Posts Tagged ‘Lazarus’

Where Were You Lord 11-4-8


In this sermon for All Saints Sunday, based on John 11:32-44, I explore the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  We are given a unique glimpse into the grief that even God has experienced in the face of death.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

The grace and peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

There are times when I like to joke around that I’m turning into a hipster…but then I really got to thinking about it, and I realized that there are 5 signs that you are, in fact, a hipster.  Number one, you are a fan of facial hair…check.  Number two…you love craft beer…check.  Number three, you tend to wear baseball caps at an odd, ironic angle…which I do not do. Number four, you have a preference for wearing skinny jeans…nope.

And finally…the deciding factor…you have tattoos…which I don’t…so I guess I can say, for the moment anyway…that I’m only 40% hipster…but, someday that might shift…because I’ve always thought about getting some ink…so much so that I even know what I’ll get, if I ever decide to take the plunge.

There’s an image that I love…2 hands coming together…grasping each other at the wrist.  Now the first time that I saw this image was at the very end of the first Lord of the Rings movie back in 2001…(demonstrate the image) one of the characters, who can’t swim, has sank in a river, when another character reaches down from a boat…grabs his wrist, and after a brief second, they are both holding on as he gets pulled up out of the water.

This image is meaningful for me for a couple of reasons…one probably being because I’ve been pulled out of the water…many of you sitting out there have heard me tell the story of a time when I foolishly tried swimming out to a buoy in rough water and my brother in law had to pull me back to shore.

The second reason stems from that…when another impulsive decision on the part of Peter resulted in Jesus reaching out and taking him by the hand, lifting him up out of the water. And interestingly enough…this action of Jesus…grabbing another person by the hand…its something of a regular occurrence for him…especially in terms of the miracles that Jesus is famous for. Several different times…in different circumstances, we hear of Jesus grasping another person by the hand.  He heals several different people, including Peter’s mother in law, through his words combined with the action of grabbing the individual by the hand.  And in one instance…he even raises a young girl from the dead in this same way. And that’s worth paying attention to.

There are only three instances in the gospels of Jesus raising people from the dead…the young girl…a widow’s son when he walks up on the funeral procession…and today’s story of Lazarus. I can’t help but think that’s eye opening to consider, knowing how much stock we place on Jesus and his action of overcoming the power of death in the world…its strange to think that only 3 people are actually raised from the dead.

But today’s story is one of those times…but to be sure…the story of Jesus and Lazarus is an odd one.  For starters…I wish we knew a little more about the relationship between Jesus and this family…for he was close to Lazarus but also his sisters Martha and Mary…we hear about these three siblings in quite a few different instances….but we never really hear about the basis for their ongoing relationship, beyond the love that is expressed between them.

But regardless of their history…it would certainly seem that there is a sense of extreme familiarity, perhaps even a sense of duty that lies between them…evidence in the details within this greater story…a portion of which takes place before our action begins today.  Because for starters…Lazarus gets sick…we don’t know his ailment…but its serious enough for Martha to send off for Jesus…who’s hanging out somewhere in the region in the midst of his ministry.

Now keep in mind…Martha can’t just pick up a cell phone and shoot him a text…she had to send someone to look for him…and who knows how long that took…but when word finally reaches him…Jesus acknowledges that Lazarus is sick…and promptly stays put for a couple more days before finally meandering his way to Bethany…in fact he takes so much time in getting there…that by the time he approaches the village…Lazarus has been dead and sealed in the tomb for the better part of a week.

I can only imagine how frustrating this must have been for the sisters…and maybe you can too…ever been in a situation like that…one where duty or personal obligation dictates that you should put some hustle into the situation…or vice-versa that you expect the person you’ve reached out to to do the same?

That seems to be the case here as well…because before Jesus even makes it to the village, Martha hears he’s coming and she marches out to give him a piece of her mind…and in the midst of a back and forth between Jesus and Martha…one that I imagine was a touch on the heated side…she says “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (pause)

Now this isn’t the only time we hear it…because pretty soon Mary…who had stayed in the house when Martha stomped off the gates of town…Mary follows suit and heads out to find Jesus as well…and when she does…she says the exact same thing to him. “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  I can only think that both sisters are placing blame…casting some shade…seeking out a target for the grief and sadness and anger that they are feeling in the death of their brother…in the death of someone that they love. They might as well be saying “Its your fault he’s dead” or even asking the question “Where were you on this one Lord?”

