God’s Circle of Love
The Rev. Sandy Selby – Furnace Street Mission Radio Ministry
All Saint’s Day – November 1, 2009
From John 11 2Now 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 34Lazarus 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 17that the Son of God may be glorified through it …When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus 18had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles 19away, and many of the People had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their 20brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed 21at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 2223But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, 24“Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the 25resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who 26believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will 27never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, 28the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and 29called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And 30when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the 31village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The People who were with her in
the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they 32thought 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 33have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the People who came with her also weeping, he 34was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They 3536said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the People said, “See how he 37loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have 38kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a 39cave, 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 a stench because he has been dead four days.” 4041Jesus 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 42heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd 43standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with 44a 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
On All Saints’ Day the Church proclaims that we are part of the communion of saints, a ―great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1a) both living and dead who bear witness to the living Christ. Today we step outside of time and space as we know it to see the world through the eyes of eternity where past, present, and future join together. John’s gospel gives us a glimpse of
eternity in the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus receives word that his dear friend Lazarus is ill, but Jesus does not hurry to see Lazarus because, he tells his disciples, ―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.” By the time Jesus arrives in Bethany
Lazarus has long since died and been buried. As he approaches the tomb and orders the
bystanders to take away the stone, Martha says, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has
been dead four days.” But Jesus, reminding Martha to believe so that she will “see the glory of
God,” goes to the newly-opened tomb and yells, “Lazarus, come out,” whereupon the dead man
comes forth from the grave, bound in his burial clothes. “Unbind him,” Jesus says, “and let him
In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus reveals the life-giving power of God at work in the world. John tells us that many who were there that day came to believe in him, and Jesus made it clear in word and deed that those who believe in him glorify God by living a life modeled on his own: grounded in the love of God and lived out in compassion for others. In his letter to the Romans Paul says that saints are those “who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (1:6, 7),
their sainthood reflecting the relationship they bear to the God who brings them new life. The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said that a saint is someone whose life manages to be a ―cranny 1through which the infinite peeps‖—someone, in other words, who gives us a glimpse of the
eternity that is in every moment. Today we celebrate those saints living and dead, famous and ordinary, with whom we are in eternal communion through the love of God.
As much as All Saints’ Day is one of celebration, that celebration can be bittersweet, for
it is also a day on which the Church remembers those saints who have died. It is comforting to be reminded that the story of the raising of Lazarus is also the story of a family in grief. John tells us that Jesus “loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” So when Lazarus became ill, the sisters
sent a message to Jesus. When Jesus finally arrived and learned that Lazarus had been dead for four days, he found Martha and Mary weeping. When Jesus went to the tomb he wept, and those around him remarked, “See how he loved him!” “Jesus wept.” In so doing, Jesus shows us that
we can and should weep as we grieve the death of one whom we loved, but, as Paul says, we need not grieve “as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). In this I speak as much to myself as
to anyone, because this afternoon I will attend the memorial service for my Aunt Sarah, one of the saints of God who in her last several years faced with characteristic humor and grace the death of her husband Mike, progressive blindness, and the illness that finally took her life.
All Saints’ Day reminds us that in the Christian life nothing is ever lost, for in eternity we are forever bound together through the love of God. Nearly 400 years ago, the Anglican priest and poet John Donne preached a Christmas sermon at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. In this
sermon he described God’s love, incarnate in Jesus Christ, as a circle that enfolds us in life and death. Donne said:
One of the most convenient symbols of God is a circle; and a circle is endless; whom
God loves, God loves to the end: and not only to their end, to their death, but to God’s
end; and God’s end is, that God might love them still.
When we think of those we love, we should always think of them in this way: as enfolded, with us, in a circle of love that will always have the last word.
This message was delivered on WAKR 1590 AM on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. The weekly radio
broadcast is a ministry of Furnace Street Mission, Box 444, Akron OH 44309.
1William Willimon, ―Saints, All of You,‖ a sermon delivered on 1 November 1998 at Duke Chapel, Duke University, Durham, NC.