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The Rev. Joseph Winston November 1, 2009
Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 You are absolutely powerless to change the future that awaits you. Death is in your cards. Surely as the day turns into night, the time will certainly come when you no longer exist. Nothing will remain of you except for your body and the memories about you. Even this conﬁguration of your body in the tomb and the remembrances of others will not last forever. Time will slowly wash away what everyone knows about you. The day will ﬁnally arrive when no one knows you and all that remains of you is dust.2 The Church remembers this fact that most of us would rather forget. On Ash Wednesday, the pastor invites all of the church, from the youngest member to the oldest, to receive the ashes that tell you what will happen. The pastor traces out the
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3. 2 See Genesis 3:19, 18:27; Job 10:9, 30:19, 34:15; Psalm 22:29.
sign of the cross with the coarse remains of burned palms mixed with ﬁne olive oil on your forehead and says to you the words that God ﬁrst spoke to our father Adam, “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return (Genesis 3:19b).” These words of judgment come to you for one reason. You just like your parents. Every day you choose to please yourself rather than following God’s desires. Adam and Eve’s story is identical to yours. They doubted God’s Word. They believed what they wanted. They took what was not theirs. You do the same. You continue to repeat these actions in your life. There is a cost associated with your behavior. You will die. You will be forgotten. You will be nothing more than dust. This is not God’s design for creation. God planned something else. You can ﬁnd the task God set before you in the great commandment. You are to love the Lord your God with your entire existence and love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matthew 22:35-40). God expects you to follow this law. When you do what God requires, God richly blesses you and your family. But you do not follow the work God set before you and today’s Gospel lesson gives you a glimpse of your future. The person who plays your role is Lazarus. In some ways, you know very little about his background. Lazarus lives in Bethany, a small town about one and one-half miles east of Jerusalem (John 11:1). Mary and Martha are his two sisters (John 11:3). These three have a close relationship with Jesus. He loves them (John 11:5). You know two more facts. Lazarus is sick and ultimately this will cause his death (John 11:2, 11:4, 11:11, 11:13-14). In other ways, you know quite a lot 2
about Lazarus. He is just like you. No matter how hard he tries, he does not do what God commands. Despite his inability to live as God requires, Jesus loves Lazarus. The lesson for the day begins after Lazarus has paid for the choices he made in his life. Lazarus is dead (John 11:32). There is no mistaking this fact. His body is in the tomb (John 11:34). It has been there for four day and despite their best preparations for burial, his body is rotting (John 11:39). Something else must be said. Death is painful. It hurts those left behind. No longer will they be able to hold their loved one who now lies in the grave. They will never be able to talk about the past and dream of a better day. All their hopes for the future are gone forever and this void cannot be ﬁlled. The Gospel reﬂects this reality that you experience. The community is in mourning for what has been lost (John 11:33). Mary meets Jesus with tears in her eyes (John 11:33). She realizes what tomorrow holds: emptiness. She and Martha must live without their brother. Jesus knows just like you that life is not to end in death. His Father, our Lord, made us to live in relationship with God. Death takes away this possibility and gives us nothing in return except suffering. Jesus feels this pain of what should be in every part of His body (John 11:33).3 . This makes Him angry at the choices you make that shortchange you out of life and bring heartbreak to the survivors. He breaks down and cries (John 11:35).4
The Greek at this point reads, “ νεβρι ήσατο τ πνεύ ατι κα τάραξεν αυτόν.” Jesus feels anger throughout His entire existence 4 This verse contains the only use of the Greek verb δακρύω in the New Testament that means
You might think that when presented with the choice of living forever with God, you would jump at the chance. You do not. You might feel that just stopping all the pain that death brings into the world would be enough for you to change your behavior. It is not. You might hope that taking advantage of God’s plan for you is motivation for you to follow God. That is not working either. You continue to act the same. The results will not change. You will die. You will be forgotten. You will turn to dust. That is a frightening story and it is all true. Jesus came to save people just like you. It does not matter to Him if you know the difference between right and wrong but just could not make it work out. He comes for you. It does not matter to Him if you feel like you could do a bit better but never have experienced the emotion of being loved by God. He is your Savior. It does not matter to Him if you have run out of hope for the future because of the problems you see with yourself. He gives you life. That is Christ’s mission. He comes for all those people who are sick of the problems found in the world. He comes to release all of humanity from the hurt that binds them. He comes for all those who hunger for peace that passes understanding. He comes for you. We see this Good News in today’s Gospel. Jesus cries at Lazarus’ grave (John 11:35). Jesus knows the life death has cut short. He feels the pain of the ones left behind. He goes through the shattering of all the promises that cannot be kept.
