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Sermon for March 21st.
Text John 11:1-45 and Ezekiel 37:1-14

As I try and pay tribute during the sermon, I have borrowed heavily from By Dr. Mickey Anders of First Christian Church Pikeville, Kentucky. I have added the story from Mary's perspective and a few additional notes but I liked his stuff so much I've kept it just about verbatim. Thanks Mickey!

The breath of life

I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it. Not only did I have to face the shock and pain of losing my dear brother, but great hurt at being let down by someone who my sister and I trusted and loved. I know he got the message, I know he did. But when Daniel came back and said that yes, he had tracked him down, but that no, Jesus wasn't coming straight away - I couldn't believe it.
Jesus could have done something, he can do anything, such is his closeness to God. But instead my sister and I had to sit and watch the life drain from poor Lazarus, feeling helpless and hopeless.

Then of course there wasn't much time to think. There were all the funeral arrangements to make. Our Mary was struck down with grief so I had to do it all as usual. I didn't mind though. Having something to do kept me from thinking too much. When I did, my grief over Lazarus and my anger and confusion over jesus threatened to tear me apart. I couldn't deal with it. So I got on with arranging mourners and food and the stools for sitting on during the time of mourning.

And everyone was so good to us. The house was full of people come to pay their respects and give us comfort. And I know I should have stayed sitting shivah as is the custom, but when I heard the commotion outside and people saying that Jesus was here, I jumped to my feet and ran out to meet him. He was still on the path to the village when I confronted him, my whole body rigid with grief and anger.

He looked at me with such compassion in his eyes. But I had something to say and I marched straight up to him and shouted
'If you had been here Lord, my brother would not have died!'
But I could not be angry, this was Jesus! Whatever my sorrow and hurt I had to keep faith with him, so much had he taught me about God's love. There must be good reason for his delay. So I continued in a softer voice.
'And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.'
'Your brother will rise again'
'Yes, I know Lord, at the last day'.  It was a thought that had sustained me in my grief. That one day Lazarus and I would be together again. Jesus stared at me intensely as he spoke again. Words spoken with urgency and conviction.
'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though they die yet shall they live. And no-one who lives and believes in me shall ever die. Do you believe this Martha.?'

I had always known that Jesus was special. I had always known that he was sent from God. But now he gave the promise of life. Lazarus was dead and he promised life. Yet I loved and trusted him. I needed to believe. I could believe. In my grief I saw him clearly. he was not just the man who had turned our lives upside down. he was the Messiah.

I went to fetch Mary. She needed to know this, to draw comfort from Jesus too.
Poor Mary. She was sitting quietly on her low stool, worn out from weeping, feeling she had no emotion left within her. Of our large family we three were the only unmarried ones, the only ones left at the family home and we had grown so close, even more so since Jesus turned our lives upside down.
'Mary' I said gently. She hardly moved. 'Mary, the teacher is here and he is asking for you.'
Wordlessly, she got up and hurried out and the rest of the people in the room followed. Mary reached Jesus and at the sight of him she crumpled at his feet.
'If you had been here Lord, my brother would not have died!'
My exact words but said not in anger but anguish. Jesus did not comfort her in the same way as he had helped me. Mary was beyond words. Jesus lifted her up from the ground and asked us to show him where Lazarus was buried. Supporting fragile Mary between us we arrived at the grave. The air itself was wet with tears and when I looked again at Jesus I saw that he was weeping too.

After a few moments he spoke again with authority.
'Roll the stone away'
Well of course I protested. You have to be practical and I felt it would not help anyone. I mean in hot places like ours...Well I don't need to spell it out. Jesus looked at me.' What did I tell you about belief?' I nodded at the men and they rolled the stone away.
Jesus looked up to heaven and prayed ' I than you Father that you listen to me. I know that you always listen to me but I say this for the sake of the people here, so that they will believe that you sent me. Lazarus, come out!'

What was he doing? 'I am the resurrection and the life' he said. 'Believe in me' he said, but surely he couldn't mean .... yet from the shadows came our brother, crawling from the tomb, his hands and feet bound up in the grave clothes.
Jesus smiled 'untie him and let him go'.

