Let us pray. May the study of your word bring us to a closer understanding of you Lord, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
Every year around this time (leading up to the end of April) it is tax season
Every year roughly around this time is Lent – and from our readings today, you would be excused if you thought that our service today was a funeral service
Each of the readings today draws us to consider the depths of life’s experiences
From Ezekiel we have the vision of the ‘dry bones’
Psalm 130, commonly chosen for funerals, begins with:
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord”(Psalm 130:1)
Then our passage from Romans we hear
To set the mind on the flesh is death (Romans 8:6a)
And finally we have the story of Lazarus rising from the dead
After 4 days in the tomb, we have something right out of a 1930’s horror movie – with a Lazarus walking like the Mummy, with his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.
Benjamin Franklin famously once said “Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”
Death and taxes… from a worldly perspective these are the certainties of life
But… but, from a Christian perspective there is a much greater certainty
It is the Good News that our Lord Jesus Christ has to share with us
It is what Lent is preparing us for – what we are looking ahead to celebrate in great anticipation
It is the victory over death, the victory over all that represents death – it is the triumph of Easter
And in fact this day, Sunday, and every Sunday is a feast day and is not one of the 40 days of Lent – it is a mini celebration of Easter
And today in all our readings, although on one hand could be seen as material for a funeral service, each reading points us to a greater glory – THE great certainty of life
It is most clearly illustrated in the glimpse of the power of God in the resurrection of Lazarus – preparing us for the glory of the ultimate victory of Easter, soon to be upon us
This time of the year, it is definitely true that the road to Easter runs through a cemetery
It does so with a light getting brighter and brighter from the tunnel that we are in
Charlie, our guest preacher from ‘Why Not City Missions” last week spoke of loving the small words, “and then…” “therefore”… “Yet”… “But”… “If”
And if a advertising person were to be put in charge of presenting the Bible - these small words would be transformed to be like flashing arrows drawing you into the important message that is about to be revealed - “then…” and “therefore”…
However, this week one would be excused to ignore the small words because they are so greatly overshadowed by giant statements
Consider the following statements and the implications that they carry
Consider what they say about our Lord
Consider what they say about the people’s faith in our Lord
Consider what they state about a certainty beyond the world of ‘death and taxes’
- “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” (John 11:16b)
- “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” (John 11:21b-22)
- “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25b-26a)
what they say about our Lord… about the people’s faith… and a certainty beyond the world…
- I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world. (John 11:27)
- And the shortest verse in the whole Bible: Jesus wept (John 11:35)
- “See how He loved him!” (John 11:36b)
What they say about our Lord… about the people’s faith… and a certainty beyond the world…
- “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37b)
- If you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40b)
- “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I 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.” (John 11:41b-42)
Each of these statements could provoke hours and hours of conversation – however let’s change gears for a moment – let me share with you a hypothetical situation
Imagine that you grew up right here in Brantford, and you are a hockey player and a good one, in fact the captain of the team, of the Brantford Blast. Hockey fans would come out to watch you and the team play.
Over the years, the team had done well in the league but never made it to the play-offs.
It’s your final year and this year has been a great year, you have made it all the way.
The final playoff game is actually here in Brantford, in your home town and it seems like the entire city has come out to watch.
After a hard played game with double overtime… you lose.
Now after the game, who comes up to the dressing room to congratulate you and the team on a great year and hard fought game but Brantford’s favorite son, Wayne Gretzky,
In town visiting family and friends, there you are with the greatest hockey player that ever played - And what is the first thing that you say…
“You’re late! If you had come a little earlier, we would have won!”
Now take your self back nearly 2000 years…
You are part of a family of some means; you have a strong reputation amongst your town and the neighboring capital city.
Friends will travel far to be with you and traveling means walking.
You live in a nice home capable of providing space for your friends to stay while they visit.
There is this great man, he is a prophet of some sort, many say he is has done miracles – turn water into wine at a wedding, healed a noble man son’s from a distant, feed 5000 people, even walked on water.
