Saturday, April 29, 2017

On That Same Day

I know I’ve told this story before.  That’s one problem with long tenures, you get to repeating yourself.  Our journey toward adoption was long and somewhat convoluted.  I recently discovered that it was all about changing my mind, or preparing me for what was coming.  That La Donna had decided long before I did that adoption was the route we had chosen, I just didn’t know it yet.  She was willing to go through some of the motions in order to convince me.  That’s the new part of the story.  The part I intended to bring out was the day we made the decision, and made the call.  We talked and thought and researched and finally decided yes, we were going to do this, and yes we knew who we were going call, which agency I mean.  And we picked up the phone and started the process.  

That was October 25, 1993.  We got back from Scotland where we had been for five years while I worked on my doctorate and lived and worked in and around Edinburgh.  I completed all the requirements for the degree and needed to stay and complete some tasks at the University while La Donna came home and set up house for us in Elkhart where I had been appointed to work as an associate pastor for youth at Trinity UMC. She came home in August and I came home almost a month later in September.  That, by the way, remains my favorite move all of the moves we have made in our married life! (We’re up to 20 moves, in case you were wondering)

One of the things that brought us home was the adoption process, as foreign nationals in the UK our options were limited.  So, we returned home to begin the search.  So another month had passed and we finally settled on an agency and called to start.  October 25, 1993.  We remember that because on that same day, on the other side of the planet, Kim Myung Hoon was born to parents who couldn’t keep him.  There were complications at his birth, and he received treatment and was given to an orphanage who found him a foster family to raise temporarily.  We learned about him a few months later.  Because we had started on the domestic adoption track, but it didn’t seem to be working for some reason.  Even the workers at the agency said it was odd.  Like all the sources dried up suddenly. But be patient, they counseled.  It’ll happen.  Finally we decided to wait a little differently and asked about international adoption.  We learned it could take even longer, but sure, we could put our names on the lists.  Until someone told us about the “Child of Promise” book.  This was a listing of children already born, who had certain issues, medical or behavioral, that made them “unadoptable” in the normal process.  We asked to see the book.  We studied, and read, and wept a time or two, and we chose.  And Kim Myung Hoon became Rhys Edmund Myung-hoon Weber.  And our lives have never been the same.  Thanks be to God.

OK, so besides the fact that I like telling that story (and you should be grateful that I shortened it considerably) what’s the point?  Why bring this old story up here and now?  Well, I know it is tenuous, but it was one phrase in our text for this week that took me off down this track.  The very beginning of the story.  Take a look.

Luke 24:13-35 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" 19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." 25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

On that same day.  That day.  You remember that day.  That day when everything changed.  That day when the possibilities stretched out before like a road to a new reality, a new you.  That day.  On that same day.  Luke seems to be saying that Jesus had an agenda.  You’d think rising from the dead would have been all that was on the list for the day.  That’s a full day, don’t you think?  Rise from the dead, and then take it easy from there.  Relax a bit.  Take a nap, read a book.  But no, rising from the dead was only the first thing on the list that day.  That day.

On the Risen Christ’s to do list was meeting some guys on a road.  They were heading to Emmaus. Why?  No one knows!  Maybe it was home.  They thought the party was over, the curtain had come down, might as well go home and remember.  Maybe that’s what they were doing as they walked, rehearsing their favorite lines.  Remember the bread and fish day?  Of course, who could forget that? Yeah, that was a good day.  Who do you say I am, remember that one.  Good old Peter, he’s the one with all the answers.  I was glad he broke the silence that day.  Yeah, that day, that day was a hard day.  Yeah, not like this one though.  No, not like this one.  There aren’t any harder days than this one.  
Why?  The simple question startled them out of their remembrances.  Why is this such a hard day? They hardly know how to answer.  He must have beamed down from the moon, from another dimension of time and space.  How could he not know?  They told him.  A creed it sounds like, words the church began to use, not the normal conversational answer to an honest question, but a declaration of faith.  Faith that wavered there at the end.  But we had hoped. Here’s where it got real again.  We had hoped.  Strange stories we couldn’t believe.  This day is the worst of all days.  

