TITLE: Lord, If You Had Been Here!
SERMON IN A SENTENCE: The difficult times in our lives give us
opportunity to glorify God and give God opportunity to redeem us.
SCRIPTURE: John 11:1-45
Jesus arrived in Bethany four days after his friend Lazarus had died. He could have gone earlier, but he didn't. While he delayed, Lazarus died.
When he arrived in Bethany, Martha went to greet him. When she saw him, she said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Do you hear the reproach in that! "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
I can't remember the last time that someone expressed that kind of disappointment in me -- my mind has repressed the memory -- but I can remember feeling the shame of it. It is a terrible thing to have someone look you in the eye and tell you how you have disappointed them -- to have them say that they were depending on you, but you let them down. I can't
remember the last time that happened for me, but I can remember shriveling under the glare of honest judgment. When that kind of thing happens, you just want the earth to open up and swallow you. At least that is how I felt. I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me.
Martha said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." But instead of shriveling under her reproach, Jesus said, "Your brother will rise again." That sounds familiar doesn't it! Our whole world caves in, and a friend, not knowing what to say and not being smart enough to keep his mouth shut, says, "It is God's will." Or "Hang in there! It'll
be o.k." When that happens, we want to shout, "My wife just died! Don't tell me that everything is going to be all right! It is not all right, and it is not going to be all right!"
Martha didn't say anything quite that strong, but she responded to Jesus' promise that Lazarus would rise again by saying, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection." She might have added, "But what good does that do me now!" She could have said, "I know that I will see Lazarus in heaven, but I want him here now!" She could have said, "Jesus, you have been going about healing strangers. Why couldn't you do that you're your
friend Lazarus! Why didn't you come when we called for you?" Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever wondered why God didn't help when you were hurting?
Some people say that a loving God would never allow good people to suffer. Some Christians say that, if we just have enough faith, God will always give us what we ask. I know Christians who talk about praying for a parking place and getting one -- as if that somehow validated God's love and their faith. They are the same people who will tell you that, if you just have enough faith, God will always heal you.
But that isn't what the Bible says. Jesus says that God "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (Matt 5:45). That means that Christians sometimes prosper and sometimes not -- just like everyone else. It means that we cannot expect that life will always be a bed of roses just because we are Christians. Christians get sick, just like everyone else. Christians die, just like everyone else.
That doesn't mean that there is no benefit to faith. I believe that those of us who have faith have a decided advantage. I believe that God really does help us in adversity.
And yet, we must admit that Christians suffer -- and Christians die. That is neither an indication that God doesn't love us -- nor an indication that our faith is weak. It is just a fact of life. We see it in our Gospel lesson. Lazarus is a dear friend of Jesus, and yet he dies. Jesus could have moved more quickly to help him -- could have saved him – but he didn't.
Jesus explained to his disciples that Lazarus' illness was for God's glory. That is significant. We need to hear it. Lazarus' illness was for God's glory. What does that mean? It means that Lazarus' illness -- and Lazarus' death -- provided an opportunity for people to see the presence of God in their midst -- to witness God's power -- to experience
Jesus came to Bethany four days after Lazarus died. The four days is important to the story. People believed that the soul resided in the vicinity of the body for three days, hoping to rejoin the body. Finally, on the fourth day, the soul gave up and departed. Four days meant that it was over -- there was no hope.
And that means that, if Jesus could bring Lazarus back to life after four days -- when it had become hopeless -- that it would be a resounding miracle. People would give God glory. And that is what happened.
The tough times in our lives glorify God too. It is one thing to have faith when everything is going right. It is another to have faith when everything is going wrong. Faith in the midst of adversity is a powerful witness. It glorifies God.
You might remember Dave Dravecky. Dravecky was a pitcher with the San Francisco Giants, but cancer required him to have an operation on his pitching arm that threatened his career. He made a sensational comeback against the Cincinnati Reds the following year, played for a couple of months, and then his arm broke with a loud crack as he was pitching. He had to have his pitching arm amputated. Do you remember what he had to say about that? Dave is a Christian. He said:
Tragedy pushes us through a one-way door, and once we pass through it, we can never return to the way life was before. All we can do is to give thanks for what once was,
then we put our hand in the hand of him who gave orbit to the sun and the moon and the stars, and trust that he has a course for our lives from there."
He showed us how he, in the midst of great loss, could continue to walk hand in hand
with God, trusting that God would lead him through the years ahead. In doing so, he glorified God -- and he also brought great honor onto himself.
But the troubled times in our lives do more than to provide an opportunity for us to glorify God. They provide opportunity for us to become closer to God. Many people would never have found God if life had not forced them to their knees.
And our troubled times give God opportunity to redeem us. God does redeem his people. The Bible is one long story of God redeeming his people.
-- In the case of Lazarus, Jesus raised him from the dead. That was the way that he redeemed that situation. But that was unusual. God doesn't let many people come back from the dead, but God redeems them nevertheless.
-- While preparing this sermon, I was interested to see what God was doing in Dave Dravecky's life. I looked him up on the Web. I see that he is an inspirational speaker, going about the country giving talks based on his experience of overcoming disability. I see that he and his wife, Jan, have established Outreach of Hope, ministering to people who have suffered cancer or amputation -- and ministering to health professionals whose patients are dealing with cancer or amputation. Dave and Jan are continuing to glorify God -- and God is continuing to bless them.
The promise of the story of Lazarus is not that we will never suffer tragedy. Nor is it that God will never let us die. Nor is it that, once dead, Jesus will give us back our physical life upon this earth. Instead, the promise is that God walks with us through all of life -- even the hard times -- especially through the hard times -- even through the valley of the shadow of death. And it is a promise that God redeems his people.
Some centuries ago, a Christian woman, Julian of Norwich, put it this way:
God said not, "Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be afflicted," but God said, "Thou shalt not be overcome."
Believe that promise! Whatever your situation, put your hand in God's hand and see if it isn't true. "Thou shalt not be overcome."
All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (BH #200-202; CH #91-92; CO #521; GC
#484; JS #463; LW #272; LBW #328, 329; PH #142-143; TH #450-451; TNCH
#304; UMH #154-155; VU #334)
Jesus is All the World to Me (BH #184; UMH #469)
Softly and Tenderly (BH #312; CH #340; TNCH #449; UMH #348; WOV #734)
Standing on the Promises (BH #335; CH #552; UMH #374)
Trust and Obey (BH #447; CH #556; UMH #467)
We Shall Rise Again (GC #772)