Apr 10

Trusting in Jesus even though you’re hurting—a sermon for the 5th Sunday of Lent

[note: this sermon was originally delivered to the Harlem Yoked Parish in Harlem, Montana on April 6th, 2014 by Chaplain Chris Haughee]

Text: John 11:1-27

Has anyone ever asked you, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Sometimes it is said in a flippant manner, meant to dismiss our concerns. Other times, the person asking truly wants us to gain a better perspective on our situation.

I wonder how Mary and Martha might have responded to this question? In today’s gospel lesson a few things are clear: Lazarus was very sick. Mary and Martha sent for Jesus. He didn’t come right away. Jesus knew how bad things were, but waited.

And, the worse thing that could happen, happened—Lazarus died! Mary and Martha were hurting. They had done everything right… in the midst of their need, they went to Jesus. And, Jesus failed them. That disappointment must have doubled their grief. And, like Mary and Martha, there are times when we will hurt the way Mary and Martha did.

At least, I know I have been there… at wits’ end wondering how God was going to bring me through the mess I was in. Disappointment in God may be the deepest hurt we can feel as his children. I have seen this kind of hurt in the faces of the parents that come to Intermountain. One particular couple stands out to me as I think about it.

They sat to the edge of the parent training session looking tired—tired emotionally, spiritually, and certainly physically. The frustration, despair, and anger at their struggle had frayed their last nerve and any sense of pretense. This was not a PTO or school fundraiser where parents huddle to brag on their kids and swap harmless parenting war-stories.

Each parent here knew that despite their differences, they all shared something in common. All other options and attempted remedies—hopes to repair the brokenness in their hearts and homes and their best efforts to connect with their children—had failed.

So, with an honesty borne out the longing and hurt of a parent that cares deeply for their child, these parents voiced every parent’s hope in times of trouble…

“I just want to know that my son is going to be okay. It can’t stay like this.”

Intermountain’s residential services proudly professes to be in the business of “restoring hope to children.” In that quest to help as many hurting children as they can, they are also able to restore hope to many parents that their children will, in fact, be okay. It may not be perfect, but it will be good enough.

Hoping in the midst of hurting can be a difficult task. Mary and Martha held on to hope even after their brother Lazarus had died. Hope holds on even after all seems hopeless. Even while we are hurting we can look to God for answers. It is helpful to remember that even in the midst of our personal disasters

1. The Lord has a plan in the midst of our hurts. (verses 1-5)

It is very clear that although Lazarus was sick, and that Jesus would not do what the family wanted (come right away), He loved them very much. Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his sisters appears to be in tension with their expectations of him.

This tension is why I have never been a great fan of the practice of “claiming Scripture promises” when in the midst of difficulties. Why?

Well, consider the variety of scripture promises we have to choose from! The same God who promises that he will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) also promises that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33). That each manifold blessing also comes with accompanying persecutions (Mark 10:29-30)! Any spiritual practice that relies heavily on one aspect of God’s Word but ignores all others might not be the healthiest for us.

Consider… what good would it have done Mary or Martha to come to Jesus and say, “Jesus—you said that you have come to bring life and bring it abundantly, so come here and heal our brother!?” There may be plenty of ways to interpret what “abundant life” really is, but it’s a lot clearer what it is not: Lazarus was deathly ill… his family sent for Jesus. They said their prayers. And Lazarus died. Whatever abundant life is, I am sure Mary and Martha would not have included death in the description. Nor would most of us, I imagine.

So, we live with this tension: God loves us but doesn’t always meet our expectations. We know God intends good for us, but our situations don’t always seem so “good.” Therefore, in the midst of our painful circumstance, we do well to remember that although the Lord does not always do what we want Him to do, He has a plan, and He loves His children very much. Even when we are hurting… precisely because we are hurting, God loves us and draws near to us. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (ESV).

That “drawing near” often takes time. It doesn’t come screaming in to the rescue with lights and sirens blaring. Though the Lord is certainly capable to coming quickly to our aid, more often than not there is cause for delay. While we wait on the Lord (Is 40:31), we need to remember…

2. God’s NO’s and NOT YET’s are BECAUSE he cares, not because he doesn’t love us! (verses 6-15)

Have you ever thought about what makes your most significant relationships so strong? What gives a marriage or a friendship resiliency? Well…

Perhaps you have never considered this… but it is the “No’s” and “Not yet’s” in each of your relationships that make them stronger. It is not affirmation, approval and acquiescence that makes a loving relationship strong, but the forging ahead with friendship and relationship in the midst of disagreement, delay, and disappointment that makes for a strong relationship.

