“Love That Unties” – 04.06.2014 Sermon

John 11:1-42 • April 6, 2014

Click here to view a video recording of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

So…how is your walk as a child God going this Lent? As we fly quickly through the half-way point in this holy season of Lent, how’s it going? If you decided to fast from something this year in Lent, how’s that going? Are you still maintaining that discipline, or has it long been forgotten like a New Year’s resolution? If you decided to add something this year in Lent, like time in prayer or reading of scripture or service to others, how’s that going? Are you still maintaining that discipline, or have you just been too busy to keep it going for a full six weeks? Or, are you looking at me and thinking, “Lent? What in the world is that crazy pastor talking about now? Lint? What in the world does that mean? What does dryer lint have to do with God or worship?”

There are about two weeks left in Lent. And I will continue to argue that I believe Lent is the most holy time of the year for followers of Jesus. If there is no cross. If there is no resurrection. Nothing that we do or claim to be as Christians makes any sense at all.

In our gospel reading today, we are about two miles outside of Jerusalem. And if we have learned anything in our life in Christ to this point in time, we know that Jerusalem is a fairly significant location in the story of Jesus, the savior of the world. Today’s gospel story of Lazarus being raised from the dead appears only in the gospel of Saint John. This is the last of seven signs, some call them miracles, that are in the gospel of John.

In the book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, theologian and pastor Eugene Peterson says that, “He [John] presents Jesus’ signs not to prove or parade Jesus as superior to or exempt from the creation, but to give us a look into the creation instead of just at it, to show us how Jesus who created all these things and holds them together still continues to work in this same stuff of creation.”

So what might a sign like the raising of man from the dead have to do with Jesus’ continuing work in creation and you and me today? As far as I can remember, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dead person being raised from the dead. And as far as I know, there’s not one of us in this room today who will escape death. What might this final sign in John’s gospel be saying to us as it takes on death directly? What might this story have to do with our own death? Or what if it actually might have something to do with our life?

The event of Lazarus being raised from the dead is not a magic show or Hollywood blockbuster movie script or storyline from a television news story. Pastor Peterson wants us to be careful in how we read the signs in John’s gospel. He says, “The signs are not human interest stories; they are God-revealing stories. God reveals himself in Jesus, but the revelation rarely conforms to our expectations.”

What are your expectations of Jesus as your savior? What are our expectations of Jesus in the congregation of Good Shepherd? What are our expectations of Jesus on the streets of Bismarck? What are our expectations of Jesus in the Christian church throughout this broken world?

I don’t know how you might be answering questions like that right now, but here’s what I’ve been struggling with this week as I’ve read and studied and prayed about our worship together today. Instead of focusing on our expectations, I think today’s gospel reading is challenging you and I who claim to be followers of the risen savior Jesus Christ to ask the question, “What are Jesus’ expectation of us?”

In our gospel reading today, at the conclusion of this seventh and final sign from Jesus in John’s gospel, Lazarus is raised from dead. But it is the community who has gathered on this day who actually unbind Lazarus and let him go. Or untie him as some translations of this text offer. Jesus’ expectation of the community who gather on this day, who love Lazarus, is to unbind him. To untie him so he can be free from the tomb of death.

What are Jesus’ expectations for you as a child of God? What are Jesus’ expectations for me as a child of God who is called to serve as a pastor? What are Jesus’ expectations for Good Shepherd Lutheran Church? What are Jesus’ expectations for the people on the streets of Bismarck?

The love that we receive in the life, death, and resurrection of our savior Jesus unbinds us from every death that has its grip on us. Unties us from every death that keeps us locked in darkness. And sets us free. Free, so that you and I can do the same for other brothers and sisters in Christ.

I want to conclude with something that I don’t do very often. I want to offer a poem. This one written by poet Andrew King called Love That Has No Limits.

Lord, if you had been here
when the cancer became untreatable,
when the clot travelled the artery,

when the mudslide left the mountain,
when the airplane met the sea,

when the heart ceased its drumming
and the tired marcher rested
from its long parade,

Lord, if you had been here
in the hospital room,
the bedroom,
the shopping mall,
the street,

if you had been here
when it happened
in the evening,
in the morning,
in the afternoon,

if you had been here
when it was too soon,
when it was too quick,
when it was too late,
when it took too long,

Lord, if you had been here
for our brother,
sister,
daughter,
son,
the loved one
who passed beyond our reach

would death have won?

But you have been here.
Here by the bedside,
by the roadside,
by the graveside,
by our side
in the confining caves of grief.

You are here
where tears remain wet
on hurt faces.
You are here
where hearts remain
shrouded by pain
you feel with us,
and for us as well.

You were there at
the grave of Lazarus,
irretrievably lost to
his family and friends,
but not lost to you;
gone beyond
their loving reach
but not yours.

