Friday, May 23, 2014

"Which Way?" Easter 5A (May 18, 2014)

Psalm 31
In you, O God, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your names sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Holy One, faithful God. My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

John 14:1-14
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In Gods house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.And you know the way to the place where I am going. Thomas said to him, Teacher, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through me. If you know me, you will know God also. From now on you do know God and have seen God. Philip said to him, Teacher, show us the Creator, and we will be satisfied. Jesus said to him, Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Creator. How can you say, Show us the Creator? Do you not believe that I am in God and God is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but God who dwells in me does the works. Believe me that I am in God and God is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Creator. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that God may be glorified in the Child. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

 Message
Will you pray with and for me? Loving God, sometimes we get lost in this confusing world. Remind us that you are with us always; you have prepared a place for us, a place of welcoming love. Teach us to see with your eyes, to be your hands and heart and spirit in this world, to do your works in this world. In all your names, amen.

This gospel reading is one of those hard ones that we dont really like to preach, because it sounds so harsh. No one comes to God except through me. We all know people who are not spiritual, or spiritual but not religious, or of a different faith altogetherthey are good people, some of them maybe better people than we arehow can we say that they do not know God?

There are a couple of different ways of looking at this. If we look at it literally, then we have to say, Well, sorry, to our Muslim and Hindu and Jewish and non-practicing friends. You are out of luck. If we look at it in a more nuanced way, though, if we look at this whole passage, then we can say, Many paths lead to God. How can we be so arrogant as to believe that we have the one and only waythat we can limit how God acts and works in other peoples lives? Thats the path I choose to take. I have known too many good peoplekind, fair, loving, wise, generouswho are not Christians, to think that they cannot know God. They may have other names, or no name, but they cannot be the people they are apart from God. They may not think of themselves that way, they may not take God into their calculations at all, but they do reflect the love of God in their lives.

God cant be pinned down to one place or time. When Thomas says, But we dont know where you are going, how can we follow you? Jesus tells him that he himself, Jesus, is the way they will get to the place they need to be. Theres no need to look for Jesus, Jesus is already thereand here, and in Lebanon and Burma and Johannesburg and London and Mexico City and everywhere there are people. We only have to open the eyes of our hearts to recognise Gods presence in every place and every person.

This can be pretty easily done with people we know and see regularlyour family, our friends, our co-workers and neighbours. But it can be harder when we move outside those comfort zonesacross town, across the country, around the world. How do we, how can we reach out, beyond those comfort zones, to the rest of the world, to people we dont even know?

As you may have guessed, I have several opportunities for us, ways we can reach out to the world, see God in others, and allow them to see God in us. Two people are in need of human communication, of that reassurance that people care. One is a seven-year-old boy in Bolivia.  The other is a person who feels called to support LGBT prisoners with reminders of Gods lovehe is asking for our support though prayers and letters of encouragement. We have also been offered the opportunity to provide worship at a local assisted living facility. These are all ways we can reach beyond our walls here at the church; we can be the presence of God for others through shared worship, through letters of support and hope and simple human contact.

If Jesus taught anything, he taught that we are to serve each other. These are a few ways we can do that, ways to move beyond our comfort zone of caring for friends and family and our church community. Those are, of course, very important. But I am asking us to take another step, to venture out a bit, beyond what we know.

Remember Jesus said, The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. We have been called to do the works that Jesus didto comfort the sick and dying and lonely; to encourage people who are struggling, to visit those in prison, to feed the hungrywhether physical or spiritual hunger.

What we do here is wonderfulwe are nourished by spiritual readings and discussion and music and prayer. But we must do more with itwe need to reach beyond ourselves, beyond this community to the world beyond our doors and share that love and acceptance and encouragement we know here with others, so that they can know it too, and see Gods presence.

Here is my challenge to youto each one of you here. Write one letter, share in one worship service at the facility; people need and want to know that they are not alonethey are hoping to hear God speak through our voicesthe encouragement and support and hope and caring of Jesus, shared with our sisters and brothers.

