Sermon 3-29-2020

March 29, 2020


Dear Immanuel Friends:

We continue our weekly connection with another sermon. I hope you and those you love are OK as you travel this difficult road. Please be safe and know that my thoughts and prayers are with you! Rev. Jim

Please read: John 11:1-45

IT’S ANCIENT TIMES, GOD IS STANDING WITH THE PROPHET EZEKIEL, LOOKING OUT AT A WHOLE VALLEY FULL OF DRY BONES, ASKING THE QUESTION “CAN THESE BONES LIVE AGAIN?” THIS FAMOUS STORY IS A VISION OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL, DRIED UP, WITHOUT HOPE, SCATTERED BY EXILE AND CRUSHED IN SPIRIT.


CAN A DISTURBED, DOWNTRODDEN PEOPLE, SEPARATED FROM THEIR HOMELAND, THEIR CULTURE, THEIR RELIGIOUS CENTER, EVER COME BACK TO LIFE? CAN A CHURCH, ONCE A VIABLE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY, AFTER MANY YEARS OF FEELING SEPARATED FROM THE MAIN BODY AND NOT RECEIVING A LOT OF ENCOURAGEMENT, HOPE TO GAIN THE VITALITY IT ONCE FELT?


CAN THOSE STRUGGLING CONGREGATIONS OF THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST, MOST OF WHOM ARE SMALLER THAN 150 MEMBERS, WITH ONLY A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE IN WORSHIP ON SUNDAY, LIVE AGAIN? MANY OF THOSE CHURCHES CAN BARELY AFFORD TO KEEP UP THEIR BUILDINGS, LET ALONE PAY A MINISTER WITH ENOUGH TRAINING TO LEAD THEM? CAN THOSE BONES LIVE AGAIN?


I BELIEVE WE CAN. WHEN OUT OF THE DEPTHS WE DARE TO WAIT ON GOD, DARE TO TRUST GOD, DARE TO LISTEN FOR GOD’S WORD BEING PRO-CLAIMED TO US, GOD OPENS THE GRAVE OF EXILE IN WHICH WE FIND OUR SELVES, BREATHES THE SPIRIT INTO US AND SETS OUR FEET TO WALK INTO NEW LIFE.


CHURCHES CAN BE RESCUED FROM THEMSELVES, FROM THE PETTY DIFFERENCES THAT DIVIDE, FROM THE SILLINESS THAT TENDS TO SEPARATE, FROM WORDS THAT HURT US AND TEAR US APART. THE FAMILIAR STORY OF EZEKIEL AND THE STORY IN TODAY’S GOSPEL OF JESUS RAISING LAZARUS FROM THE GRAVE ARE BOTH WONDERFUL EXAMPLES OF GOD’S POWER AT WORK IN THE WORLD GOD BOTH CREATES AND LOVES!


JESUS HEARS THAT HIS FRIEND LAZARUS IS DEAD AND HE GOES TO BETHANY TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. MARTHA, THE EVER-ACTIVE FIXER GOES OUT TO MEET JESUS. SHE ACTUALLY SCOLDS HIM: “IF YOU’D BEEN HERE, MY BROTHER WOULD NOT HAVE DIED!” WHAT GOOD IS A MIRACLE WORKER IF HE’S NOT THERE WHEN YOU NEED HIM? NOW HE’S HERE AND HER WORD TO HIM IS “DO SOMETHING! I KNOW THAT GOD WILL GIVE YOU WHATEVER YOU ASK HIM.” JESUS ASSURES HER THAT LAZARUS WILL RISE AGAIN…AT THE END OF TIME…ON THE LAST DAY…BUT WHAT GOOD IS THAT TO HER NOW?


IN THE TRADITION OF THAT TIME, IT WAS BELIEVED THAT THE SPIRIT OF A PERSON FINALLY DEPARTED ON THE THIRD DAY OF THE DEATH. SO ON THE FOURTH DAY, WHEN THE FUNERAL WAS OVER AND THE FAMILY OF DEATH IS STARTING TO SETTLE IN. FOR MARY AND MARTHA, JESUS COMES TO VISIT. THE FOURTH DAY, THE DAY IT WAS REALLY REAL—THAT THERE WAS NO CHANCE LAZARUS WAS JUST SLEEPING, NO CHANCE THIS WAS ALL A BAD DREAM. BOTH MARY AND MARTHA MEET JESUS WITH THE SAME ACCUSING WORDS: “IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE…” BUT THE DOOR IS SHUT, THE TOMB IS SEALED.


