Fifth Sunday in Lent
God’s power over death
Today we hear about death and new life, the end of some things, and perhaps the beginning of others. Death is always a topic close to home that seems to get closer every year. On the eve of Palm Sunday and Holy Week, it's particularly immediate.
So, it makes good sense to hear Ezekiel preach to the valley of dry bones, listen to Jesus' command, "Lazarus, come out,"—and wonder what all that means and whether it matters.
We, as Christians, have some very distinctive and extraordinary things to say about death—about both physical death and other deaths, like the death of a marriage or relationship or numerous other losses. We say much the same thing about both types of death. What it is can be found in both Ezekiel and John.
The valley of dry bones Ezekiel is looking at and talking to is Israel. The great nation God had created to be a blessing for all the world is gone. There are a handful of exiles in Babylon with few memories, fewer hopes, and a lot of hate for the people they blame for their problems. And there are a few folks left in Judah that the Babylonians figured weren't worth the effort to haul off. That was it. In the eyes of the world, Israel was dead. Never in the history of humanity had, or has, a nation (or a faith) so defeated and scattered ever been rebuilt.
Ezekiel knew that. The Babylonians knew that. Everybody aware of the situation knew that. Death ruled Israel when Ezekiel preached, and death ruled supreme, for the people of Isreal were lost and without hope.
So it was with Lazarus. Lazarus, like Israel, was dead. In fact, Lazarus was dead past three days, and the rabbis taught that after that long, all that was left was corruption. Maybe Jesus could have helped if he'd arrived earlier, but not now. Death ruled over Lazarus.
So, Ezekiel looked over the valley of dry bones, and Jesus looked at the stone in front of the cave where his friend's body lay. When we Christians are at our best, we look at death with the eyes of Ezekiel and of Jesus and see what they saw; death and corruption. They both saw that. But they saw something more.
Ezekiel and Jesus saw that God was Lord, Lord even over death. God was Lord even over a dead Israel—and so God, and God alone, could call Israel back and give it new life and direction. The wonderful part of Ezekiel's vision is not that some dry bones could move—the wonderful part of this story is that the Spirit of the Lord could not be stopped and that even death could not destroy the purposes of God.
So it is with Lazarus. The real point of Saint John's account of Lazarus is not that Lazarus came back. Lazarus will die again and, as far as creation is concerned, will remain dead. So that cannot be the point. The real point is that Jesus is Lord of the living and the dead. The real point is that the voice of Jesus carries—it carries even through the walls of the grave, and his word is the clearest, strongest, and last. That's the good news; that's what we Christians see that non-Christians do not see.
Even through our tears, we see that the word of God, the purposes of God, and the love of God cannot be silenced, cannot be stopped, and will not be stopped. Not even by the strongest and the worst that the world has to offer can God's word be stopped.
At the same time, notice that the accounts of the dry bones and death of Lazeruas give us no information about the mystery of death itself. No matter how hard we try to know about the secrets of death and thereby have some bit of power over it, death remains the great unknown. Nor do these stories promise that everything will be alright or that they will be terrible, as we count such things.
Israel never again became what it used to be or what it wanted to be. The dry bones formed into something very different, less powerful, and less successful, but truer to its mission than Israel had wanted and hoped and prayed for. The promise of new life is not that we are in charge and will get what we want but that God is ultimately in control over all things, including death.
Lazarus doesn't become a celebrity talking about tunnels, bright lights, and four days' worth of even-nearer-than-near-death experiences. There's none of that. Moreover, John's Gospel tells us that Lazarus' life got messier and more complicated after Jesus brought him back to life. He didn't live happily ever after, for we told that "the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well because, on account of him, many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus."
The promise is better than living happily ever after. The promise is that God, in Jesus Christ, is Lord even of the dead. And that what he says goes. That's what we Christians see. We can see no farther—we can see no more, and we should not claim to see more. Of course, being a sinful people, we want more, we want details, and we want guarantees, and we want some power and some control in all of this. But we don't get any of that, not in the face of physical death, not amid the other deaths, the smaller deaths of life.
