"What Was Jesus Doing"

Sermon Delivered By Reverend Richard E. Stetler – April 10, 2011

Centenary United Methodist Church

John 11:17-44


     This morning we are going to consider Jesus' remarkable miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead.  What makes this story quite distinctive from all other miracles performed by Jesus is that he intentionally allowed his good friend to die and was even glad that he was not present to heal him.  He told his disciples, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I will go and wake him up.  When the disciples misunderstood, Jesus restated his comment, “No, Lazarus has died, but for your sake I am glad that I was not with him, so that you will believe." (John 11:11f.) What was Jesus doing?

     This same theme appears again when Martha learns that Jesus was approaching her home.  She ran to meet him and exclaimed, "If you had only been here, Lord, my brother would not have died!"  Jesus responded, "I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in me will never die.  Do you believe this?"  Martha said, "Yes, Lord! I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

     Once he knew that his identity was firmly embedded in the minds of all the witnesses, Jesus then went to the tomb, had several people remove the stone and he called out Lazarus' name.  Miracle of miracles, Lazarus walked out of the tomb and Jesus gave instructions for friends to unwrap his body from the burial cloths.  Everyone was awe-struck with what they had just witnessed. 

     This event spread like a wild fire.  Eventually, reports of Lazarus’ resurrection reached the ears of the Pharisees and the members of the Sanhedrin.  They were so startled and troubled by this information that the authorities began plotting to kill both Jesus and Lazarus.  (John 12:9f)  It was the rumors of what Jesus accomplished that became partially responsible for the remarkable crowd that filled the street leading into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. 

     Why would Jesus put his friends through the death of a loved one simply to imprint his identity in their minds?  Our lesson described the strong emotions of those who came to comfort Mary and Martha. Even Jesus wept. The answer to this question may lie with Jesus’ understanding of what was going to happen to him.

     He was on a collision course with the established religious authorities.  He had planned to surrender peacefully and willingly in spite of what outcome he would experience.  He wanted his most intimate friends to understand beyond the shadow of any doubt who he was.

     What made Lazarus' resurrection so critical was that it would deeply impact everyone who witnessed it.  The resurrection of Lazarus became a necessary ingredient as important as the symbolism displayed by Jesus on Palm Sunday as well as the bread and the wine during his final meal with the disciples.  Jesus hoped that these intentional acts would inspire the confidence and courage of his followers to carry on when the day arrived that he would no longer be with them.   

     Perhaps a number of us have experienced a seminal moment in our lives that changed our entire orientation of our relationship with God. It is one thing to attend and remain attentive at church and Sunday school having never missed a single Sunday for years, and quite another to experience an event that is so powerful and so convincing that God touched us in such a way that we never got over it. 

     Jesus understood that living in this world is a very challenging assignment.  He was never sure that his disciples understood much that he was teaching.  Several times he had to explain the meaning of his parables to them.  There were moments when he became so frustrated with his disciples and his listeners that he scolded them, "How unbelieving you people are!  How long must I stay with you?  How long do I have to put up with you?" (Mark 9:19)  He knew that if the worst thing imaginable happened to him, his disciples would scatter.

     Even if they went into hiding, he wanted them to remember him and particularly what he had asked them to do.  He was placing into the hands of his emotionally fragile disciples his mission and purpose for coming into the world.   Even Peter, the rock, would deny ever knowing Jesus.  Another among his chosen would betray him. 

     All the events of Holy Week were carefully scripted by Jesus to create images his followers would never forget.  He wanted to communicate what the will of God was for all humanity and that people had to be taught what living in the Kingdom of God looks like.

     Today, most of us recognize that the testimony of others recorded over 2,000 years ago has not raised the spiritual consciousness of the world.  No matter how wonderful our teachers are or have been, growing up and living the values they left with us is a choice each of us has to make. 

     According to our Gospel writer, this opportunity happened right after the resurrection of Lazarus.  The self-absorbed Pharisees however, only worried about one thing.  They said, "What should we do?  If we allow this man to go on this way, everyone will believe in him and the Roman authorities will take action and destroy our Temple and our nation." (John 11:47f)  They could not see anything beyond their own self-interest.  This is the way humanity has tended to live in every generation.  Self-interest prevents us from waking-up to the presence of the Kingdom of God that has always surrounded us.

     Jesus could come back today, perform the same miracles, proclaim the same message and generate the same results.  Not everyone would care.  Some might turn their heads briefly out of curiosity, but like on Palm Sunday, they would melt back into their routines, their television programs, their video games, their sporting events, their concerns about the faltering tourist trade, the impact on food from the rising commodity prices as well as the amount of import duties, the home foreclosures and the recent gang-related murders of young men.  The list of distractions is as enormous for us as it was for the people in Jesus’ day.