I can’t help but think that we’ve all been there at one time or another…because death is a reality isn’t it? One that we’ve all encountered…and death’s a funny thing, though perhaps that’s not quite the right word for it…because sometimes death feels almost okay…but other times everything about it is wrong.

Circumstances can alter how we look at death…the life of the individual…how old they are…if they’ve battled a long illness…or if its an accident that comes out of nowhere…all of these things factor into our response…but if there is one thing in common, regardless of the circumstances…it’s the pain and the sorrow that we feel when death enters the picture.

Now here’s the thing. We’re not the only ones who feel it.  Because not just once…but twice in today’s story…we hear how deeply Jesus is moved…he is shocked…angry…deeply agitated within himself. Our English translation doesn’t do justice to what Jesus was feeling…and not only that but we hear that Jesus weeps openly when he come face to face with the death of a loved one.

And as we recognize the response of Jesus we begin to see that we are not alone in grieving…but that we have a God who mourns death just as we do…in fact I believe that the first being to mourn every single death is God…and that God is weeping before the reality even begins to take hold in our hearts and minds when something like this happens.

God is no stranger to the pain of loss…the emotion that comes with it…because God has experienced it first hand when the Word became flesh and dwelled among us…and this is why God has made us a promise over and over again in the scriptures…one that we heard today out of Revelation…now I don’t know if you are familiar with Revelation, but it’s the last book of the Bible and the reading today was one of the last parts of it. And this promise says that once this crazy broken-down messed up reality is over…that God will make everything new…somehow, someway…and not only that, but God will dwell among us…and he will wipe away every tear from our eyes…death will be no more…mourning and crying and pain will be no more. (pause)
I’ve often said…I have no idea what things are going to look like in the life to come…but somehow it seems that the pain that we feel now…the pain that gives us sorrow and tears…and the pain that makes us angry enough to scream out at God “Where were you on this one?” That will be no more.

And that gives me hope…even in the midst of times when everything else gets cloudy in the face of the pain…and this is a place that, perhaps, you find yourself in today…I’m guessing many from our community are still in this state…still feeling that anger and loss…still asking those questions after the tragic death of a high schooler just a couple weeks ago…a sense that we’ve felt before in our community in the face of tragedies that just don’t make any sense.

But we remember in these times, that not only do we have a God that mourns along side us…but we have a God who has done something about it…even in those times when we might be a little too sad or angry to see that hope clearly…that hope remains…and in these times, we look to each other for love and support.

We look to each other because together we are the hands and feet of God…together we are the body of Christ here on earth and we are called to lift each other up…because sometimes the immediate answer that God gives us when we ask “Where are you on this one” is to point us to look around and see those that are here to share our burdens with us.

There’s a painting that hangs up in the high school. Admittedly I don’t know what the story is behind it, but sometimes I wonder if its actually based on the same image from the movie that I talked about before…two hands grasping one other by the wrist…one whole and strong…the other bruised and scarred…and that my friends…is life…we do this for one another…knowing in the next instant that our strength might fail and we’ll need someone to take us by the hand…to mirror that love and that strength and that power to comes from God in the first place…that’s how we get through these times…holding onto the promise that one day…one glorious day…we like Lazarus, will hear a voice calling our name…a voice that is bigger…louder…greater even than death and the separation that it causes with those still living…a voice of one who knows the pain of mourning…and who will always be there to take us by the hand…in one way or another…and lift us up to new life. Amen.

Death Stinks 4-2-17

In this sermon, based on John 11:1-45, I explore the raising of Lazarus, as well as the long story leading up to it. Death, like many of life’s other hardships, leave us asking the question “Where are you on this one?”

