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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Why Easter Matters (1 Corinthians 15.13-22)

EASTER SUNDAY Sermon by: Robert Austell - March 31, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Prelude: "Prelude at Dawn" (Handbells) (Lynn Shaw Bailey)
Prelude: "Now the Green Blade Rises" (Handbells) (Hal Hopson)
Choral Call to Worship: "Processional Alleluia" (Choir/Handbells) (C. Harry Causey)
Hymn of Praise: "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" (EASTER HYMN)

*The Word in Music: "O Sons and Daughters, Let us Sing" (Richard Nichols)
*Song of Response: "You Have Been Raised" (Altrogge, Kauflin, Boer)
*Offering of Music: "Savior's Here" (Kari Jobe)
*Hymn of Sending: "Thine is the Glory" (MACCABEUS)

Postlude: "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" (Reuss)

Easter Sunday Music Sampler - short sections of the music above

"Why Easter Matters"
(Click triangle to play in browser; Left-click link to play in new window; or right-click to save)
Text: 1 Corinthians 15:13-22; Luke 24:1-7; John 20:11-18

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

“Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping…” (John 20:11)

Does that sound familiar? It’s a different Mary, but just a few weeks ago (and a few chapters earlier in John), we read of another Mary, weeping over the death of her beloved brother and wanting to know why Jesus had been absent. This Mary in chapter 20 – Mary Magdelene – is also weeping because Jesus is absent. His body is missing, as she explains first to the disciples she runs to find, then to the angels back at the tomb, and then finally to someone she thinks is the gardener.

Then the gardener calls her name: “Mary!” And she recognizes him at once. “My Teacher,” she exclaims! And she makes her second trip to find the disciples, this time to tell them that she has seen the Lord.

Every Easter, in churches all over the world, that story is read and told again and again. We have told it here in sunrise services and in Easter worship year after year. For weeks now, we have been preparing to hear that story, especially as we have dug into the story of Lazarus and how Jesus raised him from the dead, a last great sign demonstrating God’s glorious power over death.

Today you have heard the Easter morning narrative in word and song. I want to take a few minutes to move beyond the details of the story and talk about why Easter matters… why the resurrection matters. It turns out that the Apostle Paul wrote about this very thing in his letter to the Corinthian church, which one of our adult Sunday school classes is studying this spring. The topic of resurrection – something after death – has come up, and that leads Paul into a very focused teaching on resurrection, the Easter resurrection of Jesus, and why it matters for us.

So I invite you to turn to 1 Corinthians 15:13 as we consider why Easter matters so much.

Without Resurrection (something after death), No Easter (Jesus Raised)

The text we read from 1 Corinthians comes in a chapter where Paul is writing about Christ’s resurrection. Paul writes earlier in the chapter: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” (vv. 3-4). These three facts are most important to Christian faith: that Jesus died for sin, was buried, and was raised. That’s Good Friday to Easter right there.

Paul goes on to chronicle a number of people to whom the risen Jesus appeared. These would serve as eye-witnesses to the resurrection. They were people for a generation that could say, “I saw him after he was raised.” It was Peter, all the disciples, then over 500 who could be identified. All this is leading to Paul addressing a problem in Corinth. There are some in the church that do not believe there is resurrection from the dead.

And so, in answer to the question, “How do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” Paul writes the text we read this morning. Twice he walks through this piece of logic:

Without resurrection (something after death),
there can be no Easter (Jesus raised). 

He says it in verse 13: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised…” And he says it in verse 16: For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.” Remember, good Jewish communication emphasized things through repetition. So twice he makes this basic argument:

Without resurrection (something after death),
there can be no Easter (Jesus raised).

If there is no resurrection at all, then Jesus would not have been raised. And even if you wanted to think for some reason that Jesus alone was raised, it defies the reason for his death and resurrection, which is something after death for humanity.

Without Easter (Jesus Raised), then Pitiable Futility and Lies

Then twice – with each example of the previous argument – Paul describes what the consequences would be without resurrection of humanity or of Jesus. It is this basic argument:

Without Easter (Jesus raised),
then there is only Pitiable Futility and Lies 

Let’s unpack that a bit. Paul says it first in verse 14: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” He repeats and expands in verse 17: “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” Without Jesus being raised on Easter, Paul says that we have no worthwhile message to proclaim. He also says that faith would be vain and worthless, because sin would still reign over us. In other words, Jesus may have won a victory over past sin on the cross, but death would have the last word; there would be no ultimate victory over sin and death. And that would rob us of any real hope for the future.

