Don’t Make It Conditional 4-6-14

Today’s sermon came from John 11:1-45. This is the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/dont-make-it-conditional-4-6

You can also follow along with the sermon text here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Don’t make it conditional…that phrase is a bit of a running joke at my house. Often times Emily and I will throw this around just to take a little dig at each other. Perhaps you have had similar exchanges in your own lives…If you loved me, you’d run out to the gas station and get me a candy bar…Hey…don’t make it conditional. (pause) If you loved me you’d dish me up some ice cream…HEY…don’t make it conditional. (pause) If you loved me you’d come over here and reach this bowl on the top shelf for me…HEY…DON’T MAKE IT CONDITIONAL.
Now while these exchanges are good natured ribbing, perhaps it raises a bit of a mirror up to some of the interactions that we have in life. I you respect your boss and your coworkers, you’ll show up on time. (pause) If you support our children, you’ll sign up to run the concession stand. (pause) or perhaps a popular one these days…if you support the troops you’ll buy a bumper sticker. (pause)
We have the tendency to make things conditional don’t we…to needle just a little bit…to lay on a guilt trip…often times without meaning to…but yet it happens…and why? Well, because it works doesn’t it? I think we learn from a pretty young age how to manipulate, ever so subtly…to get the response we are looking for…Oh yes…it works.
Film makers do it, ramping up the emotional punch of heartfelt scene by inserting sweeping orchestral music behind the action…advertisers do it by carefully appealing to your ego and how great it will make you feel to have their product…even organizations that benefit homeless animals do it by showing images of starving wide-eyed kittens and puppies, all while playing a sad Sarah MacLauchlan song. Oh yes…it works.
And we see a similar situation in today’s gospel lesson…when people start to toy with emotions…laying on guilt trips…and making love conditional…We hear the basis for this entire story in the very first verse. A certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany…Lazurus…the one that Jesus loved…a man with two sisters…Mary and Martha…who Jesus loved just as much…Now we don’t know what it is about this family that appeals so much to Jesus…but he comes here fairly regularly…and we know that he’s close with this particular set of siblings…and just to be clear…they know it too.
As Jesus is hanging out aways away…off in the wilderness around the Jordan river somewhere…Lazarus falls sick…and something tells me that this is no simple head cold…no, this is obviously something pretty serious…something they don’t expect him to bounce back from…and what do they do? Well, they send word to Jesus…they know the guy, they know about the healing’s he’s been doing…if anyone can help out Lazarus, it’s Jesus…send word to him…oh, and twist the screws on him just a little bit, make sure he knows who’s asking… (pause)
Lord, the one YOU LOVE…is sick. (pause) Its not, Hey Jesus can you come check this out…or if you’re nearby and could swing in that would be great…but it’s a guilt trip isn’t it? The one you love is sick…so you better get yourself right on over here. (pause)
And now in a bit of a funny side note, we see confirmation of the love that Jesus feels for this family…but despite the fact that Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus…he gets the news…and sits on his tail for 2 more days…Yah I love you…but I’m comfy here…just sit tight…but then after a couple days, Jesus decides maybe it is high time that they skedaddle down to Bethany and check things out…if for no other reason that to show a great sign to the disciples so that they might believe…you know through this discourse with the disciples it almost seems like Jesus is doing all of this intentionally…and who knows, maybe he did…but despite his motivation for the delay, we know that in the meantime…Lazarus dies…Jesus doesn’t get there soon enough…and Lazarus is in the tomb.
And boy…Martha’s not too happy about it is she?  When she finds out that Jesus FINALLY makes it into town she runs to the outskirts and really lays into him…Lord, if you had been here he wouldn’t be dead…she might as well be saying “I guess we see how much you REALLY care don’t we?”  (pause) And then she turns the screws even more…But even now, I know that God will give you what you ask him.
(pause…cough) hint hint Jesus. (pause)
As the story goes on, we find out that these conditional guilt trips seem to run in the family…as the younger sister Mary finally comes out of the house to find Jesus…and lays the exact same thing on him…Lord if you’d been here he wouldn’t have died…we might read between the lines a bit and hear her accuse him…you knew about it…but you waited…you didn’t come…I guess you didn’t really love him after all did you? (pause)
At this, we hear that Jesus is distraught, and not only that but that he begins to weep at the thought of his beloved friend Lazarus dead and in the tomb…so perhaps we could say that the dual sided guilt trip the sisters are laying on him is working…but even the random Jews in the crowd seem to get in on it…Oh look at him crying…see how he loved him…BUT…this guy healed a blind man…SURELY he could have stopped Lazarus from dying. (pause)
Does that sound familiar? Think about it…ever had a conversation with God like that? (pause) If you loved him, you’d have done something about it. If you loved me, you’d do something about this.  If you loved me…if you loved me…if you REALLY loved me, you’ll do what I want.
Ever tried to bargin with God…or as the case may be…try to guilt trip God and make his love for you conditional?  I think we all do it don’t we. In those moments when hope seems lost, we start the bargin…but it raises the question of just who’s love is conditional doesn’t it?
Think about that for a moment…trying to bargin with God with a guilt trip isn’t really about testing God’s unconditional love for you…its really sending a message that your love for God has the condition attached…might as well be saying “if you do this for me, then I’ll offer my love back to you.” “Do this for me, and I’ll do something for you.” (pause)
As I’ve thought about this long passage this week, that’s the perspective that emerged…not that Lazarus and Martha and Mary are these three super siblings that radiate love for each other and for everyone else…Jesus included…but that these two sisters feel as if they have sway over Jesus because of a pre-existing relationship and they are using it to get what they want…Jesus, we are alone now…you have the power to bring him back so if you really love us…you’ll do it. (pause)
But now here’s an interesting point…despite the guilt trip…despite the sorrow that he was feeling in the death of his friend…he gives them what they ask for…Jesus raises the one that he loves from death…calling a dead man…a guy that’s been in the tomb 4 days…long enough to start stinking, back from death…Jesus calls him out of the tomb…and back into life…and in a major foreshadow of his own death, burial, and resurrection that we’ll hear about in a couple of weeks, Jesus shows his love by bringing someone back from the dead. (pause)
And the really interesting point is that it has nothing to do with the statements made by Mary and Martha…it has nothing to do with who Lazarus is…but it has everything to do with the truth uttered by the sisters unknowingly…that the unconditional love of Jesus for the individual is enough for him to call the individual out of the tomb.
Jesus tells us, I AM the resurrection and the life…its not limited to the last days…but its here now…in Jesus…and if we skip ahead just a little ways in the narrative we catch a glimpse of what the resurrection looks like…because we see Lazarus, alive again…reclining at a table…hanging out with Jesus…and so it seems that the resurrection…the life everlasting has little to do with our physical death…and everything to do with being in relationship with Christ. (pause) and now I ask you…do you believe it?
That’s another theme that echoes throughout the entirety of this passage…Jesus tells his disciples “I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you may believe.” Then he tells Martha “Those who believe in me, though they die will live…Do you believe it?” And she does…and then he tells her again “If you believe you WILL see the glory of God” and then while praying he asks God that those present will believe and in the end we see that many of them do.
We’ve heard this theme before…that in John’s gospel we are simply called to believe that Christ is God and that he will grant us eternal life…there are no conditions…we don’t have to guilt trip him for it…and we don’t have to play “if you loved me” card…because he DOES love you…each and every one of you…and he’ll prove it in a couple weeks time…hanging there on that cross to show you that there is NOTHING that will stand in the way of his love for you…a love that is in no way…conditional…believe it. Amen

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