Fifth Sunday of Lent
FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
In the church, we are inclined to talk about faith in God as if it were one of the easiest and most natural things in the world. And sometimes it is. At least it seems that way to some people. But for many people, faith is anything but easy and natural. It is a hard-fought struggle with questions of doubt and feelings of despair. It is not a doubt about the existence of God – we all have thoughts about that at times. These people struggle with tragedy. Things they have seen in the world and experienced in their own lives seem to contradict the things they earnestly want to believe about God. I think of the poor people who survived that tragedy in Oso, and the mud slide. The loss of so many innocent lives.
Our Gospel reading today tells of two women who were having this kind of struggle with their faith….Martha and Mary. Lazarus, their brother, got seriously sick, so they sent an urgent message to their best friend – Jesus. They knew that He would come and solve their problem. Their brother would be healed and all would be well again. But things did not work out that way.
Evidently it took the messenger a day or so to find Jesus, and then Jesus decided to wait another two days before he traveled to Bethany to see his friends. By the time he got there, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days. Each of the women greet him with the words: LORD, IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE, OUR BROTHER WOULD NOT HAVE DIED. In the past, their faith in Jesus seemed easy and natural. But now, with Lazarus dead and buried, their faith in Jesus becomes much harder. They struggle with doubt and despair. The one they had trusted had let them down. He had not been there when they needed him the most. They still had faith in Him, but it certainly was not as strong as before.
That feeling is far more common than most of us might think. We have felt it ourselves, but have probably kept quiet about it. We are not sure if people in the church are allowed to doubt their faith. Then we feel guilty for feeling that way about God. Well – IT’S OK TO FEEL THAT WAY. You are walking in some very good company with that struggle. I dare say, everyone who has ever worked for the kingdom of God has shared this same experience. Their faith did not come easy. They had to fight for it.
The truth is: WE HAVE NO ADEQUATE EXPLANATION OF SUFFERING IN God’s world. It is just a part of everyone’s life. For good people, it can turn a simple exercise of faith into a terrible struggle. Psalm 14 begins with: THE FOOL SAYS IN HIS HEART, THERE IS NO GOD. But the fool is not the only one who has said this. Look at these poor people who lost their loved ones in that plane disappearance from Malaysian airlines? When you have no faith to fall back on in such a tragedy, you are really in trouble. Mothers have struggled with their faith as they stood beside the grave of their child. Fathers have struggled with their faith as they stood with empty hands, unable to feed their hungry family.
Our Gospel story is more than just a Bible story. It is a slice of real life. Millions of people have shared Martha and Mary’s dilemma: holding on to their faith while facing a situation which calls that faith into serious question. But our story does not end there. It brings to light another truth that is every bit as real as tragedy: THE POWER OF GOD that can transform tragedy into triumph is also a fact of life.
In the case of Martha and Mary, this truth was dramatically brought home. Jesus beings their brother back to life. NOW…. I suppose you expect the same to happen to you every time you get into some tragic situation. Well – forget it! Jesus is not going to come down and perform a miracle for you. What this story is about is the power of God to heal broken hearts and restore lost hope. If faith can help you thru difficult times, then, who can afford to be with it.
Faith does not always produce a good result. Some who have been a part of the church all their lives, find themselves ill prepared to face adversity. Their faith is well suited for days of ease. IT has nothing to offer them in times of trouble. Realistically, you need strong faith that will stand up in rough times…faith with muscle in it. The only way to build that kind of faith is by struggling with whatever life may bring us,
including our doubts and despair.
When all is said and done – God is still there, He still loves each one of us – and none of us will get into heaven without having our faith tested from time to time. Life can be the pits, at times…but it is still the greatest gift that God has given to us.