It was his laughter at this that startled them most.  How foolish, he chuckled.  You had to know.  What did they have to know?  Everything, he told them, everything.  They were enraptured in spite of themselves, their grief forgotten, their despair set aside as they listened to him tell them what they already knew but had forgotten on that terrible day.  He talked on and on, every book, every scroll, every story they thought they knew but now sounded new on that day.  When they got to Emmaus they didn’t want it to end, so they begged him to stay with them, to eat with them.  They opened the door to their lives and He walked in and sat down with them.  Then, He took the bread and broke it.  

Was it the words?  The motion, the gestures?  Was it the bread, tearing, breaking, scattering crumbs here and there and everywhere?  They felt it more than saw it.  Their hearts lit up, they talked about it when they could breathe again.  We’re not our hearts burning?  They ran, who decided?  Which one? Who knows, maybe their feet decided, maybe it was their burning hearts, but they ran.  All the way back to those who would understand how this day had become that day.  That day when everything changed.  When the world ended and started again.  But now it was different.  It was all different. That same day.

They walked in the room and everything was burning.  Hearts were on fire before they got there to light them up.  The Lord has risen indeed.  Yeah, we know, they said with a grin they couldn’t remove.  We know because we saw Him.  He came alongside.  He taught us, then fed us.  He was right there, then He wasn’t, but He is.  He still is.  Because He left something behind.  Call it memory, call it hope, call it the Spirit, a Presence that makes His absence less frightening.  We don’t know, they said, shaking their heads, but we know.  Then they laughed because they knew that made no sense.  We don’t know, but we know.  That same day, hope was made.  A family was made, hungry hearts were satisfied on that day.  You remember that day?  That when the whole world changed?  I do.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Now For a Little While

This final chapter.  My ten year journey alongside the good people of Aldersgate is drawing to a close.  I confess it isn’t ending like I dreamed it would, and there is heartache in that.  But I am learning to find moments to celebrate. And there are many things to give thanks for, many relationships that sustained me, many souls that have been touched by our shared ministry.  I can’t help but give God thanks for the ways God’s blessings have been experienced here in the past ten years.  Thanks for those who have welcomed us like family, for those who have been instrumental in shaping me and my family into who we are today.  To those who have caught the vision of what we could be, what we are called to be in Christ, and worked like crazy to make it happen.  The Kingdom was experienced at Aldersgate by those who had eyes to see.

So, what shall be the theme of this final chapter?  How shall we begin the process of following the call of God to continue to be the body even as we walk separately from here?  What shall we grab hold of to carry us into God’s glorious future?  Joy.  

Just that?  Joy?  Nothing more profound?  Just ...Joy?  Well, yeah.  But no.  No, in fact, there is no such thing as just joy.  Nothing “only” about it, nothing insignificant, nothing easy, nothing “no big deal” about joy.  It is central to the faith.  Really?  Central?  I thought that was love.  Yes, it is.  Two centers?  No, one center, or central expression.  You’re right, it is love.  But Paul’s letter to the Galatians says that this central expression, this fruit of the Spirit, love is characterized first by joy.  It is the chief property of love.  A joyous love.  That’s what we ought to have, ought to exude, ought to live each and every day.  And why not?  We’ve got everything we could ever ask or imagine.  Our cup runneth over.  The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want.  Do you hear how many verses are pointing us toward joy?  Read through the Bible (that was fun wasn’t it?  How long ago was that? Maybe time to do it again) and find every word telling us that we can be, we ought to be, we are given permission and encouragement to be joyful.  And don’t forget this one:

1 Peter 1:3-9 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith-- being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire-- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

First Peter.  Not a letter we read all that often.  It’s just tucked away back there toward the end of the New Testament as though it was embarrassed to be included.  I’ll just sit back here, out of the way, so as not to bother anyone, it says.  Call me if you need me.  But I hope you won’t.  Really.  And why so shy?  Besides the fact that Peter had been through the wringer and was probably a little skittish.  

