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Worship and Sermons
March 29, 2020

“Lazarus:  Faith in New Life in Christ” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, March 29, 2020, Year A / Lent 5 – Ezekiel 37:1-14  •  Psalm 130  •  Romans 8:6-11  •  John 11:1-45

THEME:  Trust in the new life that Christ makes possible and share it through deeds of service.

 

These past four Sundays, as we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter, we have been exploring Biblical models of faith. 

We began with Adam and Eve in the Garden.  Their example was something to avoid.  They failed to trust in God’s providence.  The consequences were disastrous, not only for them, but for all humanity. 

We have struggled to be faithful to God in each and every generation since.  But God has always remained faithful to us.  The question is will we trust him?

Abram did just that.  He trusted God enough to uproot his entire household and go where God told him to go, to a new land where God would plant his chosen people so they could grow and flourish in covenantal relationship with him. 

Then Moses gave us an example of faithfulness in hard times.  God tested him and the Israelites in the desert.  Time and time again, they doubted him, asking “Is God with us or not?” 

That’s the question we all ask when we go through tough times.  What we learn is what they learned:  Not only is God always faithful, but even when our faith and gratitude fail, God is still gracious to us.

Last week, Samuel and David gave us another picture of faith.  In demanding a king, Israel rejected God, but still God refused to desert them. 

In selecting the youngest and least likely of Jesse’s eight sons to be Israel’s next King, God showed us that what matters most is not the outward appearance of his disciples, but the orientation of their hearts. 

Faithfulness is having a heart like David’s, a heart that seeks God’s will and then does it. 

I’ve been a little surprised as I reflected back on these last 5 weeks.  When I first planned this sermon series, I felt sure we would all be inspired by these examples of faithfulness.  And we have been. 

What I did not expect was to see even more clearly that the greatest example of faithfulness is God’s faithfulness.  Never once does he reject his people or leave them alone.  Even when they rebel and reject him, he’s there. 

God is like a mother hen who will nurture and protect her chicks no matter what, so they might have life at all cost to herself.   

        And that’s exactly what Jesus is trying to get his disciples to see in this morning’s reading.  It’s what he hopes Martha will see when he says, "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?" he asks her.

Her response is the right one.  She says "Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."  But she doesn’t understand what this means. 

Nor do those who have come to mourn Lazarus.  All of them, including Mary and Martha, are focused on his 4-day old corpse, stuck in a dark tomb and stinking of death.

Jesus promises life, but all they can see is death.  And they refuse to be consoled. 

Jesus gets emotional, too.  He even cries.  But the Greek text makes it clear these are not tears of sorrow; they’re tears of frustration.  When Jesus promises Lazarus will live again, that ought to be cause for unrestrained, raucous, jump-up-and-down joy!  But, his disciples miss it. 

Friends, let’s make sure we don’t miss the joy of new life in Christ.  

That sounds like an odd thing to say at a time like this, doesn’t it?  Every day we get new reports about the coronavirus:  so many infected, so many dead.

The numbers just keep going up.  America has now surpassed the rest of the world as the country most affected by this viral pandemic.  New York is now the world’s epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis. 

And you and I are stuck in our homes, going stir crazy, trying our best to be the grace-filled family of faith that God calls us to be.  But that is a difficult task, to be sure.

It’s been hard for all of us.  Your pastoral staff and lay leaders have been on a 2-week crash course in how to be church online.  We’ve had to learn how to foster a virtual community using Internet tools which are new to most of us.  The learning curve is steep, and the process is painful.  

But, as stressed and overwhelmed as we are, it’s even harder for those of us who are isolated at home. 

Last week a colleague shared with me a conversation he had with his elderly mother.  He asked her how this experience compares to growing up in the Depression.  She said, “Back then we had each other.  We got through it together.  This is harder because we’re all so isolated.”

That’s really the truth, isn’t it?  When you’re used to the kind of intimate in-person sharing and support that makes our SSPC family as caring and warm as it is, having to do without that personal connection feels like banishment.

If you’ll forgive me for being slightly crass, I will quote one of our Elders who said at this week’s Session meeting, “This really sucks.”

And it does.

But as lifeless as our current circumstances seem to be, and as isolated and lonely as we feel, we are still a people of faith.  We know and trust that, even in the midst of a pandemic, God is working in our lives to restore us, to bring us to new life.

If we look, we can see God at work all around us.  Along with all those frightening statistics, there are other stories, stories of how people everywhere are finding ways to help one another through this difficult time. 

The most obvious ones, of course, are the medical personnel.  They risk their very lives to help treat those affected by the virus.  They are stepping out in faith, offering their own lives so that others may have life. 

And they are by no means the only ones responding faithfully to this crisis.

Neighbors everywhere are dropping off meals for those who are quarantined.  Restaurants are delivering free food to children whose school lunch programs are closed.

Stay-at-home parents are watching the children of their working neighbors.  Parents who homeschool their kids are teaching other parents how to do it.

Landlords are foregoing rent payments.  Banks are deferring mortgage payments.  

And dare I suggest that God is even working through our elected officials?  City governments are ceasing property foreclosure and parking enforcement, including right here in Harrisburg. 

And, if you felt the earth move a week ago, it’s almost certainly because the IRS pushed back the tax filing deadline to July.  

What’s happening is that, in the midst of worldwide suffering, people in all walks of life, whether they’re conscious of their motivation or not, are responding in faithful ways to bring hope and new life to those whose future looks lifeless.

Friends, that’s what you and I can do in this time of crisis.

If we are suffering, we do not suffer alone.  God would never permit that.  God is faithful – all the time.  He is, even now, at work in our lives through the presence of others who bring us hope and a vison of new life, as Christ intends for everyone. 

If we are healthy and able, we can reach out to be the voices and hands of hope.  We can help others see the possibility of Christ’s vision for new life, even when all looks lost.

Because we are all in this together.  We are joined to God through Jesus Christ.  That bond cannot be undone.

And through him, we are joined to one another.  In just a few minutes, that’s what we will celebrate here at the communion table, and wherever you are at home, as you celebrate this sacrament with us. 

And right now, more than ever, we need to be joined together, especially because we can’t be together.

I recently ran across the story of a woman named Helen Wilson.  In 1918, when the Spanish Flu was ravaging communities all across the world, Helen was 8 years old growing up on her parents’ farm near a small town an hour north of Detroit, Michigan. 

Just like now, all the schools and stores were closed.  Many of her neighbors were sick.  Some had died.

As she recalls, “I wasn’t old enough to know everything that was going on. I didn’t have enough experience in life other than to do what you were told to do.”

What her parents told her to do was to bake bread.  Every day, they would wash their hands and bake bread to take to their neighbors, who were poor just like her family was.  You might say this was another version of the bread of life.     

Just like now, it was a time to take precautions, but also a time for everyone to pull together.  “Neighbors were doing each others’ chores,” Helen recalls, “Neighbors were bringing food to neighbors... they were deeds of passion,” she said.

Friends, as we look ahead to Easter and Christ’s passion, now is the time for us to do deeds of passion.  I know that many of you are already doing them.

Let’s keep it up.  Because, that’s how we point the way to new life in Christ.  

And that is Jesus’ example of faithfulness.

May it be so.

Last Published: March 28, 2020 11:18 AM
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