Godly Weeping

“Godly Weeping”

John 11-35 Jesus wept, rain

John 11:1-45 (11:35-36) – March 29, 2020

Who has ever grieved for a loved one when that loved one has died? All of us can remember times when we grieved a close relative or a close friend. Such a common response. Whether outwardly or inwardly expressed, it is difficult to deal with mourning and grief.

When Lent started this February, not many people expected the corona virus to become so serious, so quickly. So many people becoming sick, hospitalized, and even dying. Imagine the helplessness of relatives, friends and other loved ones when someone so abruptly falls ill. Added to that, what do friends and loved ones do when they are not allowed to see patients in the hospital, in intensive care, even on a deathbed? It’s a difficult complication to grief.

For our Scripture reading today, we have the raising of Lazarus from John 11. The apostle takes us through a series of scenes. Jesus and His disciples arrive in Bethany after several days, and Lazarus has already died. Lazarus was a dear friend of Jesus, along with Lazarus’s sisters Martha and Mary. Several days before, the sisters urgently sent to Jesus, begging Him to come and heal their brother, Jesus’ friend. Then, Lazarus was dead, in the tomb. Mary and Martha were devastated, and their community gathered around them, to grieve with them.

What about dying, mourning and grief today? “When someone dies it is generally publicly acknowledged. Friends and family gather, life is celebrated, love is celebrated, the bereaved feel supported while their community gathers. Healing begins in time, and the lives of the ones that are living go forward still carrying the grief. Grief out of loss is validating, our society tells us that it is right and acceptable to experience anger, sadness, depression when a loved one dies.” [1]

We note specific mourning and grieving practices in the first century. The Gospels mention funerals and grieving several times when Jesus performs miracles. Like, for example, right here. Mary and Martha’s friends, acquaintances and community gather around, even four days after the burial of Lazarus. They come together to mourn with the sisters, and weep.

As I have been meditating on John 11 this week, I see that Jesus wept. He wept in company with Mary and Martha, He wept because He mourned Lazarus’ passing, and He was surrounded by people who were grieving. Added to that deep emotion was the anger from some who thought (or openly said), “This Jesus could have come back a couple of days ago, before Lazarus died! Jesus healed others…why couldn’t He heal His good friend?”

Anger, yes. Sadness, depression, hopelessness, even paralysis. All of these are expressions of grief. But, grief can come from many different things, many different losses.

Today, vast numbers of people are grieving. “Disenfranchised grief comes when we experience loss that is not associated with a death. Many in our community are grieving the distance between family and friends and sometimes that distance is as much as a house or a few blocks away. Disenfranchised loss comes when our loss we are experiencing is not validated by our community, when it is not publicly acknowledged. Grief many are experiencing in light of COVID 19 can easily be dismissed because we have all had to give up the running of our daily lives, in whatever capacity that involves.” [2]

Jesus truly, deeply grieved with Martha and Mary. Reading along, we see that He wept. Those around Him said, “See, how much the Rabbi Jesus loved Lazarus!”

When I was a hospital chaplain for almost ten years, I worked nights and weekends. I would be called to emergencies in intensive care, cardiac care, end-of-life care, and thrust into heartrending situations where I scrambled to be present with grieving people. I needed to come alongside of traumatized loved ones at the absolute worst times of their lives. It is a humbling, devastating experience. But, I never had to be a hospital chaplain in the face of a pandemic.

Do we remember that Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” before He wept with Martha?

He goes on to say, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” Martha makes that great statement of belief, “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” Even at the grave of her newly dead brother, Martha makes that ringing statement of trust. Even in the face of desperate losses from loss of a job, or loss of a spouse, loss from a disaster, or loss of a sense of home and of place—can we echo her words today?

But, this is not the end of the story. After Jesus weeps with the sisters, sharing their grief, He performs another mighty miracle. Jesus tells Lazarus to come forth, out of the tomb, and Lazarus does exactly that. Alive!

Jesus conquered grief, mourning and loss. Both here in John 11, with the raising of Lazarus, and in the Resurrection, when Jesus triumphed over death once and for all. Praise God, we can believe Jesus. Praise God, we can trust in Jesus, and although we may weep and grieve for the present time, our weeping will ultimately turn to joy. Amen.

