Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, April 10, 2011
These are the rough draft notes of my sermon.
Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey is a book that I’ve recommended to many people who are struggling with their faith, struggling to believe. Yancey, a long-time Christian and noted author, realized that his faith didn’t make much sense to his non-Christian friends. So he decided to take apart his faith, pull it back to the basics, and write about why it is that he believes in an invisible God. The result, the book Reaching for the Invisible God, is a conversation about what it means to believe in someone we can’t see, what it means to believe in grace, love, and mercy that we rarely experience here. The result is that Yancey puts his faith back together in front of the reader’s eyes, so that, in the process, you’re invited to believe. You’re not commanded to believe; you’re not forced to believe; you’re not tricked into believing. You’re invited to believe. You’re invited to see that there’s an invisible God there for you that invites you to believe.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, the account of the raising of Lazarus, Jesus repeatedly invites people to believe in Him, to believe in Him even as they struggle while reaching out for the invisible God.
With this news that Lazarus is sick, how can there be anything but sorrow? Death seemed imminent, so how could Jesus not respond with sorrow?
Why didn’t Jesus go to Lazarus right away? How could He remain for two days while the family mourns?
But then when He does decide to go, how can He go? How could Jesus go up to Bethany in Judea when He knows that there’s where the Jews are who want to kill Him? How can He risk His life and go the Bethany?
When He gets there, Lazarus is already dead. What can Jesus do now? What good is it? Why wasn’t He there earlier?
Then we hear Martha’s struggle. Sure, there’s the hope of the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day, but what about now? My sorrow and struggle is now. The mourning is now. Even if I believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, even if I believe that He’s the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, well, that still doesn’t seem to answer my sorrow right now.
Then when Jesus goes to the tomb, well, there’s still the confusion and disbelief. “Lord, there will be a stench if we open the tomb.” Still they struggle to believe, struggle to see that Jesus is about to do something through the power of God, something that will bring glory to God.
But through it all, Jesus invites them to believe. Jesus invites them to come to Him, come and see the invisible God working visibly through Him. When they hear that Lazarus is sick, He invites the disciples to see that Lazarus being sick and dying will be for the glory of God. When He tells the disciples that Lazarus is dead, he invites the disciples to see that Lazarus dying will be for the sake of helping them to believe in Him. When Martha objects to opening the tomb, He invites Martha and everyone gathered to believe in Him and see the glory of God when He raises Lazarus from the dead.
The whole event is an invitation to believe, an invitation to believe that Jesus has power over death, that Jesus has the authority of God, an invitation to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God sent to deliver the people. The whole event is an invitation to doubters to believer. Which makes me think that it’s an invitation to us, too, an invitation to us to believe in Jesus, an invitation to see that Jesus is the Savior, to see that Jesus loves us even in the midst of our sorrow, to see that when Jesus appears to be slow in acting that He still loves us, an invitation to see that Jesus has done great things in our lives so that we may believe in Him.
As I working on this sermon, I was listening to an alternative Country rocker named Chris Marshall who has a song coming out titled, “Look Out Your Window,” which seems perfectly for the invitation that Jesus offered to the people around the raising of Lazarus, and the invitation that He offers to us.
Look out your window
And you’ll find that the exercise of opening your eyes
Slowly leads to the opening of your mind
So you can finally take a look at the world that’s just outside
There’s a world, There’s a world that is just outside your window
Metaphorical, metaphysical, infinitesimally wonderful world
Jesus invites us to look out the window, to look beyond what we see inside our little world, to look out the window and see the incredible things that He’s doing. Jesus invites us to look beyond our room of doubt, look beyond what we can see in here (our hearts) and here (our minds), look beyond that and see what He’s doing in our lives and our world. It’s an invitation. It’s an invitation to see that Jesus has been here along, to see that God is right there outside the window, an invitation to see that when we find ourselves reaching for the invisible God that He’s already there.