March 29, 2020

Fifth Sunday in Lent


Year A, Revised Common Lectgionary

Raising of Lazarus, detail, Juan de Flandes, Prado Museum, between 1510 and 1518.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

“I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath Thus says the Lord GOD Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”

I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’

“Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

Romans 8:6-11

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.

So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”

After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”

The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring sleep.

Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to

Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.
Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?”

They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

Jesus began to weep.

So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is stench because he has been dead four days.”

Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.

Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Sermon

Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing about the coronavirus. I think we all are. That won’t make it go away, of course, nor should we ignore it. But there is a thin line between staying informed and driving ourselves to the edge of madness.

Before we were afraid to shake hands, hug, or get within half a block of anyone, there were other phrases we didn’t like to hear, either. Here are just a few.

  • “Where did you have it last?” If I knew that, I wouldn’t be looking for it.
  • “No offense, but…” Watch out! Here comes an insult!
  • “Like how they like always say like in like every single like sentence.” Annoying. Like. Really.
  • “I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but if I were you…” Thank you very much, Mr. or Ms. passive aggressive control freak.

There’s one other phrase that I think gets on all of our nerves as well. “I told you so.”

There are only a handful of people who can tell us “I told you so” and get away with it. Usually, it’s because of the circumstances when they say it.

If we’d been complaining about something that we thought was too good to be true but turned out to be true, we’re more than happy to be told, “I told you so.” It goes down a lot easier when things turn out so much better than we ever thought they could.

“Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you’d see the glory of God?” Jesus asked his friend Martha. Martha stands for us, wanting to believe yet doubting the incredibly good news Jesus came to proclaim. Let’s see how we got here.

The story begins with Mary and Martha sending word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was ill. Rather than heading out right away, Jesus waited—and not just a little while, but four days. In John’s Gospel, Jesus sticks to his own timetable. No one, not even his own mother back in chapter 2, can make him do anything until he’s ready, until it’s what Jesus sees as the right time, or “his hour.”

When Jesus finally did arrive, Mary let him have it—in a Christian sort of way. “Lord, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

Complaints are part of the life of faith. Read through the Psalms if you don’t believe me. Here’s just one example from Psalm 13. “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?”

As we find ourselves living in a science fiction movie, there’s nothing wrong with following Martha’s example. Do a bit of holy complaining. God can handle it. Just don’t let your complaints—or your fears–overpower your faith.

Martha didn’t. Even after all her holy venting, she added, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

Jesus answered with some of the most powerful verses in John’s Gospel.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

“Do you believe this?” Jesus asked Martha. She answered with her own powerful confession of faith.

“Yes, Lord, I believe that you’re the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

After that, what else could she say? Martha headed back to the house and fetched Mary. Here’s where things got interesting. Some folks at Mary and Martha’s home were there to mourn with them.

Others were there because they had nose trouble—surely not! The gapers and the hangers on followed Mary as she went to meet Jesus. He didn’t like it—at all.

Mary greets Jesus with the same words Martha used. “Lord, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” After that, she couldn’t say anything, and let her tears do the talking.

When Jesus saw this, the Greek verbs used to describe how he felt show someone getting mad—really mad. Jesus is mad, for one thing, at the power death has over his friend.

Even more, though, he’s mad that gawkers and gapers will see what’s about to happen as entertainment, not as a sign of God’s glory and power.

So…we’re back where we started. Jesus asks that some of the onlookers roll the stone away. Martha warned him of the stench that would surely follow, but Jesus insisted. Standing in front of the now open tomb, Jesus called Lazarus by name. The once dead man walked out of his tomb, still bound by the clothing of death but very much alive.

Did it really happen? All the gospels tell of Jesus raising someone from the dead. Still, sitting where we sit, there’s no way to prove the “facts” of John’s story. But that question leads to an even bigger one. Can we believe that God, acting through Jesus, has power over life and death?

When Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” he’s asking her to believe that not only he’s the resurrection and the life, but that, as the resurrection and the life, he defeats the power of death.

Martha said she believed—powerfully so—yet, as we saw, she later stumbled, as do we all. She tried to stop Jesus from opening Lazarus’ tomb, unable to believe in Jesus’ power to bring new life, standing as she was before her brother’s tomb with the stink of his dead body filling the air.

We stand with Martha. The stink not just of death, but of illness, fear, and even panic fills the air. Toilet paper, anyone? In this time of Corona and COVID, we need to confess Jesus as the resurrection and the life each and every moment of each and every day.

We live those moments, whether we dare admit it or not, in the face of death. Jesus is the resurrection and the life not just at times of crisis and loss, but all the time. He assures us that while the grip of death is real, it’s no match for the life-giving power of God.

 “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Do we? Dare we? Dare we live a life of faith when the news brims over with little else but the grim statistics of a deadly pandemic?