Well, this letter isn’t really for us.  I mean it is, of course, all of scripture is God-breathed and useful for building up.  But it isn’t.  This letter was written when the church was under constant threat. When the benediction was spoken in a whisper because everyone knew when they gathered again someone likely would be missing, caught up in the cleansing, in deportations and imprisonment. When they were afraid of their neighbors.  Afraid they might discover that they practiced a minority religion, practiced a suspect faith and might turn them in to the increasingly vigilant authorities who were out to make the nation safe.  They were looked at with suspicion as they passed their neighbors on the street. They didn’t feel safe in their own home towns, their own places of work.  They were, in fact, model citizens.  They did jobs no one else would do.  Christians were often the only ones who care for the dead, who would treat the body as though it was something precious and give it a decent burial.  Because they believed that life was bigger than what we could see with our eyes.  But others thought that was just odd.  And icky.  And scary.  
Questions began to be raised in the communities of faith.  Should we go under ground?  Should we hide?  Blend in, act like them?  Would it be safer to pretend we aren’t saved by grace through faith? Should we act as though we weren’t asked to pray for our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, because it’s risky, and darned hard?  The question was should our faith move inside: inside our heads, inside our hearts.  Should it be a personal faith that keeps us safe and warm where it really matters in the imaginations of our inner life?  

This was the question Peter set out to answer in this letter.  OK, let’s be aware that there are some who don’t think this letter was actually written by Peter.  The timing is wrong, they say, the vocabulary doesn’t sound like a Galilean fisherman.  Besides, his name was Simon, not Peter.  OK, I get that.  And they’re probably right.  But, doesn’t it sound like something Peter would do?  If he didn’t write it, then maybe he said it and later someone wrote it down and put his name on it.  If he did write it, I’m sure he did it without a sense of irony.

If the question should we hide is the one being addressed, who better than Peter to answer it?  Peter, who professed his loyalty to his Lord with moral conviction and then ran like a scared bunny when things got heated.  Who claimed his steadfastness with loud protests, and then claimed to not know who they were talking about when someone asked him about this Jesus.  Of course Peter would answer this question.  He’s been there.  He understands the pull to save one’s own skin.  He has a grasp on reality, he knows what will work and what won’t.  He’s as pragmatic as they come.  So, who better?  What do you say Peter?  Stay safe?  By no means.

We’d need to study the whole letter to get all the answer, but we can catch a glimpse of Peter’s spirit even in these opening verses.  A new birth, that’s our gift.  A new life not based our merits, not earned by the sweat of our brows, but by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And now that gift is ours.  And nothing can diminish it.  Nothing can snatch it out of our grasp.  But it is ours.  As sure as the air we breathe.  As sure as the light we see.  As sure as the hope in our hearts.  It is ours, this gift of life.  This way of seeing ourselves and all of creation around us.  It is ours.

There is only one response to that.  Only one.  Rejoice.  Yes, of course, rejoice.  And there are times when I can rejoice.  Times when things are going well and I can contemplate the fullness of the promise of eternity.  Then, yes, I can look inward and rejoice.  Feel good about what has been given, content.  Satisfied.  Uh, no, says Peter, grinning in his beard.  You rejoice, even if now for a little while you suffer.  Wait, what?  Rejoice while suffering?  That doesn’t compute.  I know, right?  Says Peter.  But yeah, it really does.  Here’s the thing, you’re alive.  I know, and I’d like to stay that way. No, alive.  Not just living.  You’re alive.  Which means that anything that happens is just a moment in eternity.  Just a blip on the screen.  So all those things that terrify you don’t mean anything.  They can’t diminish you, they can’t break you.  You’re alive.  I didn’t get that then.  I get it now.  All there is is love.

