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Sermon: The Resurrection Of Broken Dreams

John 11:1-45

The Raising of Lazarus

The Raising Of Lazarus by Fr Lawrence Lew on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I want to tell you about a book I have just finished reading. It is one of the best I have read in many a year. It isn’t one of the academic theological books I read. It’s one I want to recommend to my congregations. Unfortunately, I can’t wave my copy in front of you, because I read an electronic version on my Kindle. I could wave my Kindle at you, but that wouldn’t make much sense.

The book is called ‘Resurrection Year’, and it is by an Australian author called Sheridan Voysey. He is a successful radio presenter who has achieved his dream of broadcasting a talk show about life and faith across his native land. But his wife Merryn, a medical statistician, longs to start a family. It is their unfulfilled dream. The opening chapters of the book are a journal of ten years in their marriage when they hope to have a child. They are told they are exceptionally good prospects as adoptive parents, but no phone call about a child to adopt ever comes. When they tell the adoption authorities they want to try IVF again, they are told they cannot remain as potential adopters.

Several rounds of IVF fail. They take one last chance, and all the tests indicate that Merryn is pregnant. They tell their friends and family that a baby is on the way. But it’s one last false dawn. Yes, a gestational sac is growing, but there is no foetus. They have to let their dream of having children die.

The rest of the book chronicles their questions and struggles in faith. God never answers their ‘why’ questions. It also tells how they rebuilt their lives with new hopes – their ‘resurrection’.

For many of us – perhaps most, possibly even all of us – the life of faith bumps up at one or more times in our lives with broken dreams. We hoped for something big. It never happened, or it did but it was taken away from us. Since Mum’s death six weeks ago, our daughter has been asking question after question about why God couldn’t have done things differently for Nanny, or why we will have to wait so long before being reunited with her in Heaven.

I am sure you can add your own examples. In some cases, I know what they will include. For others of you, I do not necessarily know.

But of this I am sure: the Bible knows of this very dilemma, and we do so in today’s Gospel reading as Jesus approaches Jerusalem. The death of Lazarus is a broken dream. And Jesus just seems to make it worse. He knows Lazarus is ill, and he stays away. Not much of a pastoral visitor, was he? Lazarus is a friend. Mary and Martha are friends (verse 5). But still – in a culture where medicine was so primitive – he stays away two more days (verse 6).

So the first thing I want us to appreciate this morning is a painful, yet hopeful truth: Jesus is involved in our broken dreams. Broken dreams do not mean the absence of God, even if they do mean a loss of hopes. We do not understand why Jesus’ work in our broken dreams is what it is – Mary and Martha don’t really receive much of an explanation – but that doesn’t change the fact that he is still here.

It’s rather like the Book of Job. Lots of people are under the misapprehension that the story of Job gives us an explanation for the existence of suffering and of a good God. But it doesn’t. Job only answers one question: ‘Is there such a thing as innocent suffering?’ Its answer is ‘Yes’. When Job finally comes before God towards the end of the book with his questions, God doesn’t answer them. In fact, God more or less says, ‘Where were you when I created the world?’

If Jesus is still involved in our lives when he doesn’t answer our prayers for the fulfilment of our dreams, then what is our response? In one respect, our response is simple, but probably not what we want to do. We simply hang on to him in the disappointment.

That can be tough. But if it is, then remember these things. When we are screaming at God for not bringing to pass the things we have cherished in our hearts, we are not complaining from a position of unbelief. Rather, we are like the child beating their fists against their father’s chest, all the while being held in his arms. God is still holding us in our pain. He may not be answering us for reasons that are inscrutable to us, but he is still holding us.

And moreover this: when God is holding us, his grip on us is stronger than our grip on him. When our world has fallen apart, we may well feel like we cannot hang onto God. But he is stronger than us. As we cry out in our agony, he does not intend to let go of us. He wants to hold us close to him, even if that does mean we punch him in the chest. Remember how many of the Psalms are written by people calling out to God when life is dark. Like Jesus using Psalm 22 on the cross, saying, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’, we have that sense of abandonment but we can still call the Lord ‘my God’.

