Mercy More Than Life
Mercy More Than Life
Mercy More Than Life
Intro - after thanks…[talk about Gospel journey, and setup text. This text comes on the heels of last week, but it is removed in time quite a bit. But this event happens just after the people tried to kill Jesus by stoning…]
Walk through the first part of the text. Use Bible, but do it in a contemporary style and relaxed.
Read vs 4.
Read vs 10b.
stop at vs 11.
Bring everything to the point - I want you to know something today that other pastors may gloss over from time to time. Jesus knew Lazarus would die. And in this moment in the text, verse 11, Jesus knew Lazarus was dead, because Lazarus would have been in His presence! So it is safe to say, then, that Jesus wanted, even needed Lazarus to die. And He needed that, so that He could show the world, that He, and in turn we, should value His will, and ultimately, His mercy more than life - especially life as we know it.
“Lazarus is dead,” Jesus says, “and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”
May we believe today as well as we read our text.
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept.
I need to admit to you the inspiration for at least this title today. Like most of us, I have been watching the Olympics the past couple weeks, and I have really been moved by several of the commercials. They are similar to those that were shown during the super bowl. But these really focus in on overcoming obstacles, and not letting physical or mental limits stand in our way.
One of them does that by showing an array of athletes. They are speaking through a familiar poem, one that eventually became one of our most cherished songs.
America the Beautiful.
And the words they remind us of are so poignant for this moment in time. This moment when between entertainment, and technology, and society in general, we are so wrapped up in self. In what can be beneficial for me. What can I do for me? How can I experience life better? What’s in it for me?
These words are words that shake us out of those feelings, the very same feelings that Mary and Martha surely had in this moment.
God, why weren’t you here? If you had been here, my brother would not have died! I want my brother to live, so why didn’t you give it to me?
I want my brother to live, so why didn’t you give it to me?
We feel that too. We feel that about death. We feel that about jobs, or schools, or spouses, or cars, or houses - we feel that about a lot of stuff that we value. And there in this text, and that song, lies a common theme, one that hopefully we can as a church, and a community, and even as a country, latch on to in this moment.
What makes us beautiful?
What makes us appealing? What makes us aspire to greatness? What values, what common morality, what thing should we aspire to - apart from Christ - that would help us to actually be more like Christ and understand Him just a little better?
That is what Jesus was trying to get Mary and Martha, and even all those around them and His own disciples; that is what Jesus was trying to get them to understand. And that is what Jesus wants us to understand as well.
But that commercial. Why do I mention it? Well it aspires to that same end. In fact, it holds up the best of what we collectively could ever be! And it does that, because it calls us to live a life that looks and thinks like Jesus!
Here the words used in the commercial, which come from the third stanza of that great song.
O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife, Who more than self their country loved And mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, Till all success be nobleness, And every gain divine!
What a message! Let me tell you, when I hear that, something wells up in my soul. This proud, patriotic presence that knows the depths of the greatness that people can aspire to! I can see the brave heroes who proved themselves brave not by having such a high moral character, or so much money, but by seeing oppression and hate, and standing in the gap for those unable to stand for themselves, no matter the cost! No, they were brave simply by liberating the oppressed.
I can see those who loved the idea of a country where all men, and women - regardless of their station or the color of their skin or even their religion! I can see it, because I can see in them, and in Jesus, what we are all called to hold on to in this life!
We are called to love mercy more than life. At the very least, we are called to love mercy more than life as we know it. Mercy more than those things that we think we need, or that make us comfortable. Mercy more than our typical “life.”
But that’s just a song, right? Well, it is more than that. You see, I believe that is why Jesus didn’t just save Lazarus right away. I believe that is why Jesus had to let him die! Jesus needed an opportunity to show them, and all the world, that life is something to be thankful for, sure enough, but it isn’t what is of greatest value to God! And accordingly, it isn’t what should be of greatest value to us either!
Just look at His reaction! He comes to town and is met by Martha who immediately questions Him. Why weren’t you here? “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
That sounds just like us. We have all felt that same feeling. Where is God? If He was here, this would never have happened. But I wonder, are we capable, in this day and age, to move on, like Martha, to the important part?
“But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” She says.
It is then, church, when Martha confronts her desire for life - life as she wants it and knows it - that Jesus grants her mercy.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Your brother will rise again.
There is mercy for those who sleep in Christ. There will be another dawn! There are eyes that are watching Him even now, so don’t be afraid! Your brother will rise! He is right in the palm of my hand.
“Yes, Lord.” Martha replies. “I believe.”
Jesus gave her what she truly needed. Sure she wanted Lazarus to live, she wanted her brother back, but what she really needed, what we all really need, is the understanding that there is a God, and that God is a God of mercy! We need to know that death has been defeated, and been overwhelmed by the mercy of Grace.
Like us, she needed to know that it will be OK. She will see him again. But even bigger than that, no matter what might come in this life, God’s mercy remains.
Mercy more than life.
