Lectionary Scriptures and Comments

Archive for April 9, 2011

Pesky Resurrection 041011

Raising of Lazarus by Jesus

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Su10       Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 130

Romans 8:6-11

John 11:1-45


Ezekiel 37:1-14

37The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

Psalm 130

1Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

2Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

3If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?

4But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

5I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

6my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

7O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

8It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Romans 8:6-11

6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

John 11:1-45

11Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But 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.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus 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. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 28When 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.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews 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. 32When 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.”

33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus 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.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I 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.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The 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.”

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Pesky Resurrection 041011

The title of the sermon ‘Pesky Resurrection’ refers to a problem the neo-liberal or radical social justice church may have. It is also a problem I personally have and a problem I don’t want to infect you or this church with.


As a radical Anabaptist Christian, (and I refuse to capitalize ‘christian;) or as a radical Mennonite, I came to believe in Jesus as a radical, political leader, but not as a political messiah. I tend to see Jesus as sort of super-Gandhi, or as a super-Martin Luther King, Jr, or a super Henry David Thoreau. Jesus is for me, human being first, who became a son of God by his radical insight into the nature of God and the nature of humanity and into the ‘nature of nature’ so to speak.


I call this radical Anabaptism, the ‘peace’ church tradition, which emphasizes the reconciliation and healing of brokenness between ourselves and God. The idea of salvation, and the importance of personal salvation, of your and mine salvation is deemphasized.


In the process of de-emphasizing the salvation doctrines of the New Testament I and we also tend to de-emphasize the resurrection theology of Jesus and the actual resurrection of Jesus, and the whole resurrection idea has become embarrassing to us post-modern, hip, radical social justice Christians. It is not just me that feels this way—it tends to be an embarrassment to many others, or just a topic successfully avoided.


I think the reasons we might have for avoiding the idea of resurrection and the event of resurrection might have to do with the post-modernist cultural milieu we find ourselves in….our difficulty and discomfort with the resurrection may trace to modernism, when we told that science is what counts, and it is all that can depended upon to discover truth. The scientific method and pure logic have been beaten into my generation’s little heads since we were in elementary school, and perhaps my particular age group is the first that was subject to a complete regimen of indoctrination regarding pure reason. We were raised to be dismissive of narrative, to scoff at legend and myth and cut through piles of less than adequate reasons and beliefs, using no doubt Occam’s Razor.


The extreme skepticism of modernism caused many of us to lose touch with our families, with our traditions and customs and to dismiss everything from the past as remnants of a quaint folklore. The resurrection, Jesus Christ and Christianity were subjected to this same skepticism and dismissal, and were swept away.


Many who came back to Christianity did so because of being able to reconstruct Jesus as a social activist, as a pacifist (as the pacifist) or as a leader of a school of some kind of hidden or mystical knowledge, revealed to us only after concentrated prayer and contemplation.


But remaking Jesus and a neo-Buddha, a preter-Gandhi, or a pre-Marx figure does not change one fact, otherwise omitted. Jesus was raised from the dead, raised others from death, and promises to raise us from death.


When anyone looks at the early Christian literature, from about 30 years AD to 300 AD not a single Christian document or historical record fails to mention the resurrection of Jesus. For early Christians the whole Jesus movement was distinguished, thrived and survived because Jesus was resurrected from death. Let’s look at this carefully, because exactly what happened, and what it means is actually the central idea of Christianity and all my other ideas about Jesus as a radical social activist, a reborn peasant, and the peacemaker of all time are really changes in focus or choices in emphasis made by mean, and I think have omitted the central fact of Jesus—the bodily resurrection.


Of course, many critiques of the resurrection story have been made. Many ideas about what really happened instead of the direct fact of Jesus’ resurrection.


One of the more popular ideas revisited 20 years ago or so was called the ‘swoon’ idea. This idea is that Jesus really didn’t die on the cross, instead disciples or bribed Roman soldiers administered a powerful narcotic to Jesus, who went into a comatose state until removed from the cross and entombed. But the Romans were expert at crucifixion and killing and there was no mistake in a victim’s death.


Neither is it possible that the Jewish authorities and the Roman governors conspired to pretend to execute Jesus but instead exiled him from Jerusalem forever. There would be no sense in this, since if Jesus was later discovered to be alive, Jesus would be more powerful than ever after having survived a Roman persecution and execution.


It is true that many close to Jesus saw him after death and that since such apparitions of the recently dead are common, the disciples and Jesus’ family seeing Jesus was something that commonly occurs. The survivors of a deceased often see them, or feel their presence soon after death. Apparently women more commonly experience a visit from the recently departed more than do men, but even at the time of Jesus’ death this was not believed to be what was being experienced. For instance, Jesus was seen by 120 people at one time, Jesus ate fish and bread with disciples, Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus while visiting with his friends, Thomas poked his finger into Jesus’ wounds, etc. These are experiences different than just feeling the presence of the departed, or seeing their shadow in their favorite chair, etc.


It was the custom in the Mediterranean at the time that after a great person (meaning ‘men’) died, his relatives were in line to succeed the departed great one. Several false Messiahs in Jewish history that met untimely deaths were succeeded immediately by their brothers, cousins, sons or friends as ‘successor Messiah’. But James, the brother of Jesus lived in Jerusalem and was seen to be at the center of Christianity while Peter, Paul and the other disciples spread around the world. But James was never seen as a messiah after the death of Jesus, because the early Christian church did not see Jesus as dead, but as still alive and still with them.


