Sunday, April 10, 2011

Something Better

The following are the notes I used to preach on Sunday morning, April 10.  You can listen to much of the worship hour, including the sermon, at

Many years ago both Toni and I spent several months living in Brazil -- this was before we were married.  Toni went for about six months and two years later I went to live there for about a year and a half.  I still keep in contact with friends there, and, this week I had a brief conversation with a pastor friend who is preaching on the same scripture that I've chosen to read and preach about today.  My pastor friend said that, in preparation for this Sunday's preaching, that it would be difficult not to mention a terrible thing that happened last week in his country... it involved guns and a school... I don't want to say more about it here.  If you want to ask me later or look it up, look up Realengo.

My Brazilian preacher friend said it would be hard not to mention that in his sermon today?  Why?  Because of verses 21 and 32 of John 11.  First one sister, then the other: "If you had been here, Jesus... If you had only been here my brother would not have died."

Believers at all times and in every place cry and even wail with those words.  The families my Brazilian pastor friend was thinking of are far from his town... they are separated by three Brazilian states... comparable to, for example, how we felt at the time of Columbine in 1999... and how we feel when we hear of these things anywhere and everywhere... we cry...  If you, God... if you would only be here now, coming with power and love and not just letting horrors just go on and on and on... if you were only HERE and if you only CARED these terrible things wouldn't have a chance.

Where are you God?

And it is for those tears that we have our scripture today.  In fact, it's for your tears and my tears, it's for you and for me that Jesus did things as he did them for Lazarus and Martha and Mary: Waiting four days before he came to their town. Letting Lazarus die. Hearing Martha and Mary and then weeping--Jesus--weeping, wailing, crying out... and only then, after all hope was GONE... only then calling dead Lazarus out of the tomb. It was so you and I would know there is no situation and no person beyond hope, it was so you and I could know that that everything happened as it did at that time, and it was for you and me that we have all this written down for us in this book.

Everything that happened then was for you and for me.  God is going to work it out in the end.  This story about Lazarus and his family--that's what it's for, so you and I will not fall into despair, so you and I will not give up hope.

But how can something that happened 2,000 years ago give us hope today?  Honestly, it's not because Lazarus was raised from the dead.  When something good happens to someone else, and if I'm still suffering, I'm not sure what that does for me.  I need something more.  I need something better.  I need good news that applies to me.

Yesterday I had the chance to spend the afternoon with Paul Gustafson and Tom Stover and a few others on a Minneapolis street corner.  There's a ministry that goes on every Saturday at 13th and Franklin.  There's free food and clothing, time for conversation and friendship and prayer.  Practical needs get taken care of and, as it says on a wall on that corner, through that ministry, through Paul and Tom and other ministry partners, Jesus calms, heals, provides... (Photos of what is done on that corner can be seen at!/foodshelf?sk=photos).
On the wall behind the area used by the ministry there's a mural on the wall (see it and other views at this link  There are three paintings.  One shows Jesus calming the storm.  One is of Jesus healing a desperately sick man.  The third--the disciples are in a boat hauling in fish--Jesus providing food.

The murals are well done and the ministry is excellent and truly caring.  Through His Holy Spirit, through the relationships Jesus has built on that corner, Jesus is truly there, calming and healing and providing.  And through the same Holy Spirit Jesus does that for millions throughout the world every day.

But still, I need something even better.  It's good to be calmed and healed and provided for.  It's good to have daily bread and a roof over my head, shoes on my feet, clothes on my back, a few dollars in my pocket, some friends and a family.  Those are good things. But there are times when horrors come, horrors that just can't be taken care of so easily.  Like in what happened in Realongo that my Brazilian friend told me about--or what happened in 1999 in Columbine Colorado or Red Lake or Rocori after that.  Or in Japan or Libya or Afghanistan or countless other places right now.  Or in your own family.  Or in your own life.

Where do we go for something that can bring an end to all terror, all fear, all pain?  We go past the resurrection of Lazarus, as wonderful as that was, to something that means a whole new world.