He also adds these two elaborations in verses 18-19, “Then those also who have died (fallen asleep) in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” This is a very strong statement! For surely there are things in this life that we can learn and follow from the teaching of Christ. And I don’t doubt that Paul would recognize that. But he isn’t talking about the moral teaching of Christ, but of our HOPE in Christ. Hope is a future-oriented thing. And if the cross was the end of Jesus, then it is the end of our hope in something after our own death. Our hope would be limited to this life only, and Paul finds that comparably thin to the great hope of Easter resurrection.

Without Easter (Jesus raised),
then there is only Pitiable Futility and Lies

 Why do I say “lies?” Paul didn’t use that word. But he has gone to great lengths to identify eye-witnesses to the resurrection. He is making clear that believing there is no Easter resurrection is not just a matter of personal interpretation or perspective. There are too many people staking their reputations and lives on having seen a risen Jesus. To not believe in Easter resurrection is to declare all of them liars or worse.

Why Easter (Jesus Raised) Matters (but now…)

Finally, Paul comes to the positive part of his teaching. He has provided the negative case – if this isn’t true, then this. Then in verse 20 he says, “But now.” BUT NOW here is what has happened. BUT NOW, here is what is true if Christ HAS been raised from the dead. There are three results he names here. This is why Easter matters and is, as Paul says, “of first importance.”

First, since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is “first fruits” of those who are asleep (v. 20). In other words, Christ is not a lone example, but the leading example of God’s resurrection power. We may note that Lazarus was raised from the dead, as were others Jesus raised, but they were raised back to this life and would die again. Jesus is the true “first fruit” of humanity raised to life WITH GOD after the first death. He not only is the way to God, but will lead the way to God. We read in Ephesians of him leading a host of captives along behind him as he sets them free from sin and death. He is not only VICTOR OVER sin and death, but SAVIOR FROM sin and death for all who trust and follow him.

Second, Adam’s work and humanity’s curse will be undone (v. 21). The Bible teaches that every one of us sins and is sinful, true heirs of our first father, Adam. Through Adam came sin and the curse of death, which has multiplied out to all his descendants and heirs. Jesus has single-handedly reversed Adam’s curse, multiplying out blessing and redemption to all who trust and follow him – his spiritual descendants and heirs. So Paul can write, “…since by a man came death, so by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.”

Third, in Christ we will be made alive (v. 22). This is another way of saying the same thing, but it’s even more personal. In the preceding verse, death and the resurrection of the dead are named as topics – nouns. In the repetition, humanity is the subject and death and life become verbs. With Adam, we die; in Christ, we will be made alive. There is hope! There is a future! It matters!

You can see that all three reasons Easter matters involve us. Jesus’ sacrificial act and God’s resurrecting power were not in a vacuum, apart from the human race, unrelated to our own death and resurrection; rather, it is intimately connected to our death and resurrection. Our resurrection is the purpose of Jesus’ resurrection: that we might be raised to life with God, the curse undone, and that we will be made alive.

And none of this negates or diminishes how we live today. This is not an appeal to focus exclusively on the afterlife; rather, it is a tether of hope to what comes after death, a foundational reminder that God holds us in life and in death and there is more than “eat, sleep, and tomorrow we die.” That kind of future-anchored hope redefines how we live today and tomorrow, fixing our eyes on the one God raised from the dead on Easter as first fruits, curse-reverser, and death-defeater.

Easter is Good News because God has declared Himself ultimately FOR US, beyond what had been the most final thing we knew. Indeed, as scripture says, “Love [God’s love] is stronger than death.” (Song of Solomon 8:6) And that is Good News worth believing. Amen!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday - No Greater Love

MAUNDY THURSDAY: Robert Austell - March 28, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Congregational Hymn: "How Sad Our State" (Isaac Watts)
Choir: "Thy Will Be Done" (Craig Courtney)
Congregational Hymn: "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" (PASSION CHORALE)
Communion Music: "Amazing Love" (Graham Kendrick)
Communion Music: "The Wonderful Cross" (Isaac Watts, arr. Chris Tomlin)
Choir: "Kyrie from 'Memorial'" (Renee Clausen)
Worship Team and Soloist w/Dance: "East to West" (Casting Crowns)
Congregational Hymn: "Abide With Me" (EVENTIDE)

