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10.23.16 Living Day to Day John 11:1-16, 20 Sermon Outline

by on October 24, 2016

There are many ways to live day to day as a Christian, for each life is unique in its faithful response to God’s calling. John’s story about the raising of Lazarus depicts a number of options.

Summary Points

  • Characters with whom we identify in John 11
  • How giving gifts is a giving of our lives
  • Walking with Jesus, and really walking with Jesus
  • “The Dash” that represents our lives
  • Living day by day to make our dash count for eternity

One of the ways stories teach us is through their characters. Stories introduce us to folks and we say, “I can identify with them.” This is true for parables, and it’s true for John 11.

Thomas always stands out to me, and it’s not just because we share a name and a zodiac sign (we’re both Geminis, the sign of which is the twin). I identify with Thomas because I often think like he did.

For Thomas, it’s always a little cloudy outside.

Jesus was determined to return to Judea where they had tried to stone him earlier. Thomas’ response? “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Never mind that Jesus has just assured his disciples that they walk in the light when they walk with Jesus. And more: Jesus promises they will see something that will increase their faith.

This actually is what it means to be a Disciple, another character in the narrative. Disciples walk with Jesus. They learn from Jesus how to see like Jesus sees. Disciples come to view life in the light of Jesus.

But everything appears as darkness to Thomas. He only sees death.

Then there’s Martha. She’s always quick to get things going. Once when Jesus popped in for visit, she immediately started cleaning up and preparing a meal. In this narrative, once she hears that Jesus has arrived, she immediately goes out to meet him.

Contrast that with her sister Mary. Mary is the head and heart disciple. When Jesus popped in, she sat at his feet and listened. In this narrative, she remains deep in introspection.

But John doesn’t want us to forget that later Mary did act. She anointed Jesus feet for burial with expensive perfume and dried his feet with her hair. To others this seemed like a rash act, but in fact it was founded on previous times of contemplation.

Mary understood sooner than anyone else that Jesus was going to die in Jerusalem. He wouldn’t die on this trip, like Thomas predicted, but soon afterward. So she took expensive perfume and anointed him.

That perfume represented Mary’s life, for it represented her effort and her time. When a denominational committee on which I serve meets, the chair always reminds us of “Mrs. Henderson’s apple pie.” When he was a pastor, his congregation held a fundraiser in which Mrs. Henderson baked and sold apple pies. He felt a special responsibility regarding the funds raised by Mrs. Henderson’s pies. He is urging us to be mindful of all the Mrs. Hendersons whose donations pay for our meeting. Mary’s expensive perfume is Mrs. Henderson’s apple pie. It represents her life.

In her contemplation, Mary discovered that Jesus was worthy of her life. While others walked along with Jesus, somewhat unconsciously, Mary listened and followed him. She followed him even to death where, just like Jesus promised, she found something worthy of her most treasured possessions—the perfume, but more, her very self.

The introductory lines of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden are well known: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. . .”

How that paragraph ends is quite a shocker, especially for Presbyterians: “For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to ‘glorify God and enjoy him forever.’” That’s a quotation from the Westminster Shorter Catechism—the cornerstone of American Presbyterianism.

Thoreau is wearied by his contemporaries who walk unconsciously with Jesus. They say, “OK. The church says it. I believe it. Let’s go on our way.” Thoreau wanted more. So did Mary. They wanted their lives to really count for something.

On a tombstone there are two dates: The year of one’s birth and the year of one’s death. Between the birth year and the death year is a two-inch dash. This is all that remains of our lifespan in history. Mary oriented her life around Jesus. She made her “dash” count.

Read this famous poem about “The Dash.” It helps to put things in perspective. Mary contemplated how to fill her dash. Martha started filling her dash right away. The Disciples walked with Jesus to learn how to fill their dashes. Thomas, as it turns out, spoke the truth about the matter. Jesus said, “If anyone wants to save his life, he must lose it first.” And Thomas said, “Let us also go with him, that we may die with him.” He was more right than he knew.

Living day by day as a Christian means walking step by step with Jesus. It means discerning what walking “during the daylight” means for us personally. Sometimes it requires contemplation. Sometimes it means action. Always it includes giving our lives in order to find them.

One of the ministries of the church is to identify ways we can fill the dash to God’s pleasure. One ministry calls us to financial stewardship, which is just a subset of the stewardship of our lives. Deliberating how to contribute to the worship and ministry of Jesus—as Mary did with the expensive perfume—crystalizes God’s call to us to offer our very selves to God.

Other ministries entail serving the community and the world. And within the church there are always needs which, when we satisfy them, fill our dash to God’s delight. The ordination liturgy for the Presbyterian Church (USA) includes this question: “Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?” One doesn’t have to be ordained to answer that question. And those who answer yes will fill the dash with Jesus.

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