     Every generation has had its distractions that are capable of making people blind to the presence of the Kingdom of God – that consciousness, that awareness of the loving, creative energy we have the potential to exude, and how and why having that power is far more important than anything else in this world. What Jesus was proclaiming through all the episodes that led up to his crucifixion was: “Not everything in your world is as it appears and you refuse to wake up to that reality!"

     Recently, we have heard or read about the laments of former teachers over the senseless gang-related murders of some of their former students.  They are heart-broken.  We hear all the reasons why gangs are evolving, e.g., prayer was taken out of our public school, both parents are working and into their own worlds, boundaries for children in many families are more vague than in prior years, gangs provide an identity for which these young men hunger and modern families have grown more complacent in exposing their children to spiritual values and guidance.

     People always look for places to assign blame for why people behave as they do.  The one they seldom mention is the failure of many people to take personal responsibility for the choices they make.  These young men are so asleep that they are not aware of what they are throwing away. 

     There was one time when Jesus experienced the same thing and he said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem!  You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you!  How many times I wanted to put my arms around all of you just as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!”  (Matthew 23:37)

     If Jesus were here today he would say to them, Wake up!  Wake up! God has made you in his image.  God made all of you to be creators.  You are lost in a dream that will not allow your spirit to evolve.  Let the light within you shine so that it will enhance the lives of others.”  Where has the motivation gone for people to polish their own stone and bring their best into every circumstance of life?

     One day a young boy went to the drug store and asked to borrow the telephone.  He called a woman named Mrs. Johnson.  He said, “Mrs. Johnson, do you need a yard boy?  I am a very hard worker.”  Mrs. Johnson replied, “No thank you.  I already have a yard boy and he does excellent work.”  The young man persisted, “Does he get there on time?  Does he charge a fair wage? When he is finished, does he put everything away in its proper place?  Is he conscientious?” Mrs. Johnson responded, “I really appreciate your enthusiasm, but the young man I have now does a remarkable job and I am not interested in having anyone else.”  The young man thanked her for her time and hung up.

     The pharmacist overheard a part of the conversation and immediately offered him a job which he could start any time he was able. The young man replied, “Thank you very much, sir. I really appreciate your offer, but I already have a great job.  You see, I am Mrs. Johnson’s yard boy and I was just checking up on myself.”  Today, where is that spirit?  During Lent, are we checking up on ourselves?

     One of the saving graces that God placed before humanity is that absolutely nothing else works to help us grow toward our ultimate destiny until we discover and use the creative, loving energy patterns of which all of us are capable.  Loving energy comes in millions of different forms from yard boys to wealthy industrialists who love giving back to the world.  Any other response that people make, any other substitutes, any other excuses will only cause people to engage in delay in finding the narrow gate that leads to our continued evolution as spirit beings.

     This reality can never be compromised or threatened by anything any more than we can stop the sun from coming up in the morning.  Nothing can prevent God’s will from being accomplished in every one of God’s children. Those who wake up and open their eyes to this level of understanding will have discovered the pearl of great price. 

     It was this understanding that allowed Jesus to go to the cross without any resistance.  He knew that he had overcome the world by continuing to exude compassion for those who had driven nails into his hands and feet.  Absolutely nothing has been able to extinguish the eternal flame that continues to radiate from that cross.

     God remains very patient with the evolution of humankind as civilizations come and go, as very passionate religious zealots resonate with a gospel of destruction and death, as dictators terrorize the people they claim to be serving, as military groups need to win wars that no one ever wins, or as people struggle in poverty while suffering indignities and injustices that only time and love will heal. 

     Jesus wanted future generations to remember that we are all children of God and no one can take away from God his ownership of who each of us will eventually become.  God's love for his children goes well beyond anything we human beings can imagine. Jesus said, "In my father’s house are many mansions."  There are probably more levels of awareness on the other side of the curtain than there are grains of sand on Bermuda's pink beaches.

     Everything Jesus did from the resurrection of Lazarus to the empty tomb has helped us to remember that when we follow Jesus, we too will overcome the world and all its enticements that do not exist beyond the boundaries of this world.  Again, what was Jesus doing?  He was making sure that he and God’s Kingdom would be remembered until the material world ends.  He did a great job.  Jesus taught, “Where your treasure is, there will your hearts be also.” Where are our hearts this morning?