Monday, April 28, 2014

Behind Closed Doors

John 20: 19-31
Last week we heard the resurrection account from the Gospel of Mark.  Mark is the oldest of the Gospels as well as the least descriptive in that there are no embellishments.    Mark ends shortly after we hear about Jesus’ victory over the tomb without much fanfare.  In the words of Dragnet’s Joe Friday Mark it’s ‘just the facts ma’m, just the facts.’
Outside of next week when we will hear the word proclaimed from Luke, the next six Sundays we will be focused on the Gospel of John, which is clearly the most theologically imbued Gospel.  It contains a high “Christology” meaning that Jesus is already portrayed throughout the Gospel as the risen Son of God.  I know, Christology, right?  It’s a seminary SAT word, that’s used by seminary professors and their students who want to do well in their classes.  But that’s what makes John such an endearing Gospel to read.  Jesus say’s I am the vine and you are the branches, I am the resurrection and the life, and I am the good shepherd.  After reading the Gospel of John there is no doubt that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
It’s too bad that Thomas didn’t have this Gospel in his back pocket to pull out and read when he doubted that Jesus was really, none other than his Jesus, now risen.  Throughout time a lot has been written about this doubting Thomas, who is somewhat an arrogant disciple.  Many menacing sermons have been written about this Thomas who had a few qualms about who Jesus really was. Was this man who claims to be Jesus for real?  So he had a few doubts.  Your doubts, my doubts, Thomas’ doubts, ok...most of us have doubts at some time or another.
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There is so much more that is happening in this passage that begs our close reflection however.  It still had not been twenty four hours since Mary Magdalene stood weeping at the empty tomb and Jesus, disguised as the gardener, appears to her.  She does as he requests and tells the disciples that she has seen her Lord.  They didn’t know what to do and they needed some time to process what had just happened over this particular Passover. 

A joyful procession, anxiety in Jerusalem, an intimate meal, betrayal, denial, whipping and weeping, death and then this resurrection.  That was their week.  It is no wonder that they are hole up in a house with the doors locked because of their disbelief at everything that happened and their fears of a few religious leaders.

It’s through these locked up, shut up tight, barred doors that Jesus appears the second time after his resurrection.  Seems to me this would instill even more fear.  They thought they were secure behind closed doors but somehow they just weren’t able to keep Jesus out. “Peace” he says, “Peace be with you”. 

That familiar, strong and calming voice.  Perhaps it sounded like a mother’s lullaby, or a favorite hymn from your childhood, or like a much loved story told to you over and over even though you know the end, or even a voice calling for the sea to stop raging.  It was calm.  In those four words, ‘Peace be with you’, Jesus is really saying, be still, be calm, relax, let your fear and doubts melt away, let the wholeness of my love reside in your heart.  He is saying I am with you.  I will not fail you.  Trust in me.  I will walk next to you wherever you want and need to go.  I’ll be by your side even on those roads that you really shouldn’t be going down.  I’ll manage to get in when the doors have been closed.

Jesus shows them his wounds and again says, “Peace be with you.  God has sent me, so now I’m sending you.”  He breathes on them and at once they are filled with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus gives them his peace, he commissions them for greater work and he empowers them to go out and do this work. 

But alas, Thomas wasn’t there and we know that second hand stories, particularly miraculous events kind of stories never quite pull the same punch.  A week later when they all were gathered in that house again with the door shut, at an opportune moment, Jesus comes to them.  Thomas was with them this time with all of his doubts.  Once more he says, “Peace be with you.”  He didn’t tell Thomas off, or give him a good talking to, no reprimands, chastisements, or sarcasm.  Simply he says, “Peace” like he did the first time he came to the others and allows Thomas all the time and evidence that he needs to come around and believe

As I understand this passage this morning, this passage is not so much about Thomas.  He’s human just like us.  It’s really about Jesus.  It’s about his tenacity to find us in our deepest, most locked away places.  Those places where we shut him out rather than let him in.  It is about his persistent love and his ability to be incredibly patient with our human foibles, our less than desirable habits, or our want or need to keep him at arms length.  It is about Jesus loving us with grace through our doubts.  That’s the kind of Jesus I want.

Just when the disciples didn’t know what to do next after Jesus resurrection, they decide to stay behind a locked door.  Why take a chance on the unknown?  It’s Jesus who comes to them.  It’s Jesus who shows them what to do next. It’s Jesus who lifts them up and instills the spirit within them.  It’s Jesus who moves them from inaction to action; he dissipates their inertia and readies them for service.  I guess you never really know what goes on behind closed doors.

