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John 11:1-45

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, which was the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Judeans were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, Jesus told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about Lazarus’ death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe and trust. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Judeans had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who trust in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and trusts in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 Martha said to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when Mary heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Judeans who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Judeans who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 Jesus said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Judeans said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When Jesus had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45 Many of the Judeans therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, trusted in Jesus.




Please pray with me this morning, church:

God of new and abundant life,

The new thing you are doing in our midst

May not be all that obvious to us at first.

Keep calling us to pay attention.

Keep calling us out of the graves we shut ourselves up in.

Keep breathing life into our dry and weary bones.





I can be a generally stubborn person. Often I have an idea in my mind about how a particular encounter should go, or an expected outcome of what I think should happen. I tend to trust my instincts, knowing that I have given the situation a good amount of thought, weighed a variety of potential options, and arrived at what I think is the so-called “right” conclusion. And when that conclusion, which, in my mind, may as well be foregone, is not arrived at by someone else or by the universe, I tend to not take it super well. I can get upset or angry, I might argue, but oftentimes I will try to bend the arrived-at conclusion back to what I think the end result should have been. And that usually involves me very stubbornly and incessantly hammering a very square and inflexible peg into a very round and equally rigid hole. Which serves absolutely no purpose, except to give me sore arms and back pains.


I tend to also be somewhat impatient. Anxiously waiting for the universe to just catch up to the conclusion I’ve already arrived at.


And I say all of this to say, our little 8×4 raised bed vegetable garden is teaching me a lot about myself, and the ways the world works, and just how much I think I know and just how little I actually do know.


Aside from a few very small cold snaps over the past few weeks, we’ve been blessed with a relatively early and mostly comfortable spring this year. Which has allowed our family to start in our garden. Much earlier than we did last year. But in my mind, some of the plants and vegetables should have come back where we planted them. But then again, that hard freeze we had back a few months ago would argue differently. Here comes that immovable and inflexible round hole I was talking about…


By the time the freeze arrived, our plants had long stopped producing, we had trimmed them back, and were hopeful that some new shoots would spring up from what was there before. But then the freeze came. And things died. And they became really dead. Like, dead dead.


And when things die—when they’re dead dead—no matter how much we may want, no matter how stubborn I might be, there is just no coaxing life from them. What’s needed is to turn over the soil, add in some new dirt, replant, and begin again. Begin again, so that I can anxiously and impatiently wait for the tomatoes and jalapeños and blueberries to grace the ends of those new shoots once again.


When something dies…and it is dead dead…we really must do a few things all at once. We can grieve what’s been lost. We can give thanks for what was. And we can look hopefully and expectantly for what’s to come. All at the same time. And each of these is important. If you leave out any one of them, the process is incomplete. Grieve…give thanks…hope.


When Jesus finally arrives at Bethany, Lazarus is dead dead. In fact, when Jesus got word two days beforehand that Lazarus was sick, Jesus stayed where he was, almost ensuring that when he finally arrived that Lazarus would be dead dead.

“Jesus if you had been here my brother would not be dead.”

If you had come when we sent word to you at first, you could have made him better, you could have healed him. But instead you stayed, and Lazarus died, and maybe we just want someone to blame and right now you’re a pretty convenient target.

We don’t like death. Perceived preventable death, in particular, makes us angry at the injustice and unfairness of it.


Ezekiel was written within the context of the Jewish exile in Babylon. When the Hebrews were taken to Babylon they were free to marry, build houses, start lives, elect leaders, plant crops, and even worship. But many of them were still angry and upset over the destruction of their holy city and temple in Zion, and so they had a really hard time worshiping and singing God’s song in a strange land. They weren’t where they wanted to be, or where they were supposed to be, so this sadness seeped down to their core, deep into their bones. And after years and years, those families and houses and the way of life they had carved out for themselves and the nice things they had filled their lives with…they started to supplant the need for God. Kind of like we have a tendency to do in the midst of great pain and hurt, the Hebrews filled their lives with things that are not God in an attempt to fill the void of not feeling near to God while they were in exile.

How many of us use stuff to try and fill a God-shaped hole in our lives?


And it is into this lifelessness that God calls the prophet Ezekiel.

Into Lazarus’ very real death—“My Lord…he’s been dead for four days…he stinks…”—Jesus seems to say, don’t miss what’s coming next.

