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Monday, April 24 2017

Randy Milleville

John 20:19-31


          Let me tell you the story about a young college woman named Jenny.  One day, she walked into her counselor's office and confessed that she didn’t believe in God anymore.  Her dad was a Lutheran pastor, and she had been spoon-fed the gospel all her life.  

          But now, in college, she was smarter than all that.  Now she trusted science.  Now she believed in bright professors and thick textbooks and knowledge and reason.  Faith seemed to insult her intellect. When she got up to leave, the counselor said the only thing he should have said when she first sat down.  “Jenny” he said, “God loves you, even when you don’t believe that God exists.”

          Tears filled her eyes, and she said “I know he does.”

          I want to welcome all of you here today, and thank you for coming.  This weekend after Easter almost always focuses on the story that we have come to know as Doubting Thomas.  I often wish that the crowds we had here last weekend would hang around for at least one more weekend to hear this story about Doubting Thomas.

          And let me tell you why.  Thomas’s story gives us preachers a prime opportunity to talk about what I suspect most people would really want us to talk about.  And that is, when it comes to faith, when it comes to God, when it comes to Jesus, when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead – what I suspect most people want help with is whether or not all of this stuff is true. 

          In other words, “Pastor, help ME with MY doubts.  I know the stories.  I’ve heard them since I was little.  I want to believe.  Help me with my unbelief.  Help me make sense of my doubts.”

          Fair enough.  And if you have come here today with your doubts in hand – or maybe you’re skeptical of all this stuff – you find it hard to wrap your brain around all this stuff – let me tell you – I’m glad you are here.  Thank God you are here.

          Listen!  Let me suggest to you that if you have doubts about God and Jesus and the whole resurrection of Jesus from the dead thing – then that’s a good thing. AND you’ve come to the right place. 

          One of the things we talk about in this place is faith.  By faith we accept what we hear in this place about things like God and Jesus and the resurrection.  But sometimes our doubts seem to get in the way.

          Well let me tell you something.  Doubt is not necessarily the opposite of faith.  I want to suggest to you that a healthy faith is sometimes fed by a healthy doubt.  A healthy doubt will cause the skeptic in us to question all of this God and Jesus and resurrection stuff.  And that’s a good thing.

          Because, you see, faith isn’t blind.  You can ask for and look for and find evidence to support your faith.  Hold on.  I’ll get to the evidence in just a few minutes.

          But first I want to put your minds at ease IF you came here today wrestling – doubting whether God exists.  Questioning whether or not the resurrection of Jesus is a real live, historical event.  And let me tell you – I am convinced that either now or at some time in your life – you would have to say that sometimes you have had your doubts about all of this God and Jesus and resurrection stuff. 

          And yeah, I know, it’d be a lot easier if Jesus would just show up the very same way that he showed up to his disciples.  You know, just show up right here, right now, right over here next to me in this spot….anytime now… 

          Many years ago, the husband of one of our Zion members – a woman who eventually moved away and is now deceased – but this man told me one day that he was a skeptic.  He was skeptical about everything.  AND – he told me – he was even skeptical of the skeptical position.  I’m not sure he knew what to believe. 

          But let me tell you this.  If I could give you any one thing – just one thing today – from everything I say to you today – it is this.  If you are not sure – if you are a skeptic – if you have your doubts – I would ask you to be skeptical of your skeptical position.  I would ask you to doubt your doubts.

          I’m sure most of you are familiar with the name Robert Louis Stevenson.  He wrote “Treasure Island,” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”   Like many young people in his early years Stevenson rebelled against his upbringing. He was raised in Scotland in a very strict protestant home.  As a college student he quickly shed his rigid upbringing, which he called “the deadliest gag and wet blanket that can be laid on a man,” and adopted a thoroughly bohemian lifestyle. He called himself a “youthful atheist.”

          As he became older, however, Robert Louis Stevenson began to have “doubts about his doubts.”  He came to see that for all its claim to wisdom, the world had no satisfying answers to the deepest questions of life. Later Robert Louis Stevenson would write, “There is a God who is manifest for those who care to look for him.”

          In the later years of his life Stevenson was a man of deep and profound faith. Toward the end of his life he described his religious outlook as a “cast iron faith.”  He had learned to doubt the doubts of his youth.

