Count the Ways

This sermon was shared on Sunday, June 8th, 2014 at Christ United Methodist Church in Lafayette, IN. 

John 11:1-45 (MSG)

Whenever I encounter the story of Lazarus, I find the miraculous healing power of Jesus to be incredibly amazing. Too often, though, I simply focus on that aspect of the story. While that is an extremely important aspect of this passage of Scripture, there is so much more going on here.

I’d like to invite us to see ourselves in the story. How can we identify with those in the story?
– Can you see yourself as Lazarus? Sick, dead, stinky, but raise to life…
– Can you see yourself as Martha or Mary? Desperate, at a loss, yet hopeful and faithful, even in the midst of grief?

The story begins with the sisters sending word to Jesus that their brother is sick. Now, we need to pay attention to this interaction. Notice the word they send to Jesus…”The one you love is sick.” They simply make Jesus aware of the situation.

This must have been a pretty tough situation. In that day and age, you didn’t go through the trouble of sending a message to Jesus for an ingrown toenail. This was long before the days of the US Postal Service, email, Facebook, and Twitter. It took an effort to get this word to Jesus. And, it was simple and to the point…”The one you love is sick.”

How many of us, when someone we deeply love is sick or in need just offer up a simple, “Jesus, the one you love is sick?”

Nope! Not me! If we’re going to be honest this morning, many of us would admit that when someone we love is in need we beg and plead for God’s sympathy! We ain’t too proud to beg!

So, we list out all the reasons why God should respond the way we desire. We list out all the good things we’ve done (I’ve done this, I’ve done that, I didn’t do this, I didn’t do that). In other words, we attempt to prove ourselves worthy of getting what we want from God. Or we attempt to bargain with God. We say, “I will do this, I will do that, I promise to stop doing this or that.” When we do this, it’s as if we believe we somehow deserve or can earn God’s approval and good graces.

Well, here’s a dose of reality…Get over yourself! Some of you are amazing, incredible, awesome people who have done some wonderful things. But, you still don’t deserve to manipulate God!

When we’re in need, here’s what Pastor Judah Smith encourages us to do, “Don’t count the ways you love God, count the ways God loves you!” Rather than reminding God of how great and deserving we are, we need to remember how great, loving, kind, patient, compassionate, forgiving, graceful, merciful, tender, and awesome God is!

After all, the Bible isn’t a story of how much we love God. No, the bible is a story of how much God loves us!

Martha and Mary appear to get it! They don’t waste time begging and pleading. They simply inform Jesus that someone He loves is in need.

So, what does Jesus do after receiving word that someone He loves is sick? He hangs out for a couple of days. He seems rather flippant about the whole situation. He stays put and says, “Oh, this won’t end in death. Lazarus is just sleeping. Trust me, he’s going to be okay!”

I don’t know about you, but this is NOT the kind of reaction I desire from Jesus. When I pray, I desire immediate action. When it seems like Jesus is dragging His feet, I grow impatient and indignant. I throw up some direct “get God’s attention” prayers like, “What the heck, Jesus? Did you not understand the urgency of my request? Stop messing around and give me what I want!”

And therein lies the reality and the problem. When I let Jesus know the one He loves is sick, I want what I want. I want what I think is best.

Martha and Mary display great faith and trust. They just let Jesus know, “the one you love is sick” and then trust that Jesus will do only what Jesus can do. They believe that Jesus will do whatever is best.

I’m convinced that we all need to learn to pray more like Martha and Mary. We need to learn to trust more like Martha and Mary. They didn’t believe the answer rested in all they had done or could do for God. They believed it all rested in Jesus’ great love.

Now, let me be clear, just praying this way does not guarantee that we’ll get what we want. It is simply a way to affirm that we believe that God is in control. Essentially, we’re “letting go and letting God.”

So, Jesus finally shows up. The sisters make it clear that, even though Lazarus has died, they believe, they have faith and hope that Jesus can still make this awful, desperate situation better. I wonder how many of us, whenever our awful, desperate situations don’t turn out the way desire still believe that God can make it better?

They make their way to the tomb and Jesus asks for the stone to be rolled away. At this request, Martha protests. Now, I don’t use the King James Version of the Bible often, but I love the way it translates this verse. Martha says, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days!”

Some of us know what it’s like to be Lazarus – to be dead and stinketh. Now, we may not have been physically dead, but spiritually, emotionally…and, then Jesus intervenes and speaks life into what was dead and stinky! I know what it’s like to be dead and stinky!
Truth be told, just about every day, I have some dead and stinky moments…through my words, my thoughts, my deeds, I demonstrate that I continually need Jesus to speak life into my dead and stinky soul. How about you?

An important part of our faith is to remember. To remember God’s love…to remember that God is FOR us…to remember and count the ways God loves us.

When we hit awful, desperate times, let us remember that it’s not our love for God or our good deeds that really matter. It’s God’s love for us that matters.

Let us remember that we are all like Lazarus. We are all the ones Jesus loves. Say this after me, “I am the one Jesus loves.” Now, look at your neighbor and say, “You are the one Jesus loves.” No matter what, you are the ones Jesus loves. Every single one of us and every single person we encounter are the ones Jesus loves!

Those of us who have been dead and stinky should celebrate that Jesus has spoken new life into our lives. But, it shouldn’t end there. As we remember that we are the ones Jesus loves, as we remember the ways God continually shows us love, we should be inspired to live lives that continually point others, especially our neighbors who are dead and stinky, to Jesus. Remember, those we label as “dead and stinky” are the ones Jesus loves!

How will you live out lives of love this week that others might see Jesus in and through you? Will you live as one who is dead and stinky or as one who has been made alive through Jesus?

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One thought on “Count the Ways

  1. I think Mary and Martha were pleading with Jesus. They used the phrase, “The one you love,” as they must have known from association that Jesus stood for Love and they were desperate for him to pour his love out on his beloved. We are all his beloved and praise be to God that meets our needs in his time.

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