Finding the Lessons

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Lent 5A April 2, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"That we are raised to life, not as future salvific existence, but to life right now, right here..."
Commentary, John 11:1-45, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

"Lazarus comes forth from death for death, this time not by disease but perhaps by the disturbed Sanhedrin -- to be put to death for responding to life, Just as Jesus would be put to death for bringing forth life." 

"Back to Life," Suzanne Guthrie, The Christian Century, 2005. 

"The point of the saying, and ultimately of the narrative as a whole, is to make and celebrate the claim that people who believe in Jesus find life. It is eternal life, which includes timelessness or eternity in the temporal sense, but the focus is quality not quantity. It is sharing the life of God here and now and forever."

"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Lent 5," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


As once in the vision, O God, your prophet summoned the spirit so that dry bones stood up alive, and as once your Son stood fearless at death's door calling Lazarus to come forth alive, raise us up with Christ from the death of sin, that all of us, the elect and the baptized, may be unbound and set free. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 11:1-45
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

"The point of the saying, and ultimately of the narrative as a whole, is to make and celebrate the claim that people who believe in Jesus find life. It is eternal life, which includes timelessness or eternity in the temporal sense, but the focus is quality not quantity. It is sharing the life of God here and now and forever." writes William Loader.

John's Gospel is a wonderful proclamation of the power, divinity of Jesus Christ and the transformation that is available to every person. The author has written, among the four Gospels, a compelling witness to Jesus as Lord and Savior, as the giver of light, breath, and life from the very creation of the earth. The story of the raising of Lazarus has never ceased to inspire and enliven both my imagination and my heart for the work of the Gospel. 

 Our Gospel this week is the highest of revelationary narratives in the Gospel in both form and in content. Jesus' raising of Lazarus is a reason why so many follow him and is clear in 12:17-18. He is as we know and have been experiencing throughout the Lenten readings the giver of life. (see 5:25-29), and precipitating his death (see 11:53). 

If we were reading along we would see that this is the last of a second set of miracle stories in John's Gospel that follow and highlight Jesus' teaching and conversation with his followers. The passage begins with Jesus away and teaching, he is not present for his friend or his friends family. They come to get him and tell him that Lazarus has died. The words used to describe Jesus reaction to this are words that tell us he was affected greatly by the news. Again Jesus speaks of the work that must be done while he is with them, and that the work must be done in the light. Certainly these are like the other sayings that we have seen apocolyptic forecasts. Nevertheless, the very real human loss and desire for life is ever present as Jesus leaves to go to where Lazarus is buried.

He is of course returning to a place where he has shown power before and a place of danger. You might remember that he was almost stoned though he passed through them. 10:31, 39. Jesus states that Lazarus has fallen asleep. This is a common reference to death in the time of Jesus and after. Chris Haslaam has done some very good research and provides links for other parts of the New Testament that say the same thing: "A common New Testament description of death: see Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 5:10. (In several of these verses, the NRSV has died; however, the Greek can also be translated fell asleep.) [NOAB]"

Jesus' words of peace and comfort are kind and simple....things will be better...they will be all right. Yet we must also realize that the word used here is one that means "to be saved." Sosthesetai is translated into "be saved." It is the word for salvation. Our witness to the raising of Lazarus is not simply a witness then to healing story, or an act of kindness, or a hopeful act, but a transformational act of restoration of health - of true salvation. It is a miracle, which like the other miracles in John's Gospel, clearly represent the work of glorifying God through the ministry of Jesus.We are told that Lazarus had been in the grave for three days. There is a lot written around the idea of the Jewish burial services and the timeliness of such activities once the person has died. But I do not wish to get into this though it is interesting. I believe that the real meat of the text is in the conversation about salvation and resurrection.

As we continue the discourse on the resurrection we note that the Pharisees believed, along with other popular movements of the day, that all the Jews would be raised. Gentiles too if their integrity was judged by God to be suitable. I like how Chris Haslaam has written about these next two verses.

Verse 25: Jesus modifies Pharisaic doctrine. His words are not only about resurrection but also about the fate of those faithful to him. Jesus is not only the agent of final resurrection but also gives life now: see also Romans 6:4-5; Colossians 2:12; 3:1. Mere physical death can have no hold over the believer. [NOAB]Verse 26: The believer has passed from the death of sin into life: see also Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8. [BlkJn]

Jesus then gives life now and in the age to come. Immediately Martha offers the same statement as the blind man in last weeks lesson. Her words, while a question refer to previous affirmations in the Gospel. She is convinced...convinced that the proclamation of Andrew on the Galilean shore was true 1:41. She is convinced that Nathanael's proclamation is true. 1:49. She is convinced that the good news revealed int he feeding of the 5 thousand is true. 6:14. Jesus approaches the tomb and calls Lazarus forth. It is not a resurrection story. But we cannot miss the conections as Jesus calls forth the dead from the tomb as he will most certainly do in the Easter miracle bringing all of the saints into light. I also am struck by the reality that Lazarus must be unbound and that many participate with Jesus in this work of freeing him from death into life, from darkness into light.

