John 11:1- 44
It seems that I spend my life avoiding awkward moments, and they seek me out like a guided missile. So I was a little amused when I experienced someone else in an awkward moment. Imagine this scene: It happened while I was standing in a lift line at this very tony ski resort
An attractive couple stood in front of me all decked out in their new powder suits with the latest skiis. – Mr. Sauve was out to impress his girlfriend. The girlfriend stepped up to the lift operator who skanned her lift pass – “I’m sorry ma’am, you have last year’s pass and I need to confiscate it from you.”
The girlfriend turns to Mr. Suave and says: “You told me this pass was good and would work!” All eyes are on Mr. Sauve .Awkward!
Awkward moments might be amusing for the onlookers. But the awkward moment in today’s gospel is heart wrenching. I wonder if you caught it? It happened in a little village just outside of Jerusalem.
They were a happy family living together in their family home. Two sisters and their brother. And they had become friends with a radical rabbi, a miracle worker, named Jesus of Nazareth. He was always welcomed in their home and often stayed with them even though he was highly controversial at this time among the rulers and the religious elite. They willingly put themselves at risk of those powers that be by their friendship with this rabbi. And I’m sure Jesus very much appreciated their hospitality, their friendship.
So far, they had not suffered any repercussions for that friendship. But the dark clouds of woe were gathering. Life for this happy family was about to take a sharp and tragic turn. And despite their warm and close relationship with their friend, Jesus of Nazareth, that friendship would not insulate them from tragedy. It would not immunize them from difficulty.
That’s something that a lot of people might miss in this story. Loving Jesus – being linked with Jesus – does not immunize us from all life’s difficulties. We live in a fallen world. And the bible says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.
Well, tragedy has struck this happy family, these dear friends of Jesus. The brother, Lazarus, has contracted an illness and will die.
Some believe that sickness is the result of personal sin, but that’s not true. Some of the best Christians in the world have been invalids and suffered a lot of pain. While some of the most wicked people have enjoyed robust health.
There are a lot of people right now suffering with a virus. For believers who struggle with sickness today, the virus will not have the last word. We have God’s promise that there will be no sickness or pain in heaven.
Lazarus was a friend of Jesus and finds himself on his death bed. We don’t know how long Lazarus was sick, but we do know how long his sisters Martha and Mary agonized over his death….four long days.
On day one, Lazarus did not respond to Martha’s care. In fact, he was getting worse. The sisters are at their wits end, so Martha sends a messenger to get Jesus. “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
Notice here that Martha doesn’t tell Jesus what to do. And she doesn’t appeal to Jesus based on Lazarus’ merits, on Lazarus’ worthiness. She doesn’t say, “You know Lazarus is a good man and has served his community well over the years. He doesn’t deserve this illness and we can’t get on without him.” Instead, Martha appeals to Jesus on the basis of Jesus’ love for her brother. She knows that Jesus will do what he knows would be best for her brother.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to ask for in our prayers. We face a situation and we really don’t know the best outcome. But God does. So we can simply pray, Lord, you know the situation. Do what is best for me and what will bring glory to you.
Well, the messenger leaves immediately for Jesus but it’s already too late. Later that day Lazarus dies. In Jewish tradition, that corpse has to be buried within 24 hours. The body has to be cleaned and wrapped with spices in linen for entombment.
We know Martha. She’s the one you can count on to get things done. There will be time to grieve later. Yet, as she goes about the day making the necessary preparations, she must be asking herself, What more should I have done? Why didn’t I send for Jesus earlier? How will we get on without our brother?
There are no answers now. At day’s end, she retires for the evening, comforted by the thought that at least their friend, Jesus, will come tomorrow. Jesus will be here to help us get through this. He’s just a day’s journey away!
It’s Day Two. Word of Lazarus’ death spreads fast and friends from Jerusalem arrive in the village to console Martha and Mary. Lazarus body has been wrapped for burial and entombed
The messenger that Martha had sent now returns from Jesus. But why isn’t Jesus with him? Didn’t Jesus get the message? Didn’t he understand her predicament? Wasn’t he concerned about Lazarus?
As the day comes to an end, Martha goes to bed a little unsettled: Surely, Jesus will come tomorrow.
The reality sets in on Day Three. The numbness starts to wear off for Martha Lazarus is not coming back There is no man in the house. Life is changed for her and Mary forever
And still . . . no Jesus.
Could we blame Martha if she is feeling abandoned? Could we blame her if a seed of resentment starts to take root? Could we blame her if a flicker of doubt intrudes? I thought Jesus was our friend. I thought he loved us.
Are there times when you pray and it seems there is no answer coming back.
The whole world might be coming down on you.
You earnestly pray for God’s help, but he seems distant, aloof.
Martha goes to bed at the end of day three
It’s almost a double death: Lazarus and her friendship with Jesus.
The villagers are mourning for Lazarus.
Those mourners will weep and wail for a week
Martha’s friends are there to console her.
But the most important friend is absent.
Then word comes – Jesus is coming!
It’s been four long days.
Martha breaks with convention and leaves the home running to meet him.
