Summoned Back to Life (2)

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Our faith in Jesus calls us back to life.

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If only…those are words that we all have uttered at some time in our lives. If only I had left 5 minutes earlier, I wouldn’t have been in this accident. If only, I had checked my bank balance, I wouldn’t have been overdrawn. If only I had counted to ten, I wouldn’t have said those words that hurt my my spouse, child, friend.
In today’s Gospel Lesson we have an “if only” story involving Jesus, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Telling the Story

Jesus and his disciples are back to the Jordan River where John the Baptist had been baptizing. While there, Jesus received a message from Mary and Martha that Lazarus, their brother, was critically ill and they needed him to come to their home.
But Jesus gets the message and doesn’t do anything about it. He didn’t even tell his disciples right away. He stayed for two days before deciding to go back to Judea.
He tells the disciples that Lazarus is “sleeping;” an euphemism for dead. The disciples do not understand and Jesus finally tells them straight out that he is dead. Furthermore, he is glad he is dead because they are going to see God glorified in a big way.
The disciples had qualms about Jesus traveling back to Judea because he came close to death there. So Thomas says to the other disciples, “Come, on, let’s go! We might as well die there with him.
When they get to Bethany, they are a ways from the house when Martha runs out to meet him and we here those familiar words: “If only you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
Jesus tells her that her brother will live again and she thinks that he is talking about a general resurrection that will take place i the future when the Messiah comes and reigns. But she says it in a voice that indicates that she doesn’t really believe it. It is the voice of grief and powerlessness.
We know that voice really well. We attempt to go about our lives when death comes to our doorsteps. But we cannot concentrate, we cannot eat or sleep, we cannot make decisions as easily as we are used to doing.
We don’t feel very strong, very spirited, very vital in the face of death. Neither was Martha. She sort of believed but at that moment is wasn’t very comforting.
She calls Martha to come and see Jesus. Martha comes and we hear the second “if only.” Mary says the exact same words, “If only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Very unexpectedly the story takes us to a rare recorded action of Jesus. When Jesus sees Mary and Martha weeping, along with other Jews who have come to comfort him, he asks to see where Lazarus is buried. When seeing the tomb, Jesus weeps.
This Jesus that we often see as strong, brave, rarely intimidated is caught up in emotions for his friends and perhaps, in his own ministry which is going to come to an end in two weeks. He will be the one in the tomb taking on the pain of evil and separation of death that keeps all people from total union with God.
Jesus wants the tomb opened over the objections of Martha who tells him that it has been four days and the stench is going to be unbearable. The door is opened.

The Climax of the Story

Jesus prays and calls out in a loud, authoritative voice, “Lazarus, Come out! He came out, wrapped in linen burial cloths with a kerchief over his face.”
Jesus said, “Unwrap him and let him loose.”
Lazarus was summoned back to life. He went about living for several more years. He had more living to do before death would come and claim him again.

What Does That Mean To Us?

Many of us can identify with Mary and Martha and their grief. We have said those magical words, “if only”. If only you had answered my prayers, my spouse would not have died. If only, I had gone to church more, or given more money, or worked harder in the church, my son or daughter wouldn’t be dead right now.
If only, I had not argued with my husband or spouse, about every little thing, we might still be married.
If only I had not been addicted to drugs, alcohol, or sex, my life would be so much easier because I wouldn’t have failed so many people.
If only I had listened to my parents and made better decisions, I might be happier instead of struggling with the choices I have made.
And in the middle of our “If only’s”, Jesus summons us back to life. Jesus calls us to leave the moments of impotence, the moments of doubt and powerlessness and to believe that life in all of its fullness and vibrance is ours again.
Jesus summons us out of our pits of despair and failure, to embrace something bigger and better than what we know now.
Jesus calls us to leave our anger and pain of the past to come and live in a vital, life-affirming way.

The Call-Come out and be loosed to live again.

So how does this happen?
Is this just a matter of positive thinking?
Is this something that happens to us after we die?
And the answer is no! It is something that we are called to in this lifetime. It is a matter of faith. But faith in what?
Jesus comes to this world with an identity that is human and divine. He is given a mission that is to bring heaven to earth or to brig the divine and the earthly reality we live in together in one. There is evil and destruction that run amok in our land even to this day. We know about wars, killings, disease, death. And for many people, death is the final word.
Then Jesus ends up being betrayed, tried, found guilty, crucified and buried. In circumstances very similar to Lazarus, Jesus is dead and buried in a tomb similar to the one Lazarus was buried. And, likewise, Jesus was called forth from the tomb by the power of God, and in that act of resurrection, death and evil were defeated as the final enemies.
Jesus as the Messiah has brought heaven and earth together in his death, resurrection, ascension and glorification. We have the possibility of being identified with him in his death, resurrection and ascension.
So we don’t have to do anything but believe that Jesus is the Messiah. We just need to have faith that the new life that Jesus lived and modeled in the Gospels is something that we can do in this age. We can bring hope and peace to this world because we believe that Jesus has made this possible.
This is not positive thinking. This is not bargaining. This not working ourselves to death in hte church.
This is about believing in the power of God to bring peace, reconciliation, and justice to the earth.
This is the ability to hear the voice of Jesus call to us and ask us to “Come out of the drabness of your disappointment. Come out of the tomb of pain and anger. Come out of the bindings of failure. Come out of the chains of self-absorption into the life of generosity and care for those who are orphans, widows, the needy.

Can You Hear the Call to New Life?

Do you dare to believe that there is an invitation to you to join the God’s vision in creating heaven on earth by living this new life?
If so, be unloosed and set free for the door of the tomb is open, you have been invited to claim this new life by faith, and are released to be God’s imager, God’s messenger, God’s hands and feet working to bring heaven on earth.
This Table that we gather at today is about Jesus being the sacrifice. We participate today with the assurance that God, through Jesus Christ, has found a way to defeat evil and death and summons us back to new life-a life of justice, mercy, and walking humbly with God.
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