Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The death of hopelessness

I remember reading about a person who got a letter from the department of social services stating: ‘You food stamps will be stopped effective April 1 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you.  You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances.”

A change in circumstances?  When it comes to death we don’t normally think of a “change in circumstances” as an option.  In the case of Lazarus of Bethany in John 11, it was definitely not an option.  It was very clear that Lazarus was dead.  In the tomb for four days dead.

Stinky, gross, dead.  So dead that even his sisters didn’t want to open the tomb out of the certainty that would be present in there would be horrible decay.  And it was in the face of this kind of unavoidable, no hope, irreversible death that Jesus went to the tomb and said,  “Lazarus come out!!!”  

The point being?  With God it is never too late!  Which is good news, important new.  For lots of us, maybe all of us are in situations that seem hopeless,  where it seems as if it just might be “too late”

There is of course death itself.  But it isn’t just death…
There are so many situations, mistakes, so many things that can make us feel this way!
What one thing seems the most overpower, most hopeless to you?

This story tells us, that if God is in the picture…. It is never too late.  It is never hopeless.  If Jesus can restore a body that had been in the tomb for four days and has begun to decompose, he can certainly mend the brokenness and wounds of our lives.

Jesus said to Martha,  “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies will live, And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Jesus asks the same question of us also, “Do you believe this? Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life? Do you believe that I can mend all the brokenness and wounds of your life? Do you believe that I not only offer you resurrection in the future but also the fullness of life now in the present?” Jesus proclaims that he is both the resurrection and the life. He promises future resurrection but also invites us to share now in the fullness of his life. The resurrection of Lazarus is not just a promise about a future resurrection, it is also an invitation from Jesus to enter into the fullness of his life in the present, right now.

Do you believe that Jesus calls you to enjoy the fullness of his life now? Do you believe that Jesus is now calling you out of any tomb you may be in? Do you believe that even now Jesus is saying to you, “Be unbound and go free.  If we believe this it raises a question….  How do we get out of our tombs?
There are many pious answers to this:  Pray, go to worship, read the Bible, meditate, be good.

Notice a theme here?  Now it is not that these aren’t useful tools at times, but they are all things WE have to do.  What did Lazarus do?  Nothing!  He just heard the call!  Lazarus come forth!  He was just willing.

Did he have a choice?  Could he have lain there and said,  “Ok I hear Jesus talking… but I’m dead!  No way I can stand up and walk out of this tomb…Nope, can’t happen, I’m just going to lay here !
Yep… rot, rot, rot, fester, fester, fester, that is my only choice!” 

Seems ludicrous doesn’t it ?  It is!  But it is possible to not hear the call.  In fact hearing God, seeing God, seems to be something we struggle with.  I love Isaiah 43:19.  “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.  Can you not see it?”  Why does God keep asking if we see it?  Here this amazing thing is happening, streams in the wasteland, and he has to ask… “do you see it?”  Why?  Because so often we don’t.

So, to use both images, we need ears that hear, and eyes that see.  Why is it so hard?  Perhaps in part it is because we really continue to insist that it has to be about what we do.  But I think perhaps the bigger problem is that God very often doesn’t act the way we expect.  In Isaiah, we are told about a new thing!
In John Lazarus is not just raised, he is unbound.  He has to be “set free”.  That little side story in the story is not an accident

God wants to do a new thing.  God wants to set us free, unbind us from what binds us!  But we don’t really have a very good idea of what this is going to look like.  We don’t know what God’s transforming power will do, to us, to our situation… That is scary!!  And it may be confusing! 

All we can be sure of is that it will be freeing, and it will be new.  But whatever happens, we can also be sure that we cannot put God in a box.

I was thinking as I wrote this sermon about my brother in law Dan.
After a visit the other day I was talking to someone who said about Dan and Sue,
“I just can’t believe God would do that to them… God is just giving them too much to deal with…”

First I don’t believe God “did this” to them
This is a fallen world.  Life, and sickness, and death, and failure happen….

But I do believe God is at work
A miraculous cure… guess not!
But the miracle is that Dan is still every bit Dan
Joyful, smiling, curious, impish, loving, engaged
He could be bitter, angry, disengaged,
But he is not

God is there

God is always there
Even when it seems too late…
There, not just raise us up,  but to unbind us
To set us free…
To do a new thing…

The voice of God 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.

Our day to day life as “unbound people” as “people raised up” may not include something as dramatic as the resurrection of Lazarus.  But resurrection life is ours, each and every day
I we only have eyes to see
And ears to hear

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