Lazarus can't remember very much about what happened during those four days of darkness. He says it was like a deep refreshing sleep that was broken instantly with the sound of Jesus voice. We still can't make real sense of it. its always the same with Jesus. He likes to challenge us, make us think. Why couldn't he have just stopped Lazarus from dying? Why did Mary and I have to go through all that pain and grief. I know now that it was difficult for Jesus to come back, that he was risking his own life being so near jerusalem, and then by drawing attention to himself. He has never done such a thing again, perhaps he never will. But I like to think that I believed and trusted before the miracle, not just afterwards.

I want to share with you some thoughts on this passage and on Ezekiel by Dr. Mickey Anders of First Christian Church Pikeville, Kentucky. I'm taking quite a chunk from his sermon because he has said things I want to say, and said them better than I could.
He writes that we can identify with Martha and Mary's feelings of anguish and regret. Every one of us has been touched by a similar grief. We have all known times when our homes have been like the dry bones mentioned in the book of Ezekiel. We may have even expressed our anger and grief in the same way Mary and Martha did.

Even Jesus is moved by grief. This passage contains the shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept." Over the centuries, theologians have debated the reasons Jesus cried. Some argued that Jesus was crying over their lack of faith. Some say he was crying in anticipation of his own death. But I believe he cried because he cared. He grieved with Mary and Martha. He grieved that Lazarus had died. I believe God still identifies with people who are hurting. When we cry, He cries too.

But Jesus also brought a message of resurrection. Jesus brought the dry bones of Lazarus to life again. In the same way, He brings the dry bones of our world to life again.

What Jesus did for Lazarus was the same thing God did for those dry bones of Ezekiels vision. There is here a resurrection principle that runs throughout life. This promise of new life is vividly portrayed in the words of a hymn entitled "Hymn of Promise" by Natalie Sleeth. This song says:

In the bud, there is a flower,
in the seed, an apple tree,
in cocoons, a hidden promise,
butterflies will soon be free.
In the cold and snow of winter
there's a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until it's season,
something God alone can see.

There's a song in every silence,
seeking word and melody;
there's a dawn in every darkness,
bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future;
what it holds, a mystery.
unrevealed until it's season,
something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning,
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing;
in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection;
at the last, A VICTORY,
unrevealed until it's season,
something God alone can see.

In a way it is Martha and Mary as well as Lazarus who are given resurrection. Jesus enters into Mary's grief and leads her out of it. Martha is led to recognise jesus for who he really is and accept him, even before Lazarus is raised.

Jesus says to her "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

This profound sentence is really too much for Martha to understand. She doesn't know whether she believes it or not. She does not say, "Yes, I believe we will never die." Her reply simply affirms that she believes in Jesus. She says, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."

I believe Martha's affirmation is our best response to that difficult question, "What happens when you die?" Amid all the speculation about the afterlife, we should simply say, "If I can trust God for the here and now of this life, I can trust him for the hereafter."

What happens when you die? The same thing that happens throughout life. God is there bringing the flower from the bud, the apple from a seed, the butterfly from the cocoon, spring from winter, dawn from darkness, and a resurrection from death.

Throughout the Bible, there is much more than an affirmation of life after death; there is the promise of life after birth. The resurrection is not something that one has to wait around for on the other side of the grave. We can see it all around us every day.

The one word John uses more than any other to describe what Christ gives to us is life. "In him was life, and the Life was the light of men." "Just as the Father has life, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself." "I am the Bread of Life," he says. But he did not selfishly keep this life to himself. He would lay down his life and take it up again, so that we too might have life. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. He has come that we might have life and might have it abundantly. The Gospel of John ends with the concluding remarks that "this has been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

The New Testament teaches that eternal life begins for the believer in the here and now, or it never begins. If you do not know him as the Lord over the many deaths that you die in this life, how can you have confidence in him to raise you in some unknown future? How can you claim promise for life after death if you are not claiming his promise for life after birth?

What happens when you die? When we say with Martha, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world," then we know that we can trust God for life and death.

God breathes new life into dry bones. God breathes new life into tired people. God calls us to comfort those who are grieving. To weep with them. To give practical help. To listen as they speak of their loved ones. To share faith and hope and that promise of eternal life.
On the third day Jesus rose again and showed us that his promise is true. 'I am the resurrection and the life'
May we be able to respond 'Yes Lord I believe you are the Messiah' May the breath of life fill us know and the promise of life to come sustain us.