Without the occasional “NO” the other person simply becomes an extension of yourself. It’s like the saying, “If two people agree about everything, one of them is unnecessary!” We KNOW this to be true, but how many of us really FEEL the weight of this reality when it comes to our relationship with God?

We live in a culture that places SO much emphasis on self-realization and personal fulfillment we think that anyone that doesn’t agree with us on every minor point… well, that person is clearly the enemy. Every frustration of our plans becomes a personal assault. In a country that exalts the values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” our individualism runs deep.

Like Martha and Mary, have you ever figured out what God should do in a situation and then been disappointed that God didn’t seem to get the memo? Clearly, God always wants us to be healthy, happy, rich and fulfilled. Maybe if we are feeling especially generous, we’ll give the Lord a little time to make good on our requests. We’ve read passages like this one in John 11, after all. We know that Jesus will come through in the end. He’s on our side, after all.

But, as if to burst our bubble and expose this idolatrous self-aggrandizement, Jesus says to us like he said to his disciples: “Lazarus? Oh no… he’s not sleeping. He’s dead. Don’t misunderstand. Come, we’ll go see how dead he is.” Ouch.


I know I have needed to hear Jesus say to me more than once: “Dead. Not sleeping. Dead. It’s dead, Chris. Your plans, your dreams, your ideas… dead. Whatever you thought this was going to be, this ‘arrangement’ you thought we had, think again. Let it die. Stop focusing on the corpse… there is no life there. Look instead to me.”

Then, as we are reeling from this, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life… everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this?” (verse 26).

3. When asked, “Do you believe?” remembering WHO we respond to affects HOW we respond. (Vs. 27)

“Yes, Lord,” Martha replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

Martha… who gets such a bad rap in the earlier story in which she is busy making dinner while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet… THIS Martha has learned one of the most profound lessons of our faith. Look again at the question Jesus asks and how Martha responds:

Jesus: Do you believe? (Implied in this question is the present situation… life out of death)

Martha: I believe in you, Jesus, and who you are. (Not what you can do for me!)

It is our relationship with God, not our circumstance, that is so important when life is hard and we are hurting. When struggling with her disappointment in Jesus in the midst of her pain, Martha went back to what she could be sure of: Jesus loved her, and he was in a position to express that love in powerful ways.

Before I conclude, I don’t want anyone here to get the wrong idea… there is SO much more to Intermountain than the Chaplain’s Program. Case workers, therapists, teachers, fundraisers, administration, cottage counselors… all of what Intermountain does is vital to the mission to bring healing and hope to children and their families. Furthermore, God has been working in the lives of these children and their families before they come to us and will continue to move in their lives after our care.

So, with that in mind… I ask, where does the importance of the Chaplain’s Program at Intermountain come?

I believe it comes because someone needs to stand with you in the midst of your pain, your hurt, and your mourning, when your world has crashed in… when the stone has not only been rolled into place, but has been there four days… when the decay and rot of dreams that have died has filled your nostrils and tears cloud your eyes.

Someone needs to be there in that moment and point not to their situation, making promises that everything will be alright… because sometimes it doesn’t get a whole lot better. No, someone needs to be there to point to Jesus and walk with you along the way.

I am guessing that everyone here knows the difference it makes having someone walk with you through your hurts. You know the difference it makes to have someone there, not to give the easy or trite answers to the deep soul-searching questions that come in the midst of hurt and pain, but instead to simply point to Jesus. Jesus is the one who weeps with us, identifies with our pain, and whose heart breaks for Intermountain’s children and their families. And, because Jesus loves each and every one of these children, his presence can be a powerful agent for good in their lives.

Let us pray…

“Jesus, you stand with us in the midst of our pain and hurt. You are the resurrection and the life, and in relationship to you not even death has the final say! So, in each of our troubles help us to hold fast to you. Thank you for sending others alongside us to walk through the difficulties we face. Use us, too, to be a comfort to others in their pain and grief. And, as we look forward to the celebration of Easter morning, remind us again of the joy that comes in your victory over the grave! Amen.”