Life and Death

I was privileged to preach at my church last Sunday.

The readings for this sermon are at the bottom of the post.

Listen to it here.

Life and death.

Everything we have, we will eventually lose.
Everyone we know will some day pass away.
It is no wonder that we fear death.
And yet, we who believe in God the Father,
we believe that every ending is also a beginning.
We believe in the promise of life everlasting.

In our reading from the prophecy given to Ezekiel, we are presented with a dramatic vision of a valley of the dead. The people of this valley are not just dead, but their remains are just dry bones scattered upon the ground. It is like the opening scene of a horror movie.
The Spirit of the Lord speaking to Ezekiel is never physically described, but He seems:
Implacable.
Foreboding.
Inhuman.

The Lord addresses Ezekiel not by his name – but as Mortal.
I believe the Lord addresses us as ‘Mortal’ in this prophecy on purpose, as part of His message.
I believe, the Lord does this to remind us that we are just like these dead people in the valley.
The Lord is revealing to us the truth about death.

The Lord God gives Ezekiel a prophecy, which he repeats in the valley of death.
The Spirit of God enters Ezekiel, and that breath of the Spirit is carried by the four winds.
The Spirit enters into the bodies that God has restored from the dry bones.
The bones in that valley are transformed back into living, breathing people.
God is showing us that as the Creator, not only can He create life, but He can restore life after death.
Death has no dominion over the Lord God.

In our liturgical year, we are getting close to both the end of Lent and the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
Jesus will soon be arrested and put to death only to rise again in our celebration of Easter.

Most Christians believe, that Jesus knew all these events were going to happen.
Jesus knew he was going to die,
Jesus knew the effect his death would have on his followers, and most of all I believe he was worried about his friends; the apostles.
In our lesson from the gospel of John, it is made very clear that Jesus purposely manages events to demonstrate God’s power and authority over life and death.
Jesus is giving a performance, our gospel lesson today is the original Christian mystery play: Jesus wants to prepare his followers for his death and resurrection.

From our gospel reading:
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.”

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus seem to have been Jesus’ adopted family in the Jerusalem area. Jesus stayed with Martha, Mary and Lazarus when he was in town. So it is strange that Jesus does not go to see Lazarus when he gets this message. Instead
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.”

So Jesus stayed where he was teaching for two more days and Lazarus dies. Jesus purposely stays away even though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

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.”

This is the mystical Jesus from the gospel of John. Jesus is telling his disciples they should be paying attention while Jesus is with them because he, Jesus is the light of this world. Soon,  he will not be with them, and they will be stumbling around in the dark. The disciples don’t get it. So Jesus tries a different approach.

“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.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.

Jesus is equating sleep to death. Letting us know that we who believe in God the Father do not need to fear death as we naturally do not fear sleep. But the disciples still don’t get it. So Jesus then speaks 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.”

The disciples are really stuck on the current political situation. The religious authorities are out to get Jesus and they are afraid that if Jesus is arrested and killed, they will share the same fate. But they are faithful and even though they do not understand, the disciples go with Jesus to Bethany. When they arrive, Lazarus has been dead for four days, and Martha comes out to meet 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.”

Martha often times is used as a bad example. I think of Martha as Mary and Lazarus’ older sister, the responsible one. She is the one who rushes about the house cleaning and cooking when Jesus visits her family while her sister Mary sits at Jesus’ feet. Yet, when Jesus finally arrives,
Martha is the first to come out to meet him.
Martha names Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah.

Jesus visits with both Mary and Martha, and their friends. Jesus is deeply moved and shares with them their grief for Lazarus. They lead Jesus to the tomb of Lazarus. and Jesus is weeping as they arrive at the tomb. Jesus is the Son of God, but he is also a man. Jesus has all the emotions and fears that we all have. Especially, here before the tomb of his friend Lazarus, much like the tomb where his own body will soon be placed.

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”

It is interesting that even after Martha names Jesus as the Son of God, she still argues with Jesus about removing the stone from her bother’s tomb. “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus has to remind her of why he is here, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone.

Jesus then prays aloud – it is his final scene in this performance. Demonstrating the power of God over death.

“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.”

Just as in the prophesy given to Ezekiel, God demonstrates total and complete mastery over life and death.
Jesus has also through the death and resurrection of Lazarus, prepared his followers, for his death and resurrection.

I’d like to close with the following passage from the eighth chapter of Romans.

It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes,
who was raised,
who is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

Romans 8:6-11

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 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.

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.” 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.” 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.”
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.”
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.” 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 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 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.”
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

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