Lent 5 A 2020
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Have you ever thought about how many Bible translations there are in the world today? There are a lot of them out there. There is the NIV, the NLT, the NASB, the NEB, the Cowboy Bible, the Good News Bible, the Message, the American translation… and then there’s the RSV, and the NRSV… and of course there is the King James Version. The translation that we use here at worship is the NRSV (or the New Revised Standard Version).
Some people will only use the King James Version because that is the language (in their mind) that came from the mouth of God. I am not particularly fond of the King James Version. Yes, it does sound official with all the “thee’s” and “thou’s,” but it can be difficult to read. Of course, if one is interested in what the original language said one must read the Bible in ancient Hebrew and Greek. But the NRSV translation that we use in worship is a very good translation and it is very close to the original language.
Now, as I just said, I don’t care for the King James Version and its difficult verbiage; but there are times when I do appreciate the language of the King James Version. Take Psalm 23 for example. I enjoy all the “yea’s” and the words that end in “eths” such as He maketh… and He leadeth.
And I enjoy the Gospel reading that we have before us today in the King James Version. I like the King James Version of today’s Gospel because of one particular line. Let me explain myself.
Jesus had just received word that His beloved friend Lazarus was terminally ill. Yet, despite hearing this awful news, Jesus delays his travel to Lazarus’s hometown of Bethany.
Jesus delays his travel so much, that by the time He does arrive, it is too late. Lazarus has already been dead and buried for four days. But that doesn’t stop Jesus from intervening in the situation, and He asks that the stone be rolled way.
Martha objects by stating: “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” This is the way the NRSV translates Martha’s words. But in the King James Version, the text reads a little differently.
After Jesus asks that the stone be rolled away; Martha objects by saying: “But Lord, he stinketh.”
You know… the King James Version does get my attention. In the King James Version there is no simple odor or light smell. No... instead we are told that “he stinketh.” And this bit of information is very important to the theology contained in the text. And I will explain the importance in a minute.
But first I must tell you that whenever I read the text concerning the raising of Lazarus, I have always identified (at first) with Mary and Martha. I can identify with them because I know how upset I would be if a sibling of mine was dying and Jesus took His time to reach me and help me during this difficult situation.
I would be furious. I think we all can identify with Mary and Martha because we all have experienced grief and hopelessness in our lives. We have all had moments in our lives when we have wondered “Lord, where were you?” And “Why did you let this happen?”
But here is the thing. If we identify only with Mary and Martha in the text, we have a problem, because I have never met anyone who came back to life after being buried for four days.
For now, death is final. The miracle in the text does not happen in our world. And so, there must be more to the text than just identifying with Mary and Martha. And that is where the words “He stinketh” helps us in understanding the text we have set before us today.
For you see, the Gospel of John is the Gospel of Signs. And the raising of Lazarus is the ultimate sign, revealing Christ’s true identity, as “the Messiah.” And as much as this is about Jesus, the text is also about us. Because we are Lazarus… each and every one of us.
We are all dead and lifeless. We are all wrapped up in the grave clothes of our brokenness. We are all buried in our deep tombs of sin. We are all stiff and hopeless. And we have all begun to smell more than just a little light unpleasant odor. We are Lazarus. And I am sorry I have to say this, but “we stinketh.”
It is not a pleasant topic. And it is something that we do not like to think about. We don’t like to acknowledge that we are held in bondage to sin and that we cannot free ourselves.
We don’t like to confess that we are selfish, and greedy, and bound by our brokenness. We don’t like to admit that we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done and by what we have left undone.
We have a hard time admitting that we have not loved God with our whole heart, and that we have not loved our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Even so, we pray “For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.”
Left to ourselves we are beyond all hope. But Jesus, calls us out just like Jesus called Lazarus out. And with His life, death, and resurrection Jesus frees us and gives us new life. We, as children of the Heavenly Father, have been baptized into Christ’s death and have been raised to new life.
By His death Jesus destroyed the power of death and by His resurrection Jesus has opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
And so, my friends, the raising of Lazarus is not just some miracle that happened 2,000 years ago in a far away land. The miracle is our miracle. The miracle is our promised resurrection. The miracle is the promise that we are renewed each and every day. The miracle is that Jesus is active in our lives today.
And yet, we still stinketh. The world “stinketh.” The coronavirus “stinketh.” The social distancing “stinketh.” Yes… today we still find ourselves shut away in our tombs of hopelessness and despair. But the promise in our text today is this, Jesus loves us just as He loved Lazarus. And Jesus meets us where we are. And Jesus calls us to come out of our tomb.
Yes… The miracle of the raising of Lazarus is our miracle. Our text today reminds us that Christ brings light to our darkness, hope to our despair, freedom to our bondage, and life even when we are dead.
Let us pray: God of grace, when we are frightened and alone, help us to trust you and cast our burdens upon you, that we may be upheld by your saving strength. We ask this in the Name of Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: “What Wondrous Love Is This” ELW # 666