Maundy Thursday Music Sampler
short sections of all the songs used in the service

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Plot Versus Signs of Salvation (John 11-12)

PALM SUNDAY Sermon by: Robert Austell - March 24, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Prelude: "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna" (J. Wayne Kerr)
Hymn of Praise: "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna" (ELLACOMBE)
*Song of Praise: "Praise is Rising" (Brown, Baloche)

*The Word in Music: "Hosanna!" (Children + Choir) (Mark Kellner)
*Offering of Music: "Hosanna" (Andrew Peterson)
*Hymn of Sending: "Where He Leads Me" (NORRIS)

Postlude: "Jesus, Still Lead On" (Paul Manz)

*Palm Sunday Music Sampler - short sections of the 4 songs marked above

"A Plot versus Signs of Salvation"
(Click triangle to play in browser; Left-click link to play in new window; or right-click to save)
Text: John 11:46-57; 12:9-19; Psalm 118:24-29

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we finish the story of Lazarus and a series of events that are full of action, plots, politics, and intrigue. In fact, the story of Lazarus dovetails right into the event that we are remembering today on Palm Sunday.

I want to walk you through the timeline and events and note a few key elements along the way. We will be left with a question, perhaps better described as a tension: is all of this a plot against Jesus or sure signs of the salvation that God was providing to the world?

First Division

After the amazing miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, many believed. (v. 45) Of course they did! I’m not sure how much more clearly a sign could be given. Jesus didn’t just heal a sick man or bring the recently deceased back to life. He raised a four-day old stinking corpse to life. And as we saw last week, Jesus went out of his way to include those witnessing this, from his out-loud prayers to asking some to move the grave stone to asking some to help remove the cloth wrapped around Lazarus. People saw and smelled and touched and believed.

And yet… and yet… SOME went and reported Jesus to the people trying to kill him.  It’s right there in verse 46. Some, even seeing all that, did not believe Jesus, but turned against him and worked against him. It marks the first of several times in today’s text that, presented with the same events, people were divided over what to do with Jesus.

The ones trying to kill Jesus, the ones receiving this report of his whereabouts, were the chief priests and Pharisees, nearby in Jerusalem. We read in v. 47 that they convened the council (also known as the Sanhedrin) to discuss what to do about Jesus. Helpfully, we don’t have to imagine their concerns, they are spelled out for us:

What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, all men will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. (vv. 47-48)
They recognize that he is performing signs. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus’ miracles are called “miraculous signs.” The point is that they aren’t just supernatural (though they are that); rather, they are called ‘signs’ because they point to something.  That something is Jesus’s identity as the Messiah.  In other words, his actions are holding him up to be the Messiah – popularly believed by the people to be a mighty warrior of God come to through off the oppressive rule of the Romans. You can see that played out in the council’s words. If Jesus continues attracting attention, his popularity will attract the attention of the Romans, who would tighten their grip on Israel, displacing the religious rulers place of power as well as what was left of the independence of the nation.

The council conversation continued and the high priest, a man named Caiaphas, noted that the stakes were so high that it would be worth sacrificing this one man’s life if it would spare the nation the wrath of the Romans. These words would have been ironic in hindsight anyway, but John makes a fascinating assertion that because he was serving as high priest, God actually spoke these words through him. And we read in v. 53 that “from that day on they planned together to kill [Jesus].” Without the high priest realizing it, God was using him to bring about the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the spotless lamb for the sake of the world. God can even use His enemies to accomplish His will and bring Him glory!

Second Division

If you were here 3-4 weeks ago when we started the Lazarus story, you’ll remember that I mentioned the risk to Jesus.  That is what took him and the disciples some 20 miles from Jerusalem because of a crowd that had tried to kill him. It was a risk to come back to Mary and Martha’s house in Bethany, just two miles outside Jerusalem, and we have seen now that the risk was not unfounded.  Indeed, he was recognized and reported to the religious leaders in Jerusalem, despite coming to Bethany for the extraordinary purpose of bringing Lazarus back to life.

After raising Lazarus and as we read about the council plotting to kill him in v. 53, Jesus and the disciples again withdrew to the country (v. 54).  And some time passed. We can actually piece together how much time passed because he had come to Bethany just after the Feast of Lights (modern-day Hanukkah), at the end of December. He will return for Passover, which is approximately the same time as our Easter, so basically winter has passed to spring, about three months.