Instead, in the face of the deaths that make up our lives, we are told first of all that death is stronger than we are and that we have neither knowledge about nor power over death no matter how hard we try to avoid death. Secondly, we are told that Jesus is Lord, Lord of all—Lord of life and death.
So whatever deaths are before us, we have a choice. We must choose to despair or to trust; to give up or to go on; to abandon hope, or to let go in faith. That choice is not made for us but is instead given to us. And that choice can be terribly hard. More than at any other time, the reality of death—death in whatever form—is a call to trust, indeed, to trust blindly in God's love and care.
On the one hand, we see only what non-Christians see, but we see more through our eyes of faith. We see that the dry bones, even our dry bones, can live once more. And we see that the word of Jesus has power. "Come out," the Lord calls. "Come out" into a different life, into new life. "Come out" into a life unknown and unexplained. "Come out" in trust and sure hope. Amen.
Fourth Sunday in Lent series A 2023
This morning I want to go over just a couple of verses.
And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (Joh 9:2 ESV) The disciples want to establish the cause of his disease. They want to discuss who is at fault and who has sinned. In their day and far too many times still today, there were probably four answers they would have given. There is the argument of heredity that the fathers' sins are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generations (see Exod. 20:5). We know this is possible. Blindness and other developmental problems, in some cases, can be the result of the sin of the parent; drug abuse, alcoholism, and such. Then, there was the explanation that the sin of Adam was passed to each member of the human family so that all are subject to death and disease. The Jewish people, at that time, also believed that the baby could sin while in the womb. That is why they asked if the man, himself, had sinned.
Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. (Joh 9:3 ESV) Jesus doesn't give them the answer they wanted. He says the important thing is not to probe around in the past and try to find out who is guilty. God has His own wise reasons for permitting sickness, disease, suffering, and trouble. God doesn't always reveal to us why He permits things. God has His way and doesn't propose to tell us all His reasons. He does ask us to walk with Him by faith through the dark times, the undefinable times, of our lives.
We need to understand that our Lord is not saying for one minute that this man was a spiritual guinea pig. Or that he was purposely made blind so God could be glorified. His being born blind was because he was born in a fallen world.
God has created you and me for His glory. He did not create us, so we might try to be somebody here, although we are to do good, which glorifies God. He created us for His glory. If we miss that, we miss the entire purpose of our creation. These trials and sufferings come to us because they bring about the glory of God. This blind man, through the healing of his blindness, will bring about the glory of God. Not only will this blind man see (and think how much he would enjoy seeing all the rest of his life), but also he will see Jesus Christ and come to know Him as his Savior.
Now Jesus reverts to His original statement. "I am the light of the world." The Spiritual night makes all of humankind blind. No one can see. Christ is the spiritual Light of the World; without Him, everyone is blind. But as long as He is in the world, He is the Light of the World. He is still in the world today, my friend. He comes to us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Unless the Son of God, by means of the Holy Spirit, opens our eyes to see spiritual things, we will remain blind as bats.
Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
Jesus sent him to the pool which is called Siloam, and John makes a point of telling us Siloam means "Sent." Jesus sent him. The blind man needed to show his trust in Jesus. Plus, as I researched this passage, I found out that the Jews needed this testimony because in verse 29, they say, "We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." They must see by this healing of the blind man that Jesus is the God–man who is sent from the Father.
May I point out that the method of healing this man is not the most important part of the account. The Person who heals is the important part. It is Christ who opened his eyes. The blind man's part was to receive, trust and obey Jesus. He just needed to go and wash.
I want to stop here and show how the condition of the blind man parallels our condition as sinners before we were saved. The blind man was outside the temple, shut out from God. Remember that Paul says in Ephesians 2:12 that we were strangers from the covenants of promise, that we had no hope; we were without God in the world. That is the condition of everyone before they are saved. Without Jesus, we are without hope. We are shut out!
