John 11:32-44, Revelation 21:1-6b; Isaiah 25:6-9
This year our All Saints celebration has a special meaning for me. As most of you know – on March 1st of this year, I lost my mother. On that day, she went from this life and entered into what we call the church triumphant. On April 25th, my beloved wife Nancy with whom I am well pleased lost her mother as she also left this life, and entered into the church triumphant. And for Pastor Becca and Will, yesterday/two days ago was the one year anniversary of the birth – and death – of their beloved son Gideon.
There’s not a one of us here today who hasn’t experienced the loss of a loved one. And on those occasions – our tears flowed. And I want you to know – especially you men – I want you to know that that’s okay. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to let those tears flow – as they did for me when I was writing this sermon on Tuesday. Couldn’t help thinking of my Mom.
Now I don’t know if you caught it or not – but all three of our readings today mention tears. Isaiah says this. Listen!
“[God] will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces.”
And the book of Revelation says this:
“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more,”
Wonderful stuff! Words that perhaps more of us might want to think about having read at our own or a loved one’s funeral, yes? And yes, this reading from Revelation is going to be read at mine. You know. Someday.
And then there’s our Gospel reading – the raising of Lazarus. Lazarus was a friend of Jesus. He had two sisters by the name of Mary and Martha. They lived in a place called Bethany.
As our Gospel lesson unfolds, Lazarus has fallen ill, and died. When Jesus arrives on the scene, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, falls at his feet, and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” “Where have you laid him,” Jesus asks. “Lord,” she says, “Come and see.”
They go to the place where Lazarus is buried, and everybody’s crying. When Jesus sees Mary weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, we are told that, “Jesus began to weep.” Jesus wept.
I want to suggest to you today that Jesus wasn’t crying because Lazarus had died. Jesus knows that death is nothing to be afraid of. AND Mary was right. If Jesus had been there, he could have kept Lazarus from dying. But Jesus used this moment – not just in order to give Lazarus a few more years of life – but in order that God might be glorified.
But the point is that Jesus wasn’t crying because Lazarus had died. He cried because of the grief of his friends Mary and Martha. They were hurting, and therefore Jesus hurt. Jesus cried along with them. Please do not miss this point. When we grieve – Jesus grieves with us. When we cry – Jesus cries too! That’s how much he cares for you.
So Jesus performed a miracle that day. A real miracle. Not some pie-in-the-sky type of thing. You know – like – “If the Bills ever win a Super Bowl – it will be a miracle.” No. This was a real miracle. A living – transforming – display of God’s power in action.
When they arrive at the tomb, Jesus says, “Take away the stone.” By the way. How many of your remember the TV program “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition?” What would they say just before they show the family their new house? That’s right. “MOVE THAT BUS!”
I can just picture Jesus saying something like that. Except instead of saying move that bus, he says, “Move that stone!” Say that with me. On three. 1,2,3. MOVE THAT STONE! Yeah. “Move that stone – and then stand back – and watch! See what God can do!”
So they moved the stone. And Jesus cries out with a loud voice, “Lazarus! Come forth!” And Lazarus comes out of the tomb wrapped in strips of burial cloth. They unbind him – deqth unbinds him – and he is set free.
Almost every year I tell you that one of my favorite songs to sing on All Saints Day is the well-known, “Shall We Gather at the River.” Just love that song. And in preparation for this sermon, I went back to the funeral planning forms that I had filled out three years ago – by the way – you would all make your pastors’ and your loved ones lives so much easier if you would fill one out as well. I know that this is a shameless plug – but there are forms for that purpose on the table in the gathering area. You get to choose which hymns – which Scripture readings – you want at your funeral.
Anyway – I reread my own plans – and to my own surprise – I saw that I had not included “Shall We Gather at The River.” So I’ve made that correction. Thankfully I included “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” and “O Zion Haste.” I mean, how could I leave those two out! Again – as far as my own funeral goes – I have no plans for those arrangements to be implemented any time soon.
