Tuesday, March 15, 2005 by niebuhrian
Amy, you asked or wondered what I would do with the Lazarus passage. Well, here it is. By the way, congratulations to you and Bill, the left coast will be blessed to have both of you...
At the end of the sermon today, I will ask you two questions. I want you write them down and then answer them, either on paper or in a time of prayer and meditation. But before we get to them, I want to talk to you about two things. The first is the different people in our story, and the second is 6 words that I believe can make a difference your life.
In our story, Jesus is surrounded three different groups of people. They are the disciples, the faithful women, and the mourners.
First let’s look at the disciples. Jesus interacts with them during the first third of our passage. They are shown complaining about Jesus’ desire to return to
The disciples are also seen in all of their ignorant glory. This theme runs through a number of stories about the disciples. It seems as though, while they do get it right occasionally, they often just don’t get it at all. Now I know that we have had 2000 years to study these words, but you think they would have gotten it right more often than they did. It’s as though they lived with him, walked with him, breathed the same air as him, but just weren’t able to make that important connection between faith and life. At least not while Jesus was alive.
Let’s turn to our second group, the faithful women. It is interesting to me, that the women Jesus encounters throughout his life have tended to place more faith in him than the men he encounters. The women in this story are no exception; and they are the most faithful and astute people we encounter.
As you think about the role of these faithful women in bringing about the
Finally, let’s turn to our third group, the mourners. These are the people who are outside the ministry of Jesus. They know little of him, and have had a little contact with his words and teachings, but out of their relationship with Martha and Mary and Lazarus, they are present when Jesus arrives. Through their connection with these grieving women, they are given the opportunity to see what happens when one is faithfully and radically obedient to God. It is the mourners that have an experience of the holy that drastically alters their worldview, and as all encounters with God will do, it radically changes many of their lives.
Three groups of people, each group plays a significant role in the story, and each one sheds light on the modern church. I have a suspicion that these three groups mirror some of the same types of people who are involved in congregations everywhere. Each group has pluses and minuses and I am not sure that a healthy congregation could survive without them.
First, there is what I would call the begrudgingly faithful, similar to the male disciples. They follow, but they just don’t always get it. These folks prefer the safe side of Christianity, and they have often been unable to create a faith of their own. I think this has less to do with willful disobedience, and is more akin to a developmental delay.
They are present in church on Sunday, but you would rarely be able to tell it on Monday. Much like the disciples during Jesus’ arrest they are present when things are fine, but scatter to the four winds when it comes time for the rubber to hit the road. On the positive side, they are tenacious and their continued presence offers them a wonderful opportunity to begin a journey of faith.
Second, there are those who I would call the eager faithful. These are the people who have taken the opportunity to internalize their faith and make it their own. They are the people who just ooze faith; the ones who can sense the call of the holy on their lives and are ready to respond.
These are the ones whose lives have been transformed and reformed by the love of God through Jesus Christ. The people who hear God’s call and will sometimes trample their neighbor to answer it. This is the pitfall of the eager faithful; they often forget that Jesus called us to both action and reflection.
We are told that faith is more than works, but that faith without works is dead, therefore we must: sit at the feet of the Son of God and be taught and loved and refreshed, as well as, rising and sharing that same love with others.
Our final group consists of the ones outside this body of faith who look in to see what is different. Often times they are looking for an experience of God that will transform their lives, or looking for a place where they can be loved for who they are, but I am pretty sure that they are looking at each of you to see what your faith means for your life.
No matter where we are on the journey of our faith, if we proclaim that we are Christian, then we are held to a different standard of living. Think about it this way, what if someone was thinking about joining the church, and they decided they would follow you around for a week to see what being a Christian meant. What would they learn from you?
All of this leads us to the 6 words that can make a difference in your life.
“Unbind him and let him loose.”
If you remember nothing else today, remember those words. Whether you are part of the reluctantly faithful, the exuberantly faithful, or you are just looking, these 6 words describe what a church, a community of faith is meant to be.
Jesus calls us out of the shallow caves in which we dwell and we have a responsibility to respond to that call. If we never come out, then we choose not to live again. However, Jesus gives a command to each one of us to “unbind” one another and let each other loose.
We aren’t here to decide who is in and who is out, that is God’s work. We are here to lovingly unwind the bindings that wound us, so that as our rags of death are stripped away, and we might begin to glimpse the love of God for each of us.
The key to ministry, to service, to loving one another is the ability to help one another loosen the bonds that keep us in a constant state of death. We are meant to live, and living means freedom from the bonds of death and freedom to love one another without abandon.
This is what a true experience of God will do; it will tear away the fabric of death that binds us and keeps us from truly living as one called out by God; it will gather us together to experience life and the rebirth of one another in the community of faith; it will help us walk out of our shallow caves, and enable us to let those who love us strip away the things that bind us to death, so that we might live again.
I told you that I would have two questions for you, here they are: What binds you? What are you going to do about it?