take heart, God hears prayers like these. Lord in your mercy...
Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Such a simple prayer- a prayer of submission- when we give whatever situation we are concerned about over to Jesus- not my will but yours. The moment we place our lives in the hands of God, and allow ourselves to be dependent, and faithful to God's way- to go with Jesus, even though it may be unpopular, even though it might mean putting our lives in jeopardy- to stand on the side of truth, even though it may not be the safe way, or the way of our friends, or the world... We pray now for strength God, to submit ourselves to your will and your way... confident that although we may be unsure, you are never unsure- that no matter what we may be facing, that you are there with us- we put our trust in you, knowing your way leads to rich, full, eternal life. (silence) God hears prayers like these... Lord, in your mercy...
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 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.” Jesus said to her, “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?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
How quickly after we accept Jesus as Lord of our life do we often readjust our view of God- we are so familiar with ourselves, and the way we think, we often make God into divine versions of ourselves- we make God think the way we think, react and respond the way we would- we give God human attributes, prejudices, judgments. We pray from our own moral framework- with our limited human cognition- But God is not created in our image, but we in God's. And so we pray... God you are above our human thinking- your ways are higher than our ways, your thoughts higher than our thoughts- as we wait, we acknowledge "Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world. Redefine my thoughts and image of you... (silence) Take heart, no matter what you think, percieve or imagine, you are loved- God hears prayers like these... Lord in your mercy...
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Prayers of anger and disappointment in God- God didn't act in the way we thought God should. God seemed absent, and uncaring- disconnected- we are forgotten. How could God be so merciless?
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Prayers of the community sometimes are not unified- each of us bring our own suppositions, interpretations and explanation of who God is, and what God is capable of- how we believe God works, feels, or loves.
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”
Prayers of reluctance- often we do not want to get involved in messy, smelly things. We would rather not smell the stench of death, Death stinks- so do ill people,sometimes. So does scandal, poverty, racists, addicts, and all of our see-through alibis. We smell a rat and avoid getting contaminated. Jesus kisses the lepers, and has a nose for recovery, even when our heads are turned away. Let us mention before God those around whom there is a stink of rumor, threat, or danger...
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Today, each of us, should we listen, can hear the voice of Jesus calling to us- in whatever tomb of death we may find ourselves- no matter what hurts have isolated us from one another, whatever pain or stubbornness keeps us from reconciliation, bound by our own fears of disappointment, or failure, or success. We would rather close ourselves off from the world- it's easier to stay inside, safer to invite TV personalities in for company than go out into the world to connect in community. Sometimes we bind one another- putting each other in categories, judging each other one way or another- and once we make up our minds about a person, we wrap them up a certain way that keeps them from being all that God designed them to be. We keep not just ourselves, but each other from living in freedom.
Jesus calls each of us, Lazarus, to a new way of being today. To a new way of believing, not just in him, but through him- to see the world unbound- to see others unbound, and ourselves as unlimited- as eternal.
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.