Apr 2, 2017 – “Compassion”
I love the story from the Old Testament lesson today of the dry bones and Ezekiel and how, through the words of prophecy that God gives Ezekiel, the bones are restored to life. The description of bones and sinew and flesh are all rather graphic. You can picture it as Ezekiel describes it. It’s even a bit on the gruesome side, talking about the muscle and flesh and all. But life doesn’t happen just because the bones are brought together and flesh is put on them.
No, the wind is commanded by the Word of God to come and breathe life into the bones. The breath of God, the Word of God gives life. This event in Ezekiel talks about the compassion of God towards Israel. About how the dead, dry, lifeless bones of the nation of Israel come back to life by the command of God’s word. Life happens by the word of God.
And then in the gospel lesson we have the incarnate Word of God, Jesus, putting life back into yet another dead body. And again, this was God’s compassion through Christ that gave this dead brother of Mary and Martha, life again. Jesus simply calls to Lazarus and gives him life again, by His word, saying, Lazarus come out! And what choice did Lazarus make that ‘made’ Jesus come and do that? Nothing! Lazarus made no choice. God! chooses life for us.
That’s a huge thing for us to remember. Jesus gives us life in the Spirit the same way He gave life in the flesh to Lazarus, it’s by the word and work of Himself alone. He alone calls forth life from death. What Paul says in Romans today, reminds us that it is Christ alone who calls us to life when he says, “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death
Christ sets us free from death, from the consequences of our sin, and instead Christ gives us life. And He does it without our input, aid, or help. That’s pure grace, love, and compassion. We all know that sin is persistent. It nags and hangs on, it claws and clamors for our death.
But Christ will not put up with that, God will not put up with that. He never has and He never will. We’re given life because God wants it that way! Period! We’re free from trying to make life for ourselves because it just can’t be done. Life comes from the breath, will, and work of God. That’s what Ezekiel shows us, that’s what Paul tells us and that’s what Jesus demonstrates with Lazarus.
And there’s an important irony attached to the raising of Lazarus. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it was from that time on that the leaders of the Jews decided to seek the death of Jesus in no uncertain terms. The irony of raising Lazarus from the dead is found in the Jewish plot that arises to kill Jesus because of His giving life to Lazarus again. This just points out the way of this world. This world, the ruler of this present darkness, Satan, always opposes life and seeks death. Jesus came to snatch life from death. He came as light in our darkness. He came to give life, to give life eternal.
You heard me say this just recently; Jesus broke-up every funeral that we know of that He attended. And as we’ll celebrate in two weeks, He even breaks up His own funeral! Between then and now though, we walk with Jesus as He goes to His death on the Cross. Jesus’ death is what’s necessary to defeat the power of death forever. Hebrews 9:22 tells us, “In fact,… without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” And on Easter we’ll see death’s defeat in Jesus’ triumphant resurrection which grants forgiveness and life to all who believe in Him.
But today there’s something else for us to take away from the gospel lesson. Jesus hears that his friend Lazarus is sick and rather than run to his side and cure him, Jesus stays away. He stays away so long that by the time Jesus gets there, Lazarus is in the tomb for 4 days. We hear the words of Mary and Martha that speak of faith and trust and… sadness. There’s even a trace of rebuke aimed at Jesus, but not in an unkind or unloving way. Martha says to Him, if you had been here my brother would not have died.
And we also hear the sisters’ trust that, in the resurrection, Lazarus will live again. And then those wonderful words of Jesus, where He uses the ‘ego emi’ we’ve been looking at on Wednesdays this Lenten season, when He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;” And what does Jesus do after He says these words about life and resurrection? Does He restore Lazarus right then? No, we then have the shortest verse in the Bible. Jesus wept.
Why? Why did Jesus weep? Why for that matter did Jesus take the time to even comfort the sisters? I mean He knows He is going to raise Lazarus, right? Why not just simply raise him and skip the part with the sisters and the weeping?
One reason, I think may be this; it shows compassion. It shows again that God is deeply compassionate! And that God cares and feels and loves and is passionate for His creation, His people. For all people that He came to redeem.
The ancient Rabbis had a legend that conveyed the compassion of God’s love very well. The setting is when the Hebrew people were fleeing Egypt, and they were being pursued by the powerful Egyptian army. The rabbi’s legend says that angels were perched on the edge of heaven watching the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. Then, after the Hebrews were safely across, when the waters came crashing in on the pursuing Egyptian army and killed them all, all those angels watching shouted and cheered in victory.
