Rev. Debra Jene Collum
April 2, 2017
The story of Lazarus is always a hard one. What does it mean for us? It is a great story. And one of those miracles that you wonder about. I can’t tell you the number of bible studies I have been in where we talked at great length about the questions this story brings up. Was Lazarus really dead? Or just sick unto death? Why didn’t Jesus come sooner? Why did Lazarus get raised from the dead and not others? What exactly did Jesus do to glorify God with the raising of Lazarus?
The scripture has people asking: He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus alive?
I’m afraid I have the same question too. Particularly, because Jesus not only healed a man born blind, he also healed a little girl without even being near her bedside. And the little girl wasn’t even Jesus friend. So, what is this story about?
And I have to admit that through the years I haven’t heard a lot of good answers.
But one question that did strike me and sent me down a path of discovery is the one posed in the bulletin this morning.
What does resurrection mean to you?
What does resurrection mean to you? What do you suppose it meant to Martha and Mary? To Lazarus? To the people watching and wondering? The scriptures say that because of the raising of Lazarus many people believed that Jesus was the Messiah. But the scriptures also say that because of the raising of Lazarus the authorities were even angrier at Jesus and were plotting even more how to kill him.
Is the resurrection something that brings life or death? Does it bring joy or sorrow?
I hope you will take this question home with you this morning and give it some thought.
Not many of us will experience a Lazarus type of resurrection. A few of us might have near death experiences or healing from a terminal disease. Most of us will simply live our life as a normal life span and die. And most of us, NOT ALL, but most of us, when death comes to us, will not want a resurrection. We will know that it is time and we will accept it.
But that doesn’t mean that resurrection has no meaning for us. Resurrection can become an integral part of our lives if we pay attention, are willing to accept the sorrow as well as the joy, and live in such a way that we recognize we may need to die once in a while.
This Lent we have been exploring the ways our lives connect with those who are strangers to us. People we don’t have a lot of contact with but who are our neighbors.
When Joe Chase spoke to us about the Dakota who used to live in the area before they were relocated to a reservation in central MN. It was so interesting and I continue to think about all that it means to live on land that was once owned by Dakota Indians. I walk on soil that was once hunted by Dakota people. They should be woven into my life. But Joe said something that gave me pause.
As you may or may not know, Joe is an Olmsted County Judge in Rochester. So of course, he comes in contact with all sorts of people every day. While I can’t quote him exactly, he said something like: “I know people from Somalia, Europe, Mexico, Saudi Arabia…but I can’t say that I know a Dakota.” I can’t say that I know a Dakota Indian.
People who used to be our neighbors. Used to live on our land. We don’t know them any longer. Their presence was so totally eliminated from our community that their ancestors don’t even live here any longer.
This is death, in a way. A little death. We are no longer able to develop meaningful relationships with people who came before us.
Yet, and here is the resurrection, NOW we have the opportunity to know others who are coming to live in our country, in our neighborhoods and give them the honor we neglected to give the Dakota who could have been our neighbors. Now we can learn from our past mistakes and reach out in friendship and faith and grace to people who are different from us. Who might seem strange to us.
We can learn to understand their accent so that we can truly communicate with them.
We can learn to honor their customs so that we don’t run around sticking our feet in our mouths.
We can admit that we don’t understand and ask them to help us learn.
To me that is a form of resurrection.
Learning from our past mistakes and, while not being able to make restitution for those mistakes, transcending them by treating people better than our ancestors did.
That is resurrection.
Here is another story of resurrection.
I told this story two Wednesday evenings ago but it bears repeating.
In 1847, thousands of Irish people were starving. The potato harvest was devesated by blight. But even more, the Irish government exported food rather than use it to feed their peasant populations. The farmers of Ireland were starving. We know this as the Potato Famine. One fourth of the population either died or left the island forever.
Making things worse, international response to the famine was muted at best and nonexistent at worst. And as I said, their own government chose international profit over care of their own people.
One small nation, however, stood up to help.
In the United States a nation of Native Americans who had themselves been displaced, treated brutally by their own government and lost many of their people on the Trail of Tears. From 1830-1933, The Choctaw Nation was removed from Mississippi and Alabama to Oklahoma.
Yet, just 16 years later, The Choctaw Nation sent relief aid to Ireland in the amount of $170 which would equal at least $5000 today. In sending the money the Nation said to the people of Ireland: even though we are living in poverty we know what political oppression is and how displacement of one’s people could destroy a nation.
Here is another ironic twist to the tale: The president who forced the Choctaw off their land? Andrew Jackson, a son of Irish immigrants.
Even now, one of the ways the Choctaw Nation reaches out to the world is through famine relief. In collaboration with Ireland.
This is not allowing death to destroy the piece of humanity, the godliness that still resides in our spirits and souls. Even though others have been brutally abusive and inhumane.
The picture here is a monument that was dedicated in 2015 in Ireland to the people of Choctaw nation in recognition of their shared humanity and charity.
It is a symbol, of resurrection.
This little-known fact of history is important because it reminds us that compassion is the recognition of our common humanity. What happens to one, happens to all. This monument was erected in Ireland to commemorate the Choctaw people.
It is truly a symbol of resurrection, don’t you think.
What does resurrection mean to you? To us as a community of people who follow the one who resurrected Lazarus but more importantly resurrects us each day, if we let him.
In our sacrament of baptism we proclaim that we are buried in Christ’s death and raised by Christ into new life. That we are made new.
And each time we baptize someone we reaffirm our own baptism. We Re-remember our own resurrection into new life. Our potential to live a life of resurrection.
The resurrection that can bring us out of the grave of old hurts, of old ways that lead to death, of famine of spirit that saps our emotional strength.
The story of the resurrection can be ours every single day. If we are willing to hear the words of love say to us: Roll away the stone of disbelief and hurt.
Come out, don’t let the past determine your ability to love yourself, your neighbor or your God. Come out, don’t be afraid that you are so stinky from your old life that there is no hope for you.
Come out, see and experience the power of new life in the Light of God’s love for you.
What does resurrection mean to you?