Monday, April 7, 2014

Now and Forever, Resurrected People

John 11:1-45
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

Chatfield United Methodist Church
April 6, 2014

The Gospel lesson for this Sunday is the story about Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha. The Mary and Martha who would often have Jesus in their home for a meal. The Martha who complained because her sister Mary wasn’t helping with the supper. The Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and wiped them with her hair. That Mary and Martha. We don’t know how many meals Jesus shared with them, but we do know that, of all the followers of Jesus they are the ones who seem to be by his side, willing to speak plainly to him and willing to treat him with deep love and devotion. The scriptures say: Jesus deeply loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Mary and Martha somehow got word to Jesus that Lazarus was very ill. Actually, Lazarus was dying.

Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived on the outskirts of Jerusalem. In the town called Bethany. It is a pretty little village 2 miles from Jerusalem.

Lazarus fell ill during the time when Jesus ministry was really heating up.
He was making a lot of people uncomfortable and many people downright angry.
Particularly the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.

So it was not advisable for Jesus to go anywhere near Jerusalem. Even Bethany was too close. People were so angry with Jesus that there were plots to kill him.

But Jesus loved these people. He had eaten sacred meals in their home. A mere death threat was not going to keep Jesus away from the people whom he loved.

 Jesus timed his arrival in such a way that he did more than attend to the last days of a dying man. Jesus timed his arrival so that Lazarus had been dead and buried for 4 days. Well past the time when a body in the hot climate of the middle east would be able to walk out of a grave on its own two feet. After 4 days in the grave, Jews believed that death was final. Jesus came to Bethany 4 days after Lazarus was buried.

Jesus timed his arrival so that he could show the world what kind of new world they were living in. Jesus timed his arrival so that he could show this beloved family and all the Jews who were surrounding Mary and Martha hoping to console them at the loss of their brother, that God was doing a new thing. A thing that had been promised but was so outrageous that it was unbelievable. Jesus wanted people to see that resurrection, the coming back to life after death, is a reality. Is the new norm in the kingdom of God. 

Jesus taught that not only was there a resurrection of the dead; but that God’s glory was revealed in the resurrection of the dead. That Jesus was going to become for the world, the resurrection.
Here was his opportunity to show his followers just what he meant.

Throughout history there has been a fascination and a debate about what happens when a person dies. The bible study group on Tuesday learned that some Jews of Jesus day believed in the resurrection of the death and some did not. This difference of beliefs separated Jews into ‘camps’. The scriptures are far from clear about the sequence of events. Does a person die and immediately meet God, or do they lay in the grave waiting until a future resurrection when all of God’s children will walk again with God in a new Jerusalem?

The answer to that question depends on the scripture verse we reference. 2 Corinthians 5:8 seems to teach that we are absent from our body and present with God immediately upon death. But in 1 Corinthians there seems to be the teaching that at some point in history all the dead will rise together.
So we can’t make any definitive statement about when the dead will rise, but we can say with great assurance that we side with the Jews who teach, even today, a resurrection of the dead.

But Jesus wants to push us even further than that. Jesus wants us to see that there is a resurrection of the dead, right here right now, before the grave. This is why he says: I am the resurrection and the life. Not I will be, but I am. Jesus says to us: “You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all.”

We don’t have to die in order to be resurrected; we can live resurrected lives every day of our life.

Most of us, I doubt any of us; will be literally called out of a tomb. But God can call us out of death into new life every day of our lives.
As a matter of fact, I know it has already happened to all of you. I know that we all live each day as resurrected people.

I want you to remember a time that you thought you would never get through. A really difficult time in your life. Maybe it was a death of a loved one, or a grave illness, or maybe it was your teenage years, or a lawsuit, or a child’s struggle with issues, or depression. Maybe you are going through a difficult time like that right now. I know some of you are.  .

Remember how Psalm 23 describes this time in our lives: We are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. The shadow of death. Now remember how you came out of that shadow of death. How you began to see the light around you again. How the weight of the grief left your shoulders. How you were able to breathe again.
That is resurrection.

We can go through the shadows of death without being overcome by darkness because we have a God who is resurrection and life. Who enters this world knowing that he was bound for death. We have a God who does not fear that journey to death. Who will even travel to his beloved friends’ home two miles from danger. So that our God can show us, life out of death.
And we can have a story to hold onto when we are in our own tombs of doubt, grief, anguish, and pain. We can remember Lazarus who was dead for 4 days with no hope of resuscitation. We can remember Lazarus who walked out of that dark tomb no longer stinking of death but living into life, again.

The Psalmist writes: Where could I go to escape your presence, God? If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too! If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me; the light will become night around me,” even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you! Nighttime would shine bright as day, because darkness is the same as light to you!

This is what Jesus is doing, coming to the tomb of Lazarus 4 days too late. Showing all who have eyes to see: There is nowhere you can go that God’s presence cannot find you. There is no dark place that will over come you because God’s light over comes all darkness.
And in raising Lazarus he is saying: Look, there is NOWHERE, not even the grave.

The Gospel story ends with these words: Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

May we believe ourselves to be, now and forever, resurrected people.

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