The Fifth Sunday in Lent
I hope that the sermons have helped you all feel connected during this time when we are physically apart. The gist of what I said in Sunday’s sermon was that we are called by God into life. It is this life that gives us hope in God’s restorative powers, meaningful relationships and a connection to God through His Spirit.
I wanted to take a look at a question that is asked by some of the Jews in the Gospel reading from John chapter 11. This is a question that gets asked by many today too.
In case you missed the sermon, the Gospel reading was the story of Lazarus dying from an illness and then Jesus bringing him back to life. In the story, Jesus seems to delay going to His sick friend and waiting until he dies from the illness. After his death, Jesus goes to the house of Lazarus and has an interaction on the way with his sisters Mary and Martha.
In the reading, both Mary and Martha say these words to Jesus
(John 11:21, 32):
If you had been here, my brother would not have died.
From there, the story moves on to one of the most tender scenes in the ministry and life of Jesus.
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?” John 11:33-37
This is the age old question.
“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Where was God?
He heals people He doesn’t know.
Where was He for His friend?
It’s an honest question.
For us it is
Where was He when:
- my family member got cancer?
- my wife left me?
- I lost my job.
- my kids abandoned the faith?
- the neighbor was shot?
- when this crazy virus was going around?
Where was He?
Where is He?
What do we do when God “doesn’t show up?”
It’s a fair question.
One that has been argued and wrestled with by many theologians.
How comfortable are you in claiming God is good when these things happen?
Do you shy away from the question?
Do you FEEL the question?
Is there an answer?
But it may not feel good.
And it takes a bit of humility.
That God might be glorified.
Let me share some of the examples of what I mean from the Gospel lesson out of John 11 from last week.
“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.” John 11:11-15
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.” John 11:23-27
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!” John 11:41-43
And in the Gospel reading from the week before in John chapter 9 where a man born blind is healed,
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. John 9:2-3
- So that you may believe.
- That He is the Messiah.
- That He was sent from God
- That God’s works might be revealed.
The answer to the question again:
To glorify Him.
So what does it mean to “glorify God?”
Well, it doesn’t mean so that God can “win.”
It isn’t a big bully god proving that He is right and we’re wrong.
It’s not some sadistic, control freak, narcissistic act of a twisted god.
It’s simply (or not so simply) a manifestation of the order of the world.
It sets Him apart from us.
He stands out.
Like a the smile of a beautiful woman or a handsome man.
Or the architecture in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Or Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss.
Or listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: Spring.
No one is flaunting it in our faces.
We just see it as it as it is.
Different in a higher order.
It is for us to understand that God is God and we are not.
For some of you, this will not settle well.
Why does God save some and not others?
Why do some live and others die?
Perhaps we will know some people who live after contracting the CORVID-19 virus and some who die.
Our own Al Jones (who is recovering in New York from the COVID virus) says of this, “I’m Patient Zero in Mount Sinai Hospital West in Manhattan: the first corona patient to make it out of the ICU instead of dying there. It’s a storm, a war, like trying to make it to the seawall on Omaha Beach. Bullets were hitting people all around me, but they missed me. There’s no fairness in who makes it and who doesn’t.“
A conversation that I had MANY times with Hospice patients is about the “why” question.
Why not _______ (fill in the blank)?
Why couldn’t this have waited?
Why questions get unsettling answers.
They seek to satisfy our need for things being “fair.”
But fairness is an illusion.
And it can create a false sense of security
How questions move us forward.
How do I respond when things happen to me?
How do I resolve the confusion about mass illness?
How do I understand the inequalities I see around me?
With an Attitude of Gratitude.
Job was put through a trial.
God allowed it.
God didn’t act on it.
But He allowed it.
Specifically, He allowed Satan to bring calamity to Job’s world.
Like losing EVERYTHING that is important to you.
But not dying.
And in the midst of this the Book of Job recounts his response,
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:20-21
Have you ever said thank you to something difficult in your life?
Not easy, is it?
It wasn’t easy.
But it gave me perspective.
That allowed me to heal.
And to thrive.
So, during this sheltering in place order and time of great uncertainty, Might I suggest a few things?
- Give thanks every morning as we wake for the things that God has done.
- Remain faithful to see God’s goodness in the world.
- Look for ways in which our gratitude can be manifest in the lives of those around us.
- Enjoy each day God gives to each of us.
May God’s peace strongly surround you and your loved ones.