Sermon For April 6, 2014

John 11:1-45 (selections)

“Just When You Think You’re Comfortably Dead… Then Jesus!”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, pastor and preacher

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Blog:

To watch a video of this sermon, go online to:


dead plant with dry leaves closeup isolated on whiteAll of us have things in our lives that have died. All of us have things in our lives that are dead. All of us have things in our lives that are in the process of dying.


Some things that die in us might not feel right or good or timely, but whose end might have been expected. Whether because of time, lack of use, changes in circumstance, human proclivities, some things come to an end. Perhaps we have had hopes or dreams that have been unrealized; maybe it’s gifts, graces, or talents that we know that we have, but no one else seems to have need of. Perhaps we’ve had relationships that have ended, connections that we actually thought would be wondrous and healing, amazing things, but that simply took an unexpected turn. There are places that we thought we’d go – far away across the seas or just across the city – to which we have never been and doubt, now, we ever will. There are goals carefully crafted when young that we suspect we’ll now never attained.


Whether or not it is true, in fact, it feels as if these are dead to us. Gone. Like the quirky but poetic words to the song by Montgomery Gentry:

Gone like a freight-train, gone like yesterday
Gone like a soldier in the civil war, bang bang
Gone like a ’59 Cadillac
Like all the good things that ain’t never coming back.

Gone. Gone. Gone.

Some things are dead. Some things feel dead.


gamblingNow there are also some things we really do need to let die in us! For example,

* Addictions, need to die…

* Conspicuous Consumption, needs to die…

* Anger, needs to die…

* Overextending ourselves, needs to die…

* Gossip, needs to die…

* Negativity, needs to die…

* Fill in the blank! needs to die…

Death can be good. Death can be good, cleansing, even healing. A lot of gardeners and farmers know this very well. They know that one has to cut off the dead branches, prune the out of control growth that hinders the plant in order to get the new shoots in the spring, make way for the tender tendrils to rise from the soil. I’ve seen farmers who have burned off the stubble in the field from last year to get a clear and more fertile topsoil for the new crop. Sometimes death is a good thing.


But these deaths aren’t what I’m talking about today. This morning I am talking about the kind of death that comes when you don’t want it to, death that comes when you know in your own heart it doesn’t need to happen, death that shouldn’t have happened by anyone’s estimation. Doesn’t it sometimes feel like the very things that you want to die, believe need to die, live on, have a life of their own, and the things that you yearn for, the things that you long to take root, the facets of you and your life you think you can’t live without, that you want to flourish, are the very ones that end? It seems like those things that are blessed wither and fade away and those things you want to die live on tenaciously. Why does it seem the good die young, the best passes quickest, the greatest opportunity has the steepest climb? Sometimes it feels that way.


Why is it that it seems that the people and situations and things most precious to us are the ones that die the soonest, fade the fastest, and wither the quickest? What happens is that rather than living life to the fullest, this constant death in our lives cause those of us who remain behind begin to hang on for dear life, scrounge to simply survive. Our knuckles get white holding on to the little bit of life we seem to still have. And what’s the point of life if all we are doing is struggling to survive?


The Raising of Lazarus, Gustav Dore, 1865.

The Raising of Lazarus, Gustav Dore, 1865.

So then what happens is that we begin to believe that death is the way things are supposed to be… we are deceived into thinking that death is the end goal of life. We begin to be tricked into seeing only the dead parts of life, and not any of the live parts. We, in effect, become comfortable with death. See, what Lazarus found out… what his sisters, Mary and Martha found out, was that just when we become comfortable with death… then Jesus… then Jesus calls us out of that death and into God’s marvelous life.


When Thomas, who was with Jesus on the way to visit their sick friend Lazarus, heard that he had died, he exclaimed, “then we might as well die with him!” Jesus kept focused on life. When Martha met Jesus she chided him in her grief, “If you had just been here he wouldn’t have died!” Jesus kept focused on life. Mary, too, when falling to the feet of Jesus crying, mourned, “If only you had been here our brother would not have died.” Jesus kept focused on life. When the onlookers saw Jesus approach the tomb, they murmured, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying?” Jesus kept focused on life. When the tomb was about to be opened, they all worried about the stench of death. Jesus kept focused on life. And even after Lazarus walked out of the tomb alive, the powers-that-be became even more hell-bent on finding a way to kill Jesus, Jesus kept focused on life.


We have become comfortable with death. But thank God, Jesus keeps focused on life!


Just two days ago, on Friday April 4th, our nation observed the 46th Anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At the age of 39, while in Memphis, Tennessee speaking in support of striking sanitation workers trying to petition for better wages, working conditions, and benefits, Rev. King was gunned down while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. That motel is a museum today, and one of the things it recalls are the words of the two men who were standing with King when he was shot. As King lay dying in the arms of Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy, Young cried out, “It’s over! It’s over!” To which Abernathy sternly cried out, “Don’t say that! It’s never over! It will never be over!” Because they could not be comfortable with death but were focused on life, both men would become icons of civil and human rights in their own stead, and King has become a beacon of inspiration for great movements of justice, peace, non-violence, and civil and human rights the world over. He may have died, but in his death life was reaffirmed.


LIFE is what we were created for. LIFE is what we were called to. LIFE is what we need to keep our eyes focused on. LIFE is our ultimate purpose and ultimate end. “Every day is a new chance for resurrection!” I say to myself and to anyone who will listen – again and again! Scripture steadfastly agrees, “You are a new creation. The old has passed away, the new has come.” That was God’s intention in the beginning, that is God’s intention in this very moment, and that is God’s intention each and every day!


Now, yes, sometimes some things need to die in order for new life to occur. Sometimes the seed needs to fall into the earth to die in order for the sprout to grow. And here’s the true irony of life, and why the story of Lazarus’ resurrection is placed just prior to the week in which we struggle with, we try to walk with, we deal with Jesus’ momentous death: our life is built on his death.


Paul says,

…we are always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies…


For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal bodies…

(2 Corinthians 4:10 &11)


Today is the day for you and me to choose life, and choose to live that life abundantly. This life from its very inception was made good. Yes, it will be built on, grow out of a million other deaths. That is the paradox that every living creature must face. Even so, if we are faithful, it will also be built on the death of Jesus. But that is what his death was all about. He died that we might have life. This is what we do in baptism, and what we will do next week remembering the disciples who have chosen to live life more fully, even after the death of their beloved master, teacher, and savior. Amen.