          The story of Doubting Thomas gives us permission to recognize that sometimes we too have doubts.  And I want to tell you today that that’s okay!  I am convinced that doubt is a tool that God can use to help us understand what it is that we do believe.  The person I worry about is the one who says, “I’ve never doubted what the Bible says for one minute.”

          Quite frankly, sometimes I have my doubts.  And do you want to know how I handle my doubts?  Some of you know because I’ve told you this before, and I’m going to tell you again.

          When I start to question things – when I have my doubts – I tend to doubt my doubts – WHEN I remind myself of two things.   

           Number one.  I ask the question, “How did we got here?”  Science can explain a lot of things.  Like Jenny in our opening story, she put her faith in science.  Science is a wonderful thing, but so far it cannot explain where the stuff of life – the stuff of the universe – comes from.  What does science teach us?  You can’t get something from nothing.  Nothing comes from nothing.  There can be no spontaneous generation of either matter or energy.  That’s what science tells us.  Therefore the stuff of the universe – the stuff of life – had to have had a creator – and quite frankly a master designer for it all to come together – for it to coalesce into what we experience with our senses.  It is complex – it is just too complex – RNA – DNA – and the precise sequencing of the amino acids that make up the proteins – it’s all just too complex for it to have happened by dumb luck or blind chance.

           To believe otherwise – that the stuff of the universe just kind of happened on its own violates every law of physics and chemistry that I’ve ever studied.  It takes a lot of faith to believe that the stuff of the universe came into being on its own.  And quite frankly – I don’t have enough faith to believe that.  But I do have enough faith to believe that there is a creator.  And that the universe has a designer.

           And then there’s the second thing.  Let’s call it “The Jesus Event”.  Most importantly – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  And the primary thing there that I have to go on is the eyewitness accounts of those who saw Jesus alive after he was crucified – who wrote about it – who proclaimed it – and who lost their lives because of it.  This is not something that could have been made up the way it plays out.

           So if the resurrection is a lie – then those first disciples are the ones who made it up.  And what happened to them?  Stephen was stoned to death.  James the brother of John was killed with a sword.  Peter and Paul are believed to have been executed in Rome.  Legend has it that all of the original disciples – with the exception of John – died martyr’s deaths.  And not one of them at the last minute recanted.  Not one said, “We just kind of made that resurrection thing up.”  Liars do not make good martyrs.   No.  They had nothing to gain either politically or financially by making it up – and it cost most of them their lives.

           And by the way – whatever happened to Thomas?  Legend has it that Thomas went as far as India and established churches – and the Christians there became known as Thomite Christians.  But eventually he too was martyred for his faith.

          So you see – something must have happened on that first Easter day to change the hearts and lives of those who knew Jesus best – those who had witnessed his crucifixion, death and burial.  And who also witnessed his resurrection.  These were changed men and women – which is another piece of evidence for the resurrection by the way.  And the amazing thing is – is that the resurrected Jesus – through the power and the presence and the person of the Holy Spirit is still touching hearts and changing lives today.  A dead Messiah – a Jesus who is still dead can’t do that.  

          I offer these things to you not as proof – but as evidence.  And there is more evidence to be examined.  And if I ever – no when I finish my book about the evidence for God and Jesus and the resurrection – you’ll be able to read about the other pieces of evidence there.  But for now, please know that faith is not blind.  Faith leaves room for doubts.  For the skeptic in all of us – all I ask you to do is to examine the evidence.   

          I hope that perhaps I have answered some of your questions, and given you permission to wrestle with your doubts and your faith today.  To give you reason to reexamine the evidence for this whole God and Jesus and resurrection stuff.  To examine the evidence – and arrive at a place where you can even doubt your doubts.  

          And what better place than here to do that!  What better place than this place – a place where Jesus is.  To hear Jesus say to you today, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”               Amen


Posted by: Randy Milleville AT 12:05 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, April 20 2017

Pastor Becca

Easter Sunday

Has anyone ever felt an earthquake before…? What did it feel like…?

I experienced my first earthquake about 6 years ago. It was August 23rd, 2011-- a typical day in the office at my church job just north of Albany, NY, and it was just after lunch in the afternoon. And all of a sudden, I felt like I was on a boat. The ground was swaying so much that the pictures on my office wall were swaying along! A small statue came dangerously close to falling off my bookcase.

“What’s going on???” I hollered, making sure I didn’t fall asleep at my desk and was dreaming.

