Fifth Sunday in Lent 2023: The Impossible

First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14

 1The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

Psalm: Psalm 130

1Out of the depths,  I cry to you, O Lord;
2O Lord, hear my voice!
  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
3If you were to keep watch over sins,
  O Lord, who could stand?
4Yet with you is forgiveness,
  in order that you may be feared. 
5I wait for you, O Lord; my soul waits;
  in your word is my hope.
6My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch for the morning, more than those who keep watch for the morning.
7O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is steadfast love;
  with the Lord there is plenteous redemption.
8For the Lord shall redeem Israel
  from | all their sins. 

Second Reading: Romans 8:6-11

6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Gospel: John 11:1-45

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  One of my favorite songs comes from Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical, Cinderella is “Impossible.”  Whitney Houston, the godmother sings to Brandy, Cinderella, who is unable to attend the ball.  Turn to your neighbor.  What were so impossible, the barriers that kept Cinderella from going to the ball?,vid:o_5eho0zcrs

(Actually the young Julie Andrews sang the song in 1957!

“Impossible for a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage.
Impossible for a plain country bumpkin and a prince to join in marriage.
And four white mice will never be four white horses.
Such fol-de-rol and fiddle dee of course is

But the world is full of zanies and fools
Who don’t believe in sensible rules
And won’t believe what sensible people say
And because these daft and dewey eyed dopes
Keep building up impossible hopes impossible
Things are happening every day!”

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


         This Lent we have been looking at our texts through the lens of the challenges Satan gave to Jesus at the Temptation.  Satan challenged Jesus to prove he was God by doing the impossible: turn rocks into bread (our wants or hungers), jump from the steeple of the Temple (security), or worship Satan to gain the world without the cross (power).  We have looked at people who also wrestled with these challenges.  Nicodemus wrestled with the impossible concept of being born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  The woman at the well wrestled with unquenchable thirst and her search for security in five failed marriages.  The man born blind, without eyes, was given eyes to see and faced the religious power systems as he declared his faith that power for good comes from God.  Today’s text again summarizes with these three themes before we enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday next week.  The Kingdom of this World tells us things are impossible and Jesus calls us to faith and the Kingdom of Heaven that he is ushering in.  Impossible?  Let’s see.  We might be one of those “zanies and fools” that believes God can do the impossible.

“Lazarus is dead.”

         Jesus is not in Jerusalem yet but his friend, “the one he loved,” the brother of Mary and Martha whom we hear about throughout his ministry, this Lazarus, is sick.  It would seem Jesus is in northern Israel in the Galilee area and having heard the news tarries two days longer and then turns his face to Jerusalem.  There is no indication that Jesus is unaware of the seriousness of the illness or that he is overwhelmed with the business of ministry. His disciples are not pestering Jesus that he should go see his sick friend.  In fact, the disciples seem to question his trip to Jerusalem because it might be dangerous.  The text indicates that Jesus is purposely tarrying for the glory of God and for us to learn a lesson. 

         The text informs us that the disciples have missed the point again.  The disciples are thinking about Jesus’ reputation that might lead to conflict.  Jesus clarifies.  Lazarus is dead, not sleeping.  The impossible to cure has happened.  They have hit “the wall.”  Cinderella knows she will never go to the ball unless her godmother helps.  Can you hear Satan gloating, “Jesus, change this rock into bread, if you are God.”  Satan is taking a victory lap.

         This reminds me of our many prayers for God’s help and how often we think he is off in Galilee doing something else.  As our situation worsens, it is so easy for us to jump to the conclusion that God doesn’t care.  So before we go further let us think of some unanswered prayer on our heart that Satan would like us to think that God is tarrying elsewhere.  Are there times we sit on our stool by the fire despairing that our dreams will come true?  Be honest.     