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

There’s a story about a young couple, maybe you’ve heard it before…but the story goes that this young man and woman get married, and on their first day together after they get home from the honeymoon, the new bride decides that she’s going to cook a big fancy meal for her new husband. So she goes out to the store and buys all the fixings…including a great big, tasty ham for the main dish.

Now he’s home when she’s cooking…and as she’s getting ready to put the ham in the roaster pan…he watches his new bride pull out a knife, and slice the end off the ham, before putting in the oven.  Now he’s curious…why would she do that…and so he asks the obvious question. Honey…why did you cut the end off the ham?  She looks at him for a moment, clearly thinking about it…and she responds…well…because that’s what my mom always did before she cooked a ham…I guess I don’t really know why. That’s just what my mom taught me.

So now both of them are a little curious…and so the young woman pulls out her cell phone, puts it on speaker and calls her mom.  Mom…when I was growing up, whenever you were cooking a ham, I remember that you always cut the end off…how come?  Mom thinks about it for a moment and replies…Well…because that’s what I always saw my mom do? I guess I really don’t know why? That’s just what my mom taught me. (pause)
You see where this is going. Now the young bride dials up Grandma…and poses the same question. Why do you cut the end off a ham before you cook it?  And Grandma laughs…well dear…when I was first married to your grandpa…we had a tiny little oven…so small, that I couldn’t fit an entire ham in it…and I got in the habit of cutting the end off so it would fit…and now that I think about it…I never stopped, even when I got a bigger oven. (pause)

Sometimes the things that just seem normal, have a very different, often unexpected reason why they start in the first place. We have many different examples in our day to day lives…things that we do, because that’s just what you do…but they have their roots in something specific.

And one of these things happens around the subject of funerals.  Now the first funeral I remember going to was my great grandmother when I was about 8 years old…and I don’t remember much of anything about that day…except the flowers. The front of the church was blanketed in flowers…and with good reason.  Because when someone dies, what do we do? A batch of us get together and place an order to have flowers sent…its just what you do…and I know that, because that’s what my mom taught me.

But have you ever stopped to consider the reason why? Why do we send flowers? Why is the automatic association with someone’s death, flowers? There’s a reason…but it goes back aways…back before the days of funeral homes…and mortuaries. Back when most people didn’t die in a hospital…they died at home…they’d get sick…they’d be cared for in their final days at home in their bed…and then when they died…the body would stay right there…and when loved ones came for the visitation, they would find the bedroom draped in fresh flowers. Because fresh flowers give off a pleasant smell…and that smell was intended to cover up the smell of death.

Now in the years since, we’ve outsourced funeral prep…and that’s not a bad thing…but in the process, the flowers have just become the go-to sympathy gift…and the masking of death has gone the route of science. We prepare bodies for the funeral in an attempt to hold off decomposition…and we dress up the body, with nice clothes and makeup…trying to make the individual look life-like, and pleasant, and nice…but make no mistake. Death isn’t nice.  Death has an effect…and death has a smell.

Now many of here today are familiar with farm life. And one of things that I can remember most vividly, having grown up around livestock, as the rendering truck when an animal died. That smell is locked in my brain…you can’t put it in words…but its awful…and that smell sticks with you. Last summer, we were sitting at a baseball game for my son…and this particular field was right next to a gravel road…and as we sat there, 3 or 4 different times the rendering truck drove by…and for about 5 minutes…all you can smell is…death.

Now imagine for a moment…that you are Mary and Martha…and your brother has died…and not only that, he’s been in the tomb 4 days…not just dead, but buried…enclosed…rotting…and then Jesus shows up, and he asks you to open the tomb. (pause) That’s exactly what happens today, but interestingly enough not till quite late in this rather lengthy story.

We hear that Lazarus is sick…this man, who along with his two sisters are beloved friends of Jesus. And this is a sickness that isn’t going to get any better so they send word to Jesus…because if anyone can help him…if anyone can make a difference…its Jesus…he’s opened the eyes of a blind man after all…certainly, he can heal Lazarus…

But when Jesus hears the news…he promptly sits around for 2 more days before finally working up the gumption to head towards Bethany…and by the time he meanders there…as we have heard…Lazarus is already rotting away in the tomb.