Lori, our organist and acting Administrative Assistant at the time, hollered back from the main office across the hall: “It’s an earthquake!!”

The pastor of the church, Pastor Jeff, bolts out of the bathroom at top speed. “Is it an earthquake??” he shouts. “I was doing my business in the bathroom and thought I was going crazy when I felt the ground move!” (That had to be weird for him, no doubt!)

I stood up, and it felt like I was surfing on solid ground. After about 2 minutes or so, the swaying subsided and all three of us starting freaking out at the same time, realizing that we had just experienced an earthquake.

Turns out, the earthquake’s epicenter (where the center of the quake began) was all the way down in Virginia. It’s magnitude was 5.8 on the Richter Scale, which is considered a moderate to strong earthquake—and was felt by more people than any other earthquake in United States history. Experts estimate that one-third of the US population could feel the earthquake, with people as far south  as Atlanta, Georgia, as north as Quebec City in Canada, as far west as Illinois, and as far east as New Brunswick in Canada—with damage reported as far away from the center of the quake as Brooklyn in New York City. In Washington DC, the White House and the Capitol building were evacuated, and the earthquake caused cracks at the top of the Washington Monument, closing that historical site as well.

You would think that with such a large number of people and such a wide range, everyone would have known about this earthquake right away. But that would be wrong. And I know this for a fact, because my brother Stephen, living in Manhattan and going to law school at the time, had no idea this earthquake had happened.

When I sent him an email right after it happened to ask if he had felt the quake too, he responded back “I don’t believe you. I didn’t feel a thing.” I sent him a link to a blurb from a big news site that had just posted about the earthquake. “I’m not buying what you’re selling,” he wrote back. Only later in the day, when it was a leading story on the news, did he believe me!

When we read the story in the Gospel of Matthew, you may have noticed that when the two Marys go to Jesus’ tomb, there was an earthquake. It says in our Bible passage: “And suddenly, there was a great earthquake…” But unlike the earthquake I experienced a few years ago, this earthquake was because God’s angel (or God’s messenger) was coming down from heaven and rolling the huge stone away from the entrance of the tomb. Understandably, the Roman guards, there to guard the tomb, flip out, They shake from fear and “become like dead men.”

That earthquake at that tomb was beyond huge. It may not have been the magnitude of the one in 2011, but this earthquake was the most important one we know of. Why? Because it preceded the announcement that changed the world, forever.

Right after the earthquake and the angel rolls away the stone, he says to the two Marys, “Do not be afraid; I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said.”

Talk about a huge announcement! Jesus was raised from the dead? What the…? How could that be???

Then the angel tells the women to go tell the disciples, Jesus’ followers, that Jesus has risen and that he will show up with them in Galilee. So they left, running to go tell the disciples the message.

The thing is, though, with the women just giving them that humongous message and nothing else, many of the disciples would have probably had a hard time believing what they were telling them. I mean, wouldn’t you? They knew Jesus had been crucified very, very publicly on a cross like a common criminal just a few days earlier. For them, the story of Jesus was over. They wouldn’t believe what the women were telling them. If it happened today, they would be like my brother Stephen and say “I’m not buying what you’re selling!”

But as the women are running to tell the disciples, the resurrected Jesus shows up. “Greetings!” he says. And the women grab his feet and worship him, and he tells them, just as the angel told them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Aha! Now the women have not only the message from the angel, but their experience of the risen Jesus himself. WAY more convincing, and more proof to give the disciples that Jesus had actually risen from the dead. It wasn’t just based on the words of the angel—they actually SAW Jesus.

And here’s a cool thing-- did anyone notice that in Matthew’s telling of the Easter story there was a word that was used more than once at the beginning of some of the sentences? It was the word “suddenly.” Anyone want to guess how many times that word is used…? Twice.

The first time is verse 2: “And suddenly there was a great earthquake…” The second one is verse 9: Suddenly Jesus met them and said “Greetings!”

So the two things that happen suddenly in our reading—suddenly is defined as happening without warning and unexpectedly-- is the earthquake, and the women meeting the resurrected Jesus.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Matthew used that word with those two events. I think he was trying to get us to make the connection between the earthquake and meeting Jesus.

OK, I should add a disclaimer here. This doesn’t mean that every time we meet the resurrected Jesus, there will be an earthquake!

