Raising the Dead

(Apologies for posting yet another sermon…)

Preached at Holy Trinity Washington, England
9th March 2008

I have a question for you: What motivates you to do something – like get out of bed in the morning? I like simple things – just the thought of that first cup of coffee is enough to make me want to get up. But there are other things or people in your day that might spur you to rise up and go. What are those things for you – just think about it.

A friend of mine likes to run. She regularly runs from Durham to Newcastle and takes the bus back to Durham – just for the fun of it. I suppose she gets a ‘runners high’, but she finished the Great North Run in such good time that she was allowed to run with the elite athletes in the London Marathon. But she doesn’t do it for pay, she just likes it. Her love of running motivates her to do what she does. Each of us will have such motivators in our lives – whether it’s the first sip of coffee, the joy of meeting up with a dear friend, or the satisfaction of a job well-done at work.

When I read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, I am immediately struck by the power his words must have held. Think about it – how powerful must his words have been to motivate a man who had been dead for 3 days – and who was wrapped in burial cloths – to rise up and walk out of his tomb! It must have been like being plugged into motivation central – or the national grid if you like! (Wouldn’t every parent love to have that kind of power when trying to get a teenager out of bed before noon on a Saturday?) What was in Jesus’ voice to provoke that kind of a response?!

While preparing this sermon, I went to the library and typed in ‘raising from the dead’. Would you believe there is a book with that title? It’s on how to preach! And the author quotes John Ruskin who said ‘Preaching is thirty minutes in which to raise the dead’. And I thought, ‘lovely, but Jesus didn’t need thirty minutes nor even a sermon to raise the dead!’

So why were Jesus’ few words so powerful? Because Jesus is about life – in fact the very source of life. Those who sit on the outside of Christianity looking in too often get the opposite message. They think Christianity is about death. Their view is of the passion and the cross as simply suffering, death and guilt. I was on a tour bus in Berlin some years ago with other Americans, and as we were filing back into the bus and taking our seats I overheard a conversation between two women a few seats ahead of me. One of them said to the other, ‘We are going from one museum to another looking at those ghastly Christian paintings! I don’t understand how anyone can find suffering and gore inspirational.’ I wanted so badly to jump the rows of seats and explain to these women what they were looking at, but the activity at that time didn’t allow for it. I also felt sorry for the artists because if they were trying to be evangelistic in their paintings, they sorely missed the mark.

Jesus is about life. I want you to listen to his words:

I am the way, the truth and the life. He who believes in me shall never die.

I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.

And of course, from today’s reading, I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

The force of life is powerful. I was watching a documentary on Pearl Harbour recently. There was an amazing underwater picture – which at first glance looked like a beautiful oceanic scene teeming with life and colour and activity. It was only the words of the narrator that made the viewer understand that you were really looking at one of the sunken ships. I thought that was an amazing testimony to the insistence of life – to its power to takeover where death had been.

And Jesus stayed tapped into the source. In fact, he is one with the creator of all life. Let’s look back to chapter 10 of John, just before the story of Lazarus. I would encourage you to read the whole of this section this afternoon, vs 22-39. Jesus is being questioned by the Jews who are accusing him of blasphemy for saying that he is God. Look at Jesus’ answer in vs 37 – 39:

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.

How is that? How is Jesus one with the Father? Raymond Brown in his commentary on the Gospel of John says this:

“The life of the Johannine Jesus is a perpetual ‘Your will be done,’ because Jesus does nothing on his own. His very food is to do the will of the Father. It is this prayerful attitude that is summed up in xi 42: ‘I knew that you always hear me.’ His is a supreme confidence in the Father because he always does what is pleasing to the Father. He knows that whatever he asks is according to the Father’s will, and that therefore, he is heard. He demands this same confidence in the prayer of his followers.”

So the challenge – and the joy – for us is to follow Christ’s example of having a prayerful attitude in all that we do. Saying at all times, ‘May God’s will be done’ and learning more about the Father, so that we will know His will and ask according to it. And I can’t think of a more obvious sign of God’s will and presence than that of life, real life, joyful and abundant life.

In the next week, I want to ask you to do two things and try to turn them into a way of life. First, do as Bishop Tom said in the Lent course, return to the sacred centre- pray without ceasing. Second, in all that you do and say, ask yourself ‘Am I producing life or death?’ Will the people I meet this week be more alive because of what I have said or done? Will they be more of the person God has made them to be after their dealings with me – whether at work, at home, at school, in the market.

One more thing I want you to notice about Jesus’ ministry. Most of the time, his greatest miracles happened one on one. He didn’t raise the dead by the thousands or heal all the sick in the land. He did it one at a time. Life produces life.

If you stay in touch with the creator God, praying constantly that His will be done, you are tapped into motivation central – THE source of life. So go ahead raise the dead to new life in Christ in every person you meet. Think in terms of one at a time.

May His will be done now and forever, Amen!

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About Lois Loban Stuckenbruck

Trained as a Ballerina, then completed a BA in Business Adm and English Literature at Milligan College. More recently trained to be a lay pastor (Reader) in the Church of England. Wife of a Biblical Scholar, Mother of three. I'm an American who has also lived many years in England and Germany (currently Munich). I have worked as an Editorial Assistant, Systems Manager (Xerox Stars on Ethernet Network), and several positions in higher education fundraising (Alumni and Development).
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