Needless to say, the sisters…well they’re a little perturbed aren’t they…and apparently they are close enough to Jesus…that they can get away with ripping into him a little bit…and we hear the exact same accusation from both them at different times. If you had been here…my brother wouldn’t have died.

Now I can’t help but think that this is a pretty common reaction…when something bad happens…when something occurs in our lives that we can’t make heads or tails of…and we happen to be in the group of people that express belief in God…I think its safe to say that at one time or another…we have probably all uttered a statement like that haven’t we…or maybe asked the question…Hey God…where were on that one?

I think there are many different examples of things that happen in our lives that bring that question to our minds. Its not just limited to a illness and death…maybe we ask it when our family faces a financial crisis…or when we lose a job.  Maybe we’ve prayed that our marriage will work out…but instead it deteriorates and we find ourselves getting divorced.

Or maybe we are facing the trials of bullying with no end in sight…or maybe we’re being abused…or maybe we’re facing the difficulties of mental illness…there are countless ways that people suffer…and as we look around this room today…who knows what someone is experiencing in the depths of their heart…who knows what hardships are present…hardships that make us ask the question “Where are you on this one God?”

But if the story of Lazarus shows us anything today, its this.  While God might not act according our timing…and while God might not respond to our prayers or requests or questions quite like we hope for…God isn’t afraid to get into stuff that’s messy.

Take the stone away…Lord he’s gonna smell. I don’t care…take it away. (pause) A lot has happened in this story before Jesus cries out in a great big voice…a voice that’s somehow big enough that not even death can hinder it.  Jesus has been accused of not caring.  He’s been blamed for coming too late…but he’s also witnessed death of someone that he loves…and he’s gotten mad…and he’s mourned…but now…finally we see that somehow, someway…Jesus, God in the flesh…cries out in the same voice that spoke creation into existence in the beginning…and in this same amazing voice…he speaks to the dead…and the dead listens. (pause)

That’s the amazing thing about this God that we serve…this God that we worship…this God that we look to for salvation…This God, is willing to get messy…this God is willing to step into those things that make no sense…those things that bring us pain…even death. God gets into it…and not only that, but God get’s his hands dirty in the process…because life’s messy and so is death…its messy because of the way that power of sin has twisted our reality away from that which is good and joyful…but we have a God who loves us so much…who loves us beyond anything we can imagine…this God will go to any length in order to overcome that brokenness.

And that is what the cross is all about…We are almost there…next week Jesus gets to Jerusalem…and just a few days later, he’s betrayed…he’s beaten…he tortured…and he’s nailed to a cross where he suffers and dies. (pause) But the cross is not about God saying I’m so angry with you that I’ll punish my son. (pause) The cross is God saying I’ll endure even this to show you that I love you. (pause)

I am the resurrection and the life. These words of Jesus are a corrective today…both for Martha and for us…because there is this misconception that the life death and resurrection of Jesus is only something that’s intended to benefit us out there in the unknown future.  But Jesus reminds us that we live in the hope of the resurrection…and through that hope we live in the freedom from all that which hinders us…right here right now…and if we don’t believe that…then look at the tomb…because Jesus get in the stink…and cries out in that amazing voice that not even death can stop and says Lazarus come out.  (pause)
And this same God calls us by name…inviting us into a new life…a life free from the things that hinder us…a life where we are not defined by what the world says about us.

And so, wherever you find yourself today…whatever it is in your life that isolates you…whatever suffering makes you ask the question Where are you on this one God…rest assured…that whether we are able to recognize it or not…God…is right beside you…whether it makes sense or not…and as I say this, I pose the same question that Jesus asked Martha…Do you believe this?

I hope so…because believing it grants a freedom that goes beyond words…a freedom that goes beyond the ability to explain…but I believe that its true…I don’t know why…its just what faith has taught me. Amen

Saturday People 3-13-15

In this sermon I explore John 12:1-8, the anointing of Jesus. We see even in the midst of life, there is the tension of death present. We live in this reality.