Some of you grew up in the church, or a church environment. One of the first songs I remember singing in youth group and Sunday school was "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love." As a kid, I always thought of that in terms of getting along with the people in the group, in the church--my friends and family. But it means so much more--"we will work with other, we will work side by side, and we will guard each one's dignity and save each one's pride, and they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they will know we are Christians by our love." That love is not just for the folks here in church--that is very important, of course--but the other half of that equation is reaching out to the rest of the world.

Christians have gotten a lot of bad press lately, from Fred Phelps to various politicians claiming to speak for, they claim, " all true Christians." But that is not the final word--you and I can show that they are not the only ones with a claim to the name Christian--we can offer another vision of who Christians are, how they behave and what they do.

We have so many opportunities to show and share love and encouragement--write a letter or two; take church to people who can't get to church. Maybe you have some other ideas too--share them with me and John and Jason, and maybe we can get others involved. There is so much to be done, my friends--let's roll up our sleeves and get to it.


And they will know we are Christians by our love.

In all God's names, amen.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

“Can You See It?” Easter 3A (May 4, 2014)

Luke 24:13-49
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, What are you discussing with each other while you walk along? They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days? He asked them, What things? They replied, The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him. Then he said to them, Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over. So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us? That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon! Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, Peace be with you. They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, Have you anything here to eat? They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with youthat everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what God promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

*** 
Will you pray with and for me? Holy One, sometimes we cannot see beyond our own fear and sadness and pain to the healing and joy we are offered. Teach us to be open to your possibility, to move beyond the limitations we are so certain of, to the realisation of your presence with us. In all your names, amen.

How many of you remember the movie Field of Dreams? I love that moviepartly because of the baseball, partly because I like almost everything Ive ever seen with James Earl Jones in it, but also because it reminds me that we are not always aware of everything around us, that sometimes we cant see what is right in front of us.

For those of you who havent seen it, a quick recapKevin Costner plays  Ray Kinsella, a farmer and baseball fan, something he inherited from his father, who idolised Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Chicago White Sox, even though Shoeless Joe was implicated in the throwing of baseball games in the 1919 World Series. He hears a voice in his cornfield saying, If you build it, he will come. He builds the field and waits, while his neighbours tease him about plowing under his corn for a baseball field, and his brother-in-law Mark  warns that he will lose money and the farm by doing that. Then one night, he hears a ballgame being played and goes outside to find the 1919 Chicago White Sox in the midst of a game. He contacts the famous baseball writer Terence Mannplayed by James Earl Joneswho at first wants nothing to do with him, but eventually agrees to accompany Ray to find Archie Moonlight Graham, a young player who washed out of the big leagues and became a doctor. Ray and Terence bring Moonlight back to the field, where he joins the team. When Rays daughter is hurt, however, Moonlight leaves the baseball fieldthus becoming the old doctor againin order to save her. Terence then joins the team in the cornfield, telling Ray that he, Ray, has to stay and help raise his family. Ray then recognises the catcher as his father, and they play catch together as a long line of cars forms on the road leading to the farmthe field was built, and they are coming to watch the team play.

Now, one of the interesting things is that the brother-in-law cant see the players or hear the sounds of the game for most of the movie. Rays daughter, who loves baseball too, can; and so can Rays wife Annie. When people believe, they can see the players and enjoy the game. In the end, Mark, Rays brother in law, can also see the players.

Sohow many of us are like Mark? Do we recognise the wonders all around us? Or are we like Cleopas and the other disciple, so wrapped up in their grief that they couldnt recognise Jesus, even though they spoke to him for a long while?

The love and presence of God are all around us, all the time--whether we are aware of it or not, whether respond or not. We can take Mark's position, that we don't see, that it is impossible, that such things don't happen--long-dead baseball players from Chicago don't show up inq a cornfield in Iowa. Or we can understand that there is more to the world than we can grasp, and see with the eyes of hope instead of despair.

