Sermon: It is Lent

Remember that you are Dust

Sermon for the Lent 5, March 29, 2020

John 11:1-45 

Pastor Kim Stover

All Saints Lutheran Church, ELCA


Grace to you and peace.

Those simple words, “Grace to you and peace,” require both some degree of grace and peace to say, and a similar measure of grace and peace to hear! If the speaker and the hearer are bound up by anxiety, fear, confusion, etc., the words become only a mouthing which falls on deaf ears!   Yet the words we will hear from Jesus in the coming weeks of Easter will be, “Peace be with you. Fear not.”  

The Christian Church credits Jesus with speaking the words and through those words creating peace and fearlessness in the midst of chaos, chaos we will no doubt still be experiencing come Easter Morning, 2020.  So, when I write or speak, “Grace to you and peace,”  know that I myself have no power to bring those into your reality.  But, they are Jesus’ words and in him you have your hope and faith.

May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be acceptable to my Father in Heaven and to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I have been asked by the Council to post a sermon or meditation in this most difficult of times.  This certainly isn’t how I imagined completing the last 60 days of ordained ministry and the call to All Saints Lutheran Church.  

Pastor Bobby Mitchell commented in a Zoom conversation with Bishop Strickland and other area Lutheran Pastors that he had learned more about social media in the last week than he would have ever learned in normal operating hours.  We’ve all had to learn new things and change familiar habits and it isn’t easy. But we have been pressed into service and are learning new ways “on the fly.”

To add to our challenge is that we pastors serve five different generations and each generation has preferred method for communication. Just because I blog my sermon doesn’t mean anyone will hear it, though a few will, and with a lot of encouragement and explanations, perhaps more will.

At this time, your personal response to what I have been offering online, so far, is very helpful to me.  If you haven’t been aware of anything I have written and posted, let me know that as well!   Otherwise, I assume I am talking into an empty barrel. Let me know what is helpful or valuable to you, by shooting me a text, email, Facebook greeting, LinkedIn message, (what am I missing), even a phone call!

You may be wondering what a pastor does all day when the church isn’t at worship.  This Friday morning, I was in the video conversation with the bishop for an hour and on the phone with others in what I’ll call Outreach Support. Lots of stressed out folks who know ASLC is a caring place, if not always for physical help, at least for a patient ear.

Our text today is the story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus from the Gospel according to St. John, verses 1-45 in chapter 11. It is a long reading and is not included here.

In the story, Jesus hears that Lazarus has died, but does not leave to visit the family until the third day.  This seems odd to the disciples, who expect Jesus to get up and go.

In the conversation with Bishop, he asked if any of us had been in a tornado, hurricane, or other disaster.  He pointed out that as soon as the damages are realized, the “GO” button insider our head gets pushed.  We feel such an urgent need to do something!  We have energy and our minds are on fire and we try everything we can hoping something works or helps to alleviate the disaster we see around us.   

After a few day, we can crash.  Grand-daughter Malone experienced this after about four days into the family’s self-isolation. She missed her friends so much;  and being able “to go,” outside into the world where there is so much great stimulation!  All her possessions, all the family conveniences, all her clothing, toys, school work did not provide her that which she wanted most, communion with friend.

In the story of Lazarus, Jesus resists his urge to go, waiting until there would be no hope of restoring Lazarus’ life. How odd.

As the story unfolds, Jesus is scoffed by the disciples for his delay, and they now wonder why Jesus would go at all. It was a dangerous situation for Jesus, there in Lazarus’ home town.

But Jesus goes and hears more criticism.  Martha, Martha of all people, accused him, “Jesus, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  So, again, why did Jesus delay?

In this story, Jesus weeps. This is the story of which the trivia question are made. Remember this one: “What is the shortest verse in the Bible?”  Jesus weeps for the one man Lazarus and the whole city Jerusalem, the city that stoned the prophets and killed those sent to it.”