This is reflected again with Mary, who didn’t need the same straight forward talk. Like all of us, Martha and Mary are different people, with different needs, and here in this moment, Jesus treats them differently. Church, that should remind us that people need to experience mercy, and support, in different ways. Some need reasoning. Some need compassion. Some just need to vent.
God knows that.
And God in flesh shows that right here in this text. Here there is no explaining, no rationalizing like there was with Martha. No, Mary comes running up, and falls at His feet, and I can’t imagine that she politely says this, so if you would grant me the liberty to interpret the tone here, I imagine that this isn’t the troubled rational tone of Martha, no I imagine that she unleashes on Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
What did you let him die? How could you? We loved you! We have given our lives to you! Don’t you love us?
But church, life still isn’t what is needed, and this text proves it. When Jesus saw her weeping, He didn’t snap His fingers and bring Lazarus back to life - though surely He could have! No, Jesus was deeply moved.
And this just isn’t a “bless your heart” kind of deeply moved either. This is a guttural, almost primal pain.
This word, em-brim-ah'-om-ahee, is directly translated - and don’t laugh - as “I snort.”
Now that doesn’t mean that Jesus snorted, but it is a common idiom. It comes from this idea of snorting like a horse. Being so enraged, or sad, or whatever, that you are moved to react from the very core of your being! Like a horse who fears for it’s life, this snort comes from the depths of our soul.
This feeling, this deeply moved and troubled as the NIV translates it, is a feeling that can only be shown by someone who empathizes completely with us. It can only be conveyed by someone who brings mercy - a mercy that can bring with it new life!
It can only be felt, and then shown, by someone who lives within our own hearts; someone who knows everything about us, right down to how it feels to experience loss or pain. And someone can only know that, if they live with you, and have become a part of who you are.
So, in the face of this loss of life, and the unbearable pain, Jesus wept. Understand though, Jesus didn’t weep because Lazarus was gone, after all, Lazarus was only gone from our sight, he remained in sight of God! No, Jesus wept for Mary, and for us, so that we would know that He values us, our feelings, and more importantly, Jesus values mercy more than life. And He values that, church, because within the grasp of His mercy lies true life! Life everlasting! Life filled with His Spirit and Presence! The life that He came to give the world so that we need not fear death! Jesus values that more than life as we know it!
And church, we should too.
But this story, as I said at the outset of this message, has two parts. The first belongs to the world that has lost something - a world that needs mercy. A world needs to find life in the God that feels the same pain.
The other part of our story belongs to the one who has died. You see, we spend so much time valuing life above everything, we never think about whether Lazarus wanted to live again or not! I mean, if he was asleep in Christ, why would he even want to come back? Surely it would be better to be in the arms of God than struggling here on earth?
It can be hard for us to think about that sometimes. It can be hard, because if we are honest, we don’t like to think about death. We don’t like to think about what happens, what it feels like - none of it. But church, if we want to value creation, and show it the mercy God desires, we need to think about it! We need to understand the implications of this life.
To do that, church, I think that we need to imagine if we can, the moments after this resurrection.
Playwright Eugene O’Neil does just that for us. In his play “Lazarus Laughed,” he writes about those moments after this miracle. Just what did Lazarus do with this new life? How was he changed?
But to get there, the play starts with the moments directly after this event. There we see a group of people talking about this miracle, people who claim to have seen it, but probably didn’t. Finally, though, one of those men who rolled away the rock speaks up. And this is what O’Neil imagines that he saw:
“I helped to pry away the stone so I was right beside him. I found myself kneeling, but between my fingers I watched Jesus and Lazarus. Jesus looked into his face for what seemed a long time and suddenly Lazarus said "Yes" as if he were answering a question in Jesus' eyes.”
He goes on, “Then Jesus smiled sadly but with tenderness, as one who from a distance of years of sorrow remembers happiness. And then Lazarus knelt and kissed Jesus' feet and both of them smiled and Jesus blessed him and called him "My Brother" and went away; and Lazarus, looking after Him, began to laugh softly like a man in love with God!”
So what did he do with his new life? What is the first thing that a dead man brought back to life could think to do?
Lazarus laughed. He looked at Jesus, said “yes,” and laughed.
In the play, as the man tells that story, Lazarus comes to be where they are, still laughing softly - in fact, he spends the rest of the play even up until his death, laughing. And everyone is excited to see him, they call for food, and music, and do what we all would do if that happened to someone we love!
But Lazarus wasn’t really celebrating like you would think. He just stood there. Laughing. He then began to hug everyone, and just said, “Yes!” “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Obviously this worries his father, who nervously calls for a toast, “To my son, Lazarus, whom a blessed miracle has brought back from death!”
Then, from behind the laughter, Lazarus speaks to them, in a loving, calm, whisper.
“No! There is no death!”
Of course they are all pretty intrigued by that, as we all would be, so they start asking the same questions we would ask. What happens? What does God look like? What is heaven like?
They value life, even life beyond the grave, more than anything else. Understand this isn’t the life that implies what they are doing, it is the life that implies what they are getting or what they can experience.
And to that, Lazarus responds, “O Curious Greedy Ones, is not one world in which you know not how to live enough for you?”