Mark was looking at the cornfield with the eyes of facts and numbers and stark reality, the negative viewpoint that said, "This is not the best financial use of that field." And then he saw afresh, thorough eyes of hope, open to possibility--and saw the baseball players, and understood the possibilities of the world.

The disciples going to Emmaus that day were also deep in the glass-half-empty place. The very person whose death they were mourning was walking beside them, talking with them, and yet they could not perceive that it was him. They finally do--after he has explained everything to them--and they recognise him when blesses and offered bread to them--an act of hospitality and caring.

Can we open our senses to the presence of good, of blessing, of hope in our lives? It can be very easy to focus on the difficulties, the troubles we have, rather than on what is good. We see the cornfield when we could be watching a baseball game; we see a stranger rather than our dearest friend.


This week, look for the baseball game; remember to see a dear friend instead of a wise stranger. God is present all around and among and through you--in the shared laughter of friends, in the love of children, partners, family; in conversation and healing; in the gift of ourselves, given to others in service.  Be open to that presence of God, the blessings of love and care -- they are what the world seesks, and what we can offer. In all God's names, amen.

“Where Do We Go From Here?” Easter 2A (April 27, 2014)

John 20:19-31
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the religious leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Teacher.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Creator has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus, or the Twin), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Teacher!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Child of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

***
Will you pray with and for me? Eternal One, the joy of Easter is still with us. Give us grace to live with joy in your presence and to share that joy with all your children. In all your many names, amen.

Easter is over—the chocolates have all been eaten, the baskets are empty, the bonnets have been put away, the lilies are looking a bit bedraggled…

No, actually that’s not true. Easter Sunday is over and past, but the season of Easter continues! In fact, the Easter season of the church lasts 50 days, until Pentecost—that is longer than either Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas, or Lent, the time of preparation for Easter. We have just come through Lent—a time of self-examination, of inward thought and prayer and meditation, of refocusing on our spiritual life.  The Easter season is a time of celebration and joy, of, in its turn, preparation for the great feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the church.

But that in-between time must have been a strange time for the apostles—for Peter and John and James and the rest. What an incredible time they had just been through! The events of Holy week—the strange meal with Jesus, then his arrest; the suicide of Judas, who had been an integral part of their group until the end; and then Jesus’ execution and burial…the greif, the sorrow, the pain…and then, the sudden joy, against all expectation, against anything they could have expected, when Jesus appeared to them, alive after all, not dead, but resurrected! It was almost more than they could stand. Thomas, who didn’t want to believe a lie or delusion, tried to protect himself from disappointment by his scepticism—and yet believed.

So, they must have been asking themselves, “now what? We’ve seen that our friend and teacher is not dead, but is risen. What do we do with that? What does he want from us? What are we supposed to do? Where will we go? What does he mean by that talk about us being sent, and about forgiving sins? What’s next? Where do we go from here?”

And this is a very normal reaction to life-changing events—incredulity, a slow belief, and then acceptance, but then the next step—what do I, what do we, do with this?—that is often shrouded in confusion. What do I do with this? Think of a time in your life when you were told something that changed everything—happy, exciting, thrilling news—the person you had come to love loved you too, or that the job you had been hoping for was yours, or that you had been admitted to the school you so much wanted to attend.

I remember when I was accepted to seminary—at first I was afraid they had made a mistake and sent me the wrong letter—that lasted about ten seconds—and then a dawning sense of joy and celebration when it sank in that this was real—I was going to seminary! And then the confusion, the what next, the where do I go from here? I didn’t know if I should go full time and get it done, or part-time and pay as I went, so I didn’t have debt when I graduated; I didn’t know what my schedule would be or what I should major in, who the best professors were or who my advisor would be; I didn’t know what to do next—I didn’t know where to go from there.  But I was celebrating! And that’s where I stayed, from that day in May when I received the acceptance letter until late August when I went for my orientation and to register for classes and learned the answers to all those questions and to others I hadn’t thought to ask!

That’s where the disciples are—they are joyful, happy, excited—Jesus isn’t dead after all! Let’s celebrate! But also—what does it mean? What are we going to do next? What does Jesus want us to do with this news?