But it does mean, that—metaphorically—meeting the resurrected Jesus shakes the ground beneath our feet. It means that when we meet Jesus today, unexpected things happen that can make us feel like we are standing on shaky ground rather than solid ground. Meeting Jesus changes things, shakes things up.

Jesus was no stranger to shaking things up. He did that constantly when he was here on earth. We read in the Bible how he went against tons of rules that were set by people—he healed people on the Sabbath Day. He ate with people who were considered sinners. He told people to love their enemies. He died and rose again—despite people’s unbelief that he would! Jesus is clearly in the business of shaking things up—and he didn’t, and hasn’t, stopped after being resurrected.

Now, although the “shaking up” that Jesus does can be scary for us, Jesus reminds the women in the passage, and us as well, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus is moving and shaking things in our lives not to scare us, but to make us more of who God wants us to be.

Because-- after the earthquake shaking the ground, and the woman meeting Jesus in our story, everything changed. Although it was scary at the time, that change was amazing and life-altering. Because Jesus shook things up and rose again, we are able to share in that resurrection with him. When we die, we will be resurrected like Jesus and be with him forever! And until that happens, the resurrected Jesus is with us always, here on earth. How cool is that??

I want to you close your eyes for a minute. Think about a time when God shook up your life, when you felt like the ground you were standing on in life was suddenly unstable. Think about what that shaking up did for you—maybe God was showing you something, or maybe God was helping you to become more of who God wanted you to be. OK, open your eyes. How did it feel when God first shook up your life…? And later, when you figured out why…? Maybe you’re still figuring out why! That’s totally OK.

Jesus does this “shaking up” all the time. Because he’s resurrected, he can be anywhere, anytime. He can be in a gazillion places at once. He’s here right now! And he’s shaking and moving things in your life—have you noticed it? What is he trying to show you? How is he trying to change your life, make you into who God wants you to be?

And don’t stop there—how is Jesus shaking up Zion Lutheran Church? How is he showing us ways we can better serve him and be who he is calling us to be? How is Jesus shaking up old ways of thinking and doing, so that we can do his work with even more enthusiasm and effectiveness? And even more-- how is Jesus shaking up our community, our country, our world? How is he showing us new ways we can help others in need and tell people about him?

Jesus is here to shake things up! He did it that first Easter morning, and he is doing it right now, in our lives and in our world. How will you react to Jesus shaking things up? And, with Jesus’ guidance and leading, how will YOU shake things up, and help Jesus SUDDENLY do new and amazing things?? Amen?

Posted by: AT 10:22 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 18 2017

Pastor Randy

Maundy Thursday

I Corinthians 11:23-26

I love to tell a story about an old kitchen table.  To tell this story, I need to go back to my boyhood home – way back to the mid-1960's.  Now for those of you who are celebrating your first communion tonight, I know that must sound like ancient history.  But it was somewhere back then when my parents bought a new kitchen table.

Well, it wasn’t really brand new – but we called it new – because it was new for us.  Neighbors of ours were moving, and selling all of their household goods. And my parents – well, my mother really – bought their kitchen table, and brought it home, and set it up in our kitchen.  It cost her $45, which was a good deal for a kitchen table, even back then.

It was a wood table – with a Formica top – with four wooden arm chairs to go around it.  Nothing really outstanding about it, but oh, what an improvement over the really old kitchen table – vintage 1950's – red with chrome colored legs and chairs to match.  Now that table would probably be worth a lot of money to someone today as an antique.  

But we just loved our new kitchen table.  And for years it served as the place – especially at dinner time – where my family would get together – my mother, my father, my brother and sister, and me.  And we would eat and we would talk and we would just enjoy being together as a family – well – most of the time anyway.

Then the years went by.  I went to college.  Graduated.  And I moved away.  Left the city of Niagara Falls for a job in the big city – Dayton, Ohio.  That was way back in April of 1977– in fact, I have to tell you, that that was 40 years ago this week!  I know – ancient history.

Well, some four – five months later, my parents came out for a visit.  They had a surprise for me.  “We bought a new kitchen table,” they said, “and we thought you might like the old one.”  Let me tell you – it sure beat the aluminum folding table I had been using.

And let me tell you, that kitchen table moved with me five times.  From my apartment to a house that I shared with two other guys to my own house – all still in Dayton, Ohio – and again when I got married to my beloved wife Nancy – I moved that table to a parsonage in Elma.  And finally, when Nancy and I bought our first house together, that kitchen table followed us there too.
I think of the meals that were shared around that table.  The conversations.  The fellowship.  The guests we entertained.  From the time I was a boy – to when I was a single man living alone – to having a wife and kids of my own.

