A Sermon by Rev. Keenan Kelsey
~ John 11:1-45 ~
One of the Facebook links I have enjoyed is called silver linings…a string of exclamations about how the stay-at-home order has produced unexpected gifts. Being there for a child’s first steps… more outdoor walking and exploring neighborhood plant life, hello’s and waves on the sidewalks and trails, bonus time with a high school senior before he leaves for college. One family put in an application to foster a dog while in quarantine.
And of course, ask our pets, about silver linings. They are STOKED with all the extra strokes!
And we know how inspiring and reassuring it is that People from all walks of life are stepping up to provide solutions. Inventors are inventing ventilators. Well known designers, the Amish, and many skilled sewers are making masks. Philanthropists, celebrities, music legends, sports figures, even corporations are sharing their resources generously to provide COVID-19 relief. City personnel and neighborhood volunteers are working together to get food to essential workers and children who would go hungry due to school closures. Even young inventors are using their resources to make 3D printed masks. There is so much good all around us.
Silver linings. God messages.
So How can we find the silver linings in today’s Gospel.
Lazarus. On this last Sunday of Lent; the Sunday before we get our hopes up by parading Jesus into Jerusalem; this Sunday when coronavirus concerns continue at a high pitch, when people keep dying and news keeps changing; this Sunday when we come together seeking community, seeking hope and reassurance;, What are we to do with Lazarus and his family? To simply say that this presages the death and resurrection of Jesus himself may be true, but it is not really helpful!
We need some good news now! And if we look, there is in fact very good news in this powerful, beautiful and profound reading.
We find Jesus getting the news that his dear friend is ill. Curiously, he does not rush off to Bethany. He waits 2 days, and even then his disciples remind him how dangerous it is for him, he has enemies in Judea. Besides, they can’t quite understand whether Lazarus is alive or dead. They disagree with their master, they fear for him, Nonetheless Thomas speaks for them all when he says, somewhat fatalistically, “Let us also go with the Master, that we may die with him.”
Finally Jesus arrives. Martha and Mary meet him. These are two of his most devoted friends and disciples. They love Jesus. they trust him, they know his ministry and his power and his love, God’s love. But now they are hurting, devastated, and they greet him with some blame underlying their grief. “”Jesus, if you had only been here, if you had come sooner, my brother would not be dead!”
And Jesus wept. This is the first silver lining, for it is Good News for us. Jesus wept with those he loved, and he still does. Jesus does not defend himself. He does not explain or apologize or chide. He just weeps.
Like Mary and Martha, do you hold some unconscious blame against God, when God does not appear directly when you call? Do you ever feel, “why me” God”? But in truth, I’ve done the same…I have flung angry queries to the heavens….. “Why, God I’ve followed you in faith and steadfastness, Now why me? If only you had intervened!”
God doesn’t will the suffering in our lives. Ever. God wants only happy, joyous and free for us.
But when we have tragedies, God stays with us. God weeps, as Jesus wept, for each person who hurts and struggles
Jesus got into our skin…God got into our skin, with all of its limitations and deficiencies, and felt it….what it’s like to be human, to be mortal, to love and to lose. And I am extraordinarily moved by that fact….that our infinite God would know what it is to be finite, that this God would love us enough become that vulnerable. He will walk through the valley with us and in time He will bring us out of the valley of sorrow to the mountaintop on the other side. Jesus wept with those he loved and he still does.
A second silver lining is that Jesus raised people up, and he still does.
Do you realize that in the New Testament Jesus performed no funerals, only resurrections! Here in John 11, Jesus resurrects Lazarus. He raises him up and brings him out of the tomb. “Lazarus, come forth,” he says.
See how personal this is! He calls him by name. Perhaps, if you we listen real carefully, you can hear him calling your name. Do you feel stuck in old habits or in depression or in blame?? Does this coronavirus make you feel buried alive? Do you feel like a caterpillar suddenly wrapped tight in a cocoon without any awareness of what is happening? Or why? Well caterpillars turn into butterflies, and Jesus wants to bring you out of that tomb (whatever it is) that is imprisoning you. He wants to set you free. And he has the power to do it. If you will hear his call and respond in faith, he will raise you up and give you a new start, a new chance, a new life.
Jesus wept with those he loved, and He still does. Jesus raised people up, and He still does.
And the THIRD silver lining? Jesus included other people in the healing process… and He still does.
Jesus asks to be taken to the tomb, and then he commands the mourners to roll away the stone. He says, you can do this. Next he prays.
Prayer was such an integral part of his life. So many times we charge off and do whatever we feel like, without ever even consulting God. Jesus always sought the Creator’s help, support, and guidance and, as an aside, we probably should too,
Then Jesus turns to the family and friends and says, “Unbind him and let him go. Unwrap him and set him free.” It is our friends, our family, our community who help unbind each other and lead us back to the fullness of life. We are not alone. Jesus frees us but our friends love us back to life.
Jesus wept with those he loved, and he still does. He raised people up, and He still does. He included others in the healing process… and He still does.
Thanks be to God! Amen