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The Best is Yet to Come
John 11: 32-44 (The Raising of Lazarus)
Jim from B.C.

I remember listening to Vicki Gabareau on the radio about a year ago, when she was on the CBC in Vancouver. She was having a conversation with an author of a book on near-death experiences. They were talking about whether, when certain people thought they were dead for a few minutes, that vision of being in a dark tunnel and being flooded with an indescribable light and peace— whether this could be evidence of life after death. Or just a result of oxygen-deprivation in the brain. Vicki Gabareau said, "I believe that when you die and that's it. There's nothing afterwards."

I'm sure that's a fairly common belief in our enlightened, scientific age. Even though the polls say that most people still believe in some kind of continuing existence after death, nevertheless, most people LIVE their daily lives as if it's the sum total of what exists. They go about living as if all there is is what they can observe with their five senses, or detect with scientific instruments.

So I believe the polls are wrong. People seem to be saying what they would LIKE to believe, not what they actually believe.

For instance, many people today say they believe in reincarnation. It's certainly an appealing notion. You come back to earth for a second chance to live a good life, and a third chance, and maybe a thousand more lifetimes, until you get it right! And you don't have to worry about heaven or hell or the judgment of God; it's just karma.

It would be amazing to me if the polls are correct, that most people do really believe in life after death. Because, when you think about it, life after death is a scary notion! Who of us doesn't have a fear of the unknown? If God exists and angels exist, then I am at their mercy! I'm not quite the captain of my fate and the master of my soul that I thought I was! That's a notion that's hard for modern people to give up.

On the other hand, it's becoming harder to deny an existence beyond death, even if you're scientifically-minded. Because in the last couple of decades, the top physicists in the world have been saying there are a number of dimensions beyond what we know with our five senses, beyond length and width and depth and time. Building on Einstein's work, these physicists agree that there are probably 6 or 7 dimensions beyond our universe.

It'll take a while to convince the average person to believe in such dimensions. We still live in a very material world, full of people with a materialistic world view. At least in WESTERN society, ours is a world that has been gutted of spirit, disenchanted and dispirited. No wonder Halloween is so popular, and books on spiritual mysteries and prophecies!

For very different reasons, the world of Jesus was also dispirited and incredulous of God's power. They didn't believe, any more than we do, that Jesus could perform such a miracle as the raising of Lazarus. We read in today's Gospel Lesson: (quote) "Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to Jesus, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.' In other words, "Are you serious?"

Scientists today are talking about the possibility of reconstructing mammoths from cells frozen in the ice millions of years ago, and perhaps even reconstructing people, from the cells of Egyptian mummies. Is that any less miraculous? If there's anything we learn from history, it's that today's science-fiction is tomorrow's reality.

Wouldn't it be nice to have Jesus pop into church on the day of the funeral of a loved one, go over to the coffin, and voila! — take the person's arm, raise him up and restore him to us? He could. He did it with Lazarus. But he wouldn't, because we've already gotten the message of the miracle of Lazarus, that God hates death as much as we do.

Look at the emotion of Jesus in this text. Verse 33: "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved." And verse 35, the shortest verse in the Bible: "Jesus wept." Also verse 38: "Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb."

This shows how Jesus hated death and the power of death. It also shows that he had the power to do something about it. And later, his own death and resurrection showed conclusively that he WILL do something about death, for every one of us. Jesus' resurrection was the first-fruit, the down-payment, the preliminary proof, that there will be a resurrection for us and all people.

Death is not the end of me. I firmly believe that. The message of this Bible text and many others, is that God will not abandon us to sheol, to hades, to the abyss, or whatever you want to call it. This miracle of the raising of Lazarus was a foretaste, a sign— not only of the glory and power of God, but the will of God and the love of God that performed it.

Jesus was greatly disturbed and moved to tears by the death of his friend Lazarus. So he is also moved to tears by your death and mine, for you and I are also his friends Believe in him, that he will do something about it. He will do something about it.

There will come a day when those visions of John in the book of Revelation, those prophecies of a new heaven and a new earth, will all come to pass. The promise of Jesus that we will be with him in paradise, will be fulfilled. As Jesus said to Mary and Martha in our text: "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" And so we will. The best is yet to come.

"The best is yet to come" is the title of a story I want to close with.

The sound of Martha's voice on the other end of the telephone always brought a smile to Brother Jim's face. She was not only one of the elder members of the congregation, but one of the most faithful. Aunt Martie, as all the children called her, just seemed to ooze faith, hope and love wherever she went. This time, however, there seemed to be an unusual tone to her words. "Pastor, could you stop by this afternoon? I need to talk with you."

"Of course. I'll be there around three, Is that okay?" As they sat facing each other in the quiet of her small living room, Jim learned the reason for what he sensed in her voice. Martha shared the news that her doctor had just discovered a previously undetected tumor.

"He says I probably have six months to live." Martha's words were certainly serious, yet there was a definite calm about her.

"I'm so sorry to . . . " but before Jim could finish, Martha interrupted. "Don't be. The Lord has been good. I have lived a long life. I'm ready to go. You know that."

"I know," Jim whispered with a reassuring nod. Martha went on: "I want to talk with you about my funeral. I have been thinking about it, and there are things that I know I want." The two of them talked for quite a while. They talked about Martha's favorite hymns, the passages of Scripture that had meant so much to her through the years, and the many memories they shared from the five years Jim had been with Central Church. When it seemed that they had covered just about everything, Aunt Martie paused, looked up at Jim with a twinkle in her eye, and then added, "One more thing, pastor. When they bury me, I want my old Bible in one hand and a fork in the other."

"A fork?" Jim was sure he'd heard everything, but this caught him by surprise. "Why do you want to be buried with a fork?" "Well, I've been thinking about all the church dinners and banquets that I've attended through the years. I couldn't begin to count them all. But one thing sticks in my mind. At those really nice get-togethers, when the meal was almost finished, the hostess or the server would come by to collect the dirty dishes. Sometimes, at the best ones, someone would lean over my shoulder and whisper, ‘You can keep your fork.' And you know what that meant! Dessert was coming!

"And it didn't mean a cup of Jell-O or pudding or even a dish of ice cream. You don't need a fork for that. It meant the good stuff, like chocolate cake or cherry pie! When they told me I could keep my fork, I knew the best was yet to come!

"That's exactly what I want people to talk about at my funeral. Oh, they can talk about all the good times we had together. That would be nice. But when they walk by my casket and look at my pretty blue dress, I want them to turn to one another and say, ‘Why the fork?'

"That's what I want YOU to say. I want you to tell them: I kept my fork because the best is yet to come." Amen.