And I think about that table, and I see a young family where two little boys learned to eat on their own.  And the birthday parties – the work projects – the homework that was done at that table.  

But, eventually, the chairs started coming unglued, and the arms started cracking.  That old table was showing a lot of wear.  And about that time, it was time for another move – this time to a new house in a place called Clarence Center.  It really was not a difficult decision – well not for Nancy, anyway – to put that old table in the “We’re Moving” garage sale.  I guess the nice thing is – the table my mother bought for $45 – I sold for $50 some 25 or so years later.

Well, we now have a new kitchen table.  Actually, we’ve had this new table for 24 years, but it still seems new to me.  But you know – it doesn’t matter whether it’s old or new.  You see, there is something special about a kitchen table.  

The kitchen table is the place where families get together.  There’s laughter – sometimes there’s quarrels – and occasionally, a tear or two is shed.  Folks come and folks go, but mostly, folks just keep coming back to the kitchen table.  To share food – and to share more than food.  It’s the place where we ask, “How was school today?”  Or say, “Guess what happened to me today.”

Here is where we share our worries, our joys, our fears.  Where?  At the kitchen table.  It’s true in my house.  I’m sure it’s true in your house too.  You have your own stories to tell.  It very well may be the most important piece of furniture in the house – the piece of furniture that – more than anything – else says, “Home.”

I hope you see where I’m going with this, because, you see, this family – this church family – has its own kitchen table too.  But you won’t find it in the kitchen.  And ours happens to be really old.  Over a hundred years old.  Made out of wood – oak – with intricate, detailed carvings. We can’t always see them because they’re covered with altar cloths called paraments.  

By the way, what you’re looking at right now is a picture of Jesus with his disciples at the Last Supper.  And we’re not sure, because it’s not recorded in the Bible – but we think this is where Jesus said, “Hey!  Everybody on this side of the table if you want to be in the picture!”

 Anyway, our church’s family table is called an altar.  And it’s always at the center of our worship – not pushed off to one side and brought out like an ironing board only when it’s needed.

And it is here – at this table – that we are most like family.  Young and old, rich and poor, married and single, male and female.  Here it is that we are most like brothers and sisters in Christ.  And it is because of Christ that we gather at the table.  After all, he’s the one who told us we should “do this”.

It’s here that he offers us bread and wine – his body and blood – in one heavenly meal.  And on that night so many years ago, when Jesus first gave this supper to the disciples, he knew he wasn’t going to be around much longer.  At least, not in the way that they were used to having Jesus around.  

Yes, Jesus would soon be gone.  He would be crucified.  He would die, and be buried.  Three days later he would rise from the dead, and forty days after that, he would ascend into heaven.  But his followers would still have each other – they would still gather around the table and the meal – and when they did – Jesus said he would be right there with them.  

And so he is.  Even though we cannot see him – he’s here.  And that’s why we gather – this family – we who are brothers and sisters in Christ.  We gather for a meal.  A little bread.  A little wine.  And Jesus is right here with us.  He is with us just as he is with millions of Christians in thousands of churches all across the world today.  Each with its own version of a table.  Each with Christ right there in the places where they are together.  Remember what Jesus said?  “Wherever two or three [or more] are gathered together, there I am right there with them.”  

And because what we are doing here tonight is being repeated and celebrated in churches all over the world – it’s as though we are joining our table to theirs.  The late Lutheran theologian Richard Jensen once called it the “picnic table effect.”  “Come on.  Pull your table up next to ours.  There is room.  There is room.”  And we join with other Christians –in every time and every place – around the church’s kitchen table.

Sometimes we come here just to see old friends and meet new ones.  To catch up with what’s happening in each others’ lives.  It’s like coming home, because we know that there will always be a place for us here at the table – at this table – the kitchen table that is – the place where home is really home.

There is room for everyone here at the table of the Lord.  It is a table is for saints and sinners.  It is a table of grace – in other words – a table where God gives us his undeserved love and favor.