Of course, there was something of a resurrection tradition within Old Testament Judaism, and today’s reading of Ezekiel talking about them bones, them bones, them dry, dry bones as the old Negro spiritual sings. But Ezekiel is really talking about the resurrection of Israel after 600 years of cultural death in Babylon. When the nation of Israel returned to Israel and Judah after the exile in Babylon (which is really Baghdad to us, in modern Iran) it was a nation resurrected because of their constant worship and belief in YHWH, Jehovah). That is a different kind of resurrection, the rebirth or refounding of an exiled nation and not a physical bodily resurrection of an individual, as with Jesus’ resurrection.


To the second-temple Jews, resurrection meant freedom from foreign (Roman) domination, rebuilding of the temple and reclaiming the temple as the seat of God, and the reign of the Kingdom of God, as a Jewish temple and not also the center of Roman domination in Jerusalem. This kind of resurrection also meant that Jews had lived excellent law-abiding lives would be resurrected. But this type of resurrection meant that all the saints and elders and patriarchs and prophets of Jewish history would at one time be resurrected, and the end of time and the end of days and the end of Jewish history would be upon us. That did not happen of course. The patriarchs Samuel, Ezekiel, Abraham and so forth were not walking around alive after the death of Jesus and in this traditional Jewish view Jesus was not the messiah since this general resurrection did not begin then.


So, it is clear that we would know nothing of Jesus and maybe very little would be remembered of Judaism except that Jesus promised he would be resurrected and then he was resurrected. The resurrection is what all the buzz about Christianity was in the first 300 years since Jesus’ death and really Judaism, Christianity and also maybe Islam are defined by Jesus’ resurrection—whether it happened or not, and whether a subsequent prophet Muhammad believed it or not (he did).


But what does this resurrection mean for us now? I am a Christian who still believes also in the Bodhisattva pledge, which is taken from the Buddhist tradition. The Bodhisattva pledge is to remain on earth and to continue to be reincarnated endlessly, until all other beings on earth have found their way into Nirvana ahead of the self. So, to believe in Jesus and his resurrection and to believe that also am saved by believing seems very selfish, and it seems false and untrue to believe something that is very good and beneficial for me, selfishly. The promise of something is not a good reason to believe it. I think I remember that the young Muslims who die as terrorists are promised a certain number of virgins as mates in heaven—but is that a good reason to believe as they must have, that their actions were correct. We don’t think so. So, believing in Jesus so we can be assured of going to heaven doesn’t make sense to me.


Our scriptures for today include a selection from Romans where we assured of our own resurrection by the spirit of Jesus that comes from God. And finally, in John we read of the resurrection of Lazarus. It is an unusual story and is the final and the supreme miracle of Jesus. The family of Lazarus, all from Bethany are somehow important in the ministry of Jesus—Mary, Martha and Lazarus. It is this miracle many think that caused the Romans to decide to execute Jesus, with or without Jewish help. When a person who many claim is the messiah and King of the Jews raises someone from the dead, the path to a disturbance of Roman peace is possible, and was enough cause to execute Jesus. A parking ticket on your donkey could get you executed, so claims of a resurrected Lazarus would be cause for execution certainly.


Certainly everyone would quickly hear of the raising of Lazarus, and it was just the week before the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Passover festival, when the streets, hotels and the temple were very crowded and excitable. The spark of a rumor about a messiah-king could set off riots and rebellion that would be difficult to control—easier to take action and kill one peasant than risk it.

As for Lazarus, his sisters were close to Jesus, gave him food and lodging and maybe money when he needed it, and also Mary washed his feet with her tears. Apparently Jesus delayed going to Bethany 4 days on purpose so that it was certain the smelly, rotting corpse of Lazarus was dead, and not merely sleeping in a coma. It was clear that Jesus raised Lazarus from death, and Jesus and Paul are clear that Jesus will do this for you and me also.


I personally think thaty Jesus raises from the dead right now, however, and not just when we are sealed in the tomb. How many of us can say that in some way we were dead, until Jesus brought us back to life?


My conclusion for this sermon is an ending, but it is not a conclusion. I don’t know comepletely what all this theology about resurrection means. I do believe that Jesus was resurrected, and that this resurrection completely changes the nature of human consciousness and human life on this planet. I don’t know if we are in the period called the ‘end of history’ but I do know, by looking back, that the history of the world changed significantly after Jesus was resurrected. Our idea of God, and our ideas about God’s hand in human affairs changed completely with Jesus, a change brought into so much focus because of the resurrection of Jesus, and the resurrection of you and me.


Next week, the week of Passion Sunday, we’ll continue this discussion and study of resurrection, and of the resurrection of Jesus. I’ll be posting references online that disclose the sources of today’s sermon beyond the Bible. The primary sources are the books and essays of N.T. Wright a prominent NT scholar, and John Dominic Crossnan’s book ‘Early Christianity’.


Resurrection itself, as you may feel already, is a powerful and emotional topic and as we study it, it changes who we are forever.










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