Look at verse 45... Let's read that and keep going to verse 53.  First we have the reaction of those who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.  Then we see what happens next:
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” 51 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. 53 So from that day on they planned to put him to death.
This is the "something better" that I need.  It doesn't come from wonderful present day miracles or from the remembrance of how Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead 2,000 years ago.  The something better I need doesn't come from acts of kindness, no matter how excellent and sincere those good deeds may be.  the something better doesn't come from caring friends or a loving family.  The something better I need comes when Jesus, God himself in human form... the something better comes when Jesus dies for me on the cross and is raised from the dead... and when I desperately trust that good news with all my heart.

Have you ever noticed that the Apostles' Creed doesn't say anything about Jesus' miracles?  The most important statements of faith don't even speak of Jesus' love!  Have you ever noticed that the first missionaries--Peter and Paul and John and Phillip and Stephen and the rest--they said almost nothing about the miracles and love our Lord demonstrated when he healed and calmed and provided for people...  Did they demonstrate Jesus love?  Yes they did!  Through the power of the Holy Spirit they also calmed and healed and provided for the people and for one another...

But that was not their focus.  I need to be reminded of this every day.  The disciples main thing, what they lived and died for was the gospel, and the Bible's main thing and the Church's main thing--the focus is on the good news of Jesus who did die for the people as Caiaphas said, who died to pay the penalty for your sins and my sins, whose blood was shed to wash them away.  That's the something better.  And bringing people to a saving knowledge of Jesus needs to be at the center of everything we do.
What can wash away my sins?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!  What can make me whole again?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.  O precious is the flow that makes me white as snow; no other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Lazarus and Martha and Mary needed that.  They needed to have Jesus go on past the raising from the dead of Lazarus.  They needed to have Jesus go on past the reunion of their family and the precious gift of life in this world.  For Lazarus and Martha and Mary, and all of those who celebrated all Jesus' miracles would have died condemned by their sin if Jesus had not gone on, as Caiaphas said, to die for all the people.

If we put our hope on anything else, if we think it all needs to be fixed and solved on this earth, we are wrongIt's faith, trust, radical and desperate dependence on Jesus who died and rose again for me and you and all the people of the world, that's the something better that we all need.

If you don't know that for sure, listen again to Caiaphas, the high priest of the Jewish nation--listen to Caiaphas who spoke God's Word without even knowing he was doing it.  He thought he was talking about getting rid of Jesus--but what he was really doing was getting things in line for the greatest victory this world has ever known.
"'You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.'

He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God.

So from that day on they planned to put him, Jesus, to death."  (John 20:49-53)
We are coming up to the most important time in the Christian year.  It was in the spring, at Passover time, which this year happens in the week beginning next Sunday, it was during that week that the something better happened.  Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice to take away all the sins of the world.  And then, on a day we mark this year on April 24, Jesus rose from the dead, conquering every sin and every evil, driving back the darkness of death forever.

It's not because of wonderful acts of love that we celebrate.  It's not because we can help one another through challenging times with food and clothing and comfort and love when terrible things happen, when children are taken from us like at Realengo and Columbine and Red Lake and Rocorri, or in Japan or Libya or Afghanistan or countless other places right now.  Or in your own family.  Or in your own life.

It's only in knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior that peace and joy and hope comes that nothing can ever take away. That's why we celebrate!  And it is our task, as part of God's church on earth, to make sure that news comes through, loud and clear.  Clearer than any good deeds we ever do.  Clearer than any healings or miracles that happen.  It needs to be Jesus, crucified for us and risen from the dead, that needs to be always the main thing.

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday.  Then comes Holy Week.  During Holy Week, at Wednesday prayer, on Thursday evening as we gather here for worship, on Friday as many from our community gather for three hours, from noon to three p.m.--during those days we dig deep into the "something better" that we all need.  Please set aside time that week to gather, as Christians always have, to focus on the main message we have as a church, the reason for our existence, to proclaim the good news of Jesus, dying for sinners, and rising again to give new and eternal life.

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