Peter laughs at his own thoughts.  Sounds like a pop song, doesn’t it?  But it’s the truth.  The deep truth.  Love that starts with Him, the One I turned my back on, but who never turned His back on me. Love of Him who loves so deeply it shakes you to the core.  Love so profound we are remade.  Made alive.  Call it salvation, that’s the only word that fits.  We are being saved by His love.  Saved to love like Him.  Saved to live like Him.  Does that sound like a party or what?  

His teeth gleam through that tangle of a beard, weathered face wrinkling around his eyes as he reaches out with those big fisherman hands to slap you on the back.  Welcome to the party, he shouts a little too loudly.  Rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.   Amen, Peter, amen.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Sightseeing in the Cemetery

This is it.  The end of the line.  Our journey is complete.  We began Lent by wandering in the wilderness, acknowledging our hungers.  We encountered Jesus on the way.  We came to Him by night for a confusing conversation about claiming life, and a promise of love that we cling to even in our darkness.  Especially in our darkness.  We met Him in the middle of our day, when we hoped we wouldn’t be noticed, and He told us everything we had ever done, and loved us anyway.  So we ran and told everyone we knew, even those we had hoped to avoid by going to the well at noon.  We felt Him rubbing mud on our eyes so that we could see what we had never seen before, and whole new vistas opened up before us, and even though those around us couldn’t see what we saw and doubted that we were anything other than the blind one we had been before, we reveled in the light that He brought into our lives.  Then the stone we had been hiding behind, the stone that blocked our way forward, cut off our air, crushed our hope, was rolled away at His command and we walked forth, blinking in the light of life.  He did that for us, we remembered.  We wept tears of joy and hope, we clung to him.  Wanting to stop and dwell, to set up camp, to just be.  He wouldn’t stop.

He kept moving forward, and we went with Him, not wanting the light to dim, not wanting the life to fade.  We went with Him, waving our Palms and shouting with joy and with hope, Hosanna.  Save us. Claim us. Want us, we are Yours, for now and for always, Yours.  He rode on our red carpet of many colors as we cast our coats before Him.  He acknowledged our shouts and promises of allegiance with a sadness we couldn’t grasp.  Our joy was real.  Our commitment was deep.  We were His.  He kept moving.  

We sat at the table as He lifted the bread.  He told us it was Him.  The bread, somehow, was Him. His body, broken into as many pieces as we needed, would need, now and into eternity.  We ate with clouded eyes and confused minds.  He was here, right here with us, why did we need this bread to be Him?  The cup He raised, giving thanks for the fruit of the vine and the sweetness we would drink, then He gave it to us and said to drink, because it was Him.  His blood, His very life, poured out, as though a sword had pierced His side, flowing down to cover us, to cover our sin, all that would keep us from Him, from clinging to Him, as we had just promised we would.  We drank, tasting the bitter and the sweet, the pain and the promise both.  It burned all the way down as we gazed into His eyes and heard His words of the betrayal to come.  We prayed with Him in the garden at night, tried to stay awake to comfort Him, but sleep overcame us and we left Him alone to rail against the night and succumb to the will of the One who sent Him.

We walked with Him when they came, with swords and clubs, with hatred and fear, we walked with Him as they tore Him away from us, beat Him and abused Him.  We walked with Him as they laid on Him a sentence of death, a cross of shame.  We walked with ... No, no we didn’t.  We wanted to.  We thought we did, we promised we would.  But it was our fear that tripped us up again.  How many times had He told us not to be afraid?  And we deserted Him in this hour, we denied Him, we betrayed Him.  And now He walks alone, down those palm strewn streets, out to the hill and He gave Himself up for us.  And the world wept and shook as the darkness descended.  