The man was born blind, physically and spiritually. He was unable to see anything, much less Jesus, his Savior. A story is told of a man who, after hearing a sermon on John 10:9, where Jesus says, "I am the door: by me, if any man enters in, he will be saved." Just did not get what those words meant. When he got home, as he put the key in the lock and pushed open the door of his home, it struck him. He exclaimed, "Oh, I see!" His family laughed and said, "Of course, you see. You were out in the dark and have come into the light." He answered, "Yes, but I now see that Jesus is the door, and faith is the key that turns the lock. I now trust Christ, and I see Him." The man, as we are spiritually blind from birth. We were born in sin. We came into this world as sinners. And when the Light Jesus touched us, we stepped from blindness to seeing the light. Many still see dimly, but as they read and study God's love letters, their vision improves.
The blind man did not appeal to Jesus. He didn't know Jesus. The Jews passed him by on their way to the temple. The disciples wanted to argue about him. It doesn't appear that they intended to show mercy to this him. This is a picture of the human family. Thank goodness Christ feels compassion for us, and Christ alone can help us. This man's illness provides the occasion to manifest "the works of God.
We know that Jesus did not heal everyone he came into contact with, just as he does not heal everyone today, yet their lives are used to give God glory. For instance, Fanny Crosby, who was six weeks old, had an eye infection. Her regular doctor was out of town, and a doctor gave her the wrong treatment. Within a few days, she was totally blind. If that happened to some people, I am afraid they would be very bitter and would probably spend a lifetime feeling sorry for themselves. Fanny was never bitter, and she never felt sorry for herself. She became a prolific hymnist, writing over 800 hymns and gospel songs, with over 200 million copies printed; she is also known for her teaching and rescue mission work.
We know who caused her blindness - but to Fanny, knowing who caused her blindness didn't matter. Nor did it matter to her that she was blind - because she could see in her mind. Christ didn't heal the physical blindness of Fanny Crosby as he healed the sight of the man born blind. But like that man at the end of today's Gospel reading - when he knelt at Jesus' feet and worshipped him, she saw more than we can imagine - she saw more - and felt more blessed - than millions about her with eyes to see. Her life gave God glory.
The next time you see someone afflicted - in body, mind, or spirit -and judge them, remember what Jesus said about the man born blind; his blindness gave God the opportunity to show the glory of God in his life. Amen
3-12-23 series A
Third Sunday in Lent
Text: John 4:5-26
Title: Gracious Love
As I was reading the Gospel lesson for this Sunday earlier this week, I was reminded of a newspaper article that I read some time ago. I believe it was in the San Antonio Express and News. If I remember correctly, the article was titled: "In Times of Stress, Just Call on Rover". It went something like this: When it comes to times of stress, the most reassuring companion isn't your sweetheart, husband or wife, it's your dog.
When the reporter asked the research scientist, I do not remember her name, the reason behind that statement she replied, "I think it is because dogs do not evaluate us, they just love us as we are".
They do not evaluate, only love. That must have been the reason I thought of the article when I was reading John’s account of Jesus and the woman at the well. For you see that is the way Jesus is, accepting and loving. He just accepted her as she was, even though she was a Samaritan and in a sense an enemy to his people. He spoke to her of God even though she was a woman and not thought worthy of such conversation. And in the end, even though she questioned his statements, he offered her a wonderful blessing by telling her that he was the Messiah.
All he asks her to do is to acknowledge her past life and then believe his words concerning how the time is coming when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. Jesus in reaching out to her where she was, gave her what she needed, just as he gives all who accept him, the good news of life, hope, and the assurance of salvation.
He talks to her and she rushes off to tell others of this man. I do not believe it was just because he knew of her past. I do not believe it was just because he could tell her things that no stranger should know, that she spoke of him to her friends and neighbors. I do not even believe that it was just because he said he was the Messiah, as important as that is, for he had told many others that, and they did not accept him.
No, I think the reason she rushed off was because he showed his acceptance of her, right where she was in her life, even with her marriage problems and her present living arrangements. Jesus showed her that he loved her. He did not condemn her, he treated her as a person worthy of respect, worthy of affection, worthy of love, and worthy of salvation. That is why I love this particular story, for in it you see Jesus accepting and embracing those whom many times we find less than worthy of our love. That is where he is at, and I say thank you Lord! I thank you dear Jesus for accepting me just as I am, as unlovable and as unworthy as I am. I Thank you for giving me the living water of your salvation.