They don’t really learn everything that Jesus wants them to do for a while—they are in this in-between place for 50 days. They have almost two months to celebrate and simply be with Jesus, to remind themselves of all that he is to them, why they followed him, why they love him—the who and what of the future can wait. For now, they are in a time of rest and growing joy and happiness.

Part of the reason for their uncertainty is fear—what comes next? Will the authorities try to kill Jesus again? Will they try to kill us? What are we to say and do?

Part of my uncertainty around starting seminary was fear, too—what if I finish the degree and the authorities decide I am not pastor material? What if I don’t do well? What if I can’t finance it? What if I fail?

Fear is a very basic emotion—it is what has kept the human species alive, but it can also be a hindrance. Fear can keep us from doing what we know we want to do, what is right or good. Thomas wanted to believe, but he was afraid of being thought foolish.

The unknown, in short, makes us afraid. We fear what we don’t know, because we can’t make a plan to deal with it. If I had known that my tuition and fees were paid for by a generous scholarship, for example, I would not have been afraid of how to pay for seminary. The disciples were afraid of how to go out in Jesus’ name, because they didn’t know what to say or where to go or how they would find the courage. If they had known that the Holy Spirit would be manifest at Pentecost, empowering them to speak God’s message of love, they would not have been so afraid.

But I didn’t know I had a scholarship, and I never did have one—I paid for seminary myself, though loans and an inheritance. The disciples didn’t know what to do—but they were told, later.

Sometimes our path doesn’t look very clear—there seem to be obstacles and barriers in our way, even though we know that’s the way to go. Yesterday was the Transgender Day of Empowerment—and I think of my transgender friends. Once they knew what they had to do, that path must have looked so difficult and frightening. From the conversations I have had with my friends, I have learned that as they started down the path, they were uncertain where they were going or how they would get there or what the journey would be like—there was fear. And it wasn’t always easy. But they keep going, through difficult times I can’t begin to imagine, and through celebrations I am delighted to share. But none of them knew exactly the path they would follow—they could only step out and take it as it came. And I thank God for their courage and faith in themselves—though I know it was not always easy, they made it, through that courage and determination and strength of will—and the sure knowledge that it was the right path for them.

The truth is, none of us know what is coming our way—we tend to be afraid and on the lookout for terrible things to happen—death, job loss, bad weather, broken relationships—but the reality is that good things are just as likely—a better job, new relationships, deepening of the relationships we have, or simply a beautiful day to enjoy the gifts God has given us.


For these next fifty days, rest in the knowledge that God is with you—Jesus is risen, our joy is complete. The future is the future, and God will be there, too. But for now, celebrate the joy and the blessings of life—the way will be shown to us, in God’s time. Christ is risen, alleluia!

“Called By Name” Easter Sunday (April 20, 2014)



Colossians 3:1-4
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.  So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Teacher out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.  Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.  Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Teacher away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Creator. Go instead to my brothers and sisters, and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Creator and your Creator, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Teacher!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Message: 

Will you pray with and for me? Loving God of good surprises, open our hearts to your Easter joy; give us grace to recognise you in the everyday, to hear your voice calling our name. May all that we speak and hear bring us closer to an understanding of your love for us. In all your names, amen.

I love John’s version of Easter morning. The two disciples, running to the tomb, afraid that what Mary said was true, confused, maybe even panicking. And then—nothing! Just the empty graveclothes, and an empty tomb. John says, “and they believed—“ but he doesn’t say what they believed…that the tomb really was empty? That maybe Jesus wasn’t dead?

But Mary—she stays there, crying, afraid of what it means—that someone has stolen Jesus’ body, and she and her friends can’t even mourn him properly. She is wrapped in her sorrow, grieving her teacher and friend.

