Own It 11-1-15

This week’s sermon for All Saints Sunday comes from John 11:32-44. I explore Jesus’ emotional response when faced with the death of someone he cares for, and what we can learn from that.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

It never ceases to amaze me how things intended to be entertainment have the ability to strike me on very deep levels…and its no single form that applies. It can be a song, or it can be a story, or a tv show, or a movie, and sometimes even a well-made commercial tugs at my heart strings.

But for any of you who have heard me preach before, it’ll come as no great shock that a good movie is usually the type of entertainment that gets me more often than not. And in recent memory, the Pixar movie Inside Out got me. If you haven’t seen it…you should. The movie is excellent and appeals to people of all ages.

The premise behind this movie is that each and every person has a tiny command center in their brains where the various emotions that we all have share the load of controlling our reactions to the outside world. And each emotion is a character in itself. The main character is a young girl named Riley…a delightful little girl who’s life has been dominated with happy memories…and as such…Joy…is the emotion that’s the boss within her mind…yet there are also aspects of sadness, and fear, and anger, and disgust…just a few of the many different emotions that we all experience within our own lives.

Over the course of the movie, changes happen in the young girls life, leading to various adventures both in the real world, as well as for the emotion-characters that live within her…and by the end of the film everyone learns that our lives cannot be dominated by joy alone, but that other emotions help shape who we are as well…and not only that, but that they are a natural reaction to the different experiences we encounter.

I think this movie resonated with me in such a powerful way because of two different reasons…the first one being that I am a parent, and part of helping my kids grow up is helping them learn this truth, that life is hard and its okay to experience the emotions that we experience…and that we aren’t always going to be joyful all the time. (pause) And of course, that doesn’t just apply to my interaction with my kids as a parent…but it also fits in very well with my work as a pastor, as I am invited into the many different aspects of life together with you. (pause)
Now I was thinking about that the other day…and I had a pretty important realization…in my younger years…I didn’t get this concept at all. I remember a time when I was in my late teens…probably about my senior year in high school…and I ended up in a conversation with an individual that I knew, but I not very well…but for whatever reason she was sharing some incredibly personal stuff with me…hard experiences that greatly upset her…and I just couldn’t handle it…and instead of just being there with her as she experienced the emotions that came along with the memories…I acted goofy to try and get her to smile and be happy…because I couldn’t handle it any other way. (pause) And so…full disclosure…I would have been a really lousy pastor at 18…good thing I waited till my mid-30’s right? (pause)

Now I bring all of this up to embrace the fact…to be honest with the notion that life is hard, its messy…and we are hardwired in ways that we don’t understand…to have emotional reactions to all aspects of life that run the gambit…and today is one of those days when we acknowledge what is perhaps the single most difficult aspect of life to deal with…and that is death.

All Saints Day…the day every year when we remember and acknowledge those who have gone on before us into the great unknown that is death…and I’ll be honest…this is kind of a hard day, because to honor those who have died is to first acknowledge, once again, their death…and then to instantly feel the sting of various emotions that happened when we faced their death in the first place. (pause)

One of the bits of advice that I offer families in those times is to not shy away from the emotions that they experience, but to let them happen…and I can remember many different conversations that I’ve had with different individuals, when they have expressed a wide variety of emotion…sadness…anger…fear…loneliness…just to name a few…and perhaps they can all be categorized together by saying that facing the death of a loved one is painful…and while there is no real way to explain just why we feel the way we do…perhaps it is simply because death causes a rift…it creates a space, a separation…a chasm that we can’t cross…and that person…that individual that we care so much about…is gone from our lives in a way that just…hurts. (pause)
This is our reality…death exists, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not…its there…and if I only ever teach you one thing about the Bible…let it be this…that the Bible is honest about our reality. (pause)

In today’s story, we hear of Jesus’ encounter with the death of someone he cares about…the death of Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha…a family that for whatever reason…is beloved of Jesus on the personal level…and while this story is not the only example that we have of Jesus raising some from the dead…it does have some important distinctions…in two other stories…we hear of Jesus’ compassion leading him to raise a young man from death in order to care for his widowed mother…and then Jesus’ raising a young girl back to life in response to the great faith of her father…but in both of those stories…there are two things lacking that we see in this story…an acknowledgement of our messy reality…and Jesus’ personal response to it. (pause)

