Sermon based on John 11 and Psalm 130, written and delivered by Rev. KJ Norris for Kerr Presbyterian Church on Sunday, March 29, 2020, during the Coronavirus social isolation period.
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
We are all in a season of waiting. Waiting for the quarantine to end. Waiting to see our loved ones again. Waiting for school to start. Waiting for Amazon packages to arrive. Waiting for the sun to shine so we can get our 10,000 steps in today. Just waiting.
And today in our Scripture we encounter a family who is also waiting. Their brother is sick. He is close to death. And they send word to the One who they know can bring healing to the body, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Last week we saw the healing power of the Lord. We know that Jesus is one who can bring new sight to the blind. Jesus revealed he is God not only in his words, saying that he himself is the Lord, but also in deeds, spreading mud on the blind man’s eyes, showing that he can create the way that God created humankind in the beginning and accepting worship from the blind man.
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus know that Jesus is Lord, and they await his coming. They wait for him to come and heal. Lazarus has fallen ill, and they can do nothing but wait.
But Jesus does not come. Our Scripture today does not give a reason for the delay. We don’t know if he was asked to preach at a synagogue or if he was healing others. We don’t know if he was blessing children or feeding 5,000. We simply know that Jesus chooses to stay away. He delays.
And the Scripture gives us one other interesting detail. It says three times, once in verse 3 and then again in verse 5 and again in verse 36 that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters. In fact, when John tells this story, he goes out of his way to describe the love of Jesus.
In Greek there are many different words for love. Some show a friendly kind of love, the love we have for our coworkers who we miss during this time. The love we have for our pets who are keeping us laughing while we stay at home. The love we have for those we encounter at the grocery store who stay six-feet away from us to protect us from falling ill. It’s a good kind of love. The love of a friend.
And when others are quoted describing the love Jesus has for Lazarus, they use this word. They know that Jesus and Lazarus are friends, and they refer to Jesus loving Lazarus as a friend.
But John, a disciple who knew the deep love of Jesus, John–as he retells this story–as it has been written down for us today–as John narrates what is happening in verse 5 he uses a different word for love. John tells us about Jesus’ love for Lazarus by using a word for love which goes beyond friendship.
Jesus loves Lazarus with a kind of love that is described in 1 Cor 13, the Scripture often used at weddings. A love that is patient and kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. A love that does not insist in its own way (1 Cor 13:4-5, pastoral emphasis).
This love, this agape, as it is named in Greek, is a love that is associated with God. The love of our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. A love that is completely selfless. A love that is rooted in commitment, in covenant. A love that never gives up, never ends, never fails (1 Cor 8, pastoral emphasis).
Jesus loves Lazarus completely, with this kind of deep, committed love. And yet, from the perspective of the family, Jesus does not go to them in their time of need. Jesus loves them, and yet, Mary and Martha watch their brother get sicker and sicker. They wait. They hope. They wait. They pray. They wait.
We are in a season of waiting.
Have you every been here before? I’m not just talking about waiting in the checkout line or waiting for your tax return, or waiting for baseball season to start.
I mean real waiting. Have you waited for a loved one to come home from a war-torn land? Or for a prognosis on a spot of skin that your family members told you just didn’t look quite right. Or waited the long wonderful nine months for the coming of a child?
Waiting is not easy. It tests our patience and resolve. It pushes our hope to the boundaries. It makes us start to ask questions we may not have thought of before. Is God with me? Does God love us? Or in the words of the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Psalm 13:1-2a, NRSV)
Mary and Martha watch their brother get sicker and sicker. They wait. They hope. They wait. They pray. They wait. And Lazarus dies. Neighbors show up and begin to mourn. And still Jesus does not arrive. John tells us that Lazarus has been dead four whole days by the time Jesus comes.
Have you ever waited for something?
Not just waiting for the end of a class period, for the bell to signify it is time to go to lunch. But really waited.
One of the most heroic tales of waiting I can remember happened in 2002. You might remember that in Somerset County eighteen coal miners were working underground when suddenly they dug into a room full of water. Nine of the miners were able to escape, but another nine were trapped behind 50 million gallons of water. The entrances to the mine where the men were trapped were nearly underwater. And people feared that the miners would run out of oxygen.
