Tuesday, April 12, 2011

and He wept . . .

I often rejoice when my sermons are done early in the week. For the past two weeks I have been especially blessed. Each sermon has come in the beginning of the week, and many of our conversations confirmed what I was supposed to teach. During these past few weeks, as we have focused our attentions on the unfolding tragedies in Japan, the unrest in the Middle East, soaring commodity and food prices, continuing unemployment, the tremendous miracles of Fr. Jeremy, and any number of “big events,” individuals have wondered whether their problems are even worth mentioning. Cancer, although a horrible disease for us individually, might seem to us to pale in comparison with those that will be suffering from radioactive poison and whatever cancers that spring up. Our financial shortfalls might be really important to us, but they might seem to us to pale in comparison with 10-17% unemployment nationally. Our fights with loved ones may hurt us terribly, but they may seem to us to be small compared to what is happening in Libya or Syria or any number of countries around the world. Thankfully, and mercifully, our reading from John’s Gospel speaks against such thoughts. I am often amazed at the ingenuity and, let’s call it deviousness, of children. Who among us, when we were kids, had to memorize Bible verses for rewards or recognition at church or VBS or Sunday School? Who among us thought we were geniuses when we discovered John 11:35? We figured out something no one else ever had. You could get credit for a whole verse with only two words! Ever grow up and watch your children go through the same “discovery?” How many of us have watched our grandkids figure it out for themselves? Yes, it is a verse well known among the youth in churches all across the country. Jesus wept, or as our translation renders it this week, Jesus began to weep. It is the shortest verse in the entirety of the Bible. It is, therefore, the easiest to memorize; yet how many of us forget the lesson it imparts as we age? The discussions which many of us have shared the past couple weeks have fancy names in theological circles. What we have been struggling with is the transcendence of God and the immanence of God. Transcendence we can understand. God is so big, so powerful, so mighty that He can accomplish whatever He wills. Nothing is beyond His power. Nothing can escape his designs. An image often used by the Bible is one of a potter and the pot. If you are an artist, you may understand this image better. When we fashion a pot on a wheel and bake it in a kiln, we create something. If done well, the product is not only functional but also pleasing to the eye. As an artist transcendent to the pot, we can notice a smudge on the pot and smooth it out. We can see dirt and cleanse it. We can even see that the same pot meant to hold coffee can hold milk or kool-aid or whatever we want it to hold. The created object cannot do or see these things. So it is, by analogy, when we think of God and His creation, this universe. When He effects cleaning or changes, we may think of them as miracles, but you get the idea. Somewhere along the line, however, as we grow into adulthood, many of us forget the immanence of God. Somewhere along the line we begin to think of ourselves as “not really special.” My needs are so small when compared with the enormous needs of _________. Yet, that shortest of passages speaks against that very spirit. Make no mistake; Jesus knew what He was doing when He delayed when the messenger arrived. Had He answered the ladies’ summons right away, He might have arrived in time to heal Lazarus from whatever malady that killed him. Certainly, those who knew Lazarus and Jesus would simply have had their faith confirmed: Jesus is a healer. But look at what would have been missed. Jesus goes to the villages and encounters Martha. Had you been here, my brother would not have died. When Mary is brought to Him, she repeats the same thought. Had you been here, my brother would not have died. Jesus’ response is certainly not what they expect, but it probably is not what you and I expect either. We are told that He was moved by those mourning and began to weep Himself. Think of that for just a second. The Lord of the universe, the creator of all that is, seen and unseen, weeped over the death of one man! Wars were occurring all the time back then. Life was cheap. Natural and man-made disasters happened all around the world in those days. Nature seemed violent and unpredictable. Life was cheap. And God was moved to weep over the death of one seemingly insignificant man. As Creator, Jesus knew what He had planned in the Garden. Death was not meant to be. And yet, through our own folly, we had come to experience it and all the other consequences of sin. What He intended for beauty; we had marred with our sinful ways. What He had intended for provision, we had decided to take as it suited us. And life was cheap. Brothers and sisters, John 11:35 might be short, but there are few verses as important throughout the Bible. You and I are reminded by God that He is ever-present with us. Just as He knows and numbers the hairs on our heads, He knows our joys and sorrows, our fears and strengths, our determination and cowardice. As fully human He knows what it is to be a two year-old and scared of a storm or dark. He knows, absolutely knows, the fear we have when faced with peer pressure. Most amazingly of all, though, He knows our pain when we mourn. He knows the fear we have when confronting death. And rather than judge us, as we do when we tell one another “I told you so,” He mourns with us. When we hurt, so does He. Just as many of us hurt when we see a child diagnosed with disease, as we have watched Shawn these past months, how much more do the parents? Just as we hurt when we see someone victimized by bullies, how much more do the parents of the victims? Just as we stand over graves and wail that a loved one will never be seen, never be heard, never be there again, how much more do the parents of a deceased person? We are reminded, over and over again, that He is our Father in Heaven. Who, more than He, should grieve at our pain? Were the story to end with His weeping, it would be cold comfort, indeed! It might seem nice that the Lord of all things mourns with us, but where would be the Good News! Here, in the midst of death and hurt, in the midst of pain and suffering, Jesus reminds Martha, Mary and us of His eternal promises. And, to demonstrate His power to overcome all things in our lives, He calls Lazarus forth from the grave, even after Lazarus’ body has begun to decay and stink! Brothers and sisters, we are no different than Lazarus. You and I are just as beloved by God. In a couple weeks time, we will remind ourselves of that truth. But the story of Lazarus serves, among other things, to remind us that our Lord hurts with us. When we cry, so does He. He knows our hurt when we face cancer. He knows our pain and humiliation when we are bullied or abused by others. He knows what it is to be tempted. He knows how we fear whether we will be able to provide for our families. He knows how we even fear death. He knows each one of us intimately, and all our failings, and still He chooses to be there ever-present with us. And the story of Lazarus reminds us that He alone can accomplish what He wills. In a few minutes, we will anoint with oil and lay hands and pray for healing. All of us will pray for what we want to happen, but He alone will make healing happen. And the healing for which you and I ask may not be the healing that He gives. But, because He loves us as He did His brother, we know that our suffering, our privation, our humiliation, our whatever it is we want covered will be redeemed for His glory. Even if that suffering, that privation, or that humiliation leads to our deaths, He promises and reminds us this week as well, that such things are already oversome by Him for the glory of God. And while we face these pains, while we face the hurts of life, we know that He stands with us and cries with us and for us. This was not what He intended for us. But neither will it be the final words in our lives. No, indeed! One day, He will stand before each one of us, either living or dead, and He will command us to rise up! And you know what? We will! And for all eternity, we will enjoy His promises and the balm of His healing. Thanks be to Him that He chooses always to be with us and to comfort and to redeem us most especially when we hurt. Peace, Brian†

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