We stand, with Martha, at the mouth of that terrible tomb. Dare we roll the stone away, believing that the one who conquered death is with us even when the stench and power of death is greater than many of us can ever remember?

Our faith, our witness, and our ability to speak for life and resurrection power depend on how we answer that question.

Coping with COVID Weekly Bible Study and Congregational Update St. John United Church of Christ New Athens, Illinois
Week of March 30 Issue 2 of ??


A Look at the Lectionary…

The priest and prophet Ezekiel was a strange man whose words, actions, and visions are all bundled together in one of the strangest in the Bible. The context of today’s vision is important. The people of Judah had been exiled to Babylon (modern-day Iraq). The Babylonians killed the sons of the Judahites’ last king, Zedekiah, in front of him, then blinded him and led him off in bronze chains to Babylon. They destroyed the Temple along with much of Jerusalem. The exiles wondered if God had abandoned them. “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we’re cut off completely.” Just as God’s breath can transform a valley of dry, bleached bones into a “vast multitude,” Ezekiel proclaimed, so God would give life and renewed hope to a despairing nation. That theme of life and renewed hope is a shared theme in all of Sunday’s readings. Psalm 130 starts out on an individual level and then takes those personal concerns to a national scale, ending on a note of hope and confidence. The psalm joins individual and community, saying that the God who reaches out to individual sinners also redeems nations, that there is “forgiveness with [God], so that God may be revered.” The short passage from Romans echoes that same hope, though placing it in the perspective of our Christian faith. Earlier in Romans, Paul spoke of the struggle between faith and sin, pointing out that that struggle is ongoing, and lived out both in community and as well as individually. Like the psalmist, Paul realizes that redemption from the power of sin in the world has to come as a gracious gift God. God gives us that gift in Jesus Christ, and in continuing presence of the Holy Spirit, which is experienced individually in the form of our own gifts and calling but also dwells at the heart of the Christian community, as the plural “you” used at the end of today’s selection makes clear. Now we come to my favorite passage I “preached” on this last Sunday. The story of Jesus raising Lazarus is the story of Christ’s victory over more than just sin, but over the powers of death itself.

As we find ourselves living in what often seems like a science fiction movie, it’s okay to follow Martha’s example and do a bit of spiritual complaining. God can handle it. Just don’t let your complaints—or your fears–overpower your faith. Martha certainly didn’t. Even after all her holy venting to Jesus, she added, “Even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus answered with some of the most powerful verses in John’s Gospel. “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

“Do you believe this?” Jesus asked Martha. Martha said she believed—powerfully so—yet she later stumbled, trying to stop Jesus from opening Lazarus’ tomb. Martha couldn’t believe in Jesus’ power to bring new life while she stood face-to-face with what seemed death’s awful, final word. We share Judah’s exile, wondering if God can bring new life even to the dry, bleached bones of what once we called “normal.” We hear the psalmist’s call to “hope in the Lord,” as well as Paul’s promise that God can bring resurrection life and power into our stressful, sinful lives. Most powerfully and challenging of all, we stand, with Martha, at the mouth of that terrible tomb. Dare we roll the stone away, believing that the one who conquered death is with us even when the stench and power of death is greater than many of us can ever remember? Our faith, our witness, and our ability to speak for life and resurrection power depend on how we answer that question. As did Lazarus, let’s follow Christ’s voice and walk away from the death and despair so powerfully present around us just now, into the new life and hope that are God’s always and forever gift to God’s people.


Pastor Bob

Bob and Tarrah will co-host a 9 am Palm Sunday worship service on April 5 via Zoom. We’ll also have a Wednesday evening Lenten service this week at 7 pm. Watch for your Zoom invitation!

  • Watch for the on-line premiere of “Storytime with Pastor Bob” for our younger friends!
  • “I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but if I were you…” Thank you very much, Mr. or Ms. passive aggressive control freak.
  • Members are urged to continue with their contributions as best they’re able. A form for Vanco electronic giving was sent out with our initial COVID mailing. Members can also download the GivePlus app on both Android and Apple devices, and enable electronic giving in that way.
  • We’re planning to offer virtual communion on Easter Sunday at a 9 am service using prefilled communion cups that contain both grape juice and a wafer. Please stop by the church office to pick up your cup(s), or call to arrange delivery.
  • Please feel free to call or text Pastor Bob’s cell phone at (618) 402-8013 if you’d like to talk. The church office will continue to be open—though, like anything else these days, the schedule is subject to change.
  • Feel free to stop by, but call before you visit just to be sure someone is here (475-2947).

For effective communication to continue in this challenging time, it’s crucial that up to date cell phone numbers and email addresses be on file in the church office. If you wish, just email your name and cell number to the church office at stjuccdesknail@att.net or to Pastor Bob at stjohnucc@att.net.



