Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fifth Sunday In Lent A (2011)

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: John 11:4
Theme: “[It] Will Not End In Death”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Life involves the honest recognition of limitations. We have limited capacities. Daily we are reminded of our mortality. Our need for sleep, our struggles in relationships, our mistakes in business, our impatience at work, our frailty in health, our inability to rectify past failures; these are all symptomatic of our limited faculties. These issues tend to dominate the daily life of the average person but much greater issues loom in the background. Can you merit God’s favour? Or do you take it for granted? Can you forgive sins? Can you prohibit death? Can you negotiate your status in eternity? Are you conscious of your place in His kingdom here and now? The movement of these considerations from the background to the foreground is a sign of the activity and maturity of your faith. Only in Christ can these restrictions be transcended. Only by grace can we participate in the ultimate blessings God alone possesses.

These truths are vividly illustrated by today’s gospel account. Jesus is called to the aid of a close friend named Lazarus. Though Lazarus was very near death, Christ delays His arrival. It seemed perplexing. He said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”1 But Lazarus did die. He had been in the tomb for four days when Jesus finally arrived. In the meantime the hours must have been filled with sorrow and doubt for Mary and Martha, his sisters. Was Jesus wrong? Had they misunderstood? Were they deceived about who He was?

Yet He delayed for the benefit of His disciples and the other witnesses. God is not constrained by the circumstances which demand urgency from humans. When all hope of human aid is lost, God brings restoration and life. That is what He did for Lazarus. Such examples should bolster our prayers and our faith. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”2

This biblical account is more than a tender but powerful show of Christ’s compassion. It is a lesson about our limitations and dependence on God. There is a parallel between the physical and spiritual power over life and death that human beings possess. Just as we possess the power to bring physical death we can also initiate spiritual death. Faith can be smothered and finally snuffed out. But we have neither the power of physical life nor of spiritual life. This privilege is God’s alone. Lazarus could not raise himself to life. No person can bring themselves to spiritual life. Only the Holy Spirit can raise the soul from death. Should you choose to end your life you would have no power to bring it back. That is the very definition of dead and death. Without Christ spiritual and finally eternal death reign unchallenged.

That’s what makes baptism so important and magnificent. It is Christ’s very own promise and action of sending the Holy Spirit to grant faith and spiritual life to an individual. The Scripture says, “Faith comes through hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”3 Baptism is a visible and tangible vehicle for the word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. The word is clothed with water and carries the authority of God’s own name.

Baptism is not a family ritual or mere religious ceremony. It is the beginning of a life of faith. It is a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. It is the means by which Christ initiates people into His body, the church. Let us not forget what an astounding privilege it is to be received into the one, holy, Christian and apostolic church! Life in the church is marked by a continual contact with Christ: Hearing His promises, receiving His forgiveness, partaking of His body and blood, walking the way of the cross.

This season of Lent is marching on and Holy Week draws near. It is the most sacred time of year marked by the most intense sorrow, repentance, humility, hope and joy. As such, it necessarily defines Christianity. The raising of Lazarus today is a little preview of Easter. But Easter cannot be equally recognized by people of faith as a secular holiday and the most important Christian celebration. We are headed for a parting of the ways. It can be no other way because the Lord knows those who are His4. We can disregard the truth. We can ignore it. But we cannot nullify it. Eventually we will all be called to account. We cannot prevent those things which God decrees. And we cannot initiate and complete things God does not countenance. If God intends to judge sin and unbelief, who can stop Him? If He promises to raise those who believe in Him, who can prevent it?

Thanks be to God that He has sent us His Son to lift from us the weight of sin and death! As the prophet Ezekiel described earlier, He has come to this valley of dry bones5 and raised us out of spiritual deadness by breathing into us His own life and clothing us with His own righteousness. The apostle says the same thing this way, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies thorough His Spirit, who lives in you.”6

To have Christ live in you through the Spirit is to be freed to confidently serve others. There is a story about a hunter in the jungle who came across an elephant that was limping. The hunter followed it closely. Finally it toppled over. The hunter examined its feet. In one foot there was a very large thorn so he removed. Being a regular and seasoned hunter who encountered many elephants the man eventually forgot about the incident. Many years passed and the hunter was in the cheap seats at a circus which had come to town. A turn was given by a troupe of performing elephants. One of these elephants reached out its trunk, encircled his waist, and lifted him from his cheap seat and set him down in a seat in a private box.

A timely favour is rarely forgotten by those with integrity and never by God. But whether or not we receive appreciation when we think it’s due is not really our concern. Our efforts are not for self-recognition but for the sake of the kingdom. As the apostle says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.”7

Dear friends, this mortal life is not an end in itself unless unrepentance and unbelief bind it with that limitation. Lazarus’s return to life was not yet a resurrection. It was a resuscitation. Christ restored him to his previous bodily state, an existence still governed by a fallen world and its consequences. The resurrection of believers on the last day is something much, much more. It is modeled on Jesus’ own resurrection. The Scripture says, “[Christ] will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.”8 Life involves the acceptance of limitations. But the sickness of sin will not end in eternal death. Christ has no limitations. He is the life, hope, and eternal salvation of all who believe. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fifth Sunday In Lent
10 April, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 John 11:4 2 John 11:25-26
3 Romans 10:17 4 See 2 Timothy 2:19
5 See Ezekiel 37:1-14 6 See Romans 8:11
7 Galatians 6:9-10 8 Philippians 3:21