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

I’ve heard it said that of our 5 main senses, smell is most strongly connected to our memory…that certain aromas can instantly remind of us of certain moments or places or individuals…and I think that’s true. In the very least…I know that my sense of smell keys in to certain things…and I’m guessing that many of these aromas are pretty universal.

Who can deny the smell of a freshly cut orange…or the wonderful aroma of lilac flowers in the early spring…two of my personal favorites are the smells that come up from freshly mown grass or freshly turned dirt…its wonderful.

But on the flip side…sometimes smells, while identifiable, are also pretty stinky…it never ceases to amaze my kids when we find ourselves driving down the road behind a livestock trailer and I’m able to identify whether its carrying cattle or hogs or horses…simply by the smell…Certainly its true…aromas…our sense of smell…its important and strong.

I bring all of this up because today’s gospel appeals to our sense of smell…the anointing of Jesus…and the abundant gift that Mary bestows upon Jesus when she anoints his feet with a pound of costly perfume…and an aroma that fills the house. (pause)
Now I think most of us are fairly familiar with this story…it shows up in all four gospels…and while the details get a little muddled across the gospel boundaries…the basic plot is the same…Jesus is reclining at the table, enjoying the hospitality of his host, and a woman comes in and pours oil on him before wiping his feet with her hair, when low and behold, someone squawks about the waste of resources.

The setting changes…the identity of the woman and the host changes…and the voice of opposition changes across the different gospels…but the story itself remains pretty constant. That being said…a couple of these unique details here in John’s account catch my attention. First off, we hear that the event occurs in the home of Lazarus…and we also hear that it occurs after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. Just how long after, we’re not sure…but that story occurs in chapter 11 of John, so it couldn’t have been too long.

And so we know that Lazarus, as he’s reclining there at the table alongside Jesus…sharing this time together with the Lord…Lazarus is experiencing a bit of a unique situation. He’s been dead…but now he’s alive again…one of only 3 people that Jesus brings back…but at the same time…we have no indication that Lazarus is now experiencing life in “THE RESURRECTION.” That life that we are promised will come in the last days…rather, all indications show us that Lazarus, along with those other two individual’s raised by Jesus, were simply experiencing life in the same way that they had before…and in the end died once more…but in the meantime…where do we find him? Here…spending time with Jesus…experiencing ongoing relationship with the Lord…and now let’s put a pin in that and come back to it in a bit. (pause)

The second interesting point that John’s account of this story makes…is Jesus’ response when Judas squawks about wasting the oil…all selfish motivations of Judas aside…Jesus says that she has prepared him for his burial…and that’s what this anointing is all about…its coming right up…we hear that its 6 days before Passover…a few more days and Jesus dies.

That’s coming up for us on the calendar as well…two weeks from today…we’ve got the triumphal entry, which incidentally, immediately follows this story in John…and then we’re off through Holy Week and the glorious resurrection of Jesus…the empty tomb…the risen Lord…cue the trumpets and bring in the Easter Lilies. (pause)

If you’re anything like me, you’re ready for Easter. This season of Lent is just long enough…and just dark enough…that by this point…I’m ready for that empty tomb…and as I think about that…I’m reminded of something an old mentor of mine taught me…that we are Easter people…we are people of the resurrection…and we live in a reality where the tomb of Jesus is empty for he has risen…but each and every year we go through this time…this time of remembrance…this time of preparation…and even though we embrace the promise that we are a new creation…and that we join with Christ in a resurrection like his…we also realize that we have to go through Good Friday before we can get to Easter.

We have to go through Death before we can get to the new life that lies beyond it…and in our story today…Jesus reminds us of that. “Leave her alone, she has kept it for the day of my burial.” (pause) Jesus knows that he has to go through Good Friday to get to Easter…and as much as he might have feared it…and as fervently as he prayed to the Father to allow Good Friday to pass from him…he still took it.

Now here’s the thing…we are promised in the waters of our baptism that we are claimed by God as his children…and we receive the promise that we inherit the gift of the resurrection…we will join with Christ in a resurrection like his, but we also join with Christ in a death like his…and this is not shocking…we all owe one death in this existence and there are no exceptions to that…but in addition…we also experience what I can only call a “little death” each and every day.