    Let me close with a story told by Tony Campolo in his book, Letters to a Young Evangelical. It’s a story about God’s grace. He says that when he was very young, he was sitting with his parents at a Communion service. He noticed a young woman in the pew in front of them who was sobbing and shaking. The minister had just finished reading 1 Corinthians 11:27. This verse says this: “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” Evidently this young woman took Paul’s words to say that somehow she was unworthy to take the bread and the cup.
    As the Communion plate with its small pieces of bread was passed to the crying woman sitting in front of young Tony and his parents, she waved it away and then lowered her head in despair. It was then that Tony’s father, a first generation Sicilian immigrant, leaned over the young woman’s shoulder and, in broken English, said sternly, “Take it, girl! It was meant for you. Do you hear me?”
    The young woman raised her head and nodded and then she took the bread and ate it. Tony Campolo writes, “I knew that at that moment some kind of heavy burden was lifted from her heart and mind. Since then, I have always known that a church that could offer Communion to hurting people was a special gift from God.”
    You know what that tells me?  There is room for you here.  No matter who you are, no matter where you’ve been, no matter what you’ve done, and if you’re prone to wander, no matter how long you’ve been away, there is room for you here at the church’s kitchen table – this table of grace.  This place where home is really home.
    This is a meal that we celebrate every weekend.  Call it the church’s family meal.  Call it the Lord’s Supper.  Call it Holy Communion.  Call it Eucharist.  But this is the church’s family meal.

    I trust that you will be here as often as you can to join your church family in sharing this meal.  I know life can be busy.  Running here – running there – doing this – doing that.  But just like it’s important for us to slow down – important for you and your family to eat suppers together at your home – it’s also important for God’s family to slow down – and to be together.  For us to be together – here in this place – to hear God’s Word and to share in His supper.
    Jesus is the host – and he sends this invitation to all who will receive it.  Come to the banquet.  Come to the feast – here in this place – to the family meal.  Come to the church’s kitchen table – to the feast that has been spread for you.


Posted by: AT 01:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 03 2017

Pastor Randy

John 11:1-45
    When the famous agnostic, Robert Ingersoll, died, the printed funeral program left this solemn instruction. It read: “There will be no singing.”

    When I read that, I thought, “Now that’s sad.”  But then again, I suppose when you believe that this life is all there is – that there is nothing beyond the grave – what in the world is there to sing about?  

    Pastor Becca and I have presided at a number of funerals.   And we take great care in making preparations with the family for the service.  We work with families to choose Scripture readings and hymns.  Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art are usually in the top five.  And sometimes, the singing at the funeral fills the room.  But then there are those times when we’ve said to each other – more than once – “Man, I felt like I was singing a solo.”

    Well, you know, Pastor Becca and I, we both love to sing.  Even at a funeral we love to sing.  Maybe especially at a funeral.  When you know that death does not have the final word.  When you know that Jesus has the final word – and that that final word is life – that final word is resurrection.  Okay, that’s two words.  But when you trust the words of Jesus – and you know that death does not have the final word – well then, it seems to me that we do have reason to sing.  

    I know it’s not always easy.  Grief is a powerful thing.  And at the death of a loved one, we need to grieve.  It’s good, and right, and natural – it’s healthy – to grieve.  We need to do that.   

    In today’s Gospel reading from John, we discover that Lazarus, friend of Jesus, brother to Mary and Martha, has died.  It has been four days since Lazarus died.  No one’s singing.  There are only tears of grief.  And I hope you noticed that Jesus is moved by the grief and the tears of Mary and Martha and their friends.  Jesus himself, when they take him to where Lazarus is buried, Jesus himself cries.  
    You know what that tells me?  It tells me that Jesus understands.  He understands your grief. He understands your pain. He understands whatever it is that you are going through right now.  Jesus understands.  The word I love to use here is compassion.  What a wonderful word!  Jesus knows compassion and when you and I are down in the dumps – he shows compassion because he knows what we’re going through.

    Back to our story.  Before Jesus is taken to the tomb of Lazarus, first Martha, and then Mary, go out to meet Jesus.  And they both say the same thing.  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Obviously, they’ve been talking about this in the four days since Lazarus died.  

    So Martha goes out to meet Jesus first, and here is what she says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

    And Jesus says to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Apparently Martha thinks Jesus is talking about the resurrection – sometime in the future.  And she’s right.  Lazarus will someday be raised at the resurrection.  And since we’re all still here, we know that that day has not yet arrived.

    But then Jesus says these wonderful words.  Listen carefully.  He says, “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.  Do you believe this?”