“Prophesy to the bones,” God tells Ezekiel. “Remind them who they are. Tell them that life is coming.”


I’ve had to contend with my stubbornness over expected outcomes this week. I wanted to see a certain result, and even though it’s becoming clear that that result will probably never be, I’m still trying to force that peg into a spot it stands no chance of fitting into.

So I set it aside. I tried to examine it without judgment. I talked about it with those close to me. I tried to gather information.

And then I prayed about it.


Church, I don’t want to oversimplify the difficult task of making important decisions, many of which have very real and lasting impacts on people and organizations, but I do want to say that I prayed about it, I talked to God about it, and I slept on it, and I got to a place earlier this week where I could truly see another way. Perhaps there’s another peg that might fit in this spot, too.


It’s clear that the author of John is trying to prefigure Jesus’ own death and resurrection in this account of Lazarus. There’s foreshadowing…there’s the ever-zealous Thomas exclaiming, “Let’s go with him so we may die, too!”…the burial clothes, the weeping…this is all in anticipation of what will happen to Jesus and the stories we’ll encounter beginning next week with Palm Sunday.

But Lazarus’ story is not Jesus’ story. There’s one big glaring difference.

Lazarus will die again.


Many theologians make the distinction between the raising of Lazarus and Jesus’ resurrection. They call Lazarus’ story a resuscitation. In other words, Lazarus was dead, Lazarus was raised to life, but Lazarus will die again. Jesus, on the other hand, was resurrected, ascended to God, and is the source of everlasting and abundant life. Jesus doesn’t die again.

There’s a difference in resuscitation and resurrection.


Lazarus comes out of the tomb, and aside from burial cloths hanging off his body and a really powerful stench, Lazarus looks pretty much the same as he did before he died. But in all the post-resurrection stories about Jesus, one theme you’ll hear a lot in these narratives is that “their eyes were kept from seeing him.” There’s something about the resurrected Jesus that isn’t at all like the Rabbi the disciples traveled around with.

Resurrection is transformation. It looks nothing like what came before it. It’s totally different.


As we consider where things are at in our neighborhood and in our community of faith, what are we longing for?

As you look out into that parking lot, some Sundays struggling to find a parking spot, you might be encouraged at first, but then you realize that a good number of those cars and people are headed over to the Community Center, to our friends at St. Thomas Church. And you might be thinking to yourself, “Don’t they know we’re here, too? What happened to the full parking lot where everyone was coming here to this sanctuary?”


I am not immune to feeling a small amount of jealousy. I want folks to worship and praise God here, too. But I also need you to recognize that they are, church. New friends have joined New Hope in the past few years and are active and vibrant contributors to our shared ministry.

Pay attention to the signs of new life that are popping up. They may not be where you’re expecting.


So what are you longing for? Are we longing for a resuscitation? A longing for what used to be? Or are we hungering after resurrection? Is it transformation we’re after?


In both cases, the old thing has to die. It has to be dead dead.


So I’ll ask you, church…what do you think we’re still holding onto? What do we need to let go of?

What might we need to let die…like become dead dead?

To borrow images from the past few weeks, what water jugs do we need to leave behind? What perceptions need challenging? What story do we need to be telling incessantly and fervently? What needs to be born again? What is it that is springing up in you like a wellspring gushing up to abundant life? What bones are dead that need prophesying to?


Because the Lord is calling you, church. God is calling us.

To prophesy to these bones. To say to these bones, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon you. Hear the word of God.”

God will breathe upon these dry bones. Breath will enter them.

You will stand up. And you will live!

Bone will come upon bone. Flesh and muscle and tendons will cover you.

God will reach into your graves, tear you out of those places of death, and give you life!

God is breathing into you, dry bones.

You will stand up! You will live!

And you will know that the Lord is God.


Resurrection is coming, dear children.

New life is on the way.

Hope may feel lost right now, but joy arrives in the morning.


More than a few years ago, when it felt like things were going really, really well, I was super-aware within myself that the harvest we were enjoying was due to the patient planting and watering and nurturing of those that came before me long before I ever arrived in Missouri City. But I may not have done as good a job at saying that out loud or publicly.


This is a season of planting, church. A season of clearing away, of turning over the soil, of putting some new dirt down, and planting. This is a season of watering.

This is a season of nurturing.

Growth is coming. New life is getting ready to spring forth.

God has promised it.

Wait and watch for what happens next.


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