Sermon,  Sermons

Art of Confidence

5th Sunday in Lent

John 11:1-45

sermon video

The spiritual, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, visceral, follows in the tradition of the Psalms: agonizing desperate plea for relief, concluding with a stunning abandon to God’s goodness: gratitude.

In the context of trouble – for we will have much trouble in this world, but Jesus has overcome! – in the context of our trouble, illness, confinement, loneliness – the practice of joy, the Spirit’s very real presence, gives us the confidence to hope, to know and experience a reality of Jesus’ redemptive power… now.

Glory Hallelujah!

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen / Nobody knows my sorrow / Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen / Glory hallelujah.

I mentioned at the beginning of this Lenten series that John gives no concern to a chronological telling of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It is in today’s narrative it is most apparent: John begins the story by explaining who Mary is – the one “who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair” – but Mary’s story isn’t told until the following chapter (Jn12.1-8).

But John knew it was important for readers to understand the relationship between Jesus and Lazarus’ family – their faith, the confidence they already had in his divine power, and what it indicates about Jesus.

You see, John seems to be showing us more than the facts: Jesus will die and then resurrect and all will be good. He first tells us how life prevails over death in Lazarus – though this act will, ironically, initiate the events that bring Jesus to his own death.

And though Mary may first judge Jesus for taking his sweet time getting there to heal Lazarus before he would die, she watches, listens – allows her judgment to be transformed into discernment: what Thomas says, but doesn’t quite get, Mary sees. And she believes. And brings the costliest of perfumes to prepare him for his own burial the next time they meet.

All of these things happen – Jesus’ delay, his responses (articulated and visceral), his pleas to God for resurrection power – these happen so everyone would believe – not in the power, but in the relationship.

Jesus always shows us, tells us (in so many ways) is deeply moved, aches when we ache, celebrates when we celebrate, heals, resurrects, knows. Jesus participates in the grief of a dear friend’s death, and knows the joy of that same friend’s resurrection. And then carries that experience with him to hell and back so that we would never need to know the fullness of death’s. grief. – complete separation from God.

We now have confidence that we are made right with God, we are free to be in relationship with Jesus, that we can live in power, the graces, the joy in the Spirit!

And because we know that this same Spirit is in all of us, we can have confidence in each other – to be vulnerable, experience the joy of relationship – even as we are “socially distancing.”

Pastor Howie reflects

Jesus knows my name. He feels my pain. He takes my shame.

I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.

2 Corinthians 7: 16

“A Vision.” Interior with Open Window, 1928, Raoul Dufy.

“The experience of joy leaves behind it an awareness of our personal freedom. Windows have opened for us onto a vision that we cannot possess at will, but which – having experienced pure joy – we now know exists; and the windows remain open, even if we must, for the present, stay within. Dufy’s double windows reveal the richness of the distant world, its gleaming possibilities, its actuality. The space we occupy may be as in the painting, cluttered and even oppressive, but after joy it is no longer imprisoning. We have glimpsed something greater, something of liberating power, and we can have absolute confidence that there are no external obstructions to our movement out of limitation and into that freedom.”

Sister Wendy Beckett, The Art of Lent

How incredibly prescient this meditation, published 3 years ago, is for our time!

“The windows remain open, even if we must, for the present, stay within…” possibilities, even if stuck in a cluttered, confined space – because, if we are practicing, knowing real joy, our confinement no longer oppresses.

And while I have been in this confinement, I have been ill. It’s been a struggle because I’ve needed to make sure we had ways to be church with one another while confined to our homes. All the work has circled around in the loving ways y’all have expressed concern, well-wishes, and prayers – via texts, facebook messages, calls and lovely cards.

The same Spirit is in all of us – so that we can be confident in each other to care, be in relationship with us, because we have Jesus who weeps with us, grieves with us, and also raises us – from the dead.

Glory, Hallelujah!

Prayer of Lament

Hear our cry, Almighty God. Listen to our prayer. How long will we have to hide in our homes from this invisible enemy? Where will it strike next? And whom? And what if…? Our screens relay a continuous escalation of suffering and death around the world. Panic and anxiety abounds. Our souls are weary from the strain of the life-altering unknowns.

Good and Gracious God, from the depths of our pain and confusion, we cry out to You. From fear-filled hearts and anxious minds, we plead with You. Rescue us, God of compassion and grace. We lift up our eyes to You, Lord God, the One who sits enthroned in heaven.

On all who have contracted the virus

Lord have mercy

On all who have lost loved ones to this sickness and are in mourning and anguish

Lord have mercy

On all who are unable to earn an income because their jobs have been suspended

Lord have mercy

We cry out for healing and needed resources

We cry out for comfort and peace

On all medical professionals and caretakers attending to those infected with the virus

Christ have mercy

On all scientists and technologists striving to find a vaccine and to make it available

Christ have mercy

On all leaders of institutions and governments as they make decisions to try and contain the virus

Christ have mercy

We pray for strength in the long and exhausting hours of labor

We pray for wisdom in the research and difficult decisions

On all who have not yet contracted the virus

Lord have mercy

On the most vulnerable of our society who are unable to buy extra food or get proper medical attention

Lord have mercy

On all disciples of Jesus Christ discerning how to reflect Jesus’ love to others within this crisis

Lord have mercy

We plead for protection of health

We plead for all to remain calm and kind

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the expanse of the universe. And yet this earth is no longer as You created it to be. Holy God, our earth groans from the devastation caused by our turning from You. My God, Your Word is true. One day You will recreate all things, even as you are recreating already.

Life is sacred and precious in your sight. You are the God Who sees us and sustains us.

Nothing can separate us from the God’s unfailing love and kindness, not even sickness or the fear of tomorrow. You are our Light as we walk in this darkness. We will remember to celebrate the beautiful gifts You have given us in this present moment.

Almighty God, You are our Rock, our Refuge from the enemy, our hiding place.

You calm our frantic thoughts and fill our despairing hearts with joy and strength.

In Your Presence living water springs forth in the wilderness.

You restore our souls.

Posted on Ravi Zacharis website, edited by Rev Dr Nicole Oliver Snyder

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MANY THANKS, IN ADVANCE!