It took 1 hour and 45 minutes before teams could drill a small hole and insert an air pipe. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for those who were waiting in the mine. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to drill that shaft, waiting patiently for the bit to do its work. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for the families of those who were trapped. The whole state, the whole nation held its breath while we waited.
And that was only the first hour and 45 minutes. It would be another 75 hours of waiting and praying, fearing and hoping before all nine miners were brought to the surface. Over three days in a mine.
Four days of mourning their brother in a tomb.
Waiting is hard.
The thing that strikes me the most about John chapter 11, however, is that Mary and Martha are not alone in their suffering. Jesus comes to the tomb, and we encounter the shortest, and perhaps one of the most profound verses in the Bible. Verse 35. “Jesus wept.” Jesus saw the sorrow of Mary and all the others around, and he was filled with deep compassion for them. He entered into their very pain and mourning, and he himself began to weep.
Have you ever waited for something?
Not just for Christmas to come, but really waited?
I think that John 11 speaks loudly to us about our times of waiting. About the moments when we wait in sorrow or loneliness or pain or fear.
We learn two things about the very character of God when we read John 11.
One: even though we may be waiting and suffering, this does not mean that God does not love us. John reminds us over and over and over: Jesus loved Lazarus and Mary and Martha. If in your time of waiting you have begun to wonder if God cares. If God really is a loving God, then I think God is speaking loudly to you today. Yes. God loves you. Jesus came to reveal to us in a way that we can understand that God’s love is real. And it is deep. And it is complete.
And if in the waiting you have begun to wonder if you are alone, John reminds us this morning that you are not. It is easy to feel alone in this time of social isolation. Many of us miss the hug of a friend. The laughter of a child. The kindness of simple word spoken over coffee. Social isolation is hard. We know it is important. We know we are saving lives. We know that staying in our homes to protect ourselves and others is an act of bravery.
We know. And yet, it is hard. We may begin to feel alone. And lonely. But know that you are not alone. The very God of the universe is with us. God is especially with us in our times of mourning and sorrow and loneliness and fear and isolation. You are not alone.
And I imagine that there is at least one person hearing this who is thinking that both of the stories I told today have happy endings. The miners all escaped from the shaft. Lazarus is raised from the tomb.
But maybe your time of waiting has not been like that. Maybe the one who went to the war-torn nation never returned. Maybe the child you waited in anticipation to come never came. Maybe you aren’t waiting for a refund, but instead trying to figure out how to pay your bills in this new economy.
We live in a broken world, and it is true that we do not always see a happy ending. Sometimes resurrection comes in this life and sometimes we have to wait for it to come in the next life. We know that Christ will come again to restore all things. That there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1-4). That the lion will lay down with lamb (Isaiah 11:1-9). We stand in hopefulness that the sin and suffering and death we experience in this life is not the end. We know that the Lord is with us now, and the Lord has power to bring us into new life.
The season of Lent in the church is a season of waiting. Traditionally, Christians have given up something for 40 days. We spend more time in prayer during this season. We go without our favorite comforts. We wait.
It is good sometimes to be in a season of waiting. In fact, as we go into Holy Week next week, I want to encourage you to wait. I want to encourage you to pray. I want to encourage you to just simply sit with the Lord. To read Scripture. To listen for the still small voice of the Lord which comes when we set aside time to listen. I want to encourage you to live in the tension of recognizing that we do not always get an immediate happy ending and yet, we are loved and not alone.
Psalm 130 is my favorite Psalm in the Bible. When I was in my own time of waiting, I found strength in the words of this Psalm. Now that I am back in this time of waiting for this storm to pass I am finding strength once again in this prayer. If you are in a season of waiting, perhaps you might like to read this Psalm every morning.
Read Psalm 130 or listen to it read:
Even in times of waiting, we can remember that with the Lord there is steadfast love. With the Lord, there is great power to redeem.
The message for today is, yes, Jesus does love you. And no, you are not alone.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life and renewal will come. Let us stand in hope. Amen.