Behind closed doors is a phrase that gets kicked around a lot but I think we know them all too well. They are those closed doors that we stand behind trembling with fear, hiding like an animal from its predators. 

We’ve all sat behind doors that have shut out the world to our inner workings, the messy and fearful closets of our souls. While it may seem ok at first, the door gets locked and then dead bolted and then even we ourselves can’t get out.  It’s not a healthy or good place to be.  Thank goodness God doesn’t let us alone but persistently and consistently figures out how to enter in and grants us that peace which passes all of our human intelligence and understanding.  That’s the kind of God I want.

Once God gets in we are never left in the same place.  We are changed as Anne Lamott reminds us in her book “Travelling Mercies”, “I do not understand the mystery of grace, only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us”.

God moves us.  God readies us and equips us with the Holy Spirit to worship, to live our lives faithfully, to witness love eternal and to serve others and work towards justice and peace.  True discipleship is risky business yet we must live our faith courageously.  May the doors to this sanctuary, this sacred place swing wide open so that you can embrace this broken world.  If you need ideas on what to embrace, I’ve got plenty.

May that same Spirit who was breathed on the disciples behind their closed door light upon us to comfort and energize us for whatever the future holds for we are an Easter people.


Resurrection Vision

Mark 16: 1-8
The dawn revealed ever so slightly a ribboned sky of deep blues and indigo, some magenta with varying hues of orange.   As the sun began to rise over the mountains of Moab, over the Jordan River, and finally over the Mount of Olives Mary Magdalene, Mary, James mother, and Salome got the packages of spices they had purchased at the market and walked to Jesus’ tomb.  The chill of the early morning made them wrap their scarves more tightly around their shoulders.  There was no time when Jesus was crucified to properly prepare his body for burial since it was the Sabbath.  So they went now, in the early morning of the first day of the week to anoint him.

They knew, more than likely, that Joseph of Arimethia had a very large stone placed in front of the tomb, so robbers wouldn’t break in and take Jesus’ body.  But the problem for the women was that it was big and very heavy.  All they wanted to do was see him, to touch his broken body for one last time and to slather on him the spices for burial and this boulder would make it extremely difficult for them to do so. 

By the time they came down the hill towards the tomb the sun was beginning to shine and they saw an unbelievable and incredible sight.  The stone had been rolled away from the cave tomb; their anxieties turned to fear, not surprising.

They went in panicked, their faces probably registered trepidation and fear.  They didn’t see Jesus’ body but they did see someone dressed in white.  He reassured them, “Do not be afraid. You’re looking for Jesus, but you see he’s not here, he has been raised.”  The women stepped back with their jaws dropped open in disbelief.  Then the man spoke, “Go tell the disciples and especially Peter the one who denied him; tell them that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee where they are to meet him.”  Certainly this must have appeared to be some sort of cryptic message to the women.

They dropped their spice boxes, turned around and fled from the tomb.  They hiked up their robes and began to run back on the same path that they had just traversed.  Terror struck. Amazed.  Quite afraid. They were seized with dread and told no one as they ran.

This is not quite the same feeling that we register today.  The resurrection story that we celebrate today is joyful.  Today we have come knowing that the tomb is already empty, that Jesus has accomplished everything that he was sent to do.  He conquered death and sin and he soon will ascend to heaven to prepare a place for us.  We come knowing this story in its entirety, and it’s a good one.

Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!  It is our Easter mantra.  It is a prophetic statement that we claim over and over again.  And unlike those women who first encountered an empty grave, an empty grave does not scare us, we are NOT afraid.  I don’t see any hair raised or terror struck faces here today.  None of you were out of breath from running here today.

‘Christ is Risen’ was not a glorious resurrection phrase for them as it is for us; it would have been ambiguous and filled with more questions than answers.  It wouldn’t be Christ is Risen! for the women but rather, Christ….is Risen? What do you mean he is rise?  Their lives were changed no doubt to a new reality where they had to recast their vision, reassess their lives and build new ones with Jesus now dead but also gone.

We’ve come a long way from that first hour and those first few days.  ‘We love to tell the story’ as Kate Hankey wrote in her hymn of so long ago, ‘we love to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love’.  It is the story of redemption and hope and of God’s love for us.  It is the story of life not death.  It is a narrative that unfolded long ago in a distant land but continues to give us a lens through which we can see our lives.

We have all experienced resurrection at some point in time, probably often if we stop to think about it.  Resurrection is a pivotal moment when you suddenly see dawn emerging out of the darkness of the night, when your torrential tears begin to subside, when your broken heart begins to mend, when just the mere sound of children’s voices or the springtime warble of a red bird once again brings you immeasurable joy after winter’s dark and short days.  As Barbara Brown Taylor notes, “Resurrection begins in the dark” and I k now that we have all been in the dark, we are human.