DEATH STINKS. THERE’S NO GETTING AROUND IT. IMAGINE WAKING UP IN THAT CAVE! WRAPPED TIGHTLY IN CLOTH, UNABLE TO PULL THE COVER- ING OFF YOUR OWN FACE BECAUSE YOUR ARMS ARE WRAPPED AT YOU SIDES. IT’S DARK AND IT STINKS IN HERE. WHAT YOU SMELL IS YOUR OWN FLESH, THAT SOMEHOW ISN’T ROTTING ANYMORE, BUT THE STENCH IS ALL AROUND YOU. DEATH STINKS, BUT WE CAN’T EXPERIENCE RESURRECTION UNTIL THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE SPEAKS. YOU HEAR THAT FAMILIAR VOICE, MUFFLED BUT EASY TO RECOGNIZE. YOUR DEAREST FRIEND IS CALLING YOU TO COME OUT. AND YOU OBEY.


MARTHA HEARS JESUS SAY, “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN ME, THOUGH THEY DIE, YET SHALL THEY LIVE AND THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN ME WILL NEVER DIE.” DOES SHE BELIEVE THAT? MARTHA SAYS SHE DOES, THOUGH SHE’S CLUELESS.


DURING THE EXCHANGE, THE STONE GETS REMOVED. JESUS REACHES INTO HIS INNER RESOURCES, CONFERS WITH GOD, HIS FATHER, THEN CRIES OUT: ”LAZARUS, COME ON OUT!” AND HE DOES! GOD’S WORD SPEAKS AND THE POWER OF GOD’S WORD OVERCOMES THE POWER OF DEATH, THE GRIP OF THE GRAVE GIVES WAY TO THE LORD OF LIFE. GOD’S WORD SPEAKS AND GOD’S SPIRIT RUSHES THROUGH THE DECAYING FLESH, TO REINVIGORATE THE STAGNANT FLOW OF BLOOD, RESTORING IT AS THE CARRIER OF LIFE, AND THE DEAD MAN WALKS OUT OF HIS TOMB!

MY FRIENDS, THE PROMISE OF RESURRECTION IS NOT LODGED IN SOME DISTANT, FUTURE EVENT AT THE END OF TIME, ON THE LAST DAY, NOR DOES IT STAY IN THE PAST AT AN EMPTY TOMB. IT IS AVAILABLE AT THIS VERY MOMENT IN CHRIST. GOD UNBINDS US AND SETS US FREE. WHEN THAT HAPPENS, BELIEVING BECOMES SEEING. HE IS THAT LIFE-GIVING WORD WHO SPOKE OVER THE FORMLESS VOID TO BEING CREATED INTO BEING. HE IS THE LIFE FORCE THAT SPOKE TO A VALLEY OF DRY BONES IN EZEKIEL AND BROUGHT THEM TO LIFE. HE IS THE LIFE- GIVING WORD WHO UNLEASHES GOD’S SPIRIT TO GIVE LIFE TO ANY WHO BELIEVE HIM AND ENTRUST THEMSELVES TO HIM IN BIRTH, IN LIFE, AND IN DEATH!


WHEN YOU AND I TAKE ON THE DAILY DISCIPLINE OF LISTENING TO JESUS, ENTRUSTING OURSELVES TO HIM…BELIEVING IN HIM, THINGS THAT ARE DEAD IN US, COME BACK TO LIFE. DENOMINATIONS, CONGREGATIONS OF PEOPLE, EVEN RELATIONSHIPS LIVE ALSO. HE UNBINDS US, STRIPS DEATH AWAY, AND SETS US FREE!

JESUS DIED TO REMOVE THE STONE OVER THE CAVE OF OUR LIVES. HE CALLS US OUT OF THE GRAVES WE WALK IN. TODAY, EVEN NOW, HE CALLS YOU AND ME BY NAME SAYING, “JIM, MADDIE, DAVID, MARY, BILL, MARTHA, COME OUT! COME OUT AND LIVE AGAIN.


WHAT ABOUT OUR CHURCH HERE ON FREMONT STREET IN WALWORTH WISCONSIN? WHAT DO WE NEED TO LET DIE, SO THAT THIS CONGREGATION CAN EXPERIENCE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST? WHAT BINDS US SO TIGHTLY THAT WE CAN’T MOVE FORWARD? WHAT SHROUD KEEPS US FROM SEEING THE NEIGHBORS AROUND US? WHAT PREVENTS US FROM EXPERIENCING RESURRECTION? MY FRIENDS, WE ARE STEPPING INTO NEW TERRITORY, BUT JESUS IS RIGHT THERE, WAITING FOR US!


AMEN.

© 2020 Immanuel UCC
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