And then—someone is speaking to her, she doesn’t know who, but it doesn’t matter because Jesus is dead and even his body has been taken…she has nothing left of her hopes; so what does anything else matter? Unless perhaps this person knows where Jesus’ body was moved to—maybe a different tomb? Maybe Joseph of Arimithea had second thoughts and decided it was not a good idea to let them use his tomb for Jesus…

And then the person calls her by name, and she recognises Jesus.

Do we miss the joys of life because we are too focused on the sorrows? Yes, there is a lot of grief in the world—we have all lost loved ones, friends, partners, siblings, parents; there are earthquakes, wars, hungry children, murder, theft, lies and deception, greed and corruption. But there are also joys—the relationships we shared with those who are gone; the relationships we share with those who are here; simple enjoyments such as good food, a walk by the river, the lovely sights of animals and birds and fish in the parks and in the woods, the sheer pleasure of a good book or movie; of conversation with friends.

We can become too focused on the grief of Lent and Easter—we can become stuck on Saturday afternoon, mourning Jesus, wrapped up in the great sorrow of his crucifixion. It is easy to forget, sometimes, that there is joy in the morning—the sad walk to the tomb to anoint a dead friend becomes a dance of joy for a resurrected Saviour!

Mary couldn’t see it at first, either—her heart broken, she was so immersed in her grief she couldn’t recognise Jesus when he stood before her. But there he was—all her sorrow turned to joy in a moment, seeing her beloved teacher and friend, hearing him call her name.

This is the moment that most moves me…when he calls her by name, speaks tenderly to her, in the voice she finally recognises—he calls her by name and she sees him, really sees him.

We all have had Good Fridays in our lives—none of us has had lives without grief or terrible loss. It can be hard to remember a time without that sorrow; and it can be hard to let go of it, because it feels like letting go of the sorrow is letting go of the one we loved, or the work we miss, or the health we no longer have, or the relationship that has ended. But when we let go of our mourning, when we look up from our sorrow, then we can hear our name, spoken in love and promise—of all that still is, even though we thought it was gone.

I am not Pollyanna—I know sorrow can tear your heart apart. I know there are no easy answers; no magic wand. But that is the other side of love—without love, there is no grief. Our very love makes the grief deeper. But that same love can carry us through those days of pain; that same love is what made days bright for us before, and it can do that again.

Don’t stay with Saturday afternoon—step into the Easter light of the morning and an empty tomb, and a beloved voice calling your name.


In all God’s names, amen.

"Dropping the Luggage" Lent 5A (April 6, 2014)


Psalm 130
Out of the depths I cry to you, O God;
     God, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
 If you, O Holy One, kept a record of sins,
    God, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Holy One, my whole being waits, and in God’s word I put my hope.
I wait for the Holy One
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in God,
    for with the Eternal One is unfailing love
    and with God is full redemption.
God’s very self will redeem Israel from all their sins.

John 11:1-45
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Teacher, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Child may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the leaders there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
After he had said this, Jesus went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Teacher, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Then Thomas (also known as Didymus, or The Twin) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many neighbours and friends had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Teacher,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Teacher,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Child of God, who is to come into the world.”
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the friends and neighbours who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Teacher, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the neighbours and friends who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
“Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Teacher,” they replied.
Jesus wept.
Then the crowd 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?”
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Teacher,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Eternal One, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Therefore many of the neighbours and friends who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

***
Will you pray with and for me? Creator God, Source of all life, give us grace in this time to hear you speaking to us through each of us, in spite of each of us. Amen.

Lazarus is one of the most well-known people in the Biblical record; most people don’t know who Haman was, or Bartholomew, or Absalom—but they at least recognise the name of Lazarus, and that he was brought back to life. I did a little research on Lazarus, and found some very interesting things. According to one tradition, he went to the island of Cyprus and served as the first bishop there; he died again and this time was buried in the cathedral there. But at a later date, again according to tradition, his relics were moved to Constantinople—modern Istanbul in Turkey—and then lost during the sack of the city by Crusaders. Other traditions say the relics had already been moved to Marseilles, in France; that some were given to Russian Orthodox monks for a monastery dedicated to Lazarus; or that he never went to Cyprus at all, but just to Southern France. That is a lot of traveling, even for a saint!

