03/29/2015 – John 11:17-26 – “There’s Hope in the Possible”

Mark Wheeler
John 11:17-27
“There’s Hope in the Possible”
March 29, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Dear God, thank You for bringing us all here to this place. Help us to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits to better understand who You are and to know You more. Please be with us as we draw near to You and closer to one another. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Seriously God? Really? This is what You planned? Why? What am I supposed to do now?

Have you ever cried to God something like that? Where were You, God? Where were You?

Five weeks ago we read from the Old Testament book of Exodus – and we listened as God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “I-AM who I-AM. Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”
Seriously God? I-AM who I-AM? So, why weren’t You?

The New Testament Gospel according to John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question.
Jesus identified Himself with God by the way He identified Himself by saying, “I-AM the Bread of Life – I-AM the Light of the World – I-AM the Good Shepherd – I-AM the True Vine – I-AM the way and the truth and the life – I-AM the Resurrection and the Life.”
Mary and Martha, the same Mary and Martha who had that fight over who was going to sit at Jesus’ feet and who was going to make lunch for Jesus and all His disciples, the same Mary and Martha whose father was a leper – Mary and Martha, good Jewish women who knew the Old Testament stories of Abraham and Moses, who knew that God is I-AM who I-AM, are now asking, “Seriously God? I-AM who I-AM? So, why weren’t You?”
Today’s Bible story comes just before Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time. He is visiting an area across the Jordan River, near Jericho, two short-day’s-walk from Jerusalem, when Jesus gets word that His friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was very sick. Jesus prophesied that this sickness would not lead to death. He said, “This is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” And they waited for two days – and then Jesus said, “Lazarus has died. Let’s go to Bethany (a Jerusalem suburb, where Jesus’ life would be threatened).” And Thomas said, “Let’s all of us go, and if Jesus dies, we’ll all die with Him.” Listen to the Word of God from John 11:17-26 …. —-
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I-AM the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

God told Moses that God’s name means something like I-AM-THAT-I-AM – there is nowhere where I am not – always, all-the-time, I-am-there!
And Jesus has been identifying Himself with that same divine moniker. I-AM the bread of life, I-AM the light of the world, I-AM the good shepherd.
But … Lazarus still got sick and died! Mary and Martha are grief-stricken – and maybe a little in shock! Where were You, Jesus – the great I-AM?! Why did Lazarus have to die?
Is it comforting to know that even some of Jesus’ best friends felt exactly like you?
Do you know what happened right after what we read this morning? Martha, the sister who seems to take charge when things need to get done, Martha comes out to meet Jesus and question Him about why He waited so long to come. And then she goes back home where Mary is grieving, and eating the casseroles that had been brought, and Martha tells Mary that Jesus had asked for her. Did He? We’re not told, but either way, Martha wants Mary to go find Jesus and see if she can get a better answer out of Him.
So Mary finds Jesus, still outside the village, and asks Him exactly the same question: “Where were You? Why didn’t You come? Maybe Lazarus wouldn’t have died had You not lolly-gagged, but had come right away! Why did You wait?”
Jesus does not answer Mary, instead He just grieves alongside her. Jesus’ human emotion is very real. He is deeply moved and troubled, and then comes every kid’s favorite memory verse: John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” And the Jews saw how much Jesus loved Lazarus!

And we know how this story ends, right? Poor old Lazarus is raised from the dead, resuscitated, revived – not the same way Jesus would be raised from the dead on Easter, resurrected to a new body and to eternal life. Lazarus’ body would one-day have to die again, be buried again, and a whole ’nother funeral would have to be planned for Lazarus later.
But Jesus’ prophecy that, this time, Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death – but would be to reveal the glory of God and the glory of God’s Son – came true! Everyone saw this miracle and was amazed – so much so that the religious and political leaders re-started their plot to kill Jesus.

Back to Martha and Jesus. Did you catch the theological debate they had? Martha is in tears, grieving the untimely death of her brother, and she hears Jesus say all the wrong things about comfort.
A week ago, a few of us were super-privileged to attend an intro-training seminar on caring for others. One of the exercises was to come up with all the wrong things we have heard people say to people grieving the death of a loved one. What do you think some of those would be: she’s in a better place; he’s not suffering anymore; you’re young, you can have another baby; etc.
That’s what Martha hears Jesus say. 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” She completely mis-heard Him. And her response is reasonable – “Don’t tell me about the end-times – You should have been here 4 days ago so You could save him before he died!”