There are certain aspects of this story that always strike me as significant…the first being that when Jesus first hears that Lazarus is sick…which occurs in the first part of the chapter…he waits…so that by the time he gets there…Lazarus is dead…and has been 4 days…so much so that several times in the passage he is simply called “the dead man.” There can be no doubt that he…is…dead…So much so, that his sister Martha makes a statement that at first glance is kinda funny. Lord, he’s gonna smell…he’s been dead 4 days. Admittedly I always though that was a just a humorous throw away statement…but then I realized that it speaks to another truth….that not only is life messy…but so is death…both in the physical sense as well as in the emotional…and that leads me to my next point…Jesus’ response to all this. (pause)

As our story picks up today, Jesus already knows that Lazarus is dead…that’s made quite clear, particularly as he encounters Martha, prior to the start of today’s passage…and following her crabbing him out, he has a brief teaching moment for her, before encountering Mary…who repeats the crabbing…If you had been here he wouldn’t have died…and then, in response…something happens in John that turns everything on its head. (pause)
John’s gospel makes it very clear that Jesus invites us to come and see…he invites us to follow him…he invites us to experience relationship with him for ourselves…but in today’s story, that invitation is flipped.

Jesus asks…where have you laid him…and HE…is invited to come and see. Jesus…receives the invitation to come and experience it for himself…and remember that Jesus is God in human form…and so we see that God comes to experience something completely foreign to him…death…but the important part is that that God is experiencing death now…as one of us…fully human.

And Jesus has quite the reaction…twice in this passage we hear that he is “greatly disturbed.” But this is one of those lost in translation moments…because the original language indicates that Jesus get’s incredibly angry within himself. He’s seething…not just upset…but Jesus witnesses death…and he gets mad….but that’s not the only response…we also hear that Jesus wept…he felt sorrow at the death of one that he loves…and if Jesus experiences the gambit of emotion at the death of someone he cares about…emotions ranging from anger to sadness…then perhaps it comes as no great shock that we experience the same range of emotion when we are faced with the same situation…we are, after all…made in the image of God…so if God gets upset, maybe we need to give ourselves a pass to experience the emotions as they come…the anger, the sadness…the pain that occurs when someone we love crosses that barrier that we can’t cross with them…when that separation occurs…when the person that has been a part of our life in this reality, crosses over into something different…when they are lost into the abyss that is…death.(pause)

But there’s more to the story isn’t there? (pause) Because while we share the fully human emotional response to death that Jesus experienced…Jesus is able to do something about that which we are powerless against…and we see in the story today, that the stone is pulled back and Jesus cries out in a loud voice…the name of Lazarus…and wherever it is that Lazarus is…that void, that abyss…that place where dead people are…he hears his name called by God…and it brings him back from it. (pause)

God is able to do that…and this is just a glimpse of what is to come at some unknown point in the future…and our second lesson today, found in the book of Revelation gives us just a glimpse of this…when God ultimately does something to this reality as it is today.

God dwells among mortals…and he himself wipes away every tear from their eyes…death will be no more…mourning and crying and pain will be no more…for the first things have passed away. (pause) I love the way that passage opens…that we see the new heaven and the new earth and the old has passed away…but not only that…we hear that the sea is no more.

In Jewish culture…the sea was the abyss…it represents the unknown…the uncross able…the depths that we cannot penetrate…and I think we see today that this abyss applies to wherever it was that Lazarus had gone when death claimed him…yet God in human form was able to call him back from it…and on that glorious day whenever it will be…God will call the names of all those who have gone into the abyss…that will include those who have gone on before us now…and not only that, but it will also include each one of us…for like Lazarus…and like those we remember today, one day each and every one of us will also experience death for ourselves…and we too, will cross over that boundary into the abyss…into the unknown depths of death.

But Jesus makes a promise…one that we didn’t quite catch in our story today, but that I’ll share anyway…as Jesus is talking with Martha, he promises “I am the resurrection and the life…those who believe in me…THOUGH THEY DIE…WILL live…do you believe this?”

We have a God who recognizes all aspects of our reality…the messiness of life…the pain and emotion caused by death…and ultimately, we have a God who has experienced death for himself…and all of this in order to over come it…and that same God, who experiences the same gambit of emotions that we ourselves feel in these painful times, promises us…that there is more to come.

So don’t fear the emotions that you experience…don’t deny them…own them…let ‘em happen…because grief is something that you can’t ignore, you have to go through it…just as Jesus did when faced with the death of one he loves.

God mourns our reality, and shares our response to it…but cling to the hope we have in the promise that God has also done something about it…and one day, one glorious day we will hear our names called in a loud voice, bringing us back from that which can no longer hold us. Bringing each and every one of us back from the abyss…simply because he loves us enough to do it…he loves us just as much as he loved Lazarus…do you…believe this? It is my hope and my prayer that you do…because the promise is for you…Own it. Amen.

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