In the meantime, no one has forgotten Jesus. If anything, everyone is on the lookout for him.  You get a flavor of that in vv. 55-57, with opinion and interest in him still divided.  Knowing that most Jews came to Jerusalem for Passover, we read that many were “seeking” Jesus and speculating on whether he would come to the feast at all. (v. 56)  We also read that the religious leaders are on the lookout, having given orders that anyone with knowledge of Jesus’ whereabouts should report it for his arrest.  Jesus was a wanted man!

Third Division

Jesus did indeed return for the Passover, coming to Bethany again six days beforehand. (John 12:1)  In our Holy Week timeline, that would have been yesterday, the day before what would become known as Palm Sunday. There he had dinner and Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with very costly perfume. His presence became known and many came to see Jesus as well as Lazarus. It is here we read that Lazarus has become a wanted man. His presence and the talk about him made him a prime target for believers and enemies alike. This is why I still include all of this as the conclusion to the Lazarus story.

This brings us to the account proper of what is usually referred to as “The Triumphal Entry” or “Palm Sunday.” It is the next day, a Sunday, and Jesus comes from Bethany into Jerusalem. The crowd has already gathered, already heard that he is on the way.  And they give him a very particular and significant welcome. They take branches of a palm tree and go to meet him and shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” They are quoting from Psalm 118*, part of which comprised our responsive call to worship today. All this – ALL this – is another sign of who Jesus is. From the shouts of “Save us now!” (that’s what “Hosanna” means) to the connection to Psalm 118 to riding in on a donkey to the timing of it all… he was fulfilling the Messianic script.  These were all things the Messiah would do and the people recognized it and him, which is why they shouted “King of Israel” at him.  Meanwhile, all the people who had witnessed the raising of Lazarus were testifying about that miraculous sign. (v. 17)  Given all this, it would not have been any clearer a sign if a blimp had been hovering over him with “That’s the Messiah!” flashing across the screen.

Those fears expressed by the council months earlier had all come to pass. Seemingly the whole world had gone after him… and they were proclaiming him the “King of Israel.”  You can begin to see how these chief priests and Pharisees, who were concerned enough at the possibility of him being seen as the Messiah to try to kill him, now moved very decisively against him so that within a matter of days he would be arrested and killed. They believed their livelihood, their freedom, and their very lives were at stake.

And so, on this “Palm Sunday,” we find an extreme division between those believing and hailing Jesus as King and those trying to kill him for it.

Division Today

As I ponder how all that might be applicable in our lives beyond greater knowledge of the unfolding story, I am moved by the skit that the children shared this morning. In it, an older sibling turns from faith despite having been raised in a Christian context.

It strikes me that this is how it’s always been. Often in discussions about Christian faith the question will be raised about those who have never heard about Jesus. Frankly, I don’t ultimately know. I know that we should be ready and willing to share God’s story, but I ultimately don’t know, though I trust God.

What is a significantly more common reality in our lives is not encountering people who have never heard of Jesus, but the way that Jesus draws some and repels others. There is a fundamental and very challenging question underlying that reality. We can push it off for a while saying, “I just need more information” or “I just need some proof.” But the thing is that information and signs and proof still leave us with the fundamental question: “Will you trust and follow me?”

Think about all that was witnessed that day Lazarus was raised, not to mention in the week before Passover. Jesus not only displayed supernatural power that signaled explicitly who he was and what he was doing, he then fulfilled prophecy after prophecy, like a massive prophetic checklist. 

Has God answered prayer? Check.
Is the beauty of God’s creation evident around us? Check.
Has God’s intention and message to us been made clear through writing, teaching, witness, and sacrifice? Check.

“Will you trust and follow me?”

…I’m not sure.  I need more time.  Yeah, mostly; I just have a few exception clauses I’d like to write in.

… or sometimes, “I will not!” 

At the heart of the fundamental question is the thing at stake in the fundamental commandment. Will you yield your will and life to a god other than yourself? Will you serve and love another?

Jesus began asking the question when he first began calling the disciples, before any miraculous signs.  God asked the question of His people throughout the scripture – of Abraham, Moses, Esther, Mary.

The two responses to Jesus are so clear again and again throughout the Lazarus story.  And that’s what I think this story brings to us today beyond knowledge of how a story unfolded. It asks us the question Jesus asked of so many: “Will you trust and follow me?”

We even know how the story turned out, while those following Jesus didn’t know what Easter morning held.  We have our own treasure-trove of witness, signs, experience, and knowledge.  But it comes down to this:

Will you trust and follow Jesus… wherever he might lead?  Ponder your response as we pray together.