Years ago a man named Bill dropped by my office one day and asked if he could just sit and talk.  “Sure” I said, even though I was in the middle of writing a sermon and really didn’t want to be disturbed.  Bill was a pipefitter and a crusty old man.  He would sit and ‘witness’ to me like evangelicals do and I’d think to myself, come on Bill, I know all this stuff already, I know Jesus saves, I know about the ‘Footsteps in the Sand’ poem.  He would always start off with something about ‘Footsteps in the Sand’.  But God saved me and put me on mute so that I could listen and hear Bill’s story. 

I finally realized that Bill came to tell me his story of redemption.  He came to share with me, to witness and to tell me the same thing over and over again about his former addiction, his adult dysfunctional children who moved back home, and about his beloved wife who had passed on.  He told me about how God picked him up every step of the way and carried him to a place where he could begin again with resurrection vision. For Bill out of the darkness had come light.

Often Bill came for a visit.  And it’s almost as if the minute he sat down he pushed ‘play’ on his life’s tape recorder  and when he left my office he would push ‘rewind’ to get ready for his next visit. Our talks were always the same. Through his visits I learned patience, and beyond that, that once someone has been redeemed and resurrected to a new vision of their life they cannot help but tell other people as often as they can.  His message to me was I have been saved through Christ and an empty tomb is grace, unconditionally. 

Christ’s resurrection does not leave us in the same place.  It simply cannot.  It does not leave us standing at an empty tomb wringing our hands, studded with fear.  What’s the point of that?  His resurrection asks us, ‘What is life?’ “What is my life, what is your life?” ‘How will you choose to live the life that you are given no matter what has happened to you?’  ‘Since you are a witness to the resurrection today what meaning will you make of your life that will embody a resurrection vision?’  A lot of people live lives of missed opportunities and broken dreams without ever coming out of the dark and accepting the gift of resurrection so they can see anew. Bill lived the vision for his life that freed him from his troubles and to see beyond his suffering, will you do so for yours as well? Will you live that vision so that Christ’s accomplished work here on earth was not in vain?

Christ is Risen!  It’s the boldest statement that we will ever be asked to make in our lifetime because it says, I see anew.  I can hope where the is none. 

The Mary’s and Salome did eventually tell someone because, today, thousands of years later we say with conviction….Christ is Risen!  We speak today for those women who were gripped with fear.  We know there is nothing to fear, only the future.  We may not knock on someone’s door just to chat and tell them the poem of Footsteps in the Sand but we can tell our own story.  Each of us has one, you can’t fool me.

This is the Easter message.  Christ’s story, our story, elaborately knit by incredible redeeming love.  We must witness.  If you don’t believe me this year, come back next year and check in, the doors are always open.  By then I will have had a chance to rewind the tape to that old, old story of love…Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed!  

So Be It!


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Untie THAT Donkey

Mark 11: 1-11
It was Passover and Jerusalem was the place to be at Passover.  Jews from all over first century Palestine would make pilgrimage and gather to remember how God had ‘passed over’ their homes in Egypt during the slaughter of the innocents.  They remember how God had protected them from the plagues and how God had brought them out of slavery.

Jerusalem was also the seat of the Roman government in the Mediterranean world in the Roman Empire.  The people were burdened with taxes, economic issues, systems of land debt to the Romans, and Herod, a puppet ruler of Rome was not a happy, or skilled ruler for “all” the people. The people resented him.  They wanted badly to prevent the transformation of Jerusalem into a Greco-Roman city.  This was the situation that year and the people shouted, “Hosanna” which means in Hebrew, save us!  Not hooray, or yippee, not even praise him, hosanna means save us.  Their hope and expectation was for a king who would be able to save them from the Roman authorities and the Greco-Roman influence that threatened their religious identity.  Many believed Jesus was their man. They sang out “Hosanna in the name of the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” 

The ‘Palm Sunday’ narrative is recorded in all four of the Gospels each supplying its own unique details of that day.  Mark’s account is the shortest of the four gospels and it is the focus of today’s reflection.  Hear now the Gospel of Mark, the 11th chapter:

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’

 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

   Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
   Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Just east of Jerusalem on the other side of the Mount of Olives lies sleepy Bethany.  Jesus went there often for respite; it was his little ‘get away’ retreat spot.  As he and his disciples were getting close to Bethany, Jesus says to two of them, “Go, run ahead, will you?  Go to the village and when you see a donkey, a colt, untie him, then bring him to me.”  “Oh,” Jesus says, “and if anybody says anything to you, just tell them that I sent you.”  Seems as if Jesus already had thought this donkey fetching through.  In fact, out of the 11 verses that comprise this story, 6 are focused on donkey detail.  It’s a big deal.