[1] Jess Swance, meditation on “Disenfranchised Grief in Our Communities” (personal article)

[2] Ibid.

(I would like to thank Jess Swance. For this sermon, I have used several quotes and ideas from a personal, unpublished meditation she wrote. I appreciate you, Jess!)


(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Jesus Wept, Too

John 11:1-44 (11:35) – April 2, 2017

John 11-35 Jesus wept, bible

“Jesus Wept, Too”

In hospitals and care centers throughout the country, chaplains are called to the bedsides of dying patients. The families of patients are grief-stricken, and need comfort, and spiritual and emotional care. Imagine the loved ones of the patient, recently deceased, rushing to the hospital from some distance to be with their loved one, one last time. Alas, the deceased patient has, sadly, already been moved from the room.

When I worked as a chaplain, from time to time this would happen. Can you imagine such a sad visit to the hospital? I would walk with the few relatives down to the morgue in the basement of the hospital with the nursing supervisor and we would bring them to see their loved one. Always—always the loved ones would be deeply moved. Sometimes with tears, sometimes with emotion. Their relative had died. I witnessed such raw feelings of deep grief, heartbreak, sometimes anger, and even despair—just as in our reading today from the Gospel of John.

Our Gospel reading today comes from John, chapter 11. I will read most of the chapter. This is about our Lord Jesus in the town of Bethany. I’ll let John fill us in on the details.

11 1-3 A man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the brother of Mary and her sister Martha. This was the same Mary who massaged the Lord’s feet with aromatic oils and then wiped them with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Master, the one you love so very much is sick.”

When Jesus got the message, he said, “This sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son.”

From what John says here, we can see how much Jesus cares for Lazarus and Mary and Martha. We may wonder at the cryptic response Jesus gives in response to the urgent message from the sisters, almost an SOS for help. Jesus healed others, Certainly He will heal our brother!

“After two days, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” They said, “Rabbi, you can’t do that. The Jews are out to kill you, and you’re going back?”

9-10 Jesus replied, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. I’m going to wake him up.” Jesus was talking about death, while his disciples thought he was talking about taking a nap. 14-15 Then Jesus became explicit: “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him.”

This is a complication, to be sure! Bethany is just down the road from Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders were already threatening to kill Rabbi Jesus, and He proposes to walk right into their backyard? Moreover, Jesus knows that His friend Lazarus is dead. But, He goes anyway. And, His disciples go with Him.

17-20 When Jesus finally got there, he found Lazarus already four days dead. Bethany was near Jerusalem, only a couple of miles away, and many of their friends were visiting Martha and Mary. Martha heard Jesus was coming and went out to meet him. Mary remained in the house.

21-22 Martha said, “Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you.” 23 Jesus said, “Your brother will be raised up.” 24 Martha replied, “I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.”

25-26 “You don’t have to wait for the End. Right now, I am Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world.”

We see more of this family, and more of their grief. Many of the sisters’ friends and acquaintances are mourning with them at their home. Mary remains in the house while Martha goes out to see her friend Jesus. Martha makes the heartfelt statement that Lazarus will be raised at the end of time. And, Jesus follows that with one of the most striking “I am” statements from the Gospel of John here! I am Resurrection and Life! Jesus not only has power over the present time, but He has power over the future, as well. Martha’s response? It is in the formal language of a confession of faith. In the midst of her grief, she affirms—she confesses—that Jesus is, indeed, Messiah, the Son of God.

28  She went to her sister Mary and whispered in her ear, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.” 29-32 The moment Mary heard that, she jumped up and ran out to him. Mary came to where Jesus was waiting and fell at his feet, saying, “Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33-34 When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, he was troubled and a deep anger welled up within him. He said, “Where did you all put him?” 34-35 “Master, come and see,” they said. Now Jesus wept.

Some people think Jesus is God. Only God. Not human at all. Yet, we can clearly see here that Jesus had emotions. He was troubled and deeply angry. He was sorrowful and He wept. These are deep feelings, and almost everyone has experienced them sometime in life. Jesus experienced them, too. Yes, He was fully God, and yes, He was fully human, like each of us, all of us. Jesus wept, too. He felt the loss of His friend’s death deeply, and mourned.

36 The Jews said, “Look how deeply he loved him.” 37 Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.” 38-39 Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!”