*For more on Psalm 118, see this older sermon from 2003

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Unbinding Death (John 11.38-46)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - March 17, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Prelude: "Cross of Christ Medley" (4-hand piano) (Shackley)
Hymn of Praise: "And Can It Be?" (SAGINA)
Song of Praise: "Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone" (Rees.Excell, Tomlin, Giglio)

The Word in Music: "God's Son Has Made Me Free" (Grieg-Overby)
Offering of Music: "All Things New" (Andrew Peterson)
Hymn of Sending: "I Will Rise" (Giglio, Tomlin, Maher, Reeves)

Postlude: "In the Cross of Christ I Glory" (Cherwien)

"Unbinding Death"
(Click triangle to play in browser; Left-click link to play in new window; or right-click to save)
Text: John 11:38-46; Isaiah 61:1-3; Revelation 21:1-5

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

This is our fourth week in John 11 with the Lazarus story. Over the weeks we have seen major themes emerge – themes of risk, waiting, faith and belief, the humanity of Christ, and most of all, the glory of God. Early in the chapter, having received the news that Lazarus was sick, Jesus told the disciples that this sickness wouldn’t end in death, and said this would all result in “the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” (v. 4)

That frames everything that follows, especially as we come today to the resurrection of Lazarus. It would be especially dangerous to understand his resurrection as dependent on Martha’s faith or in response to the grieving of Mary. Martha’s faith is indeed to be commended. Mary’s grief is something we understand and many have experienced. But we cannot reduce God into being a dispenser of answered prayer or manipulate God into serving our will, however deeply or well-motivated our desires are held.

Hear me clearly: God DOES answer prayer and God IS compassionate beyond anything you or I can imagine. But there is an even greater gift being offered in this text, in this event, and it is a glimpse of the glory of God. God's glory is not a message from God or the character of God, it is the very presence and being of God among us, and at that we either must be silent like Job, undone like Isaiah, or join the angel choirs of Revelation in singing, “Holy, holy, holy.”

“If You Believe, You Will See the Glory of God” (v. 40)

We left off with Jesus and the crowd having walked down to the tomb, a cave with a stone lying against the entrance. Jesus has again (for the second time) been roused to anger, whether from the crowd questioning his timing, the pain and suffering caused by sickness and death, or the seeming finality of death, we are not sure. But he is stirred up! And so, against any expectation and certainly any convention or propriety, in the midst of the wailing and grieving, in front of the stone sealing off the cave-tomb, Jesus says, “Remove the stone.”

Remove the stone? Martha, full of faith, yet full of practicality, immediately speaks up, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench… he has been dead for four days.” (v. 39) The translators have softened it up a bit for us. It’s not the dulcet tones and genteel language of the funeral home; it’s a shocked sister who literally says, “But now he stinks! It’s been four days!”

Jesus responds to Martha, connecting this moment with what he told the disciples back in verse 4, when they first got the news of Lazarus’ sickness. Jesus says to Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (v. 40) Does that mean that God’s glory is dependent on human belief? No; God is glorious in and of Himself. What Martha’s belief – what OUR belief – means is that we will SEE God’s glory. We become attuned to what God is doing. Unbelief is like a child closing his or her eyes. We may even think God goes away when we stop believing. But God is still there and God is glorious! This exchange between Jesus and Martha is Jesus saying, “Martha, look at me. Remember who I am. I love you. Keep believing and you will see God at work!”  And they remove the stone.

Public Glory

They remove the stone. Then there is this interesting prayer. After they move the stone, Jesus looks up to Heaven and prays out loud, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that you sent me.” (v. 42) Think about that prayer. It was not, “Father, I ask you, in your power, to bring Lazarus back to life.” It was not, “Father, help these people believe.” Jesus has apparently already communicated with God; he says, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.” Indeed, we hear in Jesus’ words that God “always hears him.” This prayer was public, for the sake of those gathered around. And we know that because he even says so in the prayer! It’s not for show; it’s so those gathered may believe. (We also know that because he says so.) And how does their belief relate to God’s glory? Remember, we just talked about that with Martha. It is so that they can SEE God at work.