And now here we are.  The end of the line.  No where left to go.  As if a conductor has announced the last stop, we shuffle to the exit with no destination in mind.  We stumble blindly in our personal darkness wondering what happened to hope.  We gasp for the breath that now escapes us, as though we had just run a marathon and can’t breathe without feeling the pain of our exertion, desperately needing the wind to blow, the air to fill our lungs again.  But there is nothing.  A stillness.  An emptiness.  It presses down on us, a weight too heavy for us to bear.  All we can think of is death. His death, and ours.  He carried us with Him when He went, when He breathed His last, He took the air out of our lungs.  And now we lie, gasping for life, like the fish we caught that day when He found us and sent us out into the deep water.  All those fish.  Dead.  Like us.  

When you can think of nothing but death, where else should we go?  We head to the cemetery.  Just to look.  Just to see.  To see the only reality we know any more.  The only certainty we have.  Death. His death, and ours.  So, we go.  Just to look.

Matthew 28:1-10 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

What did you go to see?  The Marys that went sightseeing in the cemetery, what did they go to see? Death, tombs, stones and shrouds.  They went to weep at the end.  The end of the line, no where else to go.  Nothing else to hope.  Just ... death.  A life surprised them again.  Not a quiet, unassuming life. Not a gentle fluttering of doves.  But the ground shook, the stone rolled, a being of light came and sat on the stone as though it was a royal throne he was keeping warm for someone else.  When he spoke it was like an organ playing, like strings plucked, notes reverberating through the air.  Don’t be afraid. Still those words are said.  Our final nemesis isn’t death after all, it’s fear.  The fear of death, yes, but the fear of abandonment, the fear of failure, the fear of disappointing the One we love more than life itself.  We are gripped by fears too many to name, crippling us, binding us, limiting us in ways we barely comprehend.  Don’t be afraid, the being of light sang to us.  Don’t be afraid.  

I know, he sang with a smile because he was in on the divine joke, because she was ready with the punchline.  I know you seek the dead one.  The died one.  The killed one.  There ain’t such a person at this address.  No death here, even in the realm of the dead.  No one by that name, Jesus the dead one.  Unable to forward, person unknown. The orchestra sitting on the stone could barely contain the laughter.  But, she chuckled, if you want Jesus the Risen, I can give you the directions.  I’m your Mapquest, he slapped his thigh at that one. I’m your GPS, she snickered behind a shining hand.  Go, the song swells, Go, the strings vibrate and the horns announce, Go.  

Go where?  Go home.  Go home, the place you’ve run from because it bores you.  Go home, the place you run to because you think it will keep the world at arms length, though it fails to do so on a regular basis.  Go home and there you will see Him.  Surrounded the familiar that now looks different, because He breathed life into you.  Surrounded by the ordinary that now crackles with the lightning of divinity, the earthquake of love that is stronger than death.  Go home, to the place you felt most alone and know you will never be lonely again.  Go and see the world in your backyard.  Go and see heaven in the earth you know best. 

So, they run because they can’t think of anything else to do, any reason not to.  They run full of hope and the fear that simply won’t release its grip on them. On us.  We run, with a word.  A message.  You will see Him.  You will.  See Him.  Him.  Not the dead one, the hung on a cross one, the stripped and beaten and spat upon one.  But the Risen One.  The Alive One.  You’ll see Him, where you live, at home.  

He ties on an apron and stands near the frozen fish and hands out samples of life as we dash through the aisles filling our carts with things we hope will satisfy our hungers.  The microwave dings and He hands us a sample with a smile, and we taste and it is good, better than anything we’ve collected to that point.  But we push on, afraid we’re falling behind.  As we rush away it sounds as if instead of telling us which shelf holds this sample He says something else. It couldn’t be, could it?  But it sounds like ... well it sounds like He said “Follow me.” 

You will see Him, that’s the message of Easter.  You will see Him, the Living One, the Alive One, Him.  And in that seeing, you’ll be able to breathe deeply again.  Happy Easter.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Take Away the Stone

Forgive me talking about the transition so much.  It is kind of all consuming.  And my Bible studies have always grown out of the experience of living in the world held up to the mirror of the text.  So, here we are again. Looking at life through the reflection of the Gospel of John.  And it is as startling as that first bleary eyed glance in the bathroom mirror, when you wonder how your parents got into your bathroom to gaze back at you.