That line really hits home church.
Isn’t one selfish life enough? That is what I hear him asking. Isn’t one run through this world only concerned for self enough for you?
Even in his return to life, Lazarus speaks to us silently. When Jesus cries “Lazarus, come out!” He calls him, and us, to a new life! just as He calls to us from the waters of Baptism! A life born of mercy! One in which we are reborn not so that we can continue to live in the pleasure of self, but one in which we are called to find our joy in God! To laugh at the troubles of this life and trade them in for the joy of the Lord!
Those troubles that cause us to, like those imaginary characters in the play, ask ourselves, and even others, “What is beyond there? What is beyond?”
Are we living just to get to Heaven, or are we finding life on earth just as we would find it in heaven? In mercy! In grace! In love! In selfless acts that help others to know the living God!
“What is beyond?” They asked. And we ask that as well.
FATHER--To my son, Lazarus, whom a blessed miracle has brought back from death!
LAZARUS--(suddenly laughing softly out of his vision, as if to himself, and speaking with a strange unearthly calm in a voice that is like a loving whisper of hope and confidence) No! There is no death! (A moment's pause. The people remain with goblets uplifted, staring at him. Then all repeat after him questioningly and frightenedly)
SIXTH GUEST--(suddenly blurts out the question which is in the minds of all) What did you find beyond there, Lazarus? (a pause of silence)
LAZARUS--(smiles gently and speaks as if to a group of inquisitive children) O Curious Greedy Ones, is not one world in which you know not how to live enough for you?
SIXTH GUEST--(emboldened) Why did you say yes, Lazarus?
FOURTH GUEST--Why did you laugh?
ALL THE GUESTS--(with insistent curiosity but in low awed tones) What is beyond there, Lazarus?
CHORUS--(in a low murmur) What is beyond there? What is beyond?
CROWD--(carrying the question falteringly back into silence) What is beyond?
What is beyond death? What is behind that door that we wish to lock up but can’t?
What happens next?
And there, in that work, Lazarus lays a pretty profound truth on us. “What is beyond? There is only life! I heard the heart of Jesus laughing in my heart; "There is Eternal Life in No," it said, "and there is Eternal Life in Yes!” What that is saying is this, you can choose to say no to God, and choose the eternity that comes with that, OR you can choose to say yes to God! And not just in confession and baptism, but each and every day, you can choose to say yes to God, and choose the eternity that comes with that choice! “Death is the fear between [those choices!]" Lazarus says. “And my heart reborn to love of life cried "Yes!" and I laughed in the laughter of God!” His life, when reborn, cried Yes to God and so must ours!
Listen, we have been shown this unbelievable mercy! A mercy that is more valuable than life, because it in and of itself brings life! And we need to hold on to that great mercy so that we can feel that life every day, and relive it in our own lives for this world to know too!
And that is the great tragedy of it all. We forget! We forget the God that lives in our hearts, the God who showed us mercy and raised us from the depths of our sin and despair! We forget these signs from John, and every miraculous truth of Jesus. And we forget, church, because we wish to forget!
We wish to forget because remembering would remind us of the high duty to live as a son and daughter of God! To live generously! With mercy to all! With love for all! With joy in Christ! To live out the real life to which we are all called!
But it is easier to forget, isn’t it? Easier to put that aside and value our own existence over everything! Easier to look out for number one, and to view our own opinions and practices and comforts as the most important outcome! To pray that we get what we want, and not that God be glorified by us doing what God calls us to do!
It is far easier to just be a person, and not a son or daughter of God. To live for our own life, and in so doing, deny life in others.
And you know how I know we are doing it? Because we live life with our eyes fixed on the ground. Weary from life. Worn out from all our troubles, unable to see the God who bears our burdens with us! We watch each other with suspicion, and judge the lives of our “friends” on social media, or dwell in the troubles of celebrities and their drama - even inviting that same drama into our and our children’s lives - rather than watching out for each other that we might be made safe and live our lives with Christ!
Church, we need to cast our gaze upward! We need to come out of the tombs of this life laughing! We need to look toward our Savior! The one who has granted us this life, and even life eternal! To the fearless, and the deathless! To the everlasting!
That is where our eyes must be fixed! After all, if you keep your eyes on something, you will no doubt get there if you keep on moving. So we need to fix our eyes on Christ! The author and perfecter of our faith! The one who calls us out of our tombs and into His presence, not just now, but for eternity!
The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
That is your tragedy! You forget! You forget the God in you! You wish to forget! R
Church, you have been called to new life. You have been called from the death of your situations and the death of sin, to live in Christ. There is no more need for those death clothes. No more need for those trappings of this world. No we need to put on mercy. We need to put on love. We need to say “yes” to God, each and every day.
God has put to death all the need to love self, and has called us to love mercy more than life.
“To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul says. There is a bigger story than this life can ever answer church. We are called to live as if we were living for the next life, while cherishing the one we are given on this earth to live as well. And we can only do that if we live in Christ.
And to do that, we must open our eyes to His love and truth in this world.