Immanuel Lutheran Church
                     of Almelund, Minnesota


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The Raising of Lazarus: Heartache, Miracle, and Invitation

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

March 4, 2018

John 11:1-44


Love! That’s what this story is all about. Jesus’ love for his friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Jesus’ love for you and me. Jesus’ love for the whole world and his willingness to sacrifice himself for those he loves.


This story of the raising of Lazarus is a long story that takes some weird twists and turns. It also messes with our understanding of how the world works, so you may find yourself wondering how it could possibly happen. Let’s take a closer look at this story and consider what it has to say to us today.


The story unfolds in three parts – Heartache, Miracle, and Invitation. We’ll start with the Heartache.


Has someone you loved died? Then you know Heartache. You know that pain of grief and loss. You’ve likely asked the questions – Why did this happen to my loved one? Why did this happen to me? You know the tears.


Lazarus and his sisters were Jesus’ best friends. Jesus did his ministry with his disciples. But when it was time to kick back and relax, have a beer, and let his hair down, he went to Lazarus’s house. They shared meals. They talked. They laughed. They enjoyed one another’s company. When Lazarus died, Jesus’ best friend died.


Jesus had an amazing ability to heal people. So, you’d think that when Jesus learned that his best friend was sick he might go and use that healing power to heal his friend. That’s what friends do – you help one another. That’s what Mary and Martha expected when they notified Jesus that Lazarus was seriously ill. They expected Jesus to come quickly and heal him.


But Jesus didn’t come right away. It’s not that he was so busy that he couldn’t come. He intentionally stayed away until after his best friend had died. What kind of friend is that?! I’m sure Mary and Martha, were asking “Jesus, where are you when we need you?”


Good question! Have you ever asked that? Have you ever felt that when you were most in need of God’s loving care it seemed like he was far away? God’s timing is not our timing. It can be difficult waiting for God to act. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us, just as Jesus’ delay didn’t mean he didn’t love Lazarus.


What Jesus did cost him dearly. His disciples warned him not to go. They knew that the tension was raising around Jerusalem. They feared for Jesus’ safety. They feared for their own safety.


Thomas says, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." He probably says it ironically, dramatically, not realizing the truth of his own words. Not realizing that this trip will lead Jesus to death on the cross and put his disciples on paths that will lead to their own deaths as martyrs.


But it’s not fear for his own safety or that of his disciples that holds Jesus back. There is something else at work here – a bigger plan that leads to God’s glory. So, Jesus bides his time, waiting until the time is right.


When he finally arrives, it is too late to heal his friend. Lazarus has been dead and buried for four days. Jesus arrives to face the grief of Mary and Martha. Not only are they grieving the loss of their brother, they are blaming Jesus. They both say “If only you had been here, Lazarus wouldn’t have died!”


Martha hopes that maybe Jesus could still do something. She says, “But even now I know God will give you whatever you ask.” She’s really begging “Please Jesus, do something!” Have you ever been there, begging God for a miracle? Hoping God will act? Pleading your case before the Almighty?  That’s where Martha’s at.


Mary has lost hope. She doesn’t beg; she just weeps. And Jesus weeps with her. He too, grieves the death of his friend. He too, shares in Mary’s pain. Even though he knows he has the power to save Lazarus, Jesus weeps over his death. Even though he knows all about heaven and eternal life, Jesus weeps at the death of his friend.


That gives me comfort. I’ve been known to shed some tears. If Jesus can cry at the death of a loved one, so can we. There is no shame in it. Shedding tears at the death of a loved one does not mean we don’t have faith. Jesus shares in our Heartache.


That brings us to the next phase of the story, the Miracle.


As Jesus goes to the tomb he faces the stinking reality of death. He smells the decomposing corpse. And he speaks life into those dead bones. Just as God spoke the world into existence, Jesus, speaks life into Lazarus. He prays for people to believe in him. Then he says "Lazarus, come out!" And he does! It’s Amazing!


In that moment, Jesus demonstrates power over death! Jesus shows he’s no ordinary rabbi; he is the Messiah. Old Testament prophecies had foretold that the Messiah would make the lame to walk, the blind to see and the dead to come to life. Jesus had previously healed a paralyzed man telling him to pick up his bed and walk. Jesus brought sight to a blind man, and now he has brought a dead man to life. He is the long-awaited Messiah! Through this Miracle, many came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.


What a time to rejoice and be glad! Mary and Martha were overjoyed. I imagine Lazarus was too.


But not everybody was so pleased. The religious leaders got upset. You might have thought they would be thrilled to find the Messiah in their midst. But no! It threatened their power. It undermined their understanding of how the world works. It was just too hard to accept. It was too big a change. From that time on the Jewish leaders began plotting to kill Jesus. They also plotted to kill Lazarus, to eliminate the evidence of this Miracle.


So the Miracle got a mixed reception. But within this Miracle there is an Invitation. And that is the third thing we’ll explore.


Jesus Invited the community into this Miracle. Jesus asked the people to roll back the stone. When Lazarus came lumbering out dressed in grave clothes, Jesus invited the people to take those death rags off him.


Jesus gave the community work to do, bringing life out of death, shaking off that which binds, and opening people’s eyes to God’s life-giving power. That is the work of he church, my friends, to partner with God in bringing joy out of sorrow, as we love God and love and serve our neighbors. What a holy Invitation, to bring life, and meaning, and hope to the world as we share the good news of God’s life-giving love. What a holy Invitation to serve as God’s hands and feet.


Where do find yourself in this story? Heartache?


We all know Heartache, individually and as a community. In the last couple of weeks, we have buried two beloved members of this community – Marguerite Sellman and Vern Nordquist. Many tears were shed as we commended these beloved friends to God’s eternal care.


As a nation we have been in Heartache, mourning the deaths of the students and teachers in Parkland Florida, trying to make sense of this tragedy. And we’ve experienced copy cat efforts close to home – in North Branch, in Cambridge, in Vadnais Heights. So, we’re trying to think about what this means for us as we struggle to keep our kids safe. We’re trying to come together to find solutions to gun rights issues and safety issues that divide us.


God is with us in our Heartaches. God walks besides us, weeps with us, comforts us and dries our tears. God often uses Heartache and tragedy to bring us closer to him. God can turn our Heartaches to joy.


Maybe you find yourself in the Miracle. Maybe you have experienced God’s loving presence in your life. Maybe you have seen God bring joy out of hopeless situations. Maybe you have come to trust that even in the toughest times, God is with you, working for your good. I hope so.


Maybe you have come to see how the resurrection of Lazarus foretells the resurrection of Jesus, and the resurrection of each of us. Maybe you have come to believe that through the Miracle of resurrection Jesus conquered death, secured your salvation, and has now gone to prepare a place for you. I pray that you find yourself in the resurrection Miracle.


Maybe you find yourself in the Invitation.


God invites all of us to rip off those shrouds of death and be forces for good in the world. When we bring clean drinking water to our partner congregation in Itonya, Tanzania, we are responding to this Invitation. When we send kids to Bible camp, all expenses paid, we are responding to this Invitation. When we share our gifts of music, or teaching, or hospitality, we are responding to this Invitation. When we invite a friend to church or share our faith with them, we are responding to this Invitation. Whenever we live out our calling as Christians, we are responding to this Invitation.


This story, that happened oh so long ago, of raising Lazarus from the dead, is a story for each one of us. Today, I invite you to find your place in this story. Today, I invite you into the Heartache, the Miracle, and the Invitation that we all share, in the life of faith. Today, I invite you into God’s love.  Amen!