Expectations in Christ / John 11 & Ezekiel 37 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 29th 2020 / Season Of Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 29th 2020: Season of Lent / John 11:1–45 & Ezekiel 37 "Expectations in Christ"
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, he whom You love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it He said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
Now when Jesus came, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met Him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on The Last Day.” Jesus said to her, “I Am The Resurrection and The Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are The Christ, The Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met Him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in Him,”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. In our Gospel Reading for today Jesus doesn’t immediately do what is expected of Him. Mary and Martha Lazarus’ sisters send word to Him expecting that He will quickly come and heal Lazarus who is ill but instead Jesus waits two days before setting out to the village of Bethany. The disciples are also a bit surprised because it would bring Jesus back into contact with people who were trying to kill Him so they weren’t expecting to be headed back that way any time soon. Thinking about expectations is probably a good place to start today, that’s where the reading starts and in our lives we often walk into situations accompanied by our personal expectations. Of course it can be very hard when we have no idea what to expect. Much of our lives right now are like that. Most of our expectations have gone out the window. If you asked us three months ago how many people we expected to have at church this Sunday we would likely have said ‘I don’t know probably between 230 and 240 people.’ And yet here I am and I look out to empty pews. I’m thankful that you are hearing and seeing or reading this today but it clearly isn’t going the way I expected it to go, or the way any of us here at Mount Olive Lutheran Church expected it to go even three weeks ago.
Our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel also deals with expectations. Ezekiel records how it was that, “The hand of the LORD was upon [him], and [the LORD] brought [Ezekiel] out in the Spirit of the LORD and set [him] down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And [the LORD] led [him] around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And He said to [Ezekiel], “Son of man, can these bones live?” And [Ezekiel] answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.” The expectation is no, they are dry bones scattered in a valley of death, they are not alive, they will not live. Yet Ezekiel is wise because he answers the LORD saying, “O Lord GOD, You know.”
So here you are, unsure of what to expect, tempted to expect the worst, perhaps in a positive way expecting the best. Maybe your expectations have not been met in the midst of this pandemic and you are deeply disappointed in your friends and families and neighbours, maybe you are even disappointed in God because Jesus hasn’t acted they way you expected or wanted. Or maybe you have been pleasantly surprised at the generosity and loving care of the people around you that surpassed your expectations whichever the case may be our expectations right now during the covid-19 pandemic are certainly more likely to be right up on the very surface of our interactions and thoughts.
Ezekiel wisely expected that God in fact knew if it was possible for the scattered dry bones to live when he answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.” This is an example to us, just as Martha too can be an example. In our Gospel reading when Jesus did finally arrive later than expected Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.” Things had not, to that point, gone the way Martha expected yet she trusted Jesus. She had faith in Him: This is why when Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again,” Martha replied saying, “I know that [my brother Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection on The Last Day.” While the world might find this to be an unreasonable expectation it is not an unreasonable expectation for the Christian, we look forward to The Last Day and the resurrection of the dead and the eternal life to follow, but what came next for Martha and her sister Mary and for those who came to mourn with them from Jerusalem was certainly unexpected. Jesus said to her, “I Am The Resurrection and The Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Again in faith Martha says, “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are The Christ, The Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Mary and Martha had expected their brother Lazarus to recover from his illness by the miraculous intervention of Jesus through healing, they did not expect that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead; especially not after Lazarus had been dead for four days.
Ezekiel in our Old Testament Reading knew God well enough to wisely put the valley of the dry dead bones into God’s hands, but did he expect what was coming next? Did Mary and Martha expect to hear Jesus say with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” Did they expect their brother who had died to come out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Did they expect to hear Jesus say to them, “Unbind him, and let him go,” is that the way they expected the day to end, their brother who was dead, now alive? No. Did Ezekiel expect to hear the rattling sound of bones coming together; To see sinews on them that were only just dry, to see flesh come upon them, and skin covering them; for the breath of life to enter into them; for them to stand on their two feet again an exceedingly great army before him?
This is of course very dramatic. And perhaps your life is less dramatic than all of that. And yet this same Jesus did something else that was unexpected that impacts you and your life. It was not long after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead that Jesus Himself would face death upon the cross, we are approaching closer and closer to our celebration of Holy Week and Easter. His disciples who had not expected to come again to the Jerusalem area so soon expected the possibility of trouble, Judas one of those disciples wasn’t yet expecting to betray Jesus and his fellow disciples wouldn’t have expected trouble to have come from Judas at least not the kind of trouble that did come; Regardless of what they did or didn’t expect no one expected what was actually coming on the day we call Good Friday. Certainly no one expected Jesus to die the way He did, publicly disgraced upon a Roman instrument of torture and execution, although maybe they could have expected it since the Bible foreshadowed and prophesied it hundreds of years earlier when it said about the Suffering Servant of God these words, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.” When they took Jesus down off of the cross, wrapped Him in the same kind of burial cloths that Lazarus had been wrapped in and buried Him alone in the tomb could they have expected Him to rise from the dead? Jesus had told them that He would but somehow His disciples had not understood Him and for this reason they didn’t expect it. Even though Jesus had said to them that, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” I mean, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead but with Jesus dead who would raise Jesus?
So what about us? What has Christ said to us? What should we remember even when all of our expectations are turned upside down? This same Saint John the Disciple who wrote our Gospel Reading by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who stood at the foot of the cross with the Virgin Mary as Jesus died, who was in the upper room on that first Easter to hear the unexpected voice of the resurrected Jesus says to him, “Peace be with you,” also recorded his experience with Jesus in the book of Revelation when the ascended Lord Jesus said to this John, “Fear not, I Am The First and The Last, and The Living One. I died, and behold I Am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Just as it was for Mary and Martha and Lazarus, just as it was in the valley of the dry bones Jesus has life and death in His hands. And He is the one who says to you today, “I Am The Resurrection and The Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” And then He asks, “Do you believe this?” Everything may not unfold the way you expect. But take heart. It will turn out better than you expect in The End. What does Paul say in our Epistle Reading today? “If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
Dear ones, you baptized, you who believe: You belong to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And whatever comes your way you have eternal life in the LORD. Now in the mean time as we think on our immediate needs remember we will not be like scattered dry bones forever. The Body of Christ in this life will come together; our rattle will be heard in song and praise and by the grace of God we will be connected by sinew and covered in flesh and we will be filled with the breath of life. We will stand on our own two feet and walk out of the grave of this pandemic called out by the voice of Jesus who calls us together and the bandages stinking of death will be removed from us. The church is like that. God loves resurrecting something that looks dead to the World. Though the pews today are as quiet as dry bones they will not stay that way, they will have more life in them than they have now. You will not be physically separated from each other forever. You are not spiritually separated from each other now. You are the body of Christ and He is your Head. If you want to expect something expect that. Today expect life, for even now Christ who is The Life is at work in you. Even now you are light and life to your neighbour when you put their needs before your own in love. Be kind, be patient and remember what St. Paul writes in Romans 5, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Ask yourself what is expected of you right now? And ask am I doing it? Will it help others? It may not fit your expectations but God is working to surpass your expectations and He has put you where you need to be right now. If you are in doubt pray that He gives you eyes to see and ears to hear. Do everything with the care of your neighbour in your heart, not just today, not just in this time of pandemic, but every day trusting always in the love and forgiveness of Jesus.
Lastly if you don’t know what to expect, then listen to what I say “put your trust in the LORD for He knows what is coming next even when you do not and He is with you.” Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Ezekiel 37:1-3
 Isaiah 53:4–5
 Luke 9:22
 Revelation 1:17–18
 Romans 8:10–11
 Romans 5:3–5