He speaks of God in way that reflects and intimate knowledge of God,
He has said some strange and yet compelling stories that he is the light of the world.
He speaks of everything in such gentle but assured way that you know he gifted by God in wisdom and with vision for the future.
And he is your close friend… in fact your brother is great friends with Him; your brother is one of his closest friends.
Then your brother gets sick, and the sickness comes over him quickly. You call in the doctors but they can nothing for your brother.
You send for this prophet and friend, maybe he can do another miracle like before; maybe he can save your brother.
But strangely he is delayed in coming and your brother dies. Fours days after your brother has dead, in the tomb, arrives this prophet, in fact he doesn’t even come to the house, he sets up just outside your village.
What is the first thing that you say when you see him “Lord, IF you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
We are taught in school the five ‘w’ and one ‘h’ – Who, what, why, where, when, and how. In these words we have the tools to explore and find explanation to everything.
With these questions at the ready a good reporter can get to the bottom of the story.
But we Christians have an even greater question, we have a word that goes to the heart of it, and that word is “IF”! – one of the small words that Charlie spoke about loving last week
IF Jesus had been there in time, Lazarus would not have died.
With the word IF there is incredible weight.
There is the weight of Faith.
If – is often closely followed by the word ‘believe’ or a message or phrase that describes ‘believing’.
‘If’ also implies a sense of contract or covenant – ‘If you do your part I will do mine.’
Here in this single word we have a key principal of the bible. In this single small word – we have a window to the greatest of life’s certainties
Beyond the implications of death, In today’s scriptures we have the theme of “IF” through-out.
In Ezekiel 37 - The story of the Valley of Dry Bones. We have God speaking to the prophet Ezekiel, who is a prophet during one of the most desperate times for the people of Israel.
They have been ravaged through war first by the Assyrians then the Babylonians.
Their land is under occupation, and many have been brought into exile to Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar.
The once prosperous nation of Israel, ‘the people of God’ are but a mere remnant.
It is in this context that the ‘spirit of the Lord’ brings Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones.
The Lord speaks to Ezekiel and instructs him to prophesize to the ‘very dry bones’.
What is at stake here is whether Ezekiel will do it and whether the Lord will do what He has said he will do –
IF and believe – it is by this example that God promises or covenants to return the remnant of Israel to their land.
In the psalm 130 today we have the question ‘If’ and the message of ‘believe’.
IF you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you… my soul waits for the Lord… O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel. (Psalm 130:3,4a,6b,7a,8)
Psalm 130 is titled Waiting for Divine Redemption. It is in this waiting that there is trust, faith and belief.
Then in the short passage from Romans, St. Paul repeated one of his favorite themes, the question of life or death.
The heart of the passage is the question of ‘If’ and the message of ‘believe’.
Verse 6: To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace…(Romans 8:6)
then in verse 10 and 11 But IF Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 IF the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. (Romans 8:10-11)
St. Paul is driving home the message, and the message is clear, it is God and the belief in God that separates life and death.
We are given the promise of this covenant and for our part we need to answer the question ‘If’.
In getting back to the Gospel account, the story does not end or is limited to Mary and Martha telling Jesus that he was late, as you well know. And so I am going to go through the story in some detail
It starts with Lazarus becoming ill, and the sisters sending a messenger to Jesus. Jesus responds by saying “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.” (John 11:4b)
Jesus is clear, he is identifying himself as the Son of God and that what is to happen to Lazarus will reveal God’s glory.
Now let’s assume for a moment, that you are someone seeking to understand who God is.
This is the first time you are reading or hearing this part of John’s gospel. At this very point I am sure you would be alerted that something significant was to following shortly.
Then the story takes a twist, Jesus intentionally remained for two days longer in the place where he was… why…
Continuing, after the two days, and responding to their cautioning by saying
“Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” (John 11:9c-10)
The disciples completely avoid the confusing images of light and question Jesus
To which Jesus speaks plainly “Lazarus is dead…For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may BELIEVE.”
