First Congregational Church
March 17, 2013
Fifth Sunday in Lent, St. Patrick's Day
"The Sweet Smell of Faithfulness"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Q: Have you heard the skunk joke? A: You don't want to; it really stinks! Q: How do you make a skunk stop smelling? A: Plug up its nose! Q: What did the judge say when a skunk entered the courtroom? A: Odor in the court! Q: What do you get when you cross a robot and a skunk? A: R-2 P-U! Q: What is red and smells like blue paint? A: Red paint.
Smells. There's nothing like fresh cut grass, homemade bread baking, clothesline dried sheets, or a man with a really good cologne. Then there is the smell of the rain - a week ago last Thursday - that had so much spring in it. Or the wafting of old-fashioned lilac and lily of the valley on a warm, early summer day. It is terribly sad that we have millions and millions of children that will never come to love the smell of burning leaves.
Living in paradise as most of us do, we tend to forget certain smells until we're driving through farm country. There's just nothing like the smell of a pig farm. Or skunk, or moldy basements. I would be surprised if there was anyone here that didn't have their own particular "nasty" smell that you will avoid at nearly all cost.
"They say" that decomp - the smell of deteriorating human flesh - has it's own little category in smell-land. I would guess that one of the original reasons for the Jewish custom to bury a dead person before sunset would have a fair deal to do with endless sunshine and warm temperatures. I will go out further on the limb and guess that the physical situations in the Middle East were the reason that after three days in a tomb or grave, a person was considered dead. After three days in such an environment, the chances of a person coming out of a coma - rather than being dead - were slim to none.
John 11:1-44 NIV
1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.” 11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Jesus Comforts the Sisters of Lazarus
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28 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.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 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.
32 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.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”44 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.”
Thank you, Jim, Signe and Bob. I have to admit, when I started working on this morning's message, when I came across the title, "The Sweet Smell of Faithfulness," I smiled. What a delightful play on words - and the passage about Lazarus. I also have to admit that I almost cut the scripture passage down, simply because it is really long. But then I began to look at the over-riding theme of all three chunks, and it became clear that we needed to hear the whole thing.
It is not a favored topic - death. And yet, not a single one of us will escape it. It's so much easier, nicer and convenient to not think of it at all. Those closest to Jesus didn't escape it. Jesus didn't escape it.
We aren't all that gung-ho about grieving, either. It's sort of crazy, too, that is so easy to think that grieving can be linked to a lack of faith. A wonderful part of this passage is that even Jesus grieved - wept. There's no indicator here that in his weeping for his friend, Jesus had less faith than before. If it was good enough - normal enough for Jesus, then it should be so good and normal for us. God wouldn't have given us tears if we weren't meant to use them. If for no other reason, then tears of grief can remind us of Christ's faithfulness - to God and to his friend - in the midst of his sorrow.
But are other parts of this passage that speak to The Sweet Smell of Faithfulness, too. Just after Lazarus had died, Jesus could have gone on from where he and the disciples were. But he said, "Let's go back to Judea."
Before he uttered those words, Jesus knew that there were folks in Judea that weren't crazy about him. Okay, so there were people in Judea that had wanted to kill him. And usually, that sort of rage doesn't go away too quickly. But Jesus needed to be faithful to what he knew God needed of him. So, too, the disciples knew they needed to be faithful to Jesus, even if Thomas was the only one brave enough to speak to the elephant in the living room. If any disciples were to go to Judea with Jesus, chances were pretty high they would be killed, too. And yet, they went.
While Jesus was patient in doing what he needed to do with Lazarus, he acted rather quickly when it came time to risk his own life. The point is that Jesus didn't just go here and stay away from there. He listened for God's timing. And so should we.
We all get those "opportunities" that we would rather avoid. A root canal can become a pleasant contemplation if it meant that - at least I - could avoid a discussion I just don't want to have. But the conversation needs to be done and in my heart of hearts, I know it is the right thing to address the situation. (Don't worry - I'm not talking about anyone or anything specific.) But in those instances, if there were any way for God to "take our cup" from us, we would welcome the opportunity. But sometimes we know we need to go to Judea, and in so doing, we can know that Christ knows just how hard it is.
The Sweet Smell of Faithfulness does not mean that life won't get stinky and smelly from time to time. But it does mean that God knows how hard it can be for us to remain faithful in doing what we know to be right. And it means that Jesus knows how hard life can be, including grief and death of those dear to us. The Sweet Smell of Faithfulness can also mean that God can revive those situations and hearts that seem dead - no matter who impossible we may think it. In our faithfulness to God's planning and timing, we can rest in God's ulterior motives in allowing certain things to come to pass.
And like the savoring of a smell comes in the remembering, so does the savoring of God's faithfulness come in remembering. So let us pray.
God of memories and smells and hard places, we thank you for your faithfulness. Thank you for your faithfulness to Jesus and how it is an example for us on which we can rely. In thinking back on those times we may call "hard," thank you for being with us, guiding and directing that the timing and realization of those situations were as beautiful as they are. As we get closer to the celebration of Christ's resurrection, help us to count what might be difficult as part of the Sweet Smell of Faithfulness. For all your blessings, all your people thank you with a great, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.