Now Martha is face to face with Jesus
And then……..the Awkward Moment
In 1979, Iran was in the midst of revolution The EDS Corporation doing business there, but things fall apart fast, Two EDS executives were arrested on trumped up charges . EDS tried everything to get them released, to no avail. Then the people revolted and stormed prison. In the commotion, the execs slip out and start making their way out of Iran to Turkey.
In the middle of the night a man named Ross Perot gets a phone call at his home in Texas. He is the owner of EDS. He hangs up the phone, dresses and drives to office. The staff has already been called in. Within hours, he is on a chartered jet heading for Washington D.C. From Washington, he continues non-stop until he personally rescues the Iran staff in Turkey.
When Ross Perot got word of the situation in Iran, he immediately dropped everything to rescue two employees. He did not wait for two more days.
So now Martha stands before Jesus. It’s an awkward moment because Martha realizes that Jesus delayed two days before coming.
Granted that Lazarus died on that first day. Jesus wouldn’t have been able to get back on time. But nevertheless, after Jesus heard, he waited two more days. Martha looks at Jesus and says, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Ever experience an awkward moment with Jesus? You think you have a good relationship with him. You pray to him. You count on him to respond in a certain way But he doesn’t. And you find yourself disappointed, disillusioned, maybe a little angry with Jesus.
How do you face that awkward moment when:The Jesus you love, the Jesus you worship Is the same Jesus who disappoints you?
Jesus tells Martha, Your brother will rise. And Martha falls back on theology. I know that my brother will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.
Martha doesn’t have the complete picture. You see, she’s falling back on the theology that she’s been taught. She’s putting her faith in an event. But it’s not an event that will save her. It’s not theology that will comfort her, or save her brother.
Jesus responds to Martha with one of the most remarkable claims ever uttered by human lips. He tells her: I am the resurrection. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. Now that’s a pretty straightforward sentence. But people always want to add a word to it: “Again.” He who believes in me will live AGAIN, even though he dies.
Hear what Jesus is telling Martha. For those who believe in Jesus, though they die by all appearances to those in this life, they’re not dead. They’re alive!
The Evangelist Dwight Moody was famous for saying: Someday you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of East Northfield is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all – out of this clay tenement into a house that is immortal; a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned like unto his glorious body. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.”
That is our great hope as believers. It’s not life again after some in-between period. It’s life now in Christ and life that continues forever – uninterrupted! Because we place our faith not in an event or in a theology, We place our faith in a person.
There’s another person in this narrative – Mary Like Martha: She also loved Jesus She also went through four days of questions, grief, disappointment. She too faces Jesus in an awkward moment. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
But Mary responds differently She doesn’t theologize Instead, she throws herself at the feet of Jesus and pours out her heart weeping.
The moment is awkward because Martha and Mary still don’t fully know their friend Jesus. It’s not that they expected too much of Jesus, they expected too little.
They look at Jesus and say, “It’s too late.” But for God, can it ever be too late? For God, can the task ever be too difficult?
Jesus sees Mary weeping and a lot of the Jews who were weeping with her. He stands in the presence of great emotion and in the presence of death. This has come about because of death. And death is the ultimate result of sin.
He weeps at what he sees around him. But Jesus does not weeping the tears of sorrow for Lazarus. He’s on his way to raise Lazarus. He weeps for all that havoc that has been brought about through sin and death in the world. He grieves over the tragedy of the human situation that he sees around him. And then he calls out, “Take the stone away.”
They’re all aghast. Jesus was supposed to come and heal Lazarus, not open his grave.
There are times when we might pray for something and God answers our prayer. But we don’t see it, because we are expecting a different answer. I’ve prayed for patience. But God didn’t answer that prayer by suddenly endowing me with the patience of Job. No, instead, God kept putting me into tedious situations and among annoying and aggravating people that would demand my patience if I were to ever get anywhere.
Well, all goes quiet and the stone is removed. Jesus then calls out: Lazarus, come out!Jesus was speaking to someone who could hear him. He was speaking to someone who was not dead, but very much alive.
Lazarus does, indeed, come out. Again, Dwight D. Moody once said that if Jesus had not used the name Lazarus, he would have emptied the graveyard that day.
What often goes unnoticed in this story is the cost that Jesus bears for his love of Martha and her family. Because word of this miracle would spread quickly. It would back to Jerusalem, to the governing authorities and to the religious elite. It would threaten their positions of power. So they would begin their plotting to get rid of Jesus…….permanently.
There may be times when each on of us experience an Awkard Moment with Jesus A moment when he seems silent. A moment when He doesn’t meet our expectations A moment when we will question whether he really does care about our problem.
Martha expected too little of their friend, Jesus. In the end, she learned that he was indeed a good friend. But he was much more.
It’s not a theology we come today to proclaim. It’s not a pattern of life that we follow. It’s not a tradition that we keep or a ritual that we practice. We come together today because of a person.
And I pray that all of us – in this time of uncertainty, In this time of loneliness for many, In this time of financial distress, During our four days of waiting and wondering,
We might know that Jesus is more than a friend. He is the resurrection, he is the life, He is very present with each of us today in this uncertainty. And he will be with us tomorrow.