But God stopped the jubilant celebration with a wave of His hand. With tears in His eyes, God rebuked the angels for their view on this tragedy. He said: “I love them too! My heart breaks that I have had to destroy them and yet you cheer?”
That’s a good story to speak of the compassion of God. And this, I think, is one reason why Jesus weeps. He weeps along with the sisters because His heart breaks over the loss of any life. God did not create us to condemn us to die. Remember John 3:17 – where Jesus says to Nicodemus, “For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him”. And as Jesus takes the time to be with the sisters in their grief He demonstrates God’s compassion for His creation.
Compassion is something we can copy; raising people from the dead, we leave that to Jesus. But there is something life-giving in the showing of compassion. And compassion is not a weak or wimpy thing. It requires strength, Godly strength, to show Godly compassion.
Compassion is a trait of God is and it’s also what He’s given us to copy from Him. So how do we do that; how do we show compassion? Tell me, what are some ways you’ve seen compassion shown?
All of those things require a choice, a decision, an action. Compassion is not a spectator sport. There is no complacency in compassion. Compassion is not docile, shrinking or passive. Let me give you another story to demonstrate this.
With the NBA gearing up for the playoffs, this story comes from the playoffs in 2003 at a game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Dallas Mavericks. 13 year-old Natalie Grant was singing the national anthem before 20,000 fans when she suddenly forgot the words. The look of panic and grief on her face was heart-breaking. But then Maurice Cheeks, coach of the Blazers, quickly walked over to her side, put his arm around her, and began to sing with her. People in the crowd joined in to help her finish the national anthem. This may not have been a life-saving event, but you can bet that little girl will never forget Maurice Cheeks’ compassion for her. And neither will all the fans that joined in, following his compassionate lead.
Compassion can do that; one person showing compassion can lead others into doing more of it. That’s something that begins with God. And it’s something we can then follow God’s leading in. We can be compassionate because God has first been compassionate with us.
God knows how much we needed Him. We needed Him to give us life because in our sin and rebellion we know only death. God knows only He can give life. Again, that’s what the crucifixion and resurrection of are, the giving of life through the shedding of Jesus blood – God showing us compassion in His choice of sending Jesus to die and rise again.
And, like that coach choose to show compassion to the singer, God has called us to share His love and compassion with those around us. Think of our congregation as a train, a train headed for the Promised Land, our heavenly home. In God’s compassion we want others to board this train and make the journey with us. Now if we want others to board this train, we should stop where they are and invite them to join us. Like the coach with the little girl, we go to where they are and meet them there. We can’t just steam full speed ahead and say, if they want to join us, they’ll have to run and catch up and jump on board.
It takes real sacrifices, not just easy inconveniences, to reach the lost that need the life Jesus died to give. As we give sacrificially and go sacrificially to where the unbelievers are, we can then show them compassion just as Jesus went to Mary and Martha in compassion.
As we reach out to others with real compassion and concern and share with them the good news of Jesus Christ we do so, where they are. Hearing, Sharing and Living the Gospel is what we’re about. We want this “train” to do that.
We know that in His compassion God wants all people to know Him. In the Old Testament today God shows His compassion by showing Israel that He keeps His promises in spite of their unfaithfulness. He breathed the breath of life into the ‘dead bones’. God remained compassionate because that’s His nature. In the epistle lesson St. Paul reminds us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because we’ve been set free from the law of sin and death. That is God’s compassion to us.
And in the gospel lesson, God in Christ showed His compassion by going to the sisters. He chose to weep with them rather than steam ahead and leave them behind because of their lack of understanding. That’s the same compassion we’re called to show to those who’ve yet to hear of the life that God has given us and that He desires everyone to know and have for themselves. That, after all, is what the coming Easter season is all about. That is the breath of God that fills our lungs with the air of heaven. May we so breath in God’s life and compassion, that it comes out of us with our every word and breath. In Jesus name, amen.
Sermon #881 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Old Testament Reading Ezekiel 37:1-14
37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
Epistle Reading Romans 8:1-11
8 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
Holy Gospel John 11:1-45
11 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.” 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?” 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.” 45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.