“Love That Unties” – 04.06.2014 Sermon

John 11:1-42 • April 6, 2014

Click here to view a video recording of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

So…how is your walk as a child God going this Lent? As we fly quickly through the half-way point in this holy season of Lent, how’s it going? If you decided to fast from something this year in Lent, how’s that going? Are you still maintaining that discipline, or has it long been forgotten like a New Year’s resolution? If you decided to add something this year in Lent, like time in prayer or reading of scripture or service to others, how’s that going? Are you still maintaining that discipline, or have you just been too busy to keep it going for a full six weeks? Or, are you looking at me and thinking, “Lent? What in the world is that crazy pastor talking about now? Lint? What in the world does that mean? What does dryer lint have to do with God or worship?”

There are about two weeks left in Lent. And I will continue to argue that I believe Lent is the most holy time of the year for followers of Jesus. If there is no cross. If there is no resurrection. Nothing that we do or claim to be as Christians makes any sense at all.

In our gospel reading today, we are about two miles outside of Jerusalem. And if we have learned anything in our life in Christ to this point in time, we know that Jerusalem is a fairly significant location in the story of Jesus, the savior of the world. Today’s gospel story of Lazarus being raised from the dead appears only in the gospel of Saint John. This is the last of seven signs, some call them miracles, that are in the gospel of John.

In the book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, theologian and pastor Eugene Peterson says that, “He [John] presents Jesus’ signs not to prove or parade Jesus as superior to or exempt from the creation, but to give us a look into the creation instead of just at it, to show us how Jesus who created all these things and holds them together still continues to work in this same stuff of creation.”

So what might a sign like the raising of man from the dead have to do with Jesus’ continuing work in creation and you and me today? As far as I can remember, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dead person being raised from the dead. And as far as I know, there’s not one of us in this room today who will escape death. What might this final sign in John’s gospel be saying to us as it takes on death directly? What might this story have to do with our own death? Or what if it actually might have something to do with our life?

The event of Lazarus being raised from the dead is not a magic show or Hollywood blockbuster movie script or storyline from a television news story. Pastor Peterson wants us to be careful in how we read the signs in John’s gospel. He says, “The signs are not human interest stories; they are God-revealing stories. God reveals himself in Jesus, but the revelation rarely conforms to our expectations.”

What are your expectations of Jesus as your savior? What are our expectations of Jesus in the congregation of Good Shepherd? What are our expectations of Jesus on the streets of Bismarck? What are our expectations of Jesus in the Christian church throughout this broken world?

I don’t know how you might be answering questions like that right now, but here’s what I’ve been struggling with this week as I’ve read and studied and prayed about our worship together today. Instead of focusing on our expectations, I think today’s gospel reading is challenging you and I who claim to be followers of the risen savior Jesus Christ to ask the question, “What are Jesus’ expectation of us?”

In our gospel reading today, at the conclusion of this seventh and final sign from Jesus in John’s gospel, Lazarus is raised from dead. But it is the community who has gathered on this day who actually unbind Lazarus and let him go. Or untie him as some translations of this text offer. Jesus’ expectation of the community who gather on this day, who love Lazarus, is to unbind him. To untie him so he can be free from the tomb of death.

What are Jesus’ expectations for you as a child of God? What are Jesus’ expectations for me as a child of God who is called to serve as a pastor? What are Jesus’ expectations for Good Shepherd Lutheran Church? What are Jesus’ expectations for the people on the streets of Bismarck?

The love that we receive in the life, death, and resurrection of our savior Jesus unbinds us from every death that has its grip on us. Unties us from every death that keeps us locked in darkness. And sets us free. Free, so that you and I can do the same for other brothers and sisters in Christ.

I want to conclude with something that I don’t do very often. I want to offer a poem. This one written by poet Andrew King called Love That Has No Limits.

Lord, if you had been here
when the cancer became untreatable,
when the clot travelled the artery,

when the mudslide left the mountain,
when the airplane met the sea,

when the heart ceased its drumming
and the tired marcher rested
from its long parade,

Lord, if you had been here
in the hospital room,
the bedroom,
the shopping mall,
the street,

if you had been here
when it happened
in the evening,
in the morning,
in the afternoon,

if you had been here
when it was too soon,
when it was too quick,
when it was too late,
when it took too long,

Lord, if you had been here
for our brother,
the loved one
who passed beyond our reach

would death have won?

But you have been here.
Here by the bedside,
by the roadside,
by the graveside,
by our side
in the confining caves of grief.

You are here
where tears remain wet
on hurt faces.
You are here
where hearts remain
shrouded by pain
you feel with us,
and for us as well.

You were there at
the grave of Lazarus,
irretrievably lost to
his family and friends,
but not lost to you;
gone beyond
their loving reach
but not yours.

You were there
and the stone
was removed from the tomb.
You were there
with your shout
and the air
held its breath.
You were there
and burial cloths were unbound
and lost Lazarus
opened his eyes
to the sun.

And you are here, Lord,
in the hospital room,
in the bedroom,
the shopping mall,
the street.
You are here
drying tears on hurt faces,
setting free the bound ones
from the shrouds of death,
leading us out
of whatever caves are confining us
and reminding us
that in you
death will not triumph:

your love
that has no limits
has won.


About Bishop Craig Schweitzer

The Rev. Craig Schweitzer, of Bismarck, was elected as bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod on July 17, 2020, in the first-ever digital Synod Assembly. A historic event, Schweitzer is the first bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to be elected in an online assembly. Bishop Craig Schweitzer began serving the Western North Dakota Synod-ELCA on September 1, 2020. He has always seen himself as an easy-going person who seeks to daily discover anew how God is present in his life and the world in which he lives and serves. Prior to service in the Office of Bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod, Bishop Craig served at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bismarck, ND as Music and Worship Minister (lay staff from 2002-2010), Associate Pastor (2010-2014), and Senior Pastor (2014-2020). Beyond his service in the church, he has an eclectic background that is a diverse collection of musical, educational, and business experiences ranging from live concert production and promotion to recording studios and live performance to music education. Throughout all of his professional and personal experiences, the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Rome have been a guiding light that has kept him grounded in whatever work God was calling him into – “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7) Bishop Craig is a graduate of the University of Mary in Bismarck with a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education and a Master of Science in Strategic Leadership. He also holds a certificate degree in Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, CA. He was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament on September 16, 2010. Outside of his life as Bishop, Bishop Craig enjoys reading, all music, a little golf, a cold beverage with friends, and intentional times of quiet. And, of course, spending time with his wife Wendy and their adult twin daughters Ilia and Taegan. View all posts by Bishop Craig Schweitzer

2 responses to ““Love That Unties” – 04.06.2014 Sermon

  • Andy King

    Pastor Craig, I want to thank you not only for sharing my poem in this sermon, but for sharing your excellent sermons with the world. I have enjoyed reading them and very much appreciate your blog. May God continue to bless you and your church.


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