    Listen!  This is not just wishful thinking.  This is a promise.  It’s a Jesus promise.  And this promise was spoken not just to Martha.  Not just to Mary.  But the promise is for you!  Do you believe this?  

    When Jesus gets to the tomb of Lazarus, he does something absolutely amazing – actually, he does the impossible!  He brings Lazarus back to life.  How does he do it?  He simply shouts, “Lazarus, come out!”   I think I just woke a few of you up just now.
    That’s all it took.  Lazarus comes out of that tomb alive.  Wrapped in the burial wrappings.  And that’s when Jesus says, “Hey guys! It might be a good idea if you unwrapped him, and let him go.”  

    Now, I can only imagine the shock – after all he wasn’t merely nearly dead, he was really most sincerely dead!  The shock and then the joy.  From tears to cheers! And maybe even – a great deal of singing?  I don’t know.  We’re not told.  But what we are told is that those who witnessed this miracle – witnessed the impossible – believed in Jesus.  It’s a great cemetery story.

    Let me share with you a story.  “A woman once wrote to Catholic Digest to tell about her six-year-old grandson.  A retired priest was temporarily serving at their parish.

    “One day he announced that the bishop would soon be sending the church a new young priest directly from the seminary. When her grandson heard this announcement, he told his parents that when the new priest came he would no longer be going to Mass.
    “‘What are you talking about?’ his parents wanted to know.

    “The young fellow replied, ‘When they get priests directly from the cemetery, I’m staying home.’
    “Obviously that young fellow wanted nothing to do with a zombie apocalypse.  Of course the young priest did not come from a cemetery, but from a seminary.”  There’s a big difference between a cemetery and a seminary – in most cases.

    Lazarus is the only person we know who was given the gift of returning from a cemetery.  And even that was only temporary.  The raising of Lazarus is what we call a resuscitation.  Lazarus would one day die again. I know.  Real bummer!  But that’s the difference between being resuscitated and being resurrected.  So Lazarus was resuscitated.  He would one day die again.  And even though the Gospel doesn’t say so, I’ll bet Lazarus was not afraid of death – of dying a second time.  

    And isn’t that what Jesus wants us to know?  That we don’t need to be afraid of death or dying.  Why?  
    Because wherever Jesus is, there is resurrection and life;
        – there is hope
            – there is promise
                – there is singing.

    Listen!  I know that there are things in life – things that we all go through. Things that steal the song from your heart.  I’m talking about those times when it feels like we’re going through a dark valley.   Things that happen to us that cause us to be discouraged, or frightened, sad, or worst of all – those times when we feel like giving up.  When we’ve given up all hope.  Just don’t feel like singing.  When we feel like Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones.  

By the way, I love the Lord’s question to Ezekiel, when he asks, “Hey Ezekiel – what do you think?  Can these bones live again?”  And Ezekiel in essence says, “I don’t know.  Tell me.”  

    I love the Lord’s answer to Ezekiel.  The answer is a resounding yes!  “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.”  There’s something to be learned from Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones.  

Listen!  Whatever it is you’re going through – if it feels like you’re going through a valley of dry bones – the Lord will see you through it.  And more importantly – he will help you to rise above it.  Dry bones will live again!

    But don’t be afraid to get help.  Jesus raised Lazarus, but it was his friends and family who got him free from those burial cloths that had bound him so tightly.  So don’t be afraid to get help from a trusted friend – from a teacher – a counselor – or from one of your pastors.

    And listen!   If you’re suffering from something – like clinical depression – it’s not your fault, and it’s okay to get help from a professional. Prayer and medicine go hand in hand.  

    If life has sucked the song right out of your heart, just remember what you’ve heard today.  Remember these Jesus promises!
“I am the resurrection and the life.  All who believe in me, though they die, yet shall they live.”  And then the Lord’s promise to Ezekiel.  
        “These dry bones will live again.  I will put my Spirit within you, and you will live.”  

    Those are promises you can hang your hat on.  And who are those promises for?  Yeah, us!  To all of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ.

    As we will hear again in just two weeks, Jesus also had a cemetery experience.  God raised him up from death. And for Jesus, it was not a temporary experience. His was a resurrection.  He is raised, and he lives forever, neve to die again.  
    And because he lives – we will live also.  Do you believe this?

    If that isn’t something that will help you to live with a song in your heart – and make you want to sing – well, I don’t know what else will.        

Posted by: AT 09:51 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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