Waylon Albert McDonald was born at 7:14 pm on March 19, weighing in at 8 lbs 9 oz. In these COVID socially distant times, Grandma Evonne Albert asks that folks send new parents Sadie and Andrew a card at: Sadie & Andrew McDonald 1011 N Keebler Ave. Collinsville, IL 62234







  • Jamie, Ryan, and Reed Kinzinger welcomed their new son/brother this week, too. Rhen Randall Kinzinger came into the world March 30 at 5:20 pm weighing 8 lb 13 oz, and was 21” long. Everyone is doing great! You can send the family congrats at: Ryan and Jamie Kinzinger 7755 Five Forks Road New Athens, IL 62264
  • Gene Whaley is continuing with his chemotherapy.
  • Vickie Luter is ill with respiratory problems at the New Athens Home for the Aged. Please pray for her, her husband Jerry, as well as for all the other residents at the Home and their families, now separated by COVID visitor policies meant to keep everyone safe.
  • We have several nurses and health care workers in our congregation. They ask your prayers for them as well as for all those putting themselves on the front lines of the pandemic to keep others healthy and safe.
  • Please pray for Don and Melinda Milligan as Don deals with some health concerns.
  • As always, pray for everyone dealing with this scary, stressful time!

To share your prayer concerns and joys in this space, call the church office, text or call Pastor Bob at (618) 402-8013, or email him at stjohnucc@att.net.
Tom May will also continue to run our Prayer Partners ministry. Email him at samtum@att.net.

Known prayer concerns and shared joys at this time: Lori Werle requests prayers for her son Ronnie, recently diagnosed with leukemia and now starting treatments. Lori asks those wanting to show their support to please send him a card, since he’s unable to receive visitors because of COVID restrictions. Ronnie Werle 3635 Vista Ave C/O Ronald Werle II Rm 819 North St Louis Mo 63110

Because We All Could Use a Laugh…

A minister, a priest and a rabbi went for a hike one day. It was very hot. They were sweating and exhausted when they came upon a small lake. Since it was fairly secluded, they took off all their clothes and jumped in the water. Feeling refreshed, the trio decided to pick a few berries while enjoying their “freedom.” As they were crossing an open area, who should come along but a group of ladies from town. Unable to get to their clothes in time, the minister and the priest covered their privates and the rabbi covered his face while they ran for cover. After the ladies had left and the men got their clothes back on, the minister and the priest asked the rabbi why he covered his face rather than his privates. The rabbi replied, “I don’t know about you, but in MY congregation, it’s my face they would recognize.”


A bored young man decided life would be more fun if he had a pet. So he went to the pet store and told the owner that he wanted to buy an unusual pet. After some discussion, he finally bought a talking centipede, which came in a little white box to use for his house.

He took the box back home, found a good spot for the box, and decided he would start off by taking his new pet to church with him. So he asked the centipede in the box, “Would you like to go to church with me today?” There was no answer from his new pet.

This bothered him a bit, but he waited a few minutes and then asked again, “How about going to church with me and meeting my friends?” But again, there was no answer from his new friend and pet. So he waited a few minutes more, thinking about the situation.

The guy decided to invite the centipede one last time. This time he put his face up against the centipede’s house and shouted, “Hey, in there! Would you like to go to church with me and learn about Jesus?” This time, a little voice came out of the box, “I heard you the first time! I’m putting on my shoes!”


A poor minister was having trouble managing his church. The income was pitiful, the plumbing rattled, the roof leaked, the air conditioning didn’t work, and the church didn’t have the funds for any repairs. Then the pastor had an idea. He bought a book about hypnosis, and read it from cover to cover. At the next service, he took out a watch and chain, swung it back and forth, and lulled the congregation into a hypnotic trance. He said, “I want everybody to walk down the aisle and put $100 in the plate.” They did, and he had the church’s roof fixed that week. This worked so well that the next Sunday he decided to do it again. Taking his watch out, he proclaimed, “I want everybody to come down the aisle and drop $200 in the offering plate.”They did, and he got the air conditioning fixed and the parking lot redone. His third Sunday, he got to thinking, “My family and barely make ends meet. I need a raise.” He started swinging his watch again, and thought, “I deserve a really BIG raise, enough to travel and build a summer home in the mountains.” The more he thought, the bigger his dreams grew, and the bigger his dreams grew, the more excited he got, and the more excited he got, the more his hands sweat. In fact, they sweat so much that he dropped the watch. As it slipped out of his hand, he yelled, “O shoot!” (Except he didn’t say “Shoot!”) It took two weeks to air out the church.

For you Stooge fans, here’s their classic “Men In Black.”



Stay safe and stay well!

Bob