I can just hear the two disciples now as they run ahead.  “What the heck?  Why do we have be the ones to get the donkey?  Why didn’t he choose those other two, you know the ones who never do anything?  For this we left our fishing boats and our beautiful Galilee?” 

Beyond their kevetching their mission was successful; and they lead this colt back to Jesus.  Certainly this animal was not fit for a ‘king’ so they put their cloaks on the donkey; at least it would protect Jesus from the dirt and dander of the animal.

Jesus began his journey out of dusty Bethany, over the steep incline of the back side of the Mount of Olives, down into the Kidron Valley and into bustling and contentious, Jerusalem.  The disciples followed, the people followed.  People threw their garments on the ground and they ripped down branches from palm trees, maybe even branches from some of the prolific olive trees that dot the side of the Mount of Olives. 

But what about the donkey and those two disciples who were dispatched to bring back such a lowly creature? I bet that they never, in their wildest imaginations thought that they would be untying a donkey that didn’t even belong to them, and then have to bring it to Jesus.  They probably never envisioned that this was ministry, that this mundane detail would become such a large part of the events of the day. 

When Jesus said, follow me, he meant, really people….follow me.  Believe me.  Trust me.  Do what you can.  But come on, untie a donkey?  That probably means cleaning up after the donkey too.  It’s hard to grasp the larger picture when grunt work is all that you are doing in the name of the Lord.

Yet, to follow Jesus is just as much hands on as it is an intellectual and spiritual exercise. 

When I entered the ministry a former colleague of mine asked me if I had my Swiss Army knife on me.  Being a quarter Swiss I had to stop and think for a minute, was he making a joke at my cultural heritage expense? He was a joker!  No, he really did want to know if I had a knife with me, he needed the screwdriver because we were erecting the stage together for the upcoming Christmas pageant. 

They don’t tell you in seminary that sometimes you’ll have to fix a leaky faucet, pick up cigarette butts, reset large and old furnaces, wash the floors, screw stages together and fix paper jams.  They don’t tell you to keep a Swiss Army knife on you.  And they forget to tell you about all the committees and paperwork that needs tending to.  This is donkey detail!

To be relevant Karl Barth once said, “One should read with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other”.  I say, “One should read with the Bible in one hand, the newspaper in the other, and have a Swiss Army knife hanging from your belt.”  Then, and only then are you prepared to follow Jesus, to bolster the church and to deal with the grunt work of ministry.

Ministry of the Church takes many hands and hearts.  Hands and hearts that are willing to perform the unglamorous because most of life is, well, unglamorous.

This is the ministry of donkey duty, grunt work where we will have to metaphorically, go and untie that donkey.  It behooves us to do it ourselves for in that humble moment you know you are serving not yourself but God.  You have humbly given of yourself and your pride over to the greater need.  We will have to serve in unglamorous ways that equally and ultimately, too, lift up the body of Christ.  Our time and our efforts do NOT go unnoticed; it is all for a purpose which happens to be God’s purpose and not ours.  That’s why we are here, that’s the outer grunt work of being a Christian.

But that’s only part of it.  Between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday there is a whole lot of inner grunt work to be done.  The inner work is between you and God where forgiveness and grace meet.  It is where you humble your heart and have a ‘come to Jesus’ real life moment.  Are you willing to untie THAT donkey even when you don’t want to?  Are you willing to follow Jesus to the end, through the betrayal, the arrest, the interrogation, the denial, the whippings and crucifixion?  Are the sounds of THAT beast of burden within earshot?  I hope that it is.

The expectation of Holy Week is that we will be with Jesus every step of the way until he hangs upon the old wooden cross.

The expectation is that you will examine your relationship with God honestly to ready yourself for resurrection.

Are you willing and daring enough to cry out from the depth of your being, hosanna, save us, so that your Alleluias on Easter morning will be your authentic voice? 

When Jesus says, follow me he doesn’t specify where and for what reason or what kind of work he wants us to do.  One day you will be a visionary and prophetic leader championing justice and visiting the sick and the next day you will be called to change light bulbs.  He simply says, follow, trust me, and believe in me, I will lead you to a better place. 