40 Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41-42 Then, to the others, “Go ahead, take away the stone.” They removed the stone. Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, “Father, I’m grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me.”

Everyone dies. Yes, it is incredibly sad. As soon as a baby is born into the world, we all know for certain that that baby will die. Yes, sometimes we say “She died too soon.” Or, “Died in his prime. What a shame!” Yet, death happens to everyone, with no exceptions. As a Rabbi acquaintance of mine said several years ago, “We all have an expiration date.” It just depends on whether it is sooner or later in our lives. Each of us must come to terms with our mortality. [1]

43-44 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him loose.” 45-48 That was a turnaround for many of the Jews who were with Mary. They saw what Jesus did, and believed in him.

            God can come alongside of all of us, whether we are grieving the death of a loved one, the shock of a sudden medical diagnosis, or the loss of a needed job. Jesus weeps with us as we go through all of these experiences. He walks with us through the valley of the shadow.

But, that is not all—oh, no! We see from today’s bible reading that Jesus is much more than just a companion in time of need. John tells us that Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead. How can that be? How can it be that Jesus brought back to life a man who was dead?” [2] We can affirm that Jesus is not only Lord of creation, but also Life-giver of the living. Not only in the first century, but also today.


How this resurrection can possibly happen is not to be understood with our minds. But we can understand it by faith, with our hearts. Because it is by faith that you and I, like Martha, confess that Jesus is uniquely connected to God. It is by faith that we, like Martha, confess that Jesus is Messiah, the Christ, God incarnate. [3]

This is another blessed aspect of our Gospel message. As I say each Sunday after our confession of sins, “Believe the Good News of the Gospel!” Jesus tells us all today, “Believe My Good News!” Just as Jesus had the power to raise Lazarus, so He will raise us all. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. By faith we believe, praise God. Amen.


(The Gospel reading is from the modern translation The Message, by Eugene Peterson. With gratitude, I appreciate Rev. Peterson’s translation and use his words in my sermon today.)

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/fifth-sunday-in-lent7#preaching

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.


(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Extravagant Love

“Extravagant Love”

John 12-3 Marys_Anointing_of_Jesus_

March 13, 2016 – John 12:3

How do we express our love towards each other? What way is the best way? Do different people express love in different ways?

A Christian counselor and popular author, Dr. Gary Chapman, has a best-selling book and series of videos and in-depth studies on how to express love in the way that your loved one understands the best. Each individual has a slightly different view on how to best communicate love to another person. These different ways fall into several basic categories, such as: through physical touch, acts of service, words of kindness and affirmation, spending quality time with one another, or through gifts.

As we consider our Gospel reading from John 12 today, verse 1 paints a backdrop for our action. Jesus pays a kind visit to His good friends at Bethany, a town quite near to Jerusalem. The time is six days before the Passover. And, Jesus stayed at the house of His friend Lazarus, whom He had just raised from the dead.

Martha, Lazarus’s sister, puts on a special dinner. You had better believe that all three siblings were extremely grateful to Jesus for what He had recently done!

In today’s reading, we have three actors in this scene in Bethany. First, Jesus, the guest of honor at the festive occasion. Second, Mary, the sister of Martha, the one giving the special dinner. And third, Judas, one of Jesus’s disciples.

Both Martha and Mary express their love to Jesus. Martha, through the special dinner she hosts. Remember what John writes in his Gospel? “Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him.” But, Mary? Mary goes over and above anything loving and thankful Martha could have done in the kitchen and with the food. The reading today tells exactly what Mary did: “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet.”

Before we consider the extravagant love Mary showed to Jesus, let’s talk about the perfume Mary had. The Gospel calls it “pure nard, an expensive perfume.” This perfume is not just expensive, say, $100, maybe $200, for a tiny little bottle. No. This perfume is astronomically expensive. Unbelievably costly.

Nard comes from the high pasture lands of the Himalayas. It was extremely difficult to manufacture, and traveled a long way over the Silk Road across central Asia to Palestine. At that time, nard cost up to as much as a laborer would earn in a year. I suspect Mary intended this gift as a token of her extravagant love for Jesus. We know Jesus had given real expressions of His love to her and her family, in the raising of Lazarus.

