Rev. Matthew Zickler’s Sermon for April 2, 2017

April 2, 2017
John 11:17-53

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  This morning we meditate upon the Gospel Lesson and the Resurrection of the Body.

It’s interesting that we had the Fifth Commandment on Wednesday night and today we have the readings that we have.  I say that because there is something that we can draw from both of the Commandment and this morning’s readings, something I said a fair amount on Wednesday: God cares about the body.  In that commandment, we saw it, “You shall not murder; we should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical [that is, every bodily] need.”  God gave us this commandment because He cares about that body of our neighbor.  Likewise, He cares about your body.

Now part of the reason I make such a point of this is because in our day the soul is emphasized over and against the body.  For example, I remember a couple of years ago, when I preached on the Resurrection of the Body from the Creed, I mentioned seeing a post going around on Facebook with a quote that said, “You do not have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body.”  But we see that’s there more to it than that: we see it in in the commandment and in today’s readings too.  We see that we are more than just a “spiritual” soul.  In fact, we should be careful how we understand that word “spiritual.”  Often when we think of that which is spiritual, we think of those things that pertain to only that which is invisible and not physical.  But what does Scripture say?

Well look at the Epistle lesson.  Look at what Paul says there: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”  Do you see the opposition there?  The opposition isn’t between the material body and the Spirit.  The body isn’t inherently “unspiritual.”  No, what is opposed to the Spirit is the flesh.  You see the Spirit is God’s Spirit and what is opposed to God’s Spirit is not our body, not stuff, but sin.  The sinful flesh.  But how do we know this isn’t just the body?  Look at what He says.  Jesus took on this body.  “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”  On Good Friday Jesus’ body died, but the Father called it out of the grave on the First Easter, just as we’ll be celebrating in a couple of weeks.  But did Jesus just come out of the grave in His Spirit?  Did just His soul come out of the tomb?  No!  His body rose from the grave.  Because God cares about the body.

And this is the promise of what will happen to you.  On the last day, the trumpets will blast, the Lord will return and your body will be raised from its resting place.  And as it does it will look like what we saw in Ezekiel.  Think about the words there that you just heard.  Picture that in your mind.  The valley of the dry bones.  There they, the bones scattered about.  And what does it mean that they’re dry?  It’s not just that it hasn’t rained recently.  What does it mean?  It means that the body they belonged to is good and dead.  It means that the skin has long since rotted, the flesh has long since been devoured by scavengers.  So long that the bones are dry now.  These bones are dead.

And what happens?  The Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy to those bones, to speak His Word over those bones. And he does, and listen again to what he said, “as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them.”  And then the Lord told Ezekiel to call upon the breath, the Spirit, over those bones and what happened when Ezekiel did this? “The breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet.”  This will be you, bones coming to bones, sinews on those bones, flesh on those sinews, and a covering of skin: a body because the Lord cares about the body.

And then there’s the story of Lazarus.  Lazarus has died, Jesus comes to him and what does Jesus say?  First of all, what does He do?  Did you notice that?  What did Jesus do when He came to the grave of Lazarus?  He wept.  Did He weep because of Lazarus?  Well, the people thought so – “look how much He loved him!”  And surely that was factored into it, but was He weeping because He was going to miss Lazarus?  No!  He knew what He was going to do!  He knew He was going to call Lazarus from the tomb.  Why would He be weeping in mourning the loss of Lazarus when He knows that He’s going to raise Him?  No.  He was weeping for death, about death.  He doesn’t want death.  Death is opposed to who Jesus is.  In part, you could say He’s weeping because death curses the body, and Jesus cares about the body.

