WHEN JESUS SHOWS UP
Lent 5 Ezekiel 37:1-14
March 29, 2020 Romans 8:6-11
Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, we stand today like the people outside the tomb of Lazarus long ago. We are curious, wondering what you can do. Prepare us to be surprised. Help us to see that as you brought life to him through the Word of Jesus, you will also touch us with your Spirit. Call us to come forth and go forth into your world. We pray in the name of the One who is the Resurrection and the Life. Amen.
A man left church complaining under his breath, "Fine, all this talk about green pastures and still waters. But what about the droughts? What about the storms? All the illness and disease? What about the crushing pressure and defeats? What then?"
It would be interesting to take a poll and ask -- what do you think is the hardest problem in the Christian life for us to handle?
Your answer might be different than mine.
For me, the hardest problem I have to handle as a Christian is what to do when God does not do what I expect of him; when God does not act the way I think he ought.
We have an occasion like that in the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Mary was upset that Jesus didn’t show up when she thought he should. She said, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.”
Our Gospel reminds us Jesus still shows up and Jesus makes a difference. Our story is one when Jesus intrudes into death and brings life. He will not be put off or disheartened by death. His strong voice brings life. Jesus brings a new strength by his very presence whenever we experience death in our defeats, our surrenders, our fears...
But Jesus has a way of showing up at what we would call the wrong time, but perhaps the right time, for it is His time.
Upon hearing that Lazarus was dead, John says, "Jesus wept." And then Jesus said something strange: "I am the resurrection and the life." He didn't say that he had come to tell grieving Martha about the resurrection. He didn't say, "Martha, take heart, one day, someday, your brother will be resurrected, and then you'll get to see him again in heaven." Rather, Jesus says, "I am the resurrection and the life." Wherever I am, even here at this time and place of death, there is resurrection, and there is life, here, now. With that, Jesus acts out his compassion; he goes out to the cemetery and, in a voice loud enough to wake the dead, shouts, "Lazarus, come out!" And then Jesus proceeded to raise Lazarus with a shout loud enough to wake the dead. Our translation says, “Lazarus come out!” However, I like the King James translation better. “Lazarus come forth!” For me it holds more power and meaning. Forth means to come or go forward or onward. “Lazarus come forth!”
Lazarus comes forth like a mummy. Next thing you know, there's Jesus with Lazarus and his sisters, having a party in Bethany; and Jesus' critics (ever the guardians of the status quo) were planning now to kill him.
Lazarus' being called from the grave and coming out is a bold reminder of God's power to transform our lives today. When in our very lives, we are over-burdened, pressed down, pulled down, pulled apart, can we live again? Can we see beyond what is in our control? Can we get over the anger we feel toward God for seeming to be absent?
This story from John boldly reminds us Jesus was in control of an uncontrollable situation. (Just as He is today). Those gathered beside the grave saw no hope. Jesus shattered the barriers between Lazarus and a new day. We are challenged to set our sights on what God can do through us, the difference in what we are and what we might be.
I read somewhere that those who keep heaven in view remain serene and cheerful even in the darkest day. If the glories of heaven were more real to us, if we lived less for material things and more for things eternal and spiritual, we would be less easily disturbed by this present life. We are all feeling a sense of loss, intense suffering, grief, and anger, and joy does not come easily or quickly. But eventually the peace of God does come, and with it His joy.
In these days of darkness and confusion and uncertainty, if we are trusting and forward looking Christians, we must remain optimistic and joyful, yes even joyful, knowing that Christ someday shall rule, and “if we endure we shall also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:12). Someone has said of patience, which Paul spoke of in our second reading, patience “is that quality of endurance that can reach the breaking point and not break.”
The challenge of the story of Lazarus' and his sisters' encounter with Jesus is to stop depending on just yourself or what the world has to offer but rather trust in Jesus in times it seems to be going right and those that are terribly wrong.
We're challenged to believe it is never too late to allow our hope to live again and respond as Lazarus and to come forth to live. Listen to the ancient words of the Psalmist, "I wait for the Lord. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning. O, Israel, hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is steadfast love and with him is great power to save."
Let us pray:
Lent IV 1 Samuel 16:1-13
March 22, 2020 Ephesians 5:8-14
~ see link to the right, to read lessons online
Let us pray: O God, we come before you, asking for courage to open our eyes. We come trusting your grace, waiting for your illuminating word, longing for your healing touch. Shine upon us, O God, and help us see clearly, this we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
There's an old story about the great golfer Arnold Palmer. It seems he was invited to a convention of blind golfers. He was curious and asked the golfers how they knew what direction to hit the ball. One blind golfer explained that a caddie went out into the fairway or onto the green, depending on the hole, and rang a little bell. Then the blind golfer would then hit the ball toward the sound of the bell.
Palmer was pretty impressed and asked how well it worked. This blind golfer said that it worked so well he was willing to play Arnold Palmer in a round of golf. And just to make it interesting, he was even willing to bet $10,000 he could beat Palmer.
Well, this just blew Arnold Palmer's mind. $10,000 is a lot of money! Palmer tried to talk him out of it but the man insisted so they made the bet. Then Palmer said, "O.K. What time do we tee off?"
And the blind man said, "10:30 . . . tonight!"
I guess you could say Arnold Palmer got blindsided. Blindness is really nothing to joke about. I would hate to lose my sight. I like to read too much. I couldn't see the computer monitor or see my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Physical blindness would be horrible.