to shed tears.
When you die, Jesus will weep at your tomb. He knows whom you leave behind. He experiences the loneliness of the survivors. He sees all the dreams broken. Knowledge, emotion, and hope will never give you life. These things cannot remember you. These powers will not keep you from turning into dust. There is One who created wisdom. There is One who brought feelings into existence. There is One who made trust. That One is God. He sent His Son to save you. The Word that caused existence to begin knows your name. He will call into your grave.5 He will cry out to you. Just like Lazarus, when this happens you will be completely dead. The dead cannot think of what to do when He speaks your name. The dead cannot feel His divine presence when He calls out to you. The dead cannot muster hope for a new life when He cries out to you. You are dust and dust cannot do anything on its own. That does not stop God. He called Lazarus out of the grace even though he was dead (John 11:43). He created your parents without their help. He gave Adam life all by Himself. After all, He is God. God can do anything, including giving
See the promise in John 5:25-28 that Jesus will call to the dead and they will listen to His Word. “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice.” (NRSV)
life to dust. You are powerless to change the future. You have ignored God’s Word and you will die. That is not the whole story. There is One who can make all things new (Revelation 21:1). There is One who will wipe away every tear (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:4). There is One who has already destroyed death (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:4). That One is Jesus. He saves you. Today’s Gospel Lesson is not the only look at our future. In every age, God gives us men and women, boys and girls in which the love of God shines through their everyday choices. They show us what we will be. We call them saints. In our Lutheran tradition, a saint is a person, who lives with God’s gift of faith in the messiness of this life with all of its trials and tribulations.6 You know people that clearly ﬁt this deﬁnition. Maybe it is one of your grandparents or parents. Or perhaps it is friend, a neighbor, a spouse, or even a child. Do not sell yourself short. You too are a saint.7 You live out God’s command to serve both God and your neighbor. Our Lutheran Confessions teach that you should thank God for these saints for the following reason.8 Saints serve as examples of how God works in our lives through His gifts of faith and grace.9 . This alone is reason enough to remember
Apology, Article IV, n. 168, Theodore G. Tappert et al., editors, The Book of Concord, (Fortress Press, 1959), p. 130, n. 190, ibid., p. 133, n. 198, ibid., p. 134, n. 203, ibid., p. 135, n. 326, ibid., p. 157 n. 328, ibid., p. 158. 7 Article VII, Latin, n. 1, Ibid., p. 32, Article VIII, n. 1, ibid., Apology, Article IV, n. 326, ibid., p. 157, Apology VII and VIII, n. 8, ibid., p. 169, n. 16, ibid., p. 171, n. 20, ibid., n. 28, ibid., p. 173. 8 Apology, Article XXI, n. 4, Ibid., p. 229. 9 Apology XII, n. 55, Ibid., p. 189.
all those people who witness God’s salvation to us. The Apostle’s Creed that we share with the rest of the Church reminds us of this basic fact. We confess that we believe in the communion of saints. This is the Church. It is made up of both the living and the dead, those who have gone to be with Christ and those who still are here. That is why we recall today all those who died in Christ through death or baptism. We give thanks to God for all the saints today that show you what it means to be a follower of Christ. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”10
Tappert, Theodore G. et al., editors, The Book of Concord, (Fortress Press, 1959).
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