Anyway, some of you know that my new place of service does not have housing provided.  They offer a housing allowance instead, which meant that we needed - at this advanced stage of our lives - to become homeowners.  Needless to say, since this wasn’t in our immediate plans, it threw us for a loop.  We were staggered by the piles of information and warnings and options open to first time home buyers.  Some of the sources we looked to for help only managed to make things worse.  We seemed to be faced with an insurmountable obstacle in our immediate future.  A stone that was too large to get over.

We encounter stones on a frighteningly regular basis, don’t we?  Roadblocks.  Dead ends.  No outlet. Whatever it is that gets in the way of the progress we planned. We may hope for open roads and clear access to our goals, but invariably there is the great unknown, the enemy that brings all your plans to a halt.  And everything grinds to a halt in the face of this hopelessness.  Large or small.  Until someone, or Someone, can take away the stone.

John 11:1-45 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 
7 Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." 8 The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?" 9 Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them." 11 After saying this, he told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him." 12 The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right." 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." 17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.
18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." 23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world." 
28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you." 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 37 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." 40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 

John, and by implication Jesus, wants us to see beyond the miracle.  We could stand in awe of the moment where Jesus bends the laws of creation and works something incomprehensible.  But there is so much to this story that we almost have to force ourselves to look beyond that unexplainable moment.  That’s why we’re overwhelmed with words again this week.  Look deeper into the mirror and see your life, even if we don’t come hopping out of a tomb wrapped in grave clothes.

Like Martha we hint at questions rather than ask them.  “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  OK, thanks for the information.  But then later, like Martha, we complain when those unasked questions aren’t answered. “If you had been here...”  And then we’re known to find an excuse to get away from one who wants more from us than we can give.  Did you notice when Jesus starts getting into Martha’s faith statement, she slips away and tells Mary to go talk to Him.  This is more your area than mine. I’m good with a spatula, you know theology.  Even the crowd at the cemetery tsks behind their hands, “you would think He could have come a little sooner.” 

And then those tears.  Shortest verse and all.  Jesus wept.  Began to weep in our translation.  Those around Him went “aww, look how much He loved His friend.”  Completely missing the point.  Or rather confirming the reason for the tears.  Of course Jesus loved His friend, He loves all of us.  So much that our limited sight causes Him pain.  Jesus wept twice in the Gospels, here and on Palm Sunday, when he rode into Jerusalem and saw the city spread out before Him and His heart broke at the blindness, at the lack of vision, the lack of faith, the inability to see beyond that stone called death into the life of joy and peace and hope.  

We sit behind those stones, stymied so long we begin to stink.  Until Someone comes along and says “Take away the stone.”  Wait, what?  Take it away?  You mean, just like that?  Take it away?  Or better yet, live as though it wasn’t there?  Move forward into the unknown, be unwrapped and live? Notice Lazarus doesn’t move his stone.  Others move it.  Lazarus doesn’t unwrap his shroud, others unwrap it.  He is set free from that which binds him, from that which takes his life, by the community acting on the direction of the Christ who weeps for our blindness.  Who asks whether we believe.  

Do you believe this?  I am Lord of life, he says, I am stronger than the stone called death.  You need not live in fear, you need not limit your own life, your own living.  Set it aside and embrace life in all its beauty and joy and risk, because I’ve got your back.  Do you believe this?  Well, says Martha and all of us, kinda.  Sorta.  Yeah.  I guess.

Somehow, with the help of friends and financial institutions of various kinds, we are now homeowners.  Or will be soon.  Somehow, that stone wasn’t the end we thought it was.  Sure there are some more stones to move, more struggles to endure.  But somehow we moved forward.  Step by step.  Taking away the stones as they come.  One by one.  Thanks be to God.