And Jesus, well, he follows through, he does not disappoint us.  He leads us to hope not despair, joy not sorrow, self-sufficiency not helplessness; he leads us to God’s immeasurable grace.  Untie that donkey my friends and ride into Holy Week over the dusty and rough terrain we call life.  It may not be glamorous but it will be the best thing you will ever do.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Unbound and Free

John 11:1-45
On the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, not the western slope where Jesus goes to pray sits the town of El-Azariyeh which is named after Lazarus.  It is this place, where it is believed, that Jesus raised him from the dead.  In the Bible it’s called Bethany.  El-Azariyeh is about two miles outside of the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem separated by the very steep and rocky Kidron Valley and the beloved Mount of Olives.  It is from here that on Palm Sunday every year pilgrim’s reenact the parade of palms into the Old City. 

By foot, it’s quite a walk and it’s one that Jesus will make on a donkey in just a few short days.  A walk in which there will be palms waving against the cerulean blue sky and children laying their cloaks on the dusty road.  But we are not there yet.  Certainly none of the people knew what the future was going to hold for them, or for Jesus.  All they knew was that their dear friend and brother, Lazarus was dead and buried.  And their hearts were heavy with grief as they are when a beloved friend dies, and Jesus shuddered with sadness. 

The raising of Lazarus is a long and large story like the other readings this Lent.  It is a very complicated story of faith amid the vicissitudes and obstacles of life, and it put us face to face with our own human mortality.  There are so many portals of entry in this passage in which we could reflect but today we will concentrate on Lazarus.  First now, hear this story in its entirety from the Gospel of John the eleventh chapter.

Now 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 Lazarus 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 that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

 Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the [people] were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’

After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the [people] had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, 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 thought 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 have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the [people] who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the [people] said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, 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 for four days.’ Jesus 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 upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a 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 go.’

 Many of the [people] therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him…………Here ends our scripture.

Already Jesus is foretelling his disciples of what the future holds, but the disciples are slow to understand, this is no surprise, is it?  It’s hard to believe that Jesus would dilly-dally just so he could demonstrate the miracle of resurrection as foreshadowed by Lazarus’ resurrection, but he knows them all too well and wants to prepare them.  Once again compassion is at the core of what he does. 

“Lazarus, come out!”  Unbind him and let him go.”  And the first face that he saw after being dead was the face of Jesus, the face of love.  Not the face of the ever popular Hallmark card kind of romantic love but love’s other faces of compassion, of justice, of strength, of healing. Lazarus, after being bound with strips of linen and laid to rest in a cold and dark stone tomb was given life once again.  And many people saw this great miracle of Jesus that day and believed.  For life had come to the dead.  And the bound were unbound.  Surely if Jesus could do that for Lazarus he could do that for them too.  Surely, if Jesus could do that for Lazarus he can do that for us too. 

For all of us, if we are truthful, have been bound tightly with strips of linen or a shroud one way or another. Strips that threaten to deny us breath.  Strips that hinder our vision.  Strips that ensnare us in addiction, depression or old habits, or the past.  Strips of linen that like to near kill us.  None of us are exempt because life is indeed difficult at times and everyone has suffered. And yet we are constantly called out of our tombs because God so dearly loves us.   

It takes great faith to believe that once unbound you can come back to life; to strip off grave’s apparel and begin to live again.  It takes faith to believe when you are shivering in the darkness of a metaphorical death that you will ever breathe again.  And a thimble full of faith will do when you can’t conjure up the faith that you think you ‘should’ have.  And if you have no faith left, I’m here to say that you will live a vital life again.   Because the voice calls, “Arise!”  “Come out!”  Come out wherever you are, in whatever condition you may be in. And that voice is Jesus.  And that is love.

We are called out of our tomb because we are loved.  We are unbound by that love so that we can be in the presence of Christ because in his presence we find forgiveness, mercy, grace and peace.  

But it can’t stop with just ourselves, because we are unbound so too we can help loose others.  Jesus brought Lazarus back to life but it was Mary and Martha who unbind him.  We know all too well that there are people who live bound up with constraining strips of linen that society has placed around them.  People who are victims of prejudice, hatred, poverty, and discrimination.  They need our help in so many ways.

Columbus House had their volunteer luncheon yesterday and we were given a tour of the facility.  It’s one thing to talk about homelessness but it’s another to see it face to face. Surely, the strips of linen are tightly wrapped around those who use their services.  People become homeless for many reasons, mental illness, addiction, unassimilated veteran’s living with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), loss of job, chronic systemic issues that force a person into helplessness rather than self-sustaining living.  The people who work at Columbus House are the Mary’s and Martha’s who help to unbind the constrictive strips for these men and women.  What more can we do as a caring, faith community that upholds the work of Christ?  How might we enlarge our ministry here to help unbind and make free others, like Lazarus who was unbound and made free to live once again?

Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and life, those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” 

Amen and may it be so!