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All Saints Sunday B Sermon
John 11: 32-44
4, 2018


Sermon Archives


John 11:32-44

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.’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?’
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 for four days.’ 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 upwards 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.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

Sometimes when people picture Jesus during his earthly life they think of him a lot like Mr. Spock on Star Trek – like the Vulcan who is incapable of emotions or feelings. Seeing the pain of people around him, Jesus stoically snapped his fingers and everything is as good as new. Hearing the conclusion of the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead challenges that picture, portraying instead a Lord who was not only physically present in the lives of the people around him, but emotionally invested in them as well.

You recognize the shortest verse in the Bible by now, I am sure – “Jesus began to weep.” A number of other Bible translations keep it to two words: John makes sure that we know the grief that the death of his friend caused him. We read that he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved when he saw all of the people who were weeping at his tomb. Being fully human, Jesus struggled with the pain and anguish that sin and disease caused his people. It is out of this same love and compassion that Jesus orders the stone removed and calls forth Lazarus to come out of the tomb – like the Good Shepherd who calls his sheep by name, Jesus calls out Lazarus by name and he answers. Have you ever heard such a thing as is reported in verse 44 – the dead man came out!! It is an amazing story, one that tells the love that the Son of God has for all people, and proclaims the promise of hope to all of us who live under that shroud of which Isaiah speaks in our first lesson. This is the fulfillment of that promise, and it brings comfort to us all not only as we consider our own mortality, but the mortality of those around us whom we love dearly. Both of our first two lessons tell of a God who wipes away tears from our eyes and takes away mourning, crying and pain. That is the unshrouded existence that we look forward to, that we anticipate one day being fulfilled.

But until then, we live as a community of believers relying upon each other and God for strength, help and encouragement when it seems that death is winning. There are three things that All Saints Day points me to today. First of all, the memory of those people who have died in faith. This includes all of the saints officially recognized by the church for emulating Jesus in this life like few people can – loving with a Christ-like love better than I ever could. It also includes those ordinary folks who each of us knew intimately and now are gathered at the river, as our closing hymn will put it. These are parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, spouses and close friends. Some deaths are fresh in our minds … others are long past, but either way the lives we lost are not lost forever. As a matter of fact, when Jesus raised Lazarus he demonstrated to all of us that death cannot separate us from God or each other. But I will return to this notion shortly.

Secondly we point ahead to that ultimate promise of resurrection. Isaiah paints a picture of a wonderful rich feast on Mt. Zion. Revelation likens it to the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven to earth. However you want to put it, we cannot deny the fact that a big part of our Christian faith is trusting that after our earthly lives are over, something even more joyful and lovely is promised to all of us. And when we reside in that place where death is no longer a reality for us, then we will truly and fully be able to experience the important things like love and peace.
Finally – and I think most importantly – All Saints Day is what all of us saints have experienced already in this life and will experience again certainly – that here and now there is no death or grief or fear so deep and dark that the voice of Jesus cannot reach into it, call us out, and bring us life. This is important right now. Over lunch with a couple of Pastors on Thursday, Pastor Wilkins from Gethsemane mentioned how last week for Reformation Sunday she went through some of the words from Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress” in her sermon. One verse goes, “Though hordes of devils fill the land, all threatening to devour us; we tremble not, unmoved we stand they cannot overpower us!” There are certain things happening in our nation which you cannot deny are demonic – one of which was the terror attack on the Pittsburgh synagogue which resulted in the deaths of 11 people a little over a week ago. I don’t care what your politics are, I don’t care who you are going to blame – this is a symptom of the division of people in our nation which is demonic. We must call it what it is! Hatred in speech and actions is rampant in our nation, and it really seems that the devil is winning. All Saints Sunday and the story of Jesus raising Lazarus are beacons of hope for us who fear that death and grief are going to have the final words. No, the pall or sheet that is over us now cannot keep Jesus from calling out our names and bringing us out of the darkness of evil and death into the light of the presence of Jesus in his glory, both now and in the life to come.

Whatever it might be that you will liken to a devil that fills the land (or just your own life), Jesus promises to reach in and call you, his beloved sheep, by name to new and glorious life. Whether it is a health issue, mental health, relationship, political issue or whatever, after we fear that all may be lost – like the four days that Lazarus stunk it up in the tomb – God’s love is poured out for us so that we can truly and more fully experience the goodness of grace. You cannot deny that one of the signs of that grace for the Jewish community of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh came from the Islamic community who raised enough money to pay for the funeral expenses of all eleven of the victims of that attack. And the many Christian and other Gentile people who have attended services at Temples and Synagogues all over our country. Somehow and in some grace-filled way, God called the names of those victims just as he has called the names of everyone whose tragic deaths have filled the news either by shooting, accident, suicide or disease. And for us still running this race called life, we have the promise that somehow Jesus still calls us when all seems lost. Thanks be to God that we have the witness of the Saints to experience the love and grace of God amidst the devils that fill our land. We tremble not, unmoved we stand, confident that they cannot overpower us. And even if it seems that they do, Jesus defeats them by the resurrection power of God! Amen.