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Summary: Hope is the basis of spiritual formation. It transforms us, drawing us closer to Christ so that others may be drawn to him.

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They still tell the story at William and Mary College of daffy, magnificent President Ewell. For a century and a half, this prestigious Virginia school had been a leader among American universities. Then came the Civil War. In the hard days of reconstruction that followed, William and Mary went bankrupt. Soon it had a deserted campus, decaying buildings, and no students. As with so many Southern schools after that tragic war, everyone wrote it off as dead.

Everyone, except its president; he had given his best years to advancing the liberal arts through that school. He refused to give up now. So, every morning, President Ewell went to the deserted campus, climbed the tower of its main building, and rang the bells, calling the school to class. He behaved as though the school was still there.

People thought he was crazy. Nevertheless, every day for seven years, President Ewell rang the bells at William and Mary, in defiance of the despair and hopelessness that would destroy everything he held valuable. Eventually and miraculously, it worked. Others caught his vision. Students, teachers, and money returned. Today, America's second oldest university thrives again, because of the hope of a single man.

[Hope is the basis of spiritual formation. It transforms us, drawing us closer to Christ so that others may be drawn to him.]

I. INTRODUCTION

1. The readings for the fifth Sunday of Lent weave a tapestry of significance as well as any in the lectionary. The central theme is the message of hope.

A. Ezekiel’s vision promises hope for Israel in a time of despair;

B. The psalmist declares the solace he finds in the Lord of Hope,

C. Paul reminds his friends in Rome of the glory that awaits them at the resurrection, and

D. John the evangelist tells the story of Lazarus, among the most powerful stories of hope in NT.

2. The story is one of despair, depression and sadness—abruptly altered by Jesus. Today we consider the new life given to Lazarus, and see the hope given to family and friends by Jesus’ act of grace. OYBT John 11.

II. SETTING AND OCCASION

1. A man named Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, is gravely ill. Word of his imminent demise reaches Jesus, and, after a two-day wait (6), he departs for Bethany to see his friend. Don’t get ahead of me.

2. His disciples remind him (8) that he narrowly escaped being stoned the last time he was in that region, but he leaves anyway, and they follow.

3. When they arrive, Jesus learns Lazarus is already dead, and in the tomb for four days (17).

A. His sisters Martha and Mary, also friends of Jesus, mourn with friends—suggesting that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would still be alive.

B. Amid their mourning, Jesus tells the sisters “Your brother will rise again” (23). Thinking he refers to the final resurrection of the dead, they take little comfort until he asks, “Where have you laid him?” (34)

4. They arrive at the tomb. Jesus asks them to roll the stone away. In her hopelessness Martha argues, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.


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