Last Wednesday night, with the sermon preview study, we speculated a bit on this next part. The next thing Jesus does is cry out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” Why so loud? We speculated: maybe Lazarus couldn’t hear well because he was dead; maybe it was a little distance to the back of the cave; maybe it was to shout beyond the boundary of this world to wherever Lazarus' spirit was hanging out. Or maybe Lazarus was already alive at this point; Jesus did thank God for already hearing him. And maybe, being formerly dead and all wrapped up, Lazarus was confused and needed the directions. Well, in the end, I don’t think it was any of those things. I think it was like Jesus’ prayer… public, for the sake of those listening. If they missed Jesus' prayer, they didn’t miss this. That guy is shouting into the open, stinky cave for the dead man to come out. Hard to miss that!

All this and the miraculous resurrection that follows is all so public. There is a reason for that! It is to bear witness to God’s glory and the even greater miracle that is soon to come on Easter morning.

Rocks and Wrappings, Stink and Fear

And so, after loudly crying out, “Lazarus, come forth,” Lazarus came out. He was still wrapped up as he had been at his death. And Jesus says one last thing: “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Can you imagine the mixture of emotion? I’m not really sure we can.

Excitement and awe and seeing a dead man – friend and brother – alive.
Fear that he might be some kind of spirit, devil, or zombie.
Revulsion at the smell and appearance of death coming at you.
Confusion over seeing something that could not be.
Faith through believing in something that could not be.

Freeze frame. Take note of all that Jesus has asked… invited… those present to do. He first asked someone or some ones to remove the stone. This was before any praying, before any declaration of intent. Someone had to trust him enough to take action and open up the cave, releasing the smell of death, not to mention the fears of being made unclean. Then Jesus prayed that prayer out loud, inviting all who heard to believe that he was talking to God as his Father, to believe that God had already answered his prayers. Then Jesus shouted loud enough for all to hear for Lazarus to come out, inviting all to stay or flee, to believe or disbelieve. And then, Jesus asks, dare we call it an invitation, for someone or some ones to unwrap the dead man walking, drawing even closer to the stink and uncleanness of the grave clothes, but also even closer to the new life and resurrection power of God.

What a picture of all that we wrestle with to trust Jesus. God asks us to participate, to be a part of what He is doing in the world, and it feels risky and sometimes makes no rational sense. And if we dare look and listen, we realize that He asks far more… for us to lose our life to save it, to give up all to follow. What great risk, what great fears, what obstacles those things can be!

And then there is the new life. Having trusted and believed, having been declared new and alive and reborn through Jesus, are we not like Lazarus, emerging into the light of new life, still draped in the old clothing of death? Is our Christian life, though washed and made clean, not a process of unwrapping and removing the things that stink and bind us tight? And, like Lazarus, do we not need the help of God and others to see and to remove those things in our life? Yes, it is a very good picture; there is much to see and learn about ourselves as we walk through this story with Jesus, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and the crowd.

It is well worth our asking two questions:

“God, where are you inviting me to be a part of what you are doing?”


“God, what stinky wrappings of my old life are still binding me and keeping me from following you and fully experiencing new life?

The Plan All Along (Isaiah 61, Revelation 21)

Finally, I want to briefly reflect that this whole story is a picture of what God has planned all along. Listen again to these words from Isaiah, written some 600 years before Jesus:
1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners; 2 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, 3 To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:1-3)
Liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners… even those captive to sin and death! And the result in v. 3, that God may be glorified.  And this is the passage Jesus took up in the synagogue at the beginning of his ministry in Luke 4, reading from the scroll of Isaiah and then announcing, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” It was God’s plan all along, fulfilled in Jesus and pictured so vividly in setting Lazarus free from the bonds of death.

And then listen to this passage from Revelation. We began the service with this and it is a picture of what God intends, through Christ, for His creation:

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”  (Revelation 21:1-5)
What Jesus did with Lazarus was a foretaste, a picture, of what God would soon do on Easter morning. He makes all things new.  Amen!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jesus Wept (John 11.27-38)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - March 10, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Prelude: "Morning Song" (Joseph Martin)
Song of Praise: "O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus" (arr. Enfield)
Song of Praise: "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" (Townend)

Offering of Music: "I Know that My Redeemer Lives" (Craig Courtney)
Hymn of Sending: "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" (HYFRYDOL)
Postlude: "Prelude on 'Hyfrydol'" (Healey Willan)

"Jesus Wept"
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Text: John 11:27-38; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14,18

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

I don’t know if you feel this way or not, but I think the Lazarus story can be one of the hardest stories to relate to in the Bible. It’s all well and good until Lazarus gets raised from the dead and then you are left wondering, “How come God’s never done this for me?” What are you supposed to take away from this? Is it that if you have strong enough faith, like Martha, then God will come through on the big miracle or answer to prayer? Or is it that if you are grief-stricken enough, like Mary, then God will have compassion and mercy and give you the big miracle or answer to prayer? There are some that think those are the lessons, but I think nothing could be further from the truth. God is not ours to manipulate or control through either faith or grief. Not only is that missing the point of this story altogether, it’s not the way God works at all.