The Gospel tells us that this miracle of reviving Lazarus is for the glory of God. It is also brings many more into the Jesus movement. We cannot see the disturbing events that lay ahead of Jesus without seeing the impact of this great miracle on the movement itself. For surely, as the Gospel testifies, the leaders of the day were worried and concerned.This is a great miracle story. It is one that is rich with intertextual meaning and connections. It highlights Jesus' as the one who gives life and breath. As Jesus says in the beginning of the text day is becoming night, and yet as we read we see that it will be Jesus who brings us out of the shadow of the darkness of the tomb into the light of day. The witness of this passage is an evangelical one pointing us to the truth of the person of Jesus Christ so that we might believe and then raise the dead ourselves!

We are here hovering at the edge of Lent and preparing for Holy Week. The blogger and pastor Meda Stamper reminds us..."just as Jesus has met us at our tombs so we must follow him now to his own."

Some Thoughts on Romans 8:6-11

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"Preachers of this text must, therefore, be careful to read it not as an ethically prescriptive text but rather as an anthropologically descriptive text, a metaphor for the act of salvation that only God is able to do."

Commentary, Romans 8:6-11 (Lent 5A), Margaret Aymer, Preaching This Week,, 2011. 

"In our focus during Lent on our individual sins we can center so much on our actions and mis-actions that we can miss the larger issue. What is our mindset? What is our orientation toward life?" 

Commentary, Romans 8:6-11 (Lent 5A), Walter F. Taylor, Jr., Preaching This Week,, 2008. 

"In the moment when we feel separated from God, meaningless in our lives, and condemned to despair, we are not left alone. The Spirit, sighing and longing in us and with us, represents us."

"The Witness of the Spirit to the Spirit," Paul Tillich, from The Shaking of the Foundations, 1955. At Religion Online.

For Paul the life of the Christian is one lived in response to God's love.  He writes, "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ." (8.1) The death and resurrection of Jesus is the liberating faithfulness of God.  It is freedom to live "life in Christ Jesus" (8.2) We are not condemned so our response to this freedom is to live.  The law itself would have brought death to be sure.  The law was unable to bring life.  Christ however has in fact done what he law could not.  

Paul then speaks about what it means to live in response to God's love - which is to live a life of the spirit.  God dwells within the life of the Christian.  Our response to God's love is buoyed up within us by the spirit working in us.  Though our flesh is to die, Paul is clear that it is Christ in us and the Spirit in us that will be redeemed on the last day.  

Those who do not live in response to God in Christ Jesus will forever be doomed to trying to live in the law and perfect the flesh.  Paul is clear the flesh itself is even now corrupting.  The flesh is animated earth and to earth it shall return.  To try and perfect that which is not perfectible and to try and live by a test which is un-passable is to live a life of futility. 

Christ frees us from both of these requirements.  Christ offers us the spirit.  Christ gives us the opportunity to have a different life.  What is essential here though (and Paul would be keen to point this out) is that it is only Christ working in us that makes this life possible. It is only the spirit in us which is bringing salvation.  Though new life is available to us all, the reality is that we inherit this life and we receive reconciliation and redemption always and only by the hand of God.

Some Thoughts on Ezekiel 37:1-14

Set in the midst of the exile of the people of Israel in Babylon, Ezekiel offers a hope of God’s individual and mindful intention to each individual person. Ezekiel was completely devoted to the centrality of the worship on the Temple mount and sees the people’s return to that central religious site as a ingredient to their return not only to God but a restoration of the kingdom. Many scholars note that this perspective is rooted in Ezekiel’s own priesthood. So it is his prophecy offers a longing hope for a return to the religion of his inheritance.

From Ezekiel we receive the very clear idea that the temple is the center of the people’s concern, the center of their faith, center of the nation, and the center of their world. (Jon Levenson, Sinai & Zion, 115)

It is also clear that Ezekiel, throughout the text, but especially in our text for this Sunday, believes the only solution to returning to the center of the world where God firmly plants God’s feet is through religious practice. As a mouth piece for religion, Ezekiel tells the people that there is great hope for deliverance. However, their attempts to make this happen politically will not work. Instead the whole community should be put in the mind of a faithful response to God’s continued companionship. God will breathe new life into the dry bones of Israel. There is more here than resuscitation. What is needed is reanimation and a quickening of the spirit. Only then will a restoration occur.

When we read the text, as do many of the descendants of Ezekiel, what we see is an overlay of the apocalyptic. We see a seed of the idea of resurrection.

With this then, many preachers will stick to inviting us to hold on with our Lenten disciplines (for this comes in Lent) for God is even now resurrecting us. And, because this is read at the vigil, a heavy dose of end-time resurrection talk will be combined with Jesus’ own resurrected bones.

John’s Gospel rests on the idea that this new shepherd, who is the archetype of David who united the northern and southern kingdoms, is to unite the godly and ungodly, the righteous and unrighteous, the faithful and unfaithful. The new life that is being breathed into community, the new life of being raised from the dead, the new life of resurrection means that the people will be brought out of their tombs and graves into one community. Our passage today is the prefix to the passage of a united people of God from inside the religious community and from outside. The God who has come for all people and even now is gathering them in. The Good Shepherd in John is saying, “I know my people and my people know me.” (Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospel, 340)

New life for those who are even now lying in death is a promise for all who come to God in Christ Jesus. Regardless of where you start your journey, this God is breathing new life into you, putting flesh and spirit on your bones, and raising you into the one flock.

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