Summit Presbyterian Church March 9, 2008
Delivered by Jim Eby The End of the Beginning John 11:17-45
It was more than just another miracle. It was the end of the beginning.
It appeared simply to be the mourning of the death of a loved one, but it was the curtain on the first act of a two act play. It is drama that leaves you sitting on the edge of your seat wondering how the second act will unfold.
The first act began in John's Gospel with the wedding at Cana and the water turned to wine. Remember that event was so the disciples might have faith. Then there was the sign of the loaves and fishes and enough left to fill twelve baskets. And soon after, the sign of the Samaritan woman at the well. The sign of the lame man healed came next. And then the sign of the man born blind. It was that last sign which ratcheted the tension between Jesus and the religious authorities to the next level.
And through out John's Gospel, that statement again and again and again, "I am...." "I am the bread of life; I am the living water; I am the light of the world." And now this magnificent statement, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."
John seems to be saying to us: "This sign of resurrection of Lazarus and this claim of Jesus - 'I am the resurrection and the life' - these point to the coming resurrection of Jesus and the fact that he really is the Word of God that took on human flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. This resurrection of Lazarus and the promises Jesus made are validated when Jesus is resurrected from the dead and shows us the shape and the form and the future God intends for each of us." And we are pointed toward the future.
The future is a little bit scary, isn't it? When we're honest, we can admit that we're comfortable with the past. We've dealt with the joys and the disappointments of the choices we made, and we are able to cope with the present. The past is over and we've survived it. We often accomplished wonderful things because God worked through us. The present is at least bearable.
But the future? That's unknown, and that's scary. It's going to bring change, it's going to bring growth in ways we may not think we want or need. It's going to bring challenges, and we're sometimes frightened that we won't live through those changes. And sometimes when change comes that can be growth, we're frightened, we're concerned that people are saying the past was bad. We worry that people think the wonderful accomplishments were not really so wonderful after all. Those are the fears that change can bring. But change can also bring the next step in our growth, on that pilgrimage which God leads. And that’s part of the reality of this interim time. To prepare ourselves for the change that is going to come. To realize that while it may be uncomfortable, it can be the next growth point for us as individuals and as a congregation.
Sometimes I wish we had a time machine. Wouldn't it be fascinating to go back and talk with Lazarus? What were his feelings and insights about what it means to be alive after his friends and relations had unwrapped the burial cloths that bound him so tightly in death? What were his joys and fears as he reentered this life of flesh and blood? Those who have come back from near death experiences speak of the light and warmth that is experienced in the next life, the peace and joy that is there. They come back knowing that there is something yet for them to contribute in this life, but they never again fear death or the life that is to come. Their present is different, because they have experienced the realities of the promise we have been given by God in Jesus. They know they are not headed for a tomb, covered with a stone placed over the entrance where they will remain for all eternity.
We are the Easter people. We are those who live with an image of what the future will bring. We can dare to live in the promise Jesus gave all his disciples, for all time, when he said, "Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. I am the resurrection and the life."
The promise is there so you and I never need to worry any more about dying. Oh yes, we will have to leave these physical bodies behind someday, these wonderful, magnificent, complicated bodies that slowly wear out and eventually are no longer fit to live in. But what happens then doesn't really deserve to be called death or defeat. For we go right on living with Christ, like the caterpillar who turns into a butterfly, we go right on living into an even more wonderful state than we have ever experienced before.
And when we know the truth of that, then we can experience, right here, right now, that real life, that real living that God intends for us. Then we can spend ourselves for each other. Then we can stop living just for ourselves, our interest, our advantage, our success; and we can begin to live more fully for him. Then we can be used as God's reconcilers, as God's peacemakers. Then we can open our hands that too often grasp things we think we want to own or possess. Then we can be like those at the tomb of Lazarus who saw the body wrapped in grave cloths like the ones that would later wrap the body of Jesus. Then we can be like those who saw a cloth around the face of Lazarus. And then we can be like those who heard the command of Jesus: "Unbind him and let him go."
Lazarus lived, after Jesus called, "Lazarus, come out!" He lived, but he couldn't move. Wrapped in a linen grave cloth, he was spiral bound, and there is no way he could have done much more than sit up. And so Jesus told the crowd, "Unbind him and let him go."
Oh, I'm sure Jesus could have caused the cloths to disintegrate or to disappear somehow. But he chose the people who had seen the sign to become involved with and to become involved in that sign of the raising of Lazarus. He gave those people a job to do. They were to be stewards of this new life Lazarus experienced. They were to untie him and let him go.
And that's our job description still today. That's the work God has given me and given you to do. "Untie him, and let him go."
Sometimes that work of untying and letting go seems very sublime. Jaime Potter-Miller tells of the time when her children were preschoolers. "One fall afternoon, our son, Jordan, came running to me," she remembers. "Tears were pouring from his big blue eyes. The cry was one of pain and frustration (often parents know the shades of difference among cries) as he toddled to me holding out a pudgy arm. Jordan was eleven months old. He had six teeth, four on the top and two on the bottom. On his arm was a vicious bite, already turning purple, with a full set of teeth marks. Our 3-year-old daughter, Janna, was found and reprimanded in my characteristic manner. I'd cradle her cheeks in my hands, grasp her ear lobes between my thumb and forefinger, and speak slowly, 'Now watch my mouth, Janna, this is important!' She was solemnly but lightly spanked with instructions to never, ever again bite her poor baby brother and was denied
That evening as I was helping her get ready for bed, I pulled off her coveralls and ran her bath water. When I lifted her into the tub, I noticed an ugly bruise on her little bottom. Surrounding the center of the bruise were six, distinct teeth marks. Four on the top, two on the bottom. I heard myself asking the kind of question I'd dreaded as a child, the kind you know parents already know the answer to. I said, 'Janna, honey, how did you get that bruise?' She looked up and stated matter-of-factly, 'That's where Jordan bit me before I bit him. I continued, 'Honey, why didn't you tell me?' She answered, 'You didn't ask me, Mommy.'
I told her that I had been a bad mommy and that she could spank me if she wanted to. She took my face in her little, wet hands and said, 'Watch my mouth, this is important. It's okay.' A daughter untied her mother and let her go.
You and I are forgiven sinners. We stand on this side of the empty tomb of Jesus. We know we live in a time that is the new beginning God has caused to happen. And we know that, as forgiven sinners, we must be involved in forgiving one another. Unforgiven sin binds and restricts relationships more than grave cloths can bind a body.
Each time we pray the prayer Jesus gave us, we pray: "Forgive us our debts, our trespasses, our sins, the wrongs we have done as we forgive the wrongs others have done us." This week, as you live out the reality of God's love for you, forgive at least one sin, one wrong that has been done to you. Take one relationship, and forgive the pain, the hurt that's there. Untie the other person who is bound up in the tomb, needing the gift you have been given by God.
Do that, and prepare for next Sunday when we will celebrate the coming of the King, with the waving of the palms and the joyful song, "Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the coming kingdom of King David our father! Praise be to God.
God, our creator, our redeemer; you have already shown your love for us in Jesus. Help us to hear his call to come out of the tomb into new life, and help us untie each other so we can be signs of your power and love. In the name of Jesus we ask it. Amen.