We are now in the Church Season of Lent.  I have wondered over my pastoring career if Lent would be the season that finally disappears from the church calendar.  The world around us does not have much sense about Advent, impart because of all of the material preparations that need to be made for the commercial Christmas.  The world around us does not have much need for Lent or Holy Week either.

While serving the Church of my most productive years, I found myself more than a bit heartbroken that a college (originally rooted in a religious tradition) was playing basket ball on Ash Wednesday evening.  A local high school super star was playing for the team, and it was an opportunity to watch her play again as the college was but an hour drive from the church.  The loss of fans caused a drop in worship attendance by 50%. I protested the game to the college and received a letter explaining that not all colleges in the conference have a religious heritage and that schedules are set by the conference years ahead of time. It was little comfort.

The Church is in the Season of Lent.    The death of Lazarus is central to the Church’s teaching about mortality.  Here: Even those closest to Jesus die.

We began the season with the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Those ritual words are a call for each of us individually and all of society (if it were listening) to bring to conscious thought the limitations of this mortal life, our mortal existence.

The purpose is not to frighten us, but to awake us from the slumber of complacency, forgetfulness, thoughtlessness; from the presumption that our doctors and our investments will provide for us well into old age,    —-as was the case of the man who tore down his barns to build bigger barns, without awareness that,   —that very night his life would be required of him.

It is Lent, the time for saying such uncomfortable things.

A discipline that is not longer much of a practice in Lent is that of giving up or sacrificing something for the sake of developing a deeper appreciation and affection for that which has been surrendered.   Again, in our culture, it is hard to give up even the most simple things.  Stores do not put away their candies, they put more out!  The Girl Scouts of America do not sell Samoa’s in the fall, but in the Spring, during Lent. Ice Cream Shops didn’t used to open until June 1, but now provide a year ‘round feast of calories.   Temptations are everywhere!!

And it is not just candy, it is culture. Everything that culture values is offered anytime, anywhere, for every price. Stepping away to consider one’s mortality is just impossible and impractical.  We don’t have time.  Culture says, “Live while the living is good!” But the Church says, “To know what is good, one must know one’s own mortal nature.”  While that message is real and helpful to discern what is good, no one listens to the church.  Count the empty pews.  

But, in our day,  a virus has a voice louder than any prophet or preacher!

Yes, this is Lent and it is 40 days long and God has appointed a virus to bear the news about Lazarus’ death and our own deaths.  And, in this year of 2020, Lent won’t just be 40 days long.  Lent will last 80 to 120 days. Perhaps it will last 240 days! We are just in the midst of it, regardless of what your personal calendar says; regardless of what the Church calendar says.

We are in a time of darkness, despite the fact that the sun rises earlier each day.  We are in a time of fasting, even as grocery stores promise they’ll restock.  We are in a time to contemplating the deaths of those we love over the age of 70 and perhaps those as young as 17.   We are in a time in which each of us must consider the consequences of our actions, our attitudes, and our mortality. 

After all, it is Lent.

I so want to end my sermon as a preacher with that last line, “After all, it is Lent,” but my compassion as a pastor is whispering, “Wait. Wait.”

Jesus weeps upon at the death of his friend Lazarus. Jesus weeps, though knowing the glory of his Father in Heaven and the glories of heaven itself.  Jesus weeps for himself, and because others are weeping.  He weeps because his empathy for those around him; though he himself knows death not to be an end.  

And, he weeps knowing that tears will fall until he stands face to face with that tomb in which his beloved friend is bound tightly.  And, Jesus knows that suffering will continue until his Father in Heaven acts to end the suffering and restore Lazarus to life.

He and we just have to wait for restored life to return.

After all, it is, still, Lent.

Tags: Mortality, LEnt, Sermon


John Yale  |  Home  |  March 28, 2020  |  12:51 PM

Very good.  I appreciate your insight.  I for one am listening.


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