Last February, the courthouse had a terrible smell.
We all know that story. A story of dead pigeons, of an odor so terrible it drove everyone from the courtroom. A story of droppings from pigeons that are carcinogenic and the resultant closing down of our courthouse. It’s an old story now but one still impressed on our minds.
And a fact that is surprisingly relevant to today’s scripture.
Keep that smell in mind as we continue our sermon series on the prayers of Jesus:
Martha is concerned with the practical. If the roll away the stone, the stench of rotting flesh will exude. There’s a crowd of people gathered around and she doesn’t want to gross them out. Understandable. Very practical. And yet Jesus rebukes her.
But can we blame her? Here, her brother has died. It’s only been four days and she’s still grieving. Jesus himself is grieving, too. The famous verse that says “Jesus wept” comes just before this. He’s weeping because his friend is dead. He’s weeping because his friends, Martha in particular, are hurting over the loss.
And then, in the scripture right before we started reading, Martha and the crowd say to him, “if only you had been here!” That’s got to hurt. It suggests that Jesus was derelict of duty. Surely enough, John tells us that Jesus received word of how sick Lazarus was early on, with enough time to come and save him from whatever ailed him. But Jesus delayed, without explanation. It looked selfish to those who loved Lazarus and unreasonable to those who knew of Jesus’s love for his friend.
If only you had been here. Ouch.
The Scripture we read opens with Jesus, “again greatly disturbed,” by which the text means enraged. He was raging within himself is the literal translation of the greek. Inside, he’s caught up by a bundle of emotions. He’s aggrieved over the death of his friend. His feelings are hurt by the crowd telling him that he’d failed them, that he had been selfish, by not coming sooner. And then, when he’s preparing to do something amazing and wonderful, Martha hits him with a practical matter: it’s going to smell really bad.
I can hear Jesus being very dismissive of her, “didn’t I tell you!?” Ouch again.
Grief sucks. It makes us treat each other in ways we don’t mean to out of the rawness of our emotion, out of the bundle of emotions we feel on the inside. We, too, often feel like we’re raging within ourselves, as Jesus was standing at the tomb of his dead friend. We can empathize with Jesus here and with Martha and with the crowd.
So we can understand why Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. To prove his critics wrong. To fix Martha’s grief. To alleviate his own grieving. To offer comfort and peace to the crowd who’s begun to doubt that he’s as great as they thought.
Jesus has all sorts of reasons to raise Lazarus from the dead. Really good reasons. Solid reasons.
And yet, none of those reasons are why he did so.
For all his raging within, for all his bundle of emotions, even for all his personal grief, Jesus still has clarity of sight. He understands what the moment calls for. The moment calls for glorifying God.
We hear that phrase a lot: glorify God. We speak of God’s glory. We sing of God’s glory often in hymns and modern worship songs.
And that’s the rationale Jesus gives for what he does. When Martha declares that it’s impractical and a terrible idea to roll away the stone because of the smell, Jesus says, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” Glory is the rationale, the reason, for raising Lazarus from the dead.
But why that reason? Why for glory? Why not for comfort, peace, or to prove that Jesus is who he says he is? Why not as a defense mechanism against the allegations of the crowd that Jesus was derelict of duty?
Because glory, the glory of God, is the grounding of our faith.
God’s glory is what makes us realize that God is wholly other, that God is far beyond us. The glory of God is what causes us to know that God is worthy of our adoration and praise, worthy of our trust and honor, worthy of giving our very lives.
If the queen of England were not regal, surrounded by beauty and wealth and pomp and circumstance, she would be too ordinary for anyone to honor, to serve, to fight for. She needs the glory of her throne, her palace, her ceremony, to make her worthy of following as a leader, worthy of Britain’s trust. Without glory, she would, indeed, not be sovereign.
When we experience God’s glory, or know that God is glorious, we put our trust in God. We honor God. We follow God. We commit our lives to God. And, perhaps most importantly, we have hope.
Hope that, with God, the impossible is possible.
The crowd has significant doubt because they have only seen Jesus heal to this point. Their allegation, “if only you had been here!” says not only that they think Jesus is derelict of duty; it says that they think Jesus missed his chance to save a life. They cannot fathom, they have no imagination to consider, that Jesus could bring someone back from the dead. For the crowd, and for Martha, death is final. There’s no coming back.
They cannot fathom that Jesus could raise someone from the dead. It’s impossible.
Jesus proves them wrong. We know today that death is not the end, death is not the last word; where, O death, is your sting? we proclaim at funerals, because we know that God brings the dead back to life. Another way that we experience God’s glory.
But the crowd doesn’t know this. They think it’s impossible. And Jesus shows them that, with the Father, the impossible is possible. They see God’s glory revealed in defeating death.
For us, too, God’s glory can be a reminder, a source of hope, that with God, nothing is impossible. Indeed, that should turn into our prayer, just as it did for Jesus. When he encountered this hard, raging within situation, he prayed to God, “show us your glory!” When we encounter impossible situations or situations where we are raging within, we should follow his example and pray to God, “show us your glory!” Show us how you are sovereign, how you make the impossible possible. Show us your glory!
God’s glory gives us hope, for it says that, with God, the impossible is possible. What we thought was the end is not. What we thought was the final word, is not. What we thought was forever is only but for a moment. And so we pray:
Our family will never reconcile! Show us your glory.
This grief will never stop haunting me! Show us your glory.
My health will never recover! Show us your glory.
Life will always be terribly hard! Show us your glory.
I will never be truly loved. Show us your glory.
Our country will never heal! Show us your glory.
The world is always on the brink of war and catastrophe! Show us your glory.
For when we see God’s glory, we have faith that
Our family will reconcile
We will heal from our grief
We will experience healing, if not in body then in mind and soul.
Our lives will find joy in the midst of suffering and challenge.
We will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, how deeply beloved of the Father we are.
Our politics will heal.
Peace will reign over our world!
The glory of God inspires our faith because the glory of God tells us that God is, in fact God. For with God, nothing is impossible.
So this morning, whatever impossibilities you’re facing, go to God in prayer and say, “show me your glory!” Say it over and over again. Be patient. God will not disappoint.
This morning, as we approach the table, bring the impossible situations and the situations that make you rage within to God in prayer. Tell God what they are. And then say, with all fervor in prayer, “show me your glory.” Be bold in prayer. Jesus was bold. The Psalms are bold. That’s part of why I recommend so highly that we pray them every day. In the Psalms, we see humans, just like us, being bold with God in prayer.
So say to God this morning, in the midst of whatever impossibilities you face in this life, “show me your glory!” Another way we commit ourselves to the life of prayer, just as Jesus lived it.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.