A sermon for Lent 5: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45
Vincent Gray was a child with problems seeing things; he saw ghosts. His therapist, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, is not successful in helping him. Years later Gray shoots Dr. Crowe before killing himself. Crowe recovers and later that year begins seeing Cole, another child with a similar problem. He is completely dedicated to helping Cole, inspired in part by his perceived failure with Vincent. He rarely interacts with his wife anymore. And in fact, there is no conversation at all anymore.
Crowe becomes convinced that Cole has a gift to help the dead, complete their unfinished business. He is successful in helping Cole understand and accept his gift, and Cole saves the life of one ghost’s younger sister. He is also able to help his mother reconcile with her dead mother.
One evening when Dr. Crowe retunes home, he begins to notice subtle differences. His wedding ring is on the on the bed; he recalls that he has not had it on since he began seeing Cole. His wife is laying on the bed watching the video of their wedding. He hears his wife ask him why he left her. And then Crowe remembers Cole’s talking about the effects of a ghost’s unfinished business and realizes that Vincent had killed him and that with Cole’s help he has finally come to accept his failure to understand and help Vincent. Released of this burden Crowe is able to tell his wife she was never second, that he has always loved her and is able to move on.
The audience, I being one, is shocked by the reversal of perspective. As had Dr. Crowe we had all completely misunderstand the world of the story. M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense spins around Crowe’s misunderstanding of the critical moments of his life (Wikipedia). Crowe is not alone in misunderstanding, critical moments of life.
Today is the next to last Sunday in Lent. The Gospel story is about Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the dead. But I am no longer sure that Lazarus’ death is the point of the story, though it is an important element. The last four weeks the Gospel readings have had a central element of misunderstanding. In the wilderness, the Devil tries to trick Jesus into misunderstanding who he is. Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus saying “being born again” as literal and not the transformative “being born from above.” The woman at the well misunderstands Jesus offering “living water” as something that will deliver her from having to come to the village well to get water thus avoiding the scorn of her neighbors. Driven by confusion, fear, and attachment to tradition the neighbors, parents, and authorities of the man born blind’s life misunderstand the relationship between life’s hardships and sin and the deepest meaning of Sabbath. All of Lent is a misunderstanding. They continue this morning.
The disciples misunderstand Jesus saying Lazarus’ illness does not lead to death, but God’s glory; and later when he says Lazarus has fallen asleep, they miss its customary reference to death (Harrelson, O’Day). When Jesus arrives, Martha misunderstands Jesus’ reference to resurrection as the classic Pharisee reference, drawn from Daniel (12:2), to the end of time, and that keeps her from hearing Jesus revelation of himself (Ellingsen, Harrelson, O’Day). When Mary hears of Jesus arrival, she goes to meet him, and so do all the mourners from Jerusalem. When they meet, Jesus is moved by her weeping and that of her friends. The misunderstanding here is at least as old as the King James’ Bible in which we first read “Jesus wept” (11:35). The original words express anger or indignation and agitated or troubled; they are not any way an expression of sentiment which we typically draw from ‘wept.’ (Harrelson, O’Day). The friends misunderstand Jesus’ tears leading them to wonder Could he who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying (John 11:37)? Martha’s misunderstanding of Jesus continues when she objects to removing the stone that seals Lazarus’ tomb because of her fear of obnoxious odors, and the tradition that after 3 days the soul has left for good, and there is no longer any hope of revival (O’Day).
Our own encounters with death, in all its manifestations, lead to confusion. When we die, we do not go to heaven to be angels. According to the bible, angles are their namesakes – messengers of God. When we die, there is a time of waiting, which is not revealed scripture, and when we face Jesus as the prosecutor, and Judge and oh, by the way, the defense attorney we face judgment. And by grace life in God’s presence is our future. Death, like barrenness, blindness, or any another illness or misfortune is not a consequence of sin; it is just life.
Any other popular conception of death is like attributing illness to sin; it is a misunderstanding. It seems if all the world is full of misunderstanding. Which leads on the wonder, what to do about all these misunderstandings?
One of the statements I think is more profound than first appears is
There are known knowns.
There are known unknowns.
There are also unknown unknowns (Donald Rumsfeld, Brainyquote).
When we hear the word ‘known,’ we generally associated that with knowledge. If you know something, it is a piece of information, maybe even a fact. But you can know somebody, and to know someone implies a relationship, and a relationship infers some sort of experience. So, Lent is not about knowing Jesus it is about knowing Jesus. All these stories reveal that it is not what information we know or what understanding we don’t know about Jesus that dispels misinformation. It is what we don’t know, that we have not experienced with Jesus that matters.
All the misunderstandings in these Lenten stories precede encounters with Jesus. With Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the man born blind, misunderstandings are transformed by their experience with Jesus (Lewis). Lent 1 is not a vicarious wilderness experience with Jesus. It is an invitation to take a wilderness experience of our won, with the assurance Jesus will be with you. For the last four weeks, we’ve heard various wilderness experiences, and in all of them, some folks have an experience with Jesus that leads them or other people to believe in Jesus, even if it takes some time. We should also acknowledge that not everybody will venture into the wilderness, and not every encounter with Jesus leads to knowing Jesus because things like tradition, existing belief or some other rules can get in our way.
As for each you, I believe each of you: knows your life with Jesus and knows your lack of life with Jesus; it is what you don’t know of your lack of life with Jesus that is the Lenten challenge.
Dr. Crowe faces misunderstandings around his death and is able to move on. Martha, Mary and a few of their friends face misunderstandings, around Lazarus’ death, and share in Jesus’ experiences that bring them to belief in him.
The question this morning is what misunderstanding, born of some shrouded death, will lead you to share in Jesus’ experiences that brings you to belief and life in him?
Brainyquote. “donaldrums.” n.d. http://www.brainyquote.com. 2 4 2017. <https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/d/donaldrums148142.html>.
Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 2 4 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 2 4 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Lewis, Karoline. Resurrection Now. 2 4 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.
Liggett, James. “In Trust and Hope, Lent 5(A).” 2 4 2017. Sermons that Work.
Lose, David. Lent 5A: Heartache, Miracle, Invitation. 2 4 2017.
O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.
Vena, Osvaldo. Commentary on John 11:145. 2 4 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.
Wikipedia. “The_Sixth_Sense.” n.d. wikipedia.org. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sixth_Sense>.