But there are other kinds of blindness.
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
The entire Gospel for today deals with blindness – but strangely enough it is not the blindness of the man who was born blind that is central to the passage – despite how this man is mentioned throughout it, rather it is the blindness of those around him and most especially the blindness of the religious teachers and authorities that is central to the passage – their blindness and their sin.
The great irony of this story in John‘s Gospel is this: both the disciples and the Pharisees try to make a connection between bad things and sin. “God must have been pretty mad at someone to produce a guy like this,” the disciples say when they first see this blind beggar, “so who messed up, Lord? This fellow or his folks?” That’s how a lot of people operate: you see something bad; you chalk it up to someone’s sin. The world operates on the principle of quid pro quo, of tit for tat. Oddly, though, when the people in this story encounter the profoundly good thing of an awesome healing, they do everything in their power to not connect that good thing with God. Some, it seems, are more comfortable with making God out to be the dispenser of punishment than the vessel of something good.
Apparently, it’s fully possible to be in the presence of the light of the world and still be in the dark. But if it weren’t for the fact that it’s the religious people in this story who seem the most prone to put on spiritual sunglasses to keep out the light, John 9 might be less troubling. As it stands, however, those of us who consider ourselves religious leaders today have plenty of reason to wonder whether—or how often—we fail to celebrate the work of God just in case the shape of that work doesn’t fit the bill of how we think things ought to go. How often do we let our own doctrine keep us from celebrating God’s presence in the lives of others?
“God cannot have been involved in this incident because it does not conform to our rules and patterns” the Pharisees concluded. “Disagree with us, and you’re a greasy sinner. Period. End of discussion.” That’s how the glory of God gets missed, even in the church today. Traditions and scruples and rubrics and books of order and rules and Papal pronouncements can make us spiritually blind just as surely as any injury to our eyes could ever blind us physically. But maybe we’d smile more as God’s people if we found ways to remain open to the endless surprises of God’s Spirit.
It’s curious, isn’t it, to notice that—so long as the wrangling and wrestling and arguing is going on in an effort to debunk the miracle that had so plainly taken place—Jesus disappears from view. From verse 7 until verse 35 the Son of God is nowhere to be seen. I don’t think it’s coincidental. The minute we start denying the work of God in Christ Jesus our Lord so as to make things neat and tidy and in conformity to how we like things done, it’s pretty tough to see the real Jesus and it’s really difficult to generate amazement over his ever-surprising and always-marvelous work.
Jesus disappears from this story when the main action is an attempt to define what God would or would not do. But once we get back to just the man who is healed, Jesus re-appears from out of nowhere to ask the man such a simple question: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Just point him out to me,” the man replies, “I’d love to lay these eyes on the fellow!” “It’s me,” Jesus says, and for the first time in his life, the man discovered what it is to get bleary-eyed with tears. He worshiped Jesus without hesitation, without checking in any catechism or rule book to see if worshiping this man would be an orthodox thing to do.
It’s such a moving spectacle, at least for those with eyes to see. Of course, it was totally boring to the few Pharisees still lingering on the fringes. Their steely-eyed scowls told Jesus and this man all they needed to know. But by this point in the story, even those unbelieving yahoos were not enough to overcome the joy of the last scene. And I imagine that as Jesus eventually went on his way, this man waved at him and kept on waving until Jesus finally disappeared out of sight.
In a scene from the spaghetti western movie “Unforgiven,” a young gun-slinger from the Old West is trying to convince himself he did nothing wrong in having just shot another man dead. "Well," he nervously ponders aloud, "I reckon he had it coming to him." To this, Clint Eastwood's character replies, "We all got it coming to us, kid." That scene is one of those startling pictures of common grace by which a vital religious truth is made clear from the middle of a rather unholy context. We all got it coming to us. It's too easy sometimes to see someone suffer something but then conclude, "Well, he got what he deserved, got what he asked for. She smoked too much, he ate at McDonalds too often, she didn't take her medications regularly enough, he wouldn't listen to his parents. He had it coming to him. She got what she asked for. (And by the way, I'm glad I'm not like that!)"
If the gospel contains good news, it is that by God's grace, we none of us get what we otherwise deserve. That's why grace is good news, and it's not just good news for other people but for me, for you. Does this mean we may never warn someone of the potential consequences of this or that action? Does this story mean we may never draw any conclusions as to what may have brought about a given tragedy? No, but it does mean that we should never do so from some supposed position of spiritual superiority and, above all, it means that we need to be very, very shy about claiming we always know the cause-and-effect relationship of most every situation.
The next time you see someone who is afflicted – in body, mind, or spirit – remember what Jesus said about the man born blind – remember how Jesus said that his affliction happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life and then healed him.
And the next time you see someone else engaged in disputes about who is doing the right thing and who is doing what is wrong – quietly remember what Jesus said to those who were confident of their rightness and all to ready to judge him and most others as less worthy of God's love than themselves. “Now that you say, ‘We see’ your sin remains.”
The only thing that can hold us back from experiencing the healing power of God in our lives and moving on from that to showing His power to others – is our own attachment to blame – our own fondness for bitterness – our own belief that no-one and nothing can help us or our world.
His love can overcome blindness; his love can bring salvation – even to a man born blind.
Let us pray: Lord, open our eyes to your presence, open our ears to your call, open our hearts to your love; that we may give ourselves to you and walk before you as children of light; through him who is the Light of the World, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.