To come back to my first question, look at what He said.  What did He say to Martha?  He says “Your brother will rise again.”  And Martha – who you get the picture is a bit miffed because Jesus didn’t come and heal Lazarus says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  In fact, as I was reading about this, apparently, these mourners with Martha would likely already have said as much, and so Martha’s frustrated.  She’s saying, “I know that he’ll rise again at the end, but that doesn’t help me now when you could have healed him.”  And what does Jesus say?  He shows Himself to be the true comfort: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he dies yet will he live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”  I am the resurrection and the Life.  I am eternal life in myself.  I can do all and bring you true comfort.  But as I do that, know what my comfort is: I am the resurrection.  What’s being raised?  The body!  Lazarus’ body is being raised!  And just like Lazarus’ body was raised, your body will be raised.  If you are just a soul, why does your body need to be raised?  If you are just a soul, why does Jesus come to you in the body of a man?  Even more so, what has Jesus done in that body?  He has redeemed you in the body.  You see part of the reason we think we should despise the body is because it suffers – if you have ever had any kind of ailment, you’ve probably heard me say that these make us look forward to the resurrection when we have bodies that work right.  This is why.  When we will be raised, it will be body and soul, because God cares about our bodies.

In fact, look at how He cares about our bodies in the way that He promises to come to us.  Does He just promise to connect to our soul?  No even from the beginning the way that He came was tangible.  Think about Genesis three.  Do you remember the ultimate curse from Genesis Three?  Yes there was the curse of child bearing, there was the curse of toiling by the sweat of the brow, and then there was the curse of death, returning to the ground.  But what was the last part?  What seemed to be the final curse that fulfilled all of this?  Adam and Eve were cut off from the tree of life “lest they eat and live.”  God gave this life through the bodily eating of the fruit of the tree of life.

So also, now He comes to you in bodily means.  He comes to you in the means of Baptism, not the washing of dirt from the flesh, but cleansing of the conscience, the appeal to God of a clean conscience “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” as Peter says.  And He comes to you, His body to your body.  His blood to your blood.  His redemption won for you on the cross in His body, and given to your body in this meal.  This is how our God works, this is how He works now, and this is what eternity will look like.  Of course, it will be far greater.  It will be far greater because there will be no sin.  Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life – whoever believes in Him though he dies, yet will he live, and whoever lives and believes in Jesus will never die.  His body will be raised eternally, to live in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  But it will be body and soul because this how God has made us, a body-soul being.  God cares about the body.

Now as I say all of this – so what?  What does this mean?  First of all, I don’t want you to get drawn into a supposedly spiritual world that seeks God differently than He shows Himself to be working.  There is a whole element in American Christianity that is drawn to finding the Spirit outside of the Words of Scripture and the promise of the Spirit to come to you in that Word, in Baptism and in the Supper.  The Devil likes to draw people toward the “Spiritual” meditations of their own hearts rather than the clear words of Scripture.  Don’t look there for the Spirit, look for the Spirit where God comes to you in these promised ways – these sorts of bodily, you could call it, ways.  So, that’s first.  To show who God is and how we deal with Him according to His promises as comes to us in our bodies.

Secondly, have you ever heard the phrase of being so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good?  When you understand the body properly—that God cares for the body—it means that you can never be that.  You can never be that because you know that God cares about this world.  Yes, He cares more about the eternal than now, because it will last forever and so temporary suffering resulting in eternal good is better than temporary enjoyment and eternal suffering.  But, He still cares about people in this life and calls us as Christians to care for others in their bodies, as we talked about Wednesday, caring for them in every bodily need.  It means that you clothe those who are naked.  It means that you provide food for those who are hungry. It means that you visit those who are lonely.  You are show in this that the Lord cares for them in their body.

Thirdly, it shows that the same applies to you.  You see, it means that when you suffer in the body you have the God who cares about that suffering.  He is the God who has suffered with you.  In fact, He is the God who has suffered for you in the body.  He has borne the scourging of the body that we should suffer.  His body was pierced for our transgressions.  His body suffered torment and He was even forsaken by the Father, body and soul so that you would not be.  It means that when you experience the suffering that sin brings to our bodies – broken bones, congested hearts, failing lungs, cancerous pancreases, your God cares for you.  He is the God who cares for you and will be with you always.  He is the God who cares about your body.  Amen.

Rev. Matthew Zickler