So today we are continuing our slow journey through the Lazarus story, trying to understand what God IS doing. And along the way, we will also see a little bit about how our faith and grief do relate to what God is doing.

Two weeks ago, I said that we would need to keep our eye on the theme of God’s glory to understand the story as it unfolds.  The key verse, really for this whole story, is verse 4, spoken to the disciples: “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”

Last week Kathy walked us through Jesus’ arrival in Bethany and his interaction with Martha. Kathy tried to imagine with us how one might portray Martha if cast in her role in a play. Martha was known to be the responsible and duty-focused sister, the one who worked in the kitchen to prepare food when Jesus came to visit, and the one who came out to welcome and receive Jesus as he came into town now. She was the “doer.” Here Martha seems to have her faith and theology right as well, even if we can’t quite peer into her soul. She asked where Jesus had been, but trusts in Lazarus’ resurrection on the last day. And even now, she knows that Jesus can do anything. She acknowledges Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world.” (v. 27) And with that, she goes to get Mary, which brings us to our story today.

Going to Get Mary

Mary… the one who sat at Jesus’ feet… the relational one… the emotional one. She’s holed up in the house, halfway through shivah, the Jewish period of mourning. It was customary for friends to sit with those grieving and come alongside them in their grief.  Thus they were weeping loudly together (v. 33).

Martha had met Jesus outside of town and now went to get Mary. In fact, there is no indication that Jesus went to the house at all. Perhaps this is again an indication of the risk in coming back near Jerusalem. Interestingly, Martha also speaks “secretly” to Mary, saying that “the Teacher” is asking for her. It is unclear whether Martha was just giving her privacy at this news or trying to not announce Jesus’ arrival in the presence of so many neighbors, but when Mary left the house in a rush, the group followed after her thinking she was going to grieve at the tomb.  We will read later in chapter 12 that some of this crowd reported Jesus to the authorities (but also that some believed). So that risk for Jesus is ever-present.

But then she came to Jesus and threw herself, weeping, at his feet. This was her own version of what Martha did, indicating that she recognized him as the Christ and Son of God. It is then that she speaks the exact same words that her sister, Martha, had spoken: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v. 32)

I should note that I don't understand Mary or Martha to have been blaming or accusing Jesus. The timing indicates that Lazarus died very soon after the messenger was sent for Jesus. Rather, they are both grieving his absence and recognizing that he could have done something about sickness though death now seems a final reality.

Weeping, Wailing, and Snorting Out Loud

When Jesus took all this in – Mary at his feet wailing in grief, the crowd of neighbors now gathered around and also wailing, and Mary’s statement – he snorted. Yes, I said ‘snorted.’ There’s a whole bunch of underlying vocabulary in this verse and it’s an interesting puzzle to piece it all together. What our text translates as “deeply moved in spirit” comes from words that literally mean “snort like a horse.” It is a phrase or figure of speech that is trying to describe that kind of emotional response that wells up from deep, deep within and takes you off-guard.  And the particular emotion it is describing is one of anger or indignation. It’s not a calculated “harrumph!” but a sudden burst of anger. Adding to that, we read that Jesus was also “troubled.”

What caused this response? Well John tells us. It is “when Jesus saw Mary and the crowd wailing.” That’s his response. I will admit to being surprised at that. When I planned this series weeks ago, I had in mind that this would be the scene where Jesus puts his arm around Mary and says, “There, there; it will be okay; I’m going to make everything better.” But that’s not his response at all. He, who IS truly the compassionate one, SNORTS in anger at the scene.

