Fifth Sunday of Lent
March 13, 2005
The Gospel: John 11:1-44
Sermon: "The Good News of Jesus Christ is in Resurrection"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
The Good News of Jesus Christ is in Resurrection
Fifth Sunday of Lent - March 13, 2005
Here we are in the fifth Sunday of Lent. When we heard or read the Collect of the Day we might have been caught by the first sentence. We prayed "O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men". This sentence should have caught us because it blatantly states who is in control. God is in control and we are not. Ultimately everything around us, everything about us, down to our very souls is in God's hands. If we are really honest we don't like that idea very much.
In fact, we can not stand that idea. We want to be in control of our own lives. We want to make our own decisions. In fact, we want everyone involved in our lives to float around our goals and objectives if we are really honest with ourselves. I know I am painting a very dim view of humanity but sometimes we need to hear the bottom line. We want peace in our time and our world as we define it and not as someone else or something else defines it. Due to this basic concept of our own nature we can not achieve the goal of ordering our own wills and affections on our own.
Do we need more proof? We might. Here are just a few examples.
1. We decide to have an event, a party, let's say. At the party we invite our friends and family. In our own experience how many of these events have gone off exactly as we planned them? Everyone was happy. The food was perfect. No one was late. The dinner conversation was absolutely perfect. There was not even the tiniest of mistakes or mishaps. If we were capable of absolute control then the event would be perfect.
2. We plan to go on a trip. We make our arrangements carefully. Because we are so perfect and able to handle it all ourselves there was not a single moment out of place or out of the plan. We didn't even forget our toothbrush or toothpaste. In fact, we brought extra toothpaste because the trip was planned so well there was no more time or money for anything else. I don't think I've ever heard of such a trip. I've heard of lots where things have gone wrong. I've been on some that went wrong from the start.
3. If we could order our own wills and affections then our home life would be perfect. There would be no arguments with family or friends. There could be no disappointments in our day. There could also be no surprises in our day either. A significant friend could not send flowers or a card. We would know about it wouldn't we? We would have no need of uplifting because everything would be just right. We would never have to say I'm sorry because we would never let our wills get out of line.
If any of us think we live in that world then we need to seek help right away. We surely need God's help but we might need to talk to someone quickly.
We might think this picture is awful bleak, "where is the Good News?" The "Good News' is in Jesus Christ. We often don't want to see it. In this postmodern, technologically advanced world there is a growing feeling that we don't need God anymore we can handle it all ourselves. We have such a good track record don't we?
We have managed to eliminate hunger, haven't we? We have no one dying of curable diseases anymore, correct? Modem medicine is developing new drugs everyday with no side effects, right? We have managed to provide potable drinking water and secure housing for everyone in the world. We have done all of this because we have followed our perfect wills and great affections.
We know we haven't. Our wills and our affections do not follow God's automatically. We have to ask God for help. We know what we are supposed to do, but we just have trouble doing it. This problem is exemplified in the Gospel.
Lazarus is dying and his sisters send for Jesus. Jesus does not go right away. Jesus knows what he is going to do. Furthermore, Jesus knows the purpose of this death. What Jesus will do is a glimpse of the ultimate expression of God's love. Everyone who sees it will have to make a choice. So, after two days, Jesus goes to Bethany. He meets Martha and he asks her if she believes that he is the resurrection and the life. She says yes. Mary comes to Jesus and Jesus weeps with her. He asks where he has been interred. When he gets to the place he tells them to roll away the stone. Martha tries to stop him because there will be a smell. Didn't she just say she believed in him? Didn't she just claim that she believed Jesus was the resurrection and the life? Yet, when it comes down to it, she does not believe. She does not believe Jesus can do what he claims. The order of her world is that her brother is gone and nothing can change it.
Yet, Jesus does change it. He commands the stone be rolled away. He calls out to Lazarus, "Lazarus, come out." Before the crowd, before Martha, Mary and the disciples Lazarus comes out. Jesus restores life to the dead. He is the resurrection and the life. He does have the ability to defeat death and bring life where none existed. How do we feel about this story? Is it real or just some story made up about a wandering preacher? We have to ask ourselves that question. Our answer is critically important. If we do not believe that Jesus can restore life then Jesus can not help us with our daily lives either. He can not help order our unruly wills and affections of our sinful nature. However, if Jesus can bring back life and we do believe in him, then it is true that He can help us with our unruly wills and our affections. Furthermore, His promise of eternal life with him is also true. If He can do these things then we do have before us the "Good News". The "Good News" is personified in Jesus Christ. He is the manifestation of God's love among us, Emmanuel. He is the One who through his selfless offering restores our broken relationship with God the Father.
If we can believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life we can complete the collect with hope and joy, "Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise, that so among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, out hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found"