By the way, the other Lazarus—who lay at the gate of the rich man and went to heaven when he died, where the rich man saw him across the great divide between heaven and hell, where the rich man was—that is another person, the inspiration for many of the hospitals and monasteries that treated what we now call Hansen’s disease—leprosy—and skin diseases. They are sometimes confused with one another, but they are two people. Eliazar was a common name in New Testament times.

Poor Lazarus—of Bethany, the one we read about today—he wasn’t allowed to stay dead, then once he was revived, he ended up becoming a bishop—a thankless task, believe me—then, when he died again, he was dragged all over the Mediterranean, in pieces. Sholem Asch, in his novel The Nazarene, describes Lazarus as looking like a ghost—he had been most completely dead, and yet was brought back to life—he is depicted as silent, quiet, on the outskirts of conversations and gatherings, certainly not dead, but not really quite all the way alive either.

What a metaphor for the way we sometimes live our lives—only half alive, hauling the old bones of our past with us, never at rest. We can’t let them be; we bring those old hurts and mistakes back to life over and over again, even when we say we have let them go and moved on.  I know it can be hard to let go of some of those pains—the broken relationships that can never be healed because the person or people are gone from our lives; the roads we were too afraid to take; the words we never said—or should not have said; the compromises we have made—or that others made for us.

Remember the scene in Christmas Carol when Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley? Remember the chain Marley is wrapped up in, that clanks and rattles and weighs him down? That chain is made of all the things he did not do that he could have done; and all the things he did that he should not have done.

We all carry a chain like that—some of us longer, some of us shorter. But we have all done things we are not proud of, we have all stumbled and made mistakes. The hard part is letting go of those mistakes. Of course every action has a reaction—we may have amends to make for some of the things we have done—or not done. But once we have done that, it is time to let them go. Put them down, and don’t pick them back up. Let the bones rest.

Because what will live on is not our mistakes, but how we handled them.

I find it interesting that in the days right after someone dies, we tend to remember all the good things about that person—all the times she was there for us, the fun we had together, his great laugh, her beautiful singing voice. We want to remember only what was good in a person—in our grief and loss, we focus on what was good and positive, not on their mistakes or their failures. We try, sometimes, in our eulogies and speeches at funerals and memorial services, to remind ourselves that this person was not perfect, but generally the failings we mention are minor, and we turn it into a joke—he was always late, she couldn’t read a map and wouldn’t ask directions, and so on. As time goes on, we come to a more balanced memory of the person—yes, she was often careless about money, but her children knew they were loved completely; well, he did have a temper, but he was generous to everyone.

And that is what we should carry with us—the knowledge that while we may have stumbled and fallen, we have also stood back up and tried again—and again and again. We have made amends, as best we can, for the mistakes we made that hurt others. We have accepted that someone else is not the person we thought they were, and that is neither their fault nor ours. We missed the chance to make things right with someone, but we can make sure we don’t make that mistake again.

Lazarus died, and was raised, and died again; and what remained of his body was carried all over, never at rest. We have made mistakes, sometimes terrible ones, and made amends, or apologised, or worked it through; and we have stumbled again, and again made things as right as we could. Don’t drag those bones around anymore. Let them rest. It is done, it is over. Recognise the potential in the new chances we are given; let go of what you’ve done wrong in the past—that is the past. As we move forward to what is come, I invite you to release those things—events, actions, people—tying you to the past, to the pain and hurt and shame. Step forward into the present and then the future, knowing you have stumbled and fallen, but have gotten back on your feet and tried again. There will always be another time to let go of something, to unchain ourselves from our regrets. Lazarus died and was brought back and died again. His story was intended to be a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own resurrection. But Jesus did not die again; he rose and let go of the past; he did not wander Europe with a bag of bones.

As we prepare for Easter, remember this—with Jesus, it was once for all. We do not have to go back and take up those burdens, those chains, those mistakes, ever again.


Remember—Easter is coming.