Can you believe, spending a whole year’s wages on a small bottle of perfume? As I said, astronomically expensive. Do you begin to understand why I called Mary’s expression a gift of extravagant love?

Jesus knows exactly what Mary is doing. He sits there calmly, receives the extravagant gift of extravagant love. I suspect He talked softly with Mary while she was anointing His feet, too. John’s Gospel says “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

Just a short number of days before, the house of Martha and Mary was filled with the stench of death. Deep grief, weeping, and wailing. Lazarus had died. Yet, Jesus had raised their beloved brother back to life, and now the house was filled with the scent of pure nard. An unbelievably expensive aroma, a scent of richness and beauty.

Enter the third actor in this scene, the disciple Judas. Judas shames Mary for such expense. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” It’s true. That expensive perfume could have fed countless mouths, could have funded several missionaries, could have clothed many needy families.

Ah, but the reader sees which one practices poor stewardship. The one who talked out of both sides of his mouth; the one who secretly was a thief; the one who used to steal from the community fund which was held by Judas in common for all the disciples. So, not only was Judas making off with the group’s money, but he held up “the poor.” He used them as an outright shaming device! Imagine, shaming a loving woman for doing what she felt needed to be done: to love Jesus, extravagantly.

Let me tell you a story.

“Several years ago, the Seattle Art Museum hosted photographer Annie Leibovitz’s “Women” exhibit. … One black & white photo had an almost magnetic power to draw in the passersby. It was a serene photo of an aging African-American woman – her head slightly tilted, her soft eyes and smile welcoming. She was Oseola McCarty, an 87-year-old washerwoman from Mississippi who gave the bulk ($150,000) of her life-savings to ensure that African-American students would have the college education that she couldn’t.”

“Leaving school in the sixth grade to take care of her ailing aunt, Ms. McCarty spent the next 75 years washing other people’s clothes and saving every dime she earned. Towards the end of her life she commented, ‘You can’t do nothing nowadays without an education. I don’t regret one penny I gave. I just wish I had more to give.’ She couldn’t understand others’ amazement at her ability to save so much from her meager earnings or her willingness to give it all away. “It wasn’t hard,” she said simply, ‘I didn’t buy things I didn’t need… The Lord helped me . . . It’s an honor to be blessed like that.’”

“Many have questioned the “hows” and “whys” behind Ms. McCarty’s extravagance towards complete strangers. The fact of the matter is: she saw her ability to engage in such extravagance as complete blessing – an outpouring of gratitude for the life of “enough” that God had given her. Her extravagance mirrors Mary’s extravagant gift of anointing (in this week’s Gospel reading) as well as gifts of grace from an extravagant God.” [1]

Finally, Jesus steps up to Mary’s defense. ““Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial.” He stops short of outright shaming Judas, but it’s like Jesus put His arm around Mary, faced Judas, and said, “Hey! Stop picking on my friend Mary! Leave her alone!”

We know that Jesus knew very well what He intended to do, in just a short time. Yes, He was attending a celebratory dinner, celebrating His good friend Lazarus being alive. But—His face was set toward Jerusalem. Palm Sunday was not far away. Moreover, Jesus realized what extravagant love Mary was showing towards Him.

I think Mary understood the warnings Jesus had been giving, about very soon entering Jerusalem. About the path He must travel—to the cross. Passover was coming! The Gospel tells us, only a week away. She is not only showing her extravagant love, but preparing Jesus for whatever it is that He will face—very soon.

            Those who love Christ truly love Him so much better than this world as to be willing to lay out the best they have for Him.

Do we love Jesus that much? Are we willing to lay down a year’s salary? Are we willing to do as much as Ms. Oseola McCarty? Are you and I willing to show such extravagant love? Jesus showed extravagant love to us. In the Passion Week. On the cross. Truly, extravagant love.

Let us pray.  Lord, help me to show a portion of such amazing, extravagant love to You, and to many others. Amen.


[1] Radical Gratitude, lectionary-based stewardship, Northwest United Methodist Foundation. http://www.nwumf.org/images/radical_gratitude/year_c/radical_gratitude_mar1907.pdf

I would also like to express my appreciation for Matthew Henry’s excellent Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume V (Matthew through John). http://www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc5.John.xiii.html From Matthew Henry’s Commentary. (I received a great deal of assistance with this sermon from this commentary.)


Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!