Signs of New Life
This sermon was presented at Resurrection by Pastor Jim Kniseley on April 6, 2014, the Fifth Sunday in Lent. The gospel text is John 11:20-27.
Dear Friend in Christ,
You and I are getting every closer to Easter Sunday, the Day of Resurrection and New Life. I am delighted that we have lots of children here today and especially the preschoolers at 11:00 from our Resurrection Lutheran School. Today whenever I say “new life” in this sermon, I want you to know that I am very much talking about you, our children.
The best part of the Bible for me is the part when Jesus comes back to life after being dead. I love the hope and promise of new life in this world and the next. What would you do if someone told you that you could only tell half of the Easter story and not the whole story? Shortly after I became pastor of the Lutheran Church in La Canada, California, I had a discussion with the preschool director. That school rented space from the church and it was not our own school. I did their chapel service. She asked me not to mention the cross and the death of Jesus. I was supposed to skip what happened on Good Friday and go directly to the great joy of Easter morning.
Instead of telling you right now how we worked that out, I want to tell you about a funeral service I attended 2 weeks ago in Norfolk. It was a service for Carol Mauney Robinson, the 53-year-old sister of our Bishop, Jim Mauney. Carol’s daughter gave the eulogy. This 21-year-old college junior told us how important it was for her to have been raised in the church and know the hope of resurrection and new life. She said this to the congregation that day, “I am so thankful that my parents brought me to church and Sunday School even when I didn’t want to be there. I don’t know how I would ever be getting through this time of my mom’s death from cancer if it wasn’t for my faith in Jesus and the love of my church family.”
Today our gospel reading is about the raising of Lazarus. I hope that you will appreciate the wisdom of worship planners who selected this story to be read on this Sunday, the last Sunday in the Lent before the start of Holy Week. This gospel is being read in churches that are Lutheran and Roman Catholic and Episcopal and Presbyterian and United Methodist and so many more.
This is a story of death and new life and is a prelude to what is going to happen on Good Friday and Easter. Let me tell you the story of the Raising of Lazarus:
Lazarus was sick and dying. His sisters, Mary and Martha, loved Jesus and knew that he could heal him. The problem was that Jesus was far away with his disciples. When a messenger arrived with the news that Jesus was needed right away, Jesus decided to wait two days until starting out on his way to help Lazarus. When he arrived in Bethany at the home of Lazarus and Mary and Martha, he was told that Lazarus was dead and had already been bound with cloth and put in a tomb and it had been sealed. Everyone was crying. Martha was really upset. “Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died!”
Jesus shed a tear, because he too was sad when he saw how much Martha and Mary were hurting. He said, “Lazarus will rise again.” Martha said I know he will rise at the last day in the resurrection with everyone.”
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live.”
Then the miracle took place, which was a foretaste. Jesus went to where the tomb of Lazarus was. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. He said, “Take away the stone.”
Then Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And the most amazing thing happened. Lazarus came out alive and they unwrapped all the cloth that had been wrapped on his body.
And so many people rejoiced that day. But for the Pharisees, this was the last straw. Now they moved forward with their plan to stop Jesus forever.
I have a plea this day for all of you who love your children. Please make Jesus and the Bible and the Church a high priority in your family’s life. It is a commendable thing to provide for your children to attend an excellent Christian School. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that having your children in a Christian School is a substitute for your family being engaged every week in worship and Christian Education. When a child is in a family where mom or dad aren’t actively engaged in faith practices, the subtle and ingrained learning is that someday when I get big, I also won’t need to practice my faith or go to church and Sunday School.
A long time ago Martin Luther prepared something we call “Luther’s Small Catechism”. It is a little booklet that contains important teachings like the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed. It was part of Luther’s understanding for family life. Each father and mother is responsible for the faith and Christian education of their children. This is done by teaching and example. The healthiest and best learning takes place as a partnership between families and the Christian Community.
I pray that it is in your home that the children first learn about death and new life. I hope that your children first learn from you about Good Friday and Easter and the promise of heaven.
The way we worked things out in La Canada was this: I promised to touch lightly on what happened on Good Friday and not to give gruesome details. The kids process on their own level of understanding. That preschool director and I worked together for 10 years and I came to understand how much she loved children and she came to understand that I would do my best to share Bible stories and the good news of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Here is what I pray and encourage. If you now are not actively involved in a faith community, please change that immediately. You are certainly welcome here. There are lots of fine churches in this community. Next Sunday (Palm Sunday) and then Easter Sunday be at your church for worship! You owe it to yourself and to these “signs of new life” that have been entrusted to as gifts from God.
Thanks be to God. Amen!