It’s not too Late! Lent 5 – Mother Beth

Lent 5  It’s not too Late!

Recently I had the dream about being back in school and arriving late for class.  Many times I have had school dreams, sometimes it is exam day and I forgot to study.  Usually the anxiety that prevails in these dreams says,  It’s too late!  How many times have you thought or said that?  It’s too late for the Church – we’ve gone too far in a particular direction. It’s too late for the country – the time has come and gone for a simpler life – a holier life – a better life!  It’s too late for my family – they already made their decision about God, about faith, about how they will live their life.  It’s too late for me – I’m too old – I’m set in my ways.     Haven’t you heard how hard it is to teach an old dog new tricks?

And anyway ….If only God had been here then. If only God had done something at that time.  If only…

And then over time we just die to that dream – whatever we thought we were supposed to do – whatever we hoped for our family or friends. We resolve ourselves to the idea that it is too late.

Let me tell you about a story I read about last year – a true story from the newspaper in Lexington, Mississippi

LEXINGTON, Miss. — Workers at a U.S. funeral home say they found a man alive and kicking when they opened a body bag.

Coroner Dexter Howard calls it a miracle that 78-year-old Walter Williams is alive.

The coroner was called to Williams’ home in Mississippi, where family members believed he had died.

But Walter Williams was found alive and kicking when they opened the body bag at the funeral home.

Howard says Williams had no pulse and was pronounced dead Wednesday.  Early Thursday, workers at Porter and Sons Funeral Home were preparing to embalm Williams when he started to kick in the body bag.

Family members were called and Williams was taken to a hospital. Howard says he believes Williams’ pacemaker stopped working, then started again.  Family members say Williams, a farmer, told them he’s happy to be alive.

Read more:

Scary?  Yes. Maybe Sobering?  Absolutely. But what if the family had said it was too late?  What if they had already moved on?  The man was declared dead and the funeral was planned so there was no going back.   Of course, no one is going to do that.  If a loved one is returned to you from death or even from a near-death experience, you will happily receive them back.  We would be happy to have our funeral plans interrupted.

This week in the gospel we hear the wonderful story of Lazarus being resurrected.  The God who created life out of nothing calls life back into a dead body. It is the ultimate do-over.

What if the word of God had the same effect on us that it did Lazarus?  What if hearing the word of God brought life and wholeness and restoration?  I believe that it does.

Isaiah 55:10-11 says,  “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

The word of God accomplishes whatever it is sent out to do.  By the word of God the world was created.

To those who are waiting and watching at the burial of Lazarus and to us here today the message is, “You belong to the God who delights in doing the impossible”  Bruce Smith.

No matter how broken your life – no matter how dead you feel – God’s desire is to restore you to life – to put you back together again – and to breathe new life into you.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

If you follow along in the gospel of John over several weeks you will discover various stories in which Jesus has been revealing himself as the son of God – as I am he – the fulfillment of all that is to come.  He is the one that the people have been waiting for; arrived at long last.  Here in the physical realm – no longer a future hope but now a present reality.  And the signs have been escalating in scale, as well.  We hear about Jesus offering new life to Nicodemus and about living water to the Samaritan woman.  Last week we heard about the healing of a blind man and now we are faced with the story of Lazarus.

We read the details of this story and we hear there was a certain man named Lazarus – and we hear the details of his family life – his sisters Mary and Martha and there is context to the story.  Every attempt has been made to help us realize that these are real people in a real community – this is not a parable – but a real event.  This is a family that Jesus loves.

And from the beginning we know that Jesus knows more about this situation than his disciples – he makes it clear that God is doing something, HE says, “it does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory”.

We hear that Jesus loved this family but he still decides to stay two days longer in another town instead of coming to them.  Do you ever feel like God’s time is out of sync with your time?  Why doesn’t He do something immediately when I call?    What is taking SO long?

Martha meets Jesus on the way to see Lazarus and says what we want to say, “If you had been here my brother would not have died.”