And this links with the second thing I would like to say from the passage: the faith we exercise is faith in Jesus. I know, I know: this is another of those times when I say the obvious in a sermon. But that’s what happens for Mary and Martha: when Jesus finally arrives in Bethany, called by someGod’s favourite place on earth’, he hears them both say, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ (verses 21, 32).

But there is a difference in their responses. Mary, who is held up as the paragon of faith in Luke’s Gospel for sitting at Jesus’ feet and learning from him, is not the faith-filled one here. Martha, whom Luke depicts as distracted and frantic, is the one who shows glimmers of faith in this story.  Mary doesn’t say any more – although we should note that Jesus is not judgemental about this, he is moved by her tears (verse 33).

But Martha does. Listen again to her exchange with Jesus:

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.”

She still believes Jesus can do something for her. Her faith is still at one level that of a typical devout Jew, believing that the resurrection of the dead will happen ‘on the last day’. You know and I know that her faith is about to be elasticated, but there is basic faith in God and in Jesus going on here.

And sometimes that’s all we need. That is the raw material God uses to make something beautiful that we had never imagined.

Rolf Harris

Rolf Harris by Nico Hogg on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

It all puts me in mind of Rolf Harris. It may be contentious to mention him now, given the criminal charges he is facing, but his many talents were a large part of my childhood. An LP of his greatest hits was the first record I bought with my own money (actually a Sunday School prize), and we always watched his television shows. I am sure you recall his catchphrase when he was painting something: ‘Can you guess what it is yet?’ What looked like a few random brush strokes was the beginning of a work of art.

When our dreams are broken, the only faith we may be able to offer Jesus might be just a few random brush strokes, just some basic faith. But God too is able to work with that and create something beautiful.

And that leads on to the third and final strand of what I want to say this morning. Jesus can transform our broken dreams. Mary and Martha wanted their brother Lazarus healed. It didn’t happen. When he died, Martha could still at least believe God would answer Jesus, and that her brother would be raised at the last day. But what Jesus actually did was far more than they could ever have imagined. He goes to the tomb, has the stone rolled away, defies the retching stench, and says, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ (verse 43) He has promised Martha she will see the glory of God (verse 40), and in this miraculous sign she does. He told her he was the Resurrection and the life (verse 25), and now she knows he is.

But the thing about resurrection is that it comes after a death. For Jesus himself to be the resurrection and the life will have to follow his crucifixion.

Yet this does at least mean that if our dreams have died, then the stage is set for new life. Death is not the end for us. It is the end of one act and the curtain closes, preparing us for the next.

Sheridan and Merryn Voysey never did get to have children. And their ‘resurrection’ involved not only the death of that dream, but the burial of Sheridan’s radio career in Australia. They came to the UK, where Merryn was offered a job at Oxford University, and new opportunities began to present themselves to Sheridan in writing and speaking – but not yet in radio again, I believe.

In my own life, I could think about some of the dreams I had for ministry when I set out that have never been fulfilled. Ordination has never opened up doors to the new vistas I hoped it would. Early in my ministry, I was a seminar speaker at two big Christian conferences, but that side of my calling has never taken off. Sometimes ministry has been less about my dreams and more about my nightmares. But at the same time, I have found myself doing other things that I never imagined I would. Things that I never thought would bring me contentment and fulfilment do indeed bring those blessings.

So I want to encourage you this morning if you have broken dreams in your life. Consider today an invitation – an invitation to bring those broken dreams to the altar of God. Remember that an altar is a place where living things are placed in order to be sacrificed. I dare to invite you to lay down your dreams to die, to place what questioning faith you have in Jesus, and enter into your grieving.

But wait for God to bring new life from the tomb. It is what he promises, and it is what he does. You may be tempted by the thought that laying down your unfulfilled dreams on the altar will lead only to a future filled with regret, but we believe in the God who makes dry bones live, the God who brings life out of a cave used as a tomb.