You were there
and the stone
was removed from the tomb.
You were there
with your shout
and the air
held its breath.
You were there
and burial cloths were unbound
and lost Lazarus
opened his eyes
to the sun.

And you are here, Lord,
in the hospital room,
in the bedroom,
the shopping mall,
the street.
You are here
drying tears on hurt faces,
setting free the bound ones
from the shrouds of death,
leading us out
of whatever caves are confining us
and reminding us
that in you
death will not triumph:

your love
that has no limits
has won.


“Do We Even Know We Are Thirsty?” 03.23.2014 Sermon

John 4:(1-4) 5-42• March 23, 2014

Click here to view a video of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

In his book, Living Faith, former President Jimmy Carter talks about the barriers that divide people and give them a false sense of identity. Having grown up in the south during the time of racial segregation, he had many African-American friends. When his parents were away, he would stay with his black neighbors, Jack and Rachel Clark. He played with black friends, went fishing with them, plowed with mules side by side, and played on the same baseball team. But when he carried water to people working in the field, it was unthinkable that black workers and white workers would drink from the same dipper. (p. 188-189)

In spite of all the barriers being broken in Jimmy Carter’s numerous intimate moments shared as a child with his African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, close neighbors and family friends, a barrier still remained. Blacks and whites could not share from the same cup for a simple cool drink of water.

I’m a bit of an icon hunter. I enjoy searching for icons of the faith that speak in profound ways to our relationship with God and with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. As I prayed through and reflected upon the fourth chapter of the gospel of Saint John this week, I couldn’t help but think about the icon that’s on the screen today.

christ-of-maryknoll

This is a modern icon created in 2002 by Brother Robert Lentz. It is called Christ of Maryknoll. The artist’s vision in the icon is to lift up the ministry of the Maryknoll priests, brothers, sisters, and lay people who have been imprisoned in China and elsewhere for their work among the poor, the broken, the oppressed.

One thing that I want you to see is that the icon doesn’t make it clear which side of the fence the figure of Jesus is on. Is he imprisoned behind the barbed-wire fence or are we? About the icon, Brother Lentz writes, “Through our cultural institutions and personal lives we all place barriers between ourselves and true happiness. We and our institutions also try to imprison Christ in various ways, to tame him and the dangerous memories he would bring us of our goals and ideals.”

In our worship together today, there is a daring and dangerous conversation taking place at a well. And this isn’t just any old well, this is Jacob’s well. A significant location in the history of God’s people and God’s story. And this isn’t just any old conversation either. This is a conversation between a woman and a man. And to make it even more complicated, it’s a Samaritan woman and a Jewish man. Both are crossing barriers.

And I argue that both are seeking to quench thirst. Thirst is quenched as a result of their conversation, a conversation which happens to be one of the longest conversations between two people in any of the four Gospels. A thirst quenched as the result of a barrier that stood between Jews and Samaritans for centuries. A barbed-wire fence that’s being torn down in a most unlikely encounter between Jesus and a loved child of God who everyone thinks is on the wrong side of the fence. And for two more days, Jesus stayed with them. Jews and Samaritans, drinking from the same cup.

There is a Mercedes-Benz television commercial from 1991 that shows several Mercedes colliding into concrete walls during safety tests. An interviewer is asking one of Mercedes’ engineers about their energy-absorbing car body and the technology that they have recently patented in this area. The Mercedes’ design is one of the most sophisticated designs in the history of automobile manufacturing. It is also one that has been copied by almost every other car manufacturer since. Take a look at the commercial and note what the engineer says about why they have never enforced the patent they hold on this technology.

Did you catch that? The engineer said, “There are some things in life that are too important not to share.”? Isn’t that a great statement for who we are, or are supposed to live as people who follow Jesus? The living water that we receive in the life, death, and resurrection of our savior Jesus is just too important not to share, isn’t it? Too important to not invite others to join us in this journey. Too important to not reach out to another person on the other side of the fence with a life giving drink from the well of living water. Too important. But too often, I’m not sure we even know or are willing to admit that we’re thirsty?

In your life in Christ, what are some things that clutter your mind or rest heavy on your heart? What is causing your thirst? For the Samaritan woman at the well, it was everything she had ever done. And by sharing with others the conversation she had with Jesus, her life and the community in which she lived was changed forever. It was just too significant and important of an experience not to share with someone.

In another book by President Carter called, Sources of Strength. Actually, you can find that book in our library at Good Shepherd, the former president concludes a brief devotion on this gospel reading from John by saying, “She [the Samaritan woman] may have lost her bucket, but she gained instead the living water of God’s love.” (p.38)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, every one of us here today is thirsty. In this holy season of Lent, you and I are being invited to stop for a few minutes at the well and drink deeply from the living water of God’s love. Drink deeply children of God, you are loved. And in our life together in Christ, that’s something too important not to share. Amen.


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