And when she says, If you had been here – She means “You are too late – This could have been different”

= DO we feel this way – things in our life went wrong – If God was there it could have gone down so differently?

But then she goes a little further and reveals how strongly she believes in who Jesus is.  She says, “but even now I know that your heavenly Father will give you whatever you ask of him”.

But what about NOW?  – Even now – Do we believe that Jesus can act on our behalf – Will God give him whatever he asks?

Jesus responds by assuring her, “Your brother will rise again”.

Martha seems resolved that although she knows Lazarus will be raised at the last day and she clearly believes that Jesus is the Christ – Lazarus days on this earth are over.



When she says, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection Martha is stating the assurance of the hope which is to come.

But what about now – right here and now in the presence of Jesus =  what is the present hope that Jesus promises us?  Is this only for the future?

I am the resurrection and the life.  Not in the future but now.  Not in some far place but right here.   In the presence of Jesus is life.

Now Mary approaches and echoes Martha’s words, “If you had been here my brother would not have died.”

Again we hear not doubt in His ability to do something but rather a challenge on the timing.  IT IS TOO LATE!

So Jesus proceeds to the tomb.  He recognizes and observes the grief of those around him.  He weeps with those who are weeping.

Even those around who are watching are questioning …”Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

There is no question that Jesus could have healed Lazarus – they all realize that.  But he is not sick he is dead.  It is too late!

And then Jesus commands that the stone be rolled away from the tomb.  And as touched as they have been by his sentiments and his kind words, they are aghast that he would open the tomb.

Wouldn’t we be, if someone were to open up the grave of our loved one?  It’s a desecration.  It’s a violation!

When Christ wants to access some area in our life that we have hidden away – that we have let die, are we appalled?  Do we recoil or will we let him breathe his life into it?  Are there things that we have locked up inside – that we have hidden away because of wounds and pain?

Will we let Jesus have access to any and all of ourselves?   Will we let Jesus restore to life those who we have long thought were beyond redemption?

Can we make space in our church for those about which we have said, IT is too late?  Are we aghast like Martha and the bystanders – refuting his right to open up the tomb?

The tomb is opened and Jesus commands Lazarus to come out.

And despite all the complaints and sputters from those around.  Lazarus comes out of the tomb.

Jesus commands them – unbind him and let him go. 

It takes a community to include Lazarus back into life.   Jesus brought him out of the tomb but he calls on those around to unbind him.  We need each other – we need a community to welcome us back, to encourage us in new life – to speak encouragement and love and peace to us.

Let’s not miss a few things about this story…

Let’s recognize the irony that Lazarus is resurrected just as it is becoming clear that Jesus will be put to death. Jesus ability to triumph over death will emphasize the fact He is not just a great healer but He holds the power of life and death.  And it further emphasizes the fact that when he dies on the cross no one takes his life from him but he lays it down.

He did not die because he is weak but because he poured himself out for you and me.

In the African American church tradition there is the saying, “Where the world places a period, God introduces a comma – meaning that suffering does not have the last word!”

Or as my Mother has said so many times, “You shouldn’t count the score at half-time!”

Most of us here know a little something about waiting for things.  And to be honest there were times in the whole immigration process when I thought, “It’s too late! This is not the ways things were supposed to go.”  And I suspect that maybe there have been things in your life that have not happened as you had planned.  Maybe there are dreams you have died to OR hopes that you have given up on.  Today Jesus says to you and I, that it is not too late.  And while we may not know what Jesus will do in each particular situation, we can be assured that he is “the resurrection and the life”: he is the power of God to bring life out of death. And like Martha, we must trust, have faith and wait, to see what this man who calls himself the Resurrection and the Life will do next.  May we be willing to open ourselves to the breath of life that only Christ provides.  May we be ready and willing to unbind those who are restored to life around us and to receive them into the community of living members.  May we surrender to Him all the broken and hidden and damaged areas of our own lives that God desires to heal and restore. Amen.

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A transplanted Canadian living in sunny Florida. An Episcopal priest, wife, mother, dog lover, story teller and avid movie watcher.

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