In short, we believe in a God whose Son said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

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About Dave Faulkner

I'm a British Methodist minister, married with two children. I blog from a moderate evangelical-missional-charismatic perspective, with an interest in the 'missional' approach. My interests include Web 2.0, digital photography, contemporary music and watching football (Tottenham Hotspur) and cricket.

Posted on April 6, 2014, in Sermons and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. “Remember that an altar is a place where living things are placed in order to be sacrificed”
    Never thought of ‘altar’ that way … one to ponder, TY!

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  2. Score 10 for the lectionary? We also had Lazarus in play today (6/4) along with Ezekiel’s dry bones. The similar conclusion about waiting came as a bit of a surprise/non-sequitur.

    What I had picked up on was the imperative to prophesy – to command the bones to get a shift on, infused with wind from every direction. Also, with Lazarus, a call to others to ignore the possible smell and shift the barrier, and to Lazarus himself to come out. High on action, low on contemplative musing, and an army raised. Perhaps a coincidence that our failing (as in aging and diminishing) congregation meets in a building where there is clearly something wrong with the drains, so we do at least get to ignore the smell!

    Contentment is admirable and often hard-earned, but surely Methodism in general needs a more ruthless(?) determination to get a shift on, preferably before the last 100 years’ of atrophy extends and becomes irreversible.

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    • Yes, there is indeed a great urgency ‘to get a shift on’ in Methodism, and if you read many of my sermons you’ll find numerous references to mission and its priority. There are usually several angles you can take with a Bible passage, and in the past I have referenced some of the ‘Get rid of the graveclothes’ imagery in John 11, but I simply have to say that a pastoral application is the direction in which I felt led this time.

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      • Sermons at their best provoke some constructive thought and pick up on local concerns. One concern is indeed to encourage patience and good listening especially in the face of broken dreams. In that context you will find I never congratulate someone on a birth without asking after mother and child first. Unfortunately joy is not always quite the best response!

        At present I am more engaged with the growing need for action and the lack of any obvious first step or process.

        If perhaps you had your old seminar hat on, I wonder what would the agenda, speaker list, content and delegate list look like if the theme was about “getting a shift on”? Could such an event offer the main components of a sensible “method”, to be applied locally with positive intent and a fair chance of a good outcome? Or is that just a dream waiting for its destructive testing? [ Perhaps http://www.emberstoaflame.org helps]

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        • You ask some big questions in your final paragraph! I don’t know about the emberstoaflame.org site – looks too American Reformed for British Methodism. Some names for the hypothetical conference: some leading missional thinkers and praactitioners such as Mike Frost and Alan Hirsch; someone who combines missional approaches with the power of the Spirit such as Mike Breen; people with proven experience of church growth and evangelism in British Methodism such as Steve Wild and David Flavell; plenty more, I’m sure, but those are some gut responses. I don’t think I have time to construct the entire programme at present, though!

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          • ;-)))

            If you don’t ask……….and thanks for the signposts. all good and some look quickly applicable to the immediate journey.

            I’m hoping to see my District Supt soon on a parallel tack but it is quite speculative and probably not a runner in the short term.

            The Embers conference was planned to come to UK (Ballymena and Wales) last year until it got disrupted by Dr Reeder’s illness – but it appeals to my background Presbyterianism.

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  3. Marilyn Scott

    Just did a Disciple group about Prayer.(The first I have prepared) one question was Unaswered Prayer.. It is Difficult in all circumstances .We just have to Trust and know he suffered for us. if Life was all without Problems would we still acknowledge GOD. Or say everything is fine we do not need Pray,give thanks etc.We went through Fostering as we could not have Children. It became painfull at Baptisms. Two Years after our Foster Daughters Birth Mother tried to get her back without success . Our past Sunday School decided she was too disruptive (she wasn’t) and not too bring her till she was 3! She became a Christian and is now 33.Not going to Church at the moment..We also know of 2 Ministers who have a Wife with MS and a Minister with Motor Neuron.

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  1. Pingback: Sermon: Jesus Will Disappoint You (Palm Sunday) | Big Circumstance

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