Jesus knew the ultimate truth. We all die. We do. And poor Lazarus gets to die twice. But had Jesus arrived 4 days earlier, and had He rescued Lazarus from his sickness, had He brought him back to health before he died – we would not have a record this beautiful truth. Jesus tells Martha – and He tells us, “I-AM the resurrection, and I-AM the life. He who believes in me shall never suffer the fate of eternal death but he who believes in me will live a new and eternal life.”
In John 3:16 we hear the words of love, “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.”
Here, seven chapters later, Jesus claims in no uncertain terms, that He is the Son. “I-AM the resurrection”; “I-am the way and the truth and the life – no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Martha went back home to fetch her sister Mary. Did she go to get Mary because she wanted Mary to hear the same words Jesus told her? Did she get Mary because she wanted Mary to be on her side in this argument with Jesus? We’re not told exactly, but what we see is that Jesus cared very much for this family, and that He, too, grieved these women’s brother’s death.
Jesus understood the ultimate truth of salvation, and He still wept. It’s OK to have emotions. It’s OK to be sad, or happy, or scared, or courageous. But Jesus wants for us to face these real-life emotions with the truth in our hearts and minds.
He tells Martha, “I-AM the resurrection and the life – if you believe this, you will have eternal life. That’s the truth.” Then He faces Martha, I see Him looking squarely into her eyes, and He asks, “Martha, do you believe this?”

Sit quietly for a moment. Consider your own life-situation: new diagnosis, new financial condition, new relationship to understand, new losses, new gains. Everyone in this room is dealing with their own frustrations, confusions, opportunities, whatever…. Now, recognize Jesus’ eyes looking squarely into your own … and hear His voice asking you, “Do you believe this? Do you believe that I-AM the resurrection and the life? Do you trust that I-AM here with you, even in the middle of this mess or this moment? Do you believe this?”
Martha’s answer was clear and straight: “Yes Lord, I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God who has come into the world.”

In just a few minutes we will come to the Lord’s Table, and Jesus asks us again, “Do you believe?” What will be your answer? Just imagine the impact the Church could have on our city, our state, our country, if we really believed that with God, we have all hope in the ultimate Possible – even the dead are raised to life! Amen.

Living Christ, thank You for Your life that gives us life, now and eternally. Teach us how to leave the past behind and live in the power of Your resurrection every day, as a witness to the new life we celebrate at Easter. Through Christ, the resurrection and the life, Amen.

Resources:
Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 40-45.

Stephen Ministry Introduction Seminar.

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03/22/2015 – John 14:1-9 – “The Right Way?”

Mark Wheeler
John 14:1-9
“The Right Way?”
March 22, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Dear God, thank You for bringing us all here to this place. Help us to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits to better understand who You are and to know You more. Please be with us as we draw near to You and closer to one another. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

This month has been a more emotional month than I anticipated. It has not been a bad month (for the most part), but an emotional month. Most of you know that I lost my father last July, and I have been reminded of his death several times this month – March 6 would have been my parents’ 61st wedding anniversary, March 13 was a Friday the 13th (and my dad hated Friday the 13th, so I always called him on those days and just checked in with him), and March 20 was my dad’s birthday. So I have had weekly reminders that I can’t pick up the phone and call him any more (he couldn’t hear what was said on the phone anyway, but that’s another story).
But the good thing about these constant reminders of death, and even my dad’s death in particular, is that death always brings me to today’s Bible reading. This passage is a description of direction and hope and life and perfect love. And, in this day and age, boy do I need direction and hope, and the promise of life, and the experience of love.
How about you? Maybe we don’t all require an emotional month, but I think most of us could use some sure and certain direction, a little hope during dismal seasons, the promise of life at the other end of the valley of the shadow of death, and the experience of true love when we might feel lost and alone.

Five weeks ago we read from the Old Testament book of Exodus – and we listened as God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”
Since then, and through this whole Season of Lent as we prepare ourselves for the Easter celebration we are in the New Testament Gospel according to John – because the Apostle John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question.
Jesus identified Himself with God by the way He identified Himself by saying, “I-AM the Bread of Life – I-AM the Light of the World – I-AM the Good Shepherd – I-AM the True Vine – I-AM the way and the truth and the life.”
As we come to today’s Bible story in John 14, we see that Jesus has made His final trip to Jerusalem; He has ridden into the capital city on the donkey; He has washed His disciples’ feet; and He is now seated at the Passover feast – that which became Holy Communion; while at the Passover Supper Table Jesus is teaching His disciples and the opening lines of John 14 are …. —-
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I-AM the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

What troubles your heart this morning? Are you worried for a loved one’s health? Are you missing someone who has passed or who lives too far away to go visit? Is there someone for whom you are in daily prayer for their salvation or for their faith development? Are finances a concern? Are you afraid of threats made to your way of life?
Full confession: All of these trouble my heart at some level. What are your own heart-troubled concerns?
Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled…” He was talking to His 12 Disciples who were about to lose their beloved Teacher, Leader, Lord, Savior. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. (The NIV says) You believe in God; [now] believe also in me!”
Sometimes that’s harder than it should be. “Lord, I do believe; help me in my unbelief.”

The description of the Mansion over the Hilltop (is that the old Gospel song?) is a promise that we who believe need to hear and hang on to. It’s not just a “very, very big house” (as the newer Gospel song says), it’s actually the Bridal Suite. The way it worked in Jesus’ day was, when you got engaged to be married, the groom would leave the bride for awhile to prepare their new home – which was attached to his father’s house (there may have been more mother-in-law issues to deal with, but there was always a baby-sitter ready for date night!). And the bride would, obviously, know how to get to the groom’s house!
So, when Jesus says, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going”, He was describing the Disciples’, and our, eternal Home – because the Son of God is the Bride-Groom and the Church, the followers of Jesus, those who believe in Him and submit to Him, is the Bride! Of course, the Groom is coming back for His Bride!
“Lord, I do love You and trust You; help me in my wandering lust and doubt-filled mistrust.”