I'm not much of gardener, but one thing I do know is that every plant needs two things to grow, even when it planted the best soil. It must have light and water. It needs light to make it grow and it needs water to survive, so it can grow.
I read an article Friday on an experiment in growing plants in space. In this one experiment half of the plants had light and half did not. Those with the light, had a nice green color, and were growing tall and straight, as they were attracted by the light. Those plants without the light, were dying and what little growth there was, was in all directions. There was nothing to keep them healthy, even though they had plenty of water. There was simply no light that could give direction to their lives.
That is how our lives would be without the light of Christ, for without his light, we would become spiritually anemic. Without Jesus’ light guiding our lives we would be just like those plants that went off in all directions searching for light, but never finding it.
Another thing about plants is that you can put them in the brightest light, but if they are in dry soil, they really struggle to survive, and the dryer the soil gets the more they begin to wither. Those plants, whose leaves are starting to curl or droop, need water, and lots of it fast, so that they can survive, and thrive.
It would not help them to give them more sunlight, they need water. They need water so that their roots can soak up the life-giving water. After a dry plant has had a good soaking of water they change. Some plants will change in front of your eyes, others will just begin to look better, but they all will begin to grow and in time if they are the proper kind of plant will produce the fruit that they have been designed to produce. All plants need light and water to thrive, and spiritually we are no different.
Just like that woman at the well needed to see the light of Jesus, so that she could receive living water. So just as Jesus is the Light to the world, We need his living water for some of us might be awfully dry right now, while others of us are probably well watered. But each one of us, whether we are dry or moist at this very moment, needs the living water that Jesus says he has come to give, that water which wells up to eternal life, that water which never stops flowing into our lives as it continues to bring life to us.
I give thanks to God today, for his love shown by Christ, that love which is poured out on me whenever I am withering and in danger of not producing good fruit.
I give thanks to God today, for his love which gives me hope in those times that I feel hopeless.
I give thanks to God today, for his love that gives me peace, in those times I can not find peace.
I give thanks to God today, for his love has given me assurance of forgiveness, when I was feel like I cannot be forgiven.
In giving thanks to God before you today I am doing what the woman at the well did after encountering Jesus. I am pointing to the one who is the Messiah, the one promised from long ago. I am pointing to the one who has accepted me as I am, the one who calls me a brother and does not hold my human failings against me, the one who encourages me when I need encouragement and challenges me when I need challenging. I am pointing to the one that never, even when I argue with him, or push him aside, rejects or condemns me.
In closing I would like to say a little more about the living water that Jesus was talking about giving to the woman in our text. I think that most of us, if not all, would agree that the living water that Jesus is talking about is a metaphor for Jesus life, death, and resurrection, for without him we cannot have eternal life.
I want to throw out for your consideration something that you might never have thought about, another way of thinking of the living water Jesus is talking about. To help make my point, I am going to use the Greek text, of verse 14, “Indeed, the water I give, whoever I give it to, it will become in that person a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
Not too much different, but enough to suggest that we are to be extensions of Jesus’ living water. We are not to be just containers that hold his water, for water that is still and not kept flowing soon becomes stagnate and finally worthless. We are to be containers that are overflowing with Christ’s living water. Which brings up an interesting question; could it be that the way we receive living water is by giving it away? I think so.
Will you join me in sharing the living water of Jesus Christ with those in our community, and world, so that they too can be filled to overflowing with the living water of Jesus Christ? I hope so, for you see, Jesus is the only living water that can save a person from God’s just wrath. Amen
Second Sunday in Lent series A
March 5, 2023
Sermon Text: John 3:1-17
'What Is The Gospel?'
In his letter to the Romans, from which today's appointed Epistle Reading is taken, St. Paul writes these words in the very first chapter: "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God." And further: "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." And, then, at the end of Romans, he says again: "The grace was given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the Gospel of God."
The Gospel is the one word that sums up the apostolic ministry of St. Paul, which summarizes this penitential season of Lent and sets the Christian faith apart from every other religion in the world.