Another clue to his response is in what happens next. He snorts in anger and is troubled and then asks, “Where have you put Lazarus?” (v. 34) They – the crowd – answer, “Lord, come and see.” (v. 34)

And as they go to the tomb where Lazarus is buried, we get to the shortest verse in the English Bible: “Jesus wept.” (v. 35) Now it seems out of place. Is he angry or sad? Maybe now he’s grieving along with Mary like we might have expected.  Well, no, I don’t think that’s what is going on. For one, he’s on the move. And though you don’t see it in English, there is a different word used for his crying.  In fact, that’s the difference.  Mary and the neighbors were wailing, a public and almost ritual grieving. Jesus cried tears, a more private and personal emotional response. It is encouraging that Jesus, who is God in the flesh, can cry tears. But what is he crying about? It doesn’t seem to be a “there, there” moment with Mary. And, in fact, he is walking toward the tomb where he is about to raise Lazarus back to life, so it doesn’t even seem like it would be over the death of Lazarus. Let’s hold that question.

I hold it because Jesus snorts in anger one more time before getting to the tomb. Seeing his private tears as they walk, the crowd has two responses, commenting out loud. Some say, “See how he loved him!” (v.36) They are right that Jesus loved Lazarus, but I don’t think that’s why he is crying. Others say what Mary and Martha said, but with a little more doubt and accusation: “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?” (v. 37) Maybe he’s crying because he blew it and didn’t get here in time. And then, again, Jesus snorts in anger just as they all arrive at the tomb. (v. 38)

Jesus is angry, troubled, and tearful. I love that he is that emotional. It’s not something you expect from the God-man. You expect love and mercy, but those are a little more lofty or something. I don’t expect a Jesus that laughs or gets angry, much less one that giggles or snorts. And yet, here he is, angry, troubled, and tearful.

So, we can get that much out of it; when we say Jesus was fully God and fully human, we shouldn’t short-change the fully human part. He has emotions and feels things deeply. But why, in this situation? Why was he so emotional?

Keep Your Eye on the Glory

This is where I go back to the glory. Keep your eye on the glory. All that is happening is for the glory of God and so that the Son of God will be glorified. He told us so. It is so God will shine and be shown to be the weightiest, most solid, THERE, powerful, eternal, reality of all. And Jesus as well.

This is not a self-contained story or miracle. All the miracles were about the glory of God and Jesus being glorified. There is a trajectory here and it doesn’t end with Lazarus being raised, but with Jesus being crucified and raised and being the Son of God.

Jesus has been public for three years. He has taught about the Kingdom of God and he has done countless miraculous signs to point people to the Kingdom of God. He has faced increasing risk and knows with certainty where he is now headed.  He knows that sin and death will not win, and he knows that God will have victory through his own obedient sacrifice. And he knows that raising Lazarus will give those watching one last great sign that it’s all true, that even the strongest thing they know – DEATH – is not stronger than the love of God.

But they haven’t seen it yet. Martha was close; she affirmed her belief in the future resurrection and the power of God in Jesus the Son of God.  But Mary couldn’t see it. She was grieving, as Paul would later write in Thessalonians, as “do the rest who have no hope.” The neighbors were grieving as those who have no hope. At most, some thought that if he had just arrived sooner, he could have healed Lazarus of sickness. Sickness can be cured, but death is final.

I don’t think Jesus was angry AT Mary or the others. I think he was that whole mix of emotion – angry, troubled, tearful – because God's glory was SO close and all they could see was a cave with a stone lying against it. Death was a cave with a stone lying against it, with decaying flesh hidden behind it.  It was only a few months at most until his own resurrection, and only moments until he would shout, “Roll away the stone!” but the time was not yet come and he had taken a long look at the hopelessness of humanity without God’s intervention.

It should have enraged him and made him weep. He was God’s champion sent to vanquish sin and death. I believe his emotion was stirred up by the immediacy of the battle he was about to fight and the stakes of that battle. These were indeed people he loved deeply; they and the whole world were at stake. And the deep emotion welled up within him.

And so, Jesus, the Son of God, the Light and Hope of the world, came to the tomb. "Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it."

But that was all about to change!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

I Am the Resurrection (John 11.17-27, Ezekiel 37.1-14)

Sermon by: Kathy Larson - March 3, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Prelude: "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" (Hopson)
Hymn of Praise: "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" (CORONATION)
Song of Praise: "Speak, O Lord" (Getty/Townend)

Offering of Music: "Behold the Lamb" (Getty/Townend, arr. Albritton)
Communion Music: Jazz Improvisation by Rick Bean, piano
Song of Sending: "Everlasting God" (Brown)
Postlude: "Prelude in F" (Flor Peeters)

"I Am the Resurrection"
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Text: John 11:17-27; Ezekiel 37:1-6,14

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

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