By The Rev. Sherry Deets
All Saints’ Sunday – November 4, 2012
On this All Saints’ Sunday we hear the gospel story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It is a challenging story. It challenges our faith. Are we able to accept the raising of Lazarus as an historical event or was it just fiction? No scientific data can support the metaphysical possibility that Jesus brought the dead man, Lazarus, back to life. Neither does the gospel story explain how it happened. We know only this: Lazarus was dead and when Jesus called out to him, he came out from the cave. To make that event happen there were several things that occurred.
First, Jesus cried out and said, “Lazarus, come out.” Second, Jesus had help. He asked others to remove the stone and he also asked some in the crowd to remove his grave clothing. And third, Jesus grieved along with the family and friends of Lazarus.
Lazarus was dead with no possible chance of new life. Even if he was lying in a coma, he had no way of escaping the tomb. Death had made him a prisoner. He would never know freedom again. However the voice of God changed all that. Jesus’ voice stirred new life in Lazarus’ body. Jesus voice set him free. It reminds us of the time that Paul and Silas were in prison (Acts 19) and God caused an earthquake which resulted in their freedom. Both stories illustrate that the power of God is greater than the power of humankind.
What does this mean for us? It means that the voice of God is calling us away from whatever imprisons us. But, we don’t always hear that call. We don’t hear because God’s call is not logical or it comes from an unfamiliar source.
Anthony de Mello has this to say: “Has it ever struck you that those who most fear to die are the ones who most fear to live? That in running away from death we are running away from life?
Think of a man living in an attic, a little hole of a place with no light and little ventilation. He fears to come down the stairs because he has heard of people falling down stairs and breaking their necks. He would never cross a street because he has heard of thousands who have been run over on the streets.
And of course, if he cannot cross a street, how will he cross an ocean or a continent or one world of ideas to another? This man clings to his hole of an attic in the attempt to ward off death and in doing so he has simultaneously warded off life”.
Lazarus came out of the tomb because he heard Jesus’ voice. I wonder if this illustrates is that the dead hear better than the living do. What did Lazarus hear? He heard a familiar voice, like the sheep who know the voice of their shepherd. He heard the voice of reassurance.
The voice of God is a voice that reassures. The voice of God doesn’t frighten us or cause us additional anxiety. God’s voice is a calming presence, a “still, small, voice” that comforts and gives us hope. Such was the voice of Jesus that comforted Mary and Martha, the voice that enabled Lazarus to be free.
The voice of God is easy to recognize but difficult to hear. It is a voice that calls us from the past and calls us to the present. It calls us from our old habits and invites us to try new ones. It calls us from apathy and indifference to caring. It calls us from despair to hope. It calls us from darkness to light. It calls us from loneliness to community. It calls us from captivity to freedom.
Although Jesus called out to Lazarus, he did not act alone. Jesus relied on the community of faith to assist him. If someone asked you to remove the entrance to a grave what your say? Most likely, ‘No way.” It took people of faith to remove the stone and likewise it took people of faith to unwrap the now living body of Lazarus. Would you would come forward and respond to such a task?
Just as Jesus had the disciples distribute the loaves and fishes to the crowds, he had people in the community of faith assist in the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus had followers, believers, who responded to the call. It is that same response to the call of God which keeps the community of faith alive today. The voice of Jesus was one the people trusted and were willing to listen too.
William Willimon describes a true situation where a bishop sent a seminary graduate to her first assignment, an inner city church in decline for the last 20 years. “Just keep it going as best you can,” he suggested. She told the board that she thought she had a gift for working with children. “Then the bishop sent you to the wrong church,” responded one of the women on the board bluntly. “We are long past those years here.”
Then, the creative wind started to blow. The pastor found an old lady in the parish, Gladys, who used to play with Count Basie and the Dorsey brothers. The pastor found two ladies to make peanut butter sandwiches. Then, on Wednesday the four of them rolled the old piano out of the double doors of the Fellowship Hall. Gladys sat down and began to play hits from the 30’s, then some ragtime. By 3:30 a crowd of children had gathered. The pastor passed out the sandwiches. Gladys moved from “In the Mood” to “Jesus Loves Me.” The pastor told them a story about a man named Jesus. They clamored for more. A year passed. Today nearly a hundred children crowd into that church every Wednesday afternoon. On Sunday, classes are full, taught by a group of older women who thought that they were now too old to have anything to do with children. Those children brought parents. A church which had died, had now come back to life. (from Lectionary Homiletics, March, 2002)
When Jesus told Martha he was “the resurrection and the life” he wasn’t speaking only about the end of his earthly life as she alluded to. Jesus also wanted her to understand that death and resurrection is a life-long occurrence. When part of us dies, a new part of us is born. When Lazarus walked away from the grave the faith community had a new understanding of their relationship with Jesus. It wasn’t just eternal life that Jesus had promised, he promised resurrection of life each and every day.
Lazarus wasn’t the only one who received new life in this story. Both Mary and Martha received new life as well. They thought Jesus had abandoned them by delaying his trip to Bethany. Nevertheless they still believed and later realized what the resurrection of Lazarus meant to the faith community. In other words their self interest had to die which was replaced by the good for the greater community.
The potential to experience something new occurs whenever we hear the reassuring voice of God. God is also with us in our moments of grief and sorrow. Jesus weeps with us, totally connected to our pain and suffering. Resurrection is possible all through life. “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Amen.
(Some ideas in this sermon from a sermon given by Dr. Keith Wagner.)
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