But I love this hymn, “Shall We Gather at the River,” because it’s a song about eternal life with God. Revelation 22 talks about “the river of life,… flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.”
Today – the day in which we celebrate All Saints Day – is a day in which we honor and remember the departed saints who have gone before us. And in the tradition of the Lutheran Church, all baptized Christians – not just the departed, super Christians who the church has declared to be saints – but all baptized Christians can rightly be called the saints of God.
So you – my dear friends – are saints! And those who we remember today are those who have gone on before us. Those who have already crossed over that river – that flows by the throne of God.
So in our Gospel reading, Lazarus had already crossed the river – and is called back. Now have you ever wondered about that? Did God the Father talk to Lazarus and tell him, you’re going back? Did Lazarus say, “Who! What? No! Nobody asked me if I wanted to come back.” Do you think that Lazarus was happy to be back? Well, I don’t know. But I’ve gotta believe that Lazarus – more than anybody – was no longer afraid of death or dying. Lazarus had already been on the other side of that river where the departed saints of God reside. And he is called back.
And I’ve also gotta believe that this experience changed his life. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that he had a new appreciation for God and the power of God. And isn’t that what this story is really all about? Isn’t that what All Saints Day is all about? All Saints Day is not about how good or how great certain Christians lived their lives in the past – and were posthumously elevated to the level of sainthood by a church decree. No.
What we celebrate today is the power of God.
We celebrate the power of God that can take sinful human beings like you and me – and transform us into people that the Bible calls saints. Every. Single. One of us.
We celebrate the power of God that forgives our sins and takes them completely away.
We celebrate the power of God that moves our stones of guilt and shame. That’s what today is all about.
Today we are bold to talk about the power of God that can restore lives that are shattered and broken. Today we are bold to talk about the power of God that raises us up to new life in his Son Jesus Christ. Not just for the life to come – but for the lives that we are living – right here – right now!
God has the power to move stones. God has the power to restore your life to what God designed it to be. It’s not just about what God did for Lazarus. It’s what God has done and is still doing for you and me as well.
To those among us dealing with grief and despair, Jesus says, “I have the power to move that stone.”
To you who are skeptics – dealing with doubts about God – doubts about yourself – or fear of the future, Jesus says, “I have the power to move those stones.”
To you who are dealing with a harmful addiction – alcohol, food, drugs, sex, pornography – whatever – Jesus says, “I have the power to move those stones.”
Folks – when you walked into this building this morning/evening you entered into a place where new things are possible.
A new beginning. A new life. A new hope.
Jesus says, “Move that stone!” And when those stones that are holding YOU back are taken away – let me tell you – it does indeed give you a new appreciation for life. For living. For those things that are truly important.
There isn’t a person here today – including myself – who doesn’t now – or hasn’t at some point in their life – had a stone that needed to be taken away. And I’m here to tell you that they have been – and they can be – taken away by the power of God. God still moves stones. For our own good and for his glory.
So yes – as disciples of Jesus Christ – as beloved sons and daughters of God whom God does not hesitate to call His saints – we look forward to that day. And that day will be a great family reunion. That day when God shall wipe every tear from our eyes. To that day when death and dying shall be no more. To that day when it is our turn to cross that beautiful river.
But until that day arrives – we have a life to live in the here and now. So let me ask you. Have you ever looked back over your life – shaken your head in wonder? Wondering – what your life would have been like if Jesus Christ had not moved your stones – and touched your heart and changed your life?
Where is Jesus Christ at work in your life today moving stones? Rolling – rolling those stones away? Because let me tell you – in this life, when you can’t get no satisfaction – what you need is a rolling stone!
Jesus Christ is in the business of wiping away tears and moving stones. Giving new life to all who desire it. He wants to give you that new life today.
 Based on “Take Away the Stone” from Dynamic Preaching, O/N/D 2000, pp. 37-40.