But what exactly is the Gospel, the Good News? After all, in religious circles these days, the word 'Gospel' refers to just about anything and everything except 'the Gospel' that St. Paul is talking about. There is the 'prosperity Gospel' proclaimed by so-called evangelicals who teach that if you really truly give your heart to Jesus, that if you really work hard enough and pray long enough, God will bless you with material riches.
Or the 'social Gospel' taught and believed in many churches where the Good News has been reduced to nothing more than addressing such social issues like world hunger or global warming or what have you, or the God is "love" Gospel, so anything you do or say is okay – those Gospels St Paul writes it in Galatians, is "a different Gospel which is no Gospel at all, a distortion of the Gospel of Christ."
And so, what exactly is the Gospel, the Good News? Well, that is what we want to focus our thoughts on today. And this we shall do by taking a closer look at the various words and phrases of what is probably the most familiar passage in all of Holy Scripture – John 3:16, which is often called 'the Gospel in a nutshell.' So we begin: "For God..." And this is far more significant and important than we might first think; for the Gospel message, the Christian faith, begins not with us but with God. Right away, we are directed away from ourselves, away from the things and the events of this world, to the one, holy, almighty, eternal God who has revealed Himself in His Word. You see, God is not just some vague, higher power, but the all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing, all-seeing Creator and Ruler of the entire universe who has made us in His image. God – in whom and through whom we live and move and have our very being; that is where the Gospel, the Christian faith, begins.
"For God so loved ..." Now, what is so amazing is that this one, holy, almighty, eternal God is not only a God of awesome power, righteous wrath, and justice, but He is also a God of love. And yet, how often do we flippantly and carelessly speak of God's love that we rob it of its meaning? God is our lover.
"For God so loved the world ..." Now, who exactly does God love? Who does God have compassion and pity, care and concern for? Why, the world! But here, in these words, we come face to face with the fantastic and amazing truth that God loves the world. Yes, God loves His creation even though it has been corrupted and marred by sin. God loves all whom He has made even though, as the psalmist declares, "There is not a righteous person on earth who does good and sins not." God loves us. He is concerned about us and cares for us. What a Gospel! What Good News!
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son ..." What specifically has God given us? What are the concrete expressions of God's love for the world? Well, there are many, but the best gift of all is God's only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself our very flesh and blood in the womb of the virgin Mary and came into this world as one of us.
God gave His only Son as the supreme gift of all – as the atoning sacrifice for the entire world's sins, as the payment price for our many violations of His holy Law, as the One who would die in our very place on a cross. What a Gospel! What Good News for sinners like you and like me!
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever ..." Now, notice again who the gift is for, 'whoever' To be sure, this is most difficult for us to really grasp and accept. After all, somehow, we cannot envision the Son of God hanging on Calvary's cross as the stream of humanity passes by without indicating, "For this one I die, because they meet the criteria I set out for them to obey. The others I did not die for because, well, they did not meet my standard. But no, God does not act that way. Instead, He dies for all – for 'whoever,' including you and me; thank you, Lord.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him ..." Whoever does what? "whoever believes in Him." It's as simple as that. No works are necessary, but only an empty heart that believes gratefully and accepts and receives the blessings of God's great love.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." Now, when all is said and done, what is the end result of the Son of God dying on the cross? What happens to those who do believe in Him? Just this: eternal life – a life where sin and death, sorrow and shame, wrath and punishment, pain and tears, are no more; a life with the one, holy God not only in eternity but even right here and now.
And is not this what you and I and all people really need? After all, financial security does absolutely nothing to secure your eternal future. Your good health is going to last only so long until you close your eyes in death. Peace among the nations, peace among family members, is not only fleeting at best, but will last for this life only. But here in the Gospel, we have a life, peace, health, security that lasts forever. What a Gospel! What Good News!
And so, there you have it – the Gospel: the Good News, the heart of Lent, the center of the entire Christian faith the one message that sets the Christian faith apart from every other religion in the world' the one message that alone is to be proclaimed here among us, the one message that so many others in this world also need to hear and believe the one and the only message in this world that is of eternal significance and importance, the one message that truly and really is Good News: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."
May God grant that, by the power of His Holy Spirit, such may indeed be so and continue to be so for every single one of us. Amen.