         Let us now sit in this moment for a few seconds and not jump to the resurrection that we know is coming.  History has only revealed that.  If crossing the border from Mexico into the USA is hard for refugees, death is an insurmountable border to turn from.  It is impossible to reverse, short of a miracle.  I do not think the lesson here is to tell us to pray that people don’t die.  Death is God’s escape route out of this world of sin and suffering.  But Jesus did allow this scenario, as he will now turn to Jerusalem and the cross.  We now come to a scene of grief everyone had been praying Jesus would prevent.  Perhaps the lesson is that God is working out a bigger plan than my desire for someone to live and I cannot see that picture because history has not revealed it to me.

         When faced with the temptation to turn rocks into bread, Jesus answered Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  When life seems impossible we need to turn to God’s word.  Death is never welcome and watching a loved one decline or experiencing our own aging limitations is not fun.  Finding the money to pay that sudden bill can swamp our faith.  Challenges like finding a spouse, surviving a divorce, passing a test or dealing with a wayward child can all feel impossible.  Life is like that but it does not mean that God does not see and is not working.  The impossible might be possible with God.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. “

         Jesus and crew arrive at the home of Lazarus who has now been dead and buried for four days.  Mourners are gathered.  Martha goes to meet Jesus and laments, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Bad things happen to good people and it is so easy to think that if only God had been present then hard times would not have happened.  We read that faith can move mountains and are so tempted to shift our focus to the size of our faith that did not move our mountain.  Satan whispers to Jesus and to us that we can do impossible things like throw ourselves down from a steeple and God’s love will protect us from the realities of life.  Lazarus need not have died.  The marriage need not have failed.  The car accident need not have happened.   We have come to equate security with comfort and blessing.  We think if Jesus had been present, if we believe in God and trust, then the painful outcome could have been avoided.  Martha and actually Mary too are right that the presence of Jesus gives us security but that does not mean success.

         Secondly, Martha and we also assume that if we have enough faith, Lazarus would not have died and we would not have to face dark days.  If Jesus had been present, Lazarus would not have died.  In the United States we have not had to face a war like Ukraine that seems so unfair, or earthquakes like Syria that kill so many innocent, or… you can name it.  For the majority of us illness, old age, finances and “ordinary” challenges bring us to our knees and draw tears of lament.  Our culture focuses on youth and good times and it is hard to get our souls around lives that involve so much hardship and still affirm a God who is all-powerful.  This text forces us to face that security is not the same as success and bounty. 

         When Satan tempted Jesus with this thinking, Jesus replied, “Do not put your God to the test.”  In the Message it is translated, “Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.”  I would offer that we are most secure when we trust that God IS present and events ARE unfolding within his awareness.  That is hard to say because it implies the truth that I am the creature and he is the creator and admits I don’t understand everything.  That does not make God the author of evil but it does confess that God is able to make all situations work for good and that we trust him when we don’t understand life because he has our back.  Both Martha and Mary bow and profess their faith that Jesus can work in the impossible and are willing to trust that resurrection is in Jesus.

“Unbind him, and let him go.”

         Lazarus has died.  It is impossible in the kingdom of this world for that to be reversed as much as science works to find ways.  Time marches on.  Rocks do not just turn into bread.  Those of us like Martha and Mary caught in the backlash of the impossible are tempted to reason that things would not have gone like this if we had the security of God’s presence.  The third temptation, though, is power.  Satan invites Jesus to worship him and Satan says he will then give Jesus the world.

         Jesus settles the questions swirling about that deal with our hungers, our insecurities and who has the real power and is worthy of worship.  Jesus calls in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  God has the power to reverse the impossible.  God keeps us secure.  God is the ultimate power in all situations, even the impossible.  A pumpkin can be turned into a carriage.  Four white rats can become four horses.  Cinderella can go to the ball despite all the barriers.

         Lazarus will still have to die again!  Jesus will still have to go to Jerusalem and the cross.  We will all most certainly walk the valley of the shadow of death but our text today affirms that Jesus has power over the impossible, power to change rocks to bread, and power to keep us secure in horrible situations.  We do not need to fear.  We can enter Jerusalem next week and finish our walk to Calvary and we can trust God for the future.  He is the resurrection.  Satan, be gone.

And the people of God said, “AMEN!”

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