Real life

Apr. 02, 2017

Ez. 37.1-14; Rom. 8.6-11; Jn 11.1-45

St Francis of Assisi said that the model for Christian life starts when we do what's necessary, and that means doing the things we can do. And when we set ourselves to doing the possible, we suddenly find ourselves doing the impossible. As one of my favorite comedians, George Carlin said, "Those who dance are considered insane by those who can't hear the music." That's kind of the way this story about the raising of Lazarus proceeds in the gospel of John today. The telling of the story revolves around this whole conundrum of how impossible things get done. More than once in this gospel account the following words were recited: "If only you had been here, our brother Lazarus would not have died." These statements reflect the fact that Lazarus' family was grieving just like any other family when a dear one is lost.

But for some people, "If only..." can become a way of life. "If only, I'd done this instead of that...then..." "If only..." and you could fill in the blank with most any event that grinds us up and spit us out. But Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So, Christians are called to live into a world deemed impossible by skeptics and cynics. "If only..." is not our mantra, but rather it's..."Glory, glory, halleluiah!"

You've heard me say this before, but it bears repeating again...John's gospel and the synoptic gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very different and they find very different reasons for why people wanted Jesus dead. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke...they sought to kill Jesus because he upended their "business as usual" life in the temple when he drove the moneychangers out in a holy furor. That action threatened the whole of established Jewish religious practice! So, Jesus, from this point of view, had to die because he opposed the time-honored religious order.

But John's gospel sees the effort to kill Jesus very differently. In John's gospel it's the raising of Lazarus that angered the opposition. This miraculous event changed everything. Because the power of God removed the power of death...and that forced a whole reinterpretation of Judaism. No more business as usual. So, from this point of view, Jesus and the story about Lazarus had to be buried. Because when God intervenes so strongly in human history, "If only..." becomes an excuse, not a reason for anything. And it shows that, "If only..." can wrestle us to the ground, but it can never lift us up. Whereas, the raising of Lazarus lifts our hopes and dreams and says, anything is possible.

OK, so it's important for us to ask...what's possible for us to do in our spiritual life? If we want to move beyond a life of regrets into a life of promise and hope, we have to scratch "If only..." out of our daily vocabulary. The Lord wants us to live thankfully and hopefully, not looking backward, but looking forward...and when there's wrong, to stand against it. And when there's something right, to support it. The Lord wants us to stand firm. I continue to be amazed that the Lord of life, could come and stand with his grieving friends and invoke the almighty presence of God to stand against death, and evil, and the grave, saying, "Lazarus, come forth!" And Lazarus, although like all of us will be, was in that no-man's-land of death, and hearing his name, he was brought up from that dark place like a bubble of air that rises from the deepest, darkest part of an ocean. The journey of that single breath upward may begin in the remotest blackness, but relentlessly it rises toward the light until finally it joins that great expanse of space we call life. It's that place where the Godly presence fills all and is in all. It's a broad space where the air is filled with praise and "Glory, glory, halleluiah!" In that broad ocean of life where the Spirit of God is enthroned and where everything is surround it with praise--we will have come forth to join the praise when we hear our name called.

When we encounter some of the toughest things in this life, and when we're shaken by doubts like, "What was I thinking to believe that I could face a huge loss like that, or endure this the pain from this illness, or believe that I could stand against a sea of troubles?" That's when we're reminded of Jesus coming to Lazarus...who was for all practical purposes gone from this world...even rotting in the silent tomb...yet, the Lord came, just as the Lord will come to all of us and will call our name...Wayne, Jim, Frank, Betty, Corny... We'll all hear our name called...and the Lord will raise us up from our grave of death with the words..."Come forth"...that's the point at which life goes beyond the possible to the impossible...when we all hear the Lord call our name. Amen.


The Reverend WA Ray St Thomas Church Diamondhead, MS 04/02/17