Sermon - The story of Lazarus

The story of Lazarus presents us with a seemingly impossible situation: a horrible situation with the death of a loved one, along with the question ‘does God care?’
And into this situation Jesus comes & brings life out of death, brings good out of bad.
We are told that Jesus was a close friend of Lazarus & indeed his 2 sisters Mary & Martha but we are also told that after being advised of Lazarus’s illness, He then delayed visiting for 2 days.
When Jesus did arrive, Lazarus had been buried for 4 days which prompted questions from Mary & Martha and those supporting them:
Where were you?
Why didn’t you come sooner?
Do you not care?But we also see in the story that Jesus did care… deeply… we see Jesus weeping over the death of his friend. And we see that he delayed for a reason: God was going to do a miracle, a miracle that would point people to God, in that community, in that generation & for generations to come!
But at the time people questioned Jesus and were frustrated by his delay, interpreting this as lack of care.
Today too people question God and question whether God cares.
We too are facing a horrible situation with coronavirus – a seemingly impossible situation as we face a challenge beyond our means. May we look to God who brings life out of death, who brings good out of bad – the God who does indeed care.
Our Gospel reading today shows God bringing about a miracle, with Jesus bringing life out of death, but not without significant opposition along the way.
Jesus faced the impossible:
Lazarus had been dead 4 days not 4 hours
This was beyond all hope and the onlookers knew that
There was disbelief in what Jesus could do, he was too late
I wonder if that is our view in our situation too?Each step of the way in this story Jesus faced opposition:
The disciples challenge Jesus about going to Lazarus in the1st place, ‘don’t go there – the people want to stone you in that place’
When Jesus talks about Lazarus falling asleep referring to his death, the disciples say, ‘Let’s just let him sleep then, the sleep will do him good’
When Jesus meets Martha & says, ‘your brother will rise to life’ Martha responds, ‘yes but not in this life, only in the life to come’
Both Mary & Martha challenge Jesus, ‘If you had been here, Lazarus would not have died’ suggesting he didn’t care & was too late
Even when Jesus asks for the tomb to be opened, Martha cautioned against this saying, ‘the smell will be too bad’All along the way Jesus faced opposition, disbelief & difficulty. Yet he persists in his bringing of new life to people, bringing hope out of despair, bringing good out of bad, life out of death.
Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will LIVE, even though he dies; and whoever lives & believes in me never die. Do you believe this?’
Jesus said, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ and he came out!
People faced a choice: to believe in the God of miracles who can bring hope out of a hopeless situation; OR not.
Jesus spoke of the life to come, the eternal life that he came to bring, life after death but he also spoke of that eternal life invading the present, the life he also came to bring, life before death!
Some resisted, but many did believe and many would see this as a pointer to Jesus’ death & resurrection which would take place in the days ahead.
May we know this resurrection life in us, bringing good out of bad; and may we be channels of that life, that good for others.
Jesus continues to bring life, to bring good out of bad and I hope you are seeing this in the present situation we are facing.
I’ve seen this in the network hubs that have started recently since we have not been able to meet together physically as a church:
Good conversations going on that were not there before
Getting to know people better and supporting each other more
Concerns being raised and being prayed for, for those who are ill or with worriesI’ve seen this in how people in the network hubs are wanting to extend these to include people not on our membership list, as we seek to be a blessing to others and show kindness to others. There is kindness being shown in the foodbank donations being made. And let’s remember that his is how the early church grew: not necessarily through words, or programmes, but by how they loved one another. The Acts of the Apostles in the Bible tells how they shared their belongings with one another according to what each one needed – and every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. Jesus said, ‘If you have love for one another then everyone will know that you are my disciples.’
I’ve seen such kindness personally. In my last sermon I mentioned how my daughter was having difficulty in returning from New Zealand. She got back amazingly last week. Yet I was really touched by a member of the church family e-mailing me to say that her daughter who lives in New Zealand was offering my daughter accommodation there if she was stuck. She didn’t know my daughter and was taking a risk in terms of not knowing if my daughter had the virus. But rather than shutting off, she was offering help in our need.
Others are showing such kindness by shopping for neighbours.
Another example of good out of bad is how this is helping us to see what is important in life and what to prioritise in the nitty gritty of life. Usually we are surrounded by luxuries and the general busyness of life. Now we are beginning to focus more on basic fundamentals and learning how to be more flexible with our set routines.
This is building our compassion for others as we learn what it is like not to have everything we want at our finger tips – we are learning how to make do with what we have and this is resulting in less waste & indeed less pollution.
We are beginning to experience what many people in our world already experience as we begin to see what it is like to lack food availability, to lack job security, to lack financial stability. And may this encourage us to support those in particular need. Our curate Joe Cooper was telling me how there is now increased demand at the foodbank – details of how to help is on our website: how to donate or volunteer.
And let’s remember the key saying of Jesus in this Bible story: ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ and remember the Christian hope that death is not the end. Our other Bible reading today is from Romans 8. At the end of that chapter it says, ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God – neither death not life’.
None of us can guarantee what will happen to us in this life, but we can be certain of God’s love for us, His strength within and the hope of heaven.
And may all this encourage us to lean on God and trust in Him rather than our own resources, and trust in Him rather than being consumed by fear or worry over money or work or loneliness. Like those in our Bible reading we face a choice to believe in the God of miracles who can bring hope out of a hopeless situation; OR not… to plod on by ourselves or to lean on God.
And may our belief in God spur us on to pray for others and be there for others in this situation.
Some of us will have more time to pray at the moment through isolation.
Some may feel frustrated that they can’t be of practical help at the moment, but one of the most valuable things we can do is pray and to pray for others:
Pray for people in your network hub: find out what they want prayer for, and pray  for God’s help along the lines of our service last week, for God’s strength within to guide & sustain
Pray for people on the news, for the government to make wise decisions
Pray for people you know & don’t know in the NHS
Pray for our shops & delivery driversPray for yourselves & for others and be prepared where possible to be part of the answer to those prayers – maybe use the Lord’s Prayer as a pointer for prayer.
In each church I’ve served in I’ve asked specific people to be prayer warriors to pray for specific things:
Not to give them something to do, or make them feel good
But because it always makes a difference for goodMay we all learn to be prayer warriors in this situation:
Not particularly relying on a strong faith
But relying on a simple faith in a strong GodLet’s recap:
In a seemingly impossible situation Jesus brings life out of death, good out of bad
He does so despite significant opposition each step of the way
May we know such resurrection life in us & bring such resurrection life to others 

Tim Fletcher, 29/03/2020