So, the Disciple who is best known for being a doubter, most remembered for saying he would not believe in Jesus’ resurrection unless he actually saw for himself the risen Lord – he ought to be best known for setting the scene for one of my most relied-upon statements of Jesus. Thomas, the straight-man, sets the stage by admitting that he, and probably everyone else in the room, including you and me had we been present, Thomas says, “What? We have no idea what You’re talking about, Jesus! We do not know where You are going, and we, therefore, have no way of knowing the way to where You are going!”
Just like us, the Disciples didn’t quite get the wedding picture Jesus was painting. So Jesus says straight out: “I-AM the way … and the truth … and the life.”

Do you need some direction in life? Do you need some help navigating turbulent waters? Is this unfamiliar territory you are in? Are you trying to follow Jesus, out of the safety of the boat onto the unsteadiness of the lake-water? Are you wondering what it means to go out to places and people you don’t know, or maybe even like, and share the Good News of Jesus with them? Are you listening to the voices of those around us and wondering who this Jesus really is?
Jesus says, “I-AM the way….” using God’s own name for Himself, Jesus says, “I-AM is sending you.” Jesus says, “Do you need direction? Keep your eyes focused on me, because I-AM the way! You will not be lost, even if you don’t know where you are, you will not be lost if you remain with me, because I-AM the way!”
This week many of you read or heard the news that the PC(USA) has officially changed our understanding of the definition of marriage. Our Book of Order used to read: “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship.” It will now read: “Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community.”
Is this the worst thing that has ever, or could ever, hit the proverbial ecclesiastic fan? Not at all.
Is it faithful to what the Scriptures teach about what marriage should be? I think, not at all.
Do I need direction to know how to follow Jesus through this? You better believe I do. Does His Church, does Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church, need Jesus’ clear direction – not just what does the Bible say?, but also how do we live that out in a way that honors God and also loves our neighbor?? I believe we need it, here, maybe like never before.
“Lord, I do want to follow You faithfully and rightly; help me in my fog to see You clearly for every step!”

And Jesus also says, “I-AM the truth….” That is my ray of hope in the darkness of wondering what’s next. We worry about our future – health, longevity, cash-flow, eternity, church-fidelity. Jesus shines a beam of hope on us. “I-AM the way and the truth….” There is nothing false or wrong in Him. We can trust Him completely because He is the truth! And no matter how afraid I might get about what’s around the next corner – I can hear Jesus say, “I-AM the way and the truth…”, and maybe I’ll be able to put my feet where His have already trod.
“Lord, I do want to trust You completely; help me when I don’t, and when I worry over that which is already in Your hands!”

And Jesus also says, “I-AM the life….” Whatever is waiting around the corner – yeah, but my husband is sick, my mother is dying, my rent is due, my son is rejecting Jesus, my friend’s faith is stalled and not growing – whatever is around the corner (and those are all huge things, right? Those are life-situations no-one wants to face) – Jesus reminds us, “I-AM the way and the truth and the life.”
“Lord, I am alive in You; help me know that eternal life when this earthly life feels shaky – and if I ever cannot shake off the fears of this life, show me again Your perfect love which casts out all fear, in Jesus’ name!”

Jesus’ next words are of vital importance! He has just claimed: “I-AM the way and the truth and the life.” Not, “I am one of the ways, one truth among many, and life for those who go to church”. If that had been what He said, it would deny His claim to use God’s name. No, what He said was, “I-AM the way and the truth and the life.” Then He adds, “No one comes to the Father (who is ‘the Father’? God!), no one comes to the Father except through me!”
Why does He add that phrase? It is vitally important because without it we human beings will change His meaning to anything that makes us happy and comfortable. Without that exclusivity clause, we can make His claim of divinity and salvation into whatever we want it to mean.
But with this addendum, Jesus claims authority over all of life and death! Jesus is God. And it is only through belief in Him, trusting our lives into His hands, into eternal life, that we have any hope for salvation! And because of Jesus, we have all hope!
This exclusivity is not what some think of as a closed door to heaven – it is Jesus holding the door open for all who believe in Him – no matter who we are or what we’ve done. He offers the gift of salvation, free of charge, if we will only receive it!
This is that direction and hope and life; it is His perfect love for all – because God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that all who believe in Him would not perish but would have everlasting life!
Do you want that? It is yours for the taking.

Philip asks Jesus for just a little more proof. And Jesus, you can almost hear the hurt in His voice, says, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

Do you know what it means to “really know” Jesus? Do you have a personal relationship – a living, growing relationship – with the Father?

Living Christ, thank You for showing us the way, for being the truth, for offering life. Help us to understand that just as You have sought us and found us, You are seeking all those around us, too. Teach us to live and to speak about faith in such a way that other seekers will be drawn into a saving relationship with You. Amen.

Resources:
Book of Order; Presbyterian Church (USA); 2013-’15; W-4.9000.

Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 36-39.