Remember that we are forgiven of the sin and pain and darkness that exists within us…we feel it, but we are forgiven of it…and every day, when we sense that darkness and repent of it and turn ourselves back to the one who created us we are that new creation…but by doing this we are experiencing that little death…each and every day. And so, in addition to being Easter people…people of the resurrection…we also realize that we are Good Friday people…because we have to go through the death before we can get to the resurrection.

This is true in the big picture…that we each experience death, but through the promise of God we join in the resurrection…and it is also true for us in the here and now…as we experience the little death of sin and darkness before experiencing the promise of new life in Christ.

Now its important that we realize this…that the gift of Jesus isn’t limited to just some new life out there in the unknown future…that’s part of it…but he has told us that he came to give us life and give it abundantly…in the here and now…

That abundant life is lived with God…in relationship which is made possible again through the death and resurrection of Christ…he has made it possible for us to turn away from the darkness that is still present with our reality and within our individual lives…to turn away from it and return to the path intended for us by the one who made in the first place.

The Hebrew have a word for this…and its connected to something I’ve talked about before. On Ash Wednesday I talked about the word TOV…the GOOD…the way that God made us and desires for us to live…and this notion of repentance…of turning away from that sinful darkness and returning to God…of turning back to the good…back to the TOV…the Hebrew calls this T’SHOOVAH….everyone say that with me..T’SHOOVAH…its one of those words that requires excitement to say…and I think that stems from the fact that its exciting and life giving…it is life abundant when we spend it in the TOV…in the good life intended WITH the LORD. (pause)

Now all that being said…it raises the question…where do we find a life in T’SHOOVAH? Do we find it as Good Friday people…in the recognition of death? (pause) I don’t think so. And do we find it as Easter People…embracing the resurrection that we have yet to fully experience? (pause) I don’t think so. I think we find in the middle of the two…in the midst…in the tension that lies between death and resurrection.

So maybe we are Good Friday people…and maybe we’re also Easter people…but I think we find T’SHOOVAH…when we realize that we are Saturday people…living in the tension between death and new life…between the cross and the empty tomb…a life lived, not perfect, but TOV…GOOD…a life lived in relationship with the Lord. (pause)

And now I’m going to go back to that spot where we put a pin…and Lazarus…reclining at the table with Jesus…having experienced death…literally in his case…but yet to fully encounter the resurrection…and what are they doing? Seems like they’re simply spending time together…abiding together…living life together.

Through Christ, this relationship is possible, because we see in Jesus that God dwells among us…with us…and through Christ, we are drawn to the Father…but not only that…through Christ we are also given the ability to forgive one another…to repair the broken relationships between us as individuals…

This abundant life…promised by Jesus…IS experienced in the here and now…it is found in relationship with God and one another because if you recall clear back in Genesis, when God is making humanity and he calls it TOV, he recognizes that it is NOT good…it is NOT TOV…for us to be alone…and through the reconciling work of Jesus Christ…the work that we are invited into…we live in community together. (pause)

We are Good Friday people…and we are Easter people…and as we see today, we are also Saturday people…and we are all of these rolled into one…we live in the tension between death and new life…a tension that was present within today’s story.

I’m going to wrap this all up with one more thought…remember how Mary poured out the oil…and the aroma of the perfume filled the entire room? Jesus said that she did it to prepare him for burial. This was common…for when a body went in the tomb and began to decompose, it smells…death has a smell and if you’ve been around you know what I’m talking about.

And so, when they put a body in the tomb, they anointed it with perfume…to try and mask the smell of death…but you can’t…the two mix in together…the fragment with the foul…the pleasant with the painful…life with death.

And that’s what Jesus is talking about as he looks towards his own death…the death that makes new life possible. Its all wrapped up together…for Jesus and for us. This is the tension of being Saturday people…and what a blessing to know that we are not alone in that tension…but that we have one another…and we have a God who exists there with us…so let’s live here in the abundant life lived together with God and one another…let’s live on Saturday knowing that its T’SHOOVAH. Amen


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.

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:

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