Again we are alerted to the fact that something significant is going to happen, Jesus is going to travel to Bethany, only two miles from Jerusalem where angry Jewish religious authorities are plotting against Him.
Thomas, the much maligned doubting disciple, the one that later needs to see and touch the wounds of Jesus in order to believe says “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16b)
So Jesus arrives fours days after Lazarus has been dead, sets up just outside the village and Martha comes out to see him.
She immediately questions Him “Lord, IF you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” (John 11:21-22)
Martha believes that Jesus could have prevented her brother’s death, Martha addresses Jesus as Lord and she also acknowledges the intimate relationship between Jesus and God saying
“God will give you whatever you ask of him”.
Can you imagine her faith, do you have such faith? … Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again, Martha, with knowledge and faithful hope says
“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:24)
Jesus tells it plainly “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?” 27 Martha responds to him, “Yes, Lord, I BELIEVE that you are the Messiah the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (John 11:25-27)
What does Martha do…?
What would you do after you have just realized that your friend, who you knew to have gifts of prophecy, healing and is a great teacher, your friend has just revealed himself to be the messiah…
She told someone, her sister Mary.
Mary goes out to Jesus and challenges him with the same question “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
The reality of the loss of her brother and the fact that Jesus, the messiah is there, but too late, overwhelms her and weeps.
The Jews around her weep, and Jesus, our Lord, come to earth in human form, weeps.
He asks to go to the tomb…
Jesus still greatly disturbed and asks for the stone to be removed. Martha questions this saying “Lord, by this time he stinks. For it is the fourth day.”
To this Jesus responds in a way that could only be described as a reprimand
“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.”
Then he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” …
And Lazarus came out…
From the words of our Saviour – “IF you BELIEVE, you will see the glory of God”
We have that wonderful small word “If”
So do you believe?
As we look at this regular heartbeat of “if” and “believe” through our scripture
Does this part of John’s gospel compel you?
Does the story of Ezekiel’s faith in the valley of Dry Bones compel you?
Do the comforting words of the psalmist answer the question of IF with the response of believe?
Does St. Paul’s juxtaposition of life in the Spirit – compared to death without… does that speak to you?
Don’t be worried that you have questions; don’t be worried that you are unsure,
I mean the disciples that lived and followed, walked alongside Jesus…
Saw all that Jesus did, the miracles that he preformed, listened to Jesus telling them who he was, even Peter, James and John who witnessed the transfiguration …
Still had moments of doubt… including the night of His Death… and it was not until the resurrection that they were fully assured
Don’t worry that you have questions.
Be comforted in and trust in the fact that we are blessed with much that they did not.
We have the Bible assembled in complete form. The best selling book of all time
God’s revelation – God’s foundational and ongoing interaction with humanity.
And His promise and covenant revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
We have 2000 years of apostolic tradition, the gospel passed on by the saints before us, and the witnesses of God in the saints all around us.
We live in a time and country where it is safe to confess that you are a Christian, unlike Roman times or parts of the world today.
So that leases us with a closing departing questions… how will you respond to the consistent question of IF and the message believe that echoes like a heartbeat through-out the bible?
Will you search for a greater understanding by reading the bible more?
Will you respond in this time of Lenten preparation towards Easter, the resurrection of Jesus? By doing as Martha did?
Going to someone that you love and telling them of the Messiah?
Maybe learning how to do that by coming out to our May 7th retreat titled “Sharing the Faith” and inviting others to come with you
Or will you take the bull by the horns and simply invite someone out to church - to hear the revelation of God
How will you answer the question IF and believe?
Will you based your life on the certainties of this world… death and taxes
Or will you based your life on the certainties promised and provided by our Lord Jesus Christ…?
Let us pray – Heavenly Father – you are the Lord, God, Almighty – and you grant each of us free will, may we see Your grace and mercy and allow the IF in our lives to be Belief and therefore may we see the Glory of God - Amen