Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Finding our place in the story of Lazarus or you too can be a part of the resurrection

Hi all, I have been unable to post as much as I would like in the past couple of weeks.  I have been busy focused on Holy Week and Easter.  Interestingly enough, I have about 5 posts ready to go, I simply need to find the time to write them out.  I know, I know you are waiting with baited breath.  So, with no further ado, below is the message I shared on Sunday at Good Shepherd.  It is a continuation of the Lenten series of submitting to God and it is also 'Lazarus Sunday' which is an event organized by the organization, One, that draws attention to the world AIDS/HIV epidemic and how we can (and are) making a difference.  

Luke 12:48 (New International Version, ©2011)
48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

John 11:1-45 (New International Version, ©2011)

 1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
 8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
 11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
 16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
 17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[b] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
 28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
   “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
 35 Jesus wept.
 36 Then 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 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
   “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
   Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
 45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
Today, as we draw ever nearer to Holy Week, the cross and eventually the empty tomb.  We find ourselves listening to a story that is hinting at the rest of the story to come. 
The story of Lazarus and Jesus’ resurrection of him from the grave is an amazing and fantastic one  - but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t connected to it – This isn’t one of the miracle stories, where we just say, ‘I wish I would have been there’, take it as proof of Jesus divinity and move on.
The story of Lazarus is more important than that because, at least in some small way, it is our story too.
Lazarus’ story is, not just another miracle story, because the entire gospel hinges on resurrection – and in this story we can learn about what resurrection is really about and what it means for us.
It is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ that death is defeated forever. 
But the resurrection of Jesus and through Jesus is about som much more than that.
It also provides the starting point of a new reality.
People with hope rooted in resurrection, by the very presence, power and reality of that hope, do God’s work in order to participate in God’s transformation of this world into the kingdom of God – a new reality that we can begin to live into right now, that is shaped by God’s grace.
Resurrection is both the promise we place our trust in and the reality that compels us to participate in God’s mission for the sake of the world.
The fundamental connection between our hope in the resurrection and our call to participate in the mission of God in this world, right now was made for me when I received an invitation for our congregation to participate in ‘Lazarus Sunday’
Lazarus Sunday, timed to coincide with our gospel reading for today, is an initiative of the advocacy organization ‘One’ – which was founded by Bono, the lead singer for the band U2. 
Lazarus Sunday is an effort to raise awareness about the global AIDS/HIV epidemic and encourage involvement in treatment and prevention.
The name for the day is drawn from the biblical story, but also from a something called ‘The Lazarus Effect’. 
The Lazarus effect is the incredible transformation of individuals who are dying of AIDS – nearly at deaths door – to making a full, vibrant recovery because of access to of access to effective, life-saving Anti-Retroviral drugs or ARV’s.   
AIDS is now both preventable and treatable, yet it has killed over 20 million people in Africa alone.  Each day, however, these ARVs help people living with HIV/AIDS to stay alive.
The cost of these pills is about 40 cents a day, and they can miraculously transform the life of someone living with AIDs in as few as 40 days.    Even at 40 cents a day, many families cannot afford this medicine. 
In 2002 only 50,000 Africans we on ARVs, now there are 4 million with access to these life-saving drugs. 
How? Primarily through organizations like One and individuals like us advocating for our government to continue to lead the way in supporting these treatments through the Global Fund and PEPFAR
And also through private non-profit and individual donations and efforts working with or in place of governmental agencies.
Simply put, by giving a little of themselves – their time, energy, possessions (or money that would have gone to buy possessions) - people are able to participate in what is almost literally a resurrection for those suffering from this disease. 
I believe that as Christians our hope in the resurrection - and the new life to come, must lead us to work for, sustain and create whole, full and healthy life here and now. 
On the face of it, it would seem an easy choice to make  - give up a few possessions or buy a few less things and save some lives, provide for health and healing. 
And put that way, it is simple. 
But of course, it isn’t that simple.  For good or bad – and usually both – we find much of our identity and our own worth in what we have: the clothes we wear, the car we drive, the house we live in, etc. 
Our possessions – our stuff, even if it doesn’t quite define us, give great insight into what is important to us, what and how we value.
But really following Jesus – truly submitting our lives to him - means laying even those things that define us down at his feet and giving them over to God.
This is why Jesus told Peter, James & John  to ‘lay down your nets and follow me’ – (Those nets & their work defined them)
It is why Jesus told the rich, young ruler to sell all of his possessions and then follow (He loved his wealth & what it bought him)
It is why he continually challenged the Pharisee’s to submit their letter of the law understanding of God to them (they could possess the written law – and they did.  But in holding so tightly to the law they could grasp, they were literally missing their savior.
In the story of Lazarus we see a fore shadow of the work and wonder that Jesus will accomplish on the cross. 
But we also see a invitation to participate with God, in the here and now, in bringing the kingdom of God – and even resurrection into the world and to God’s children
We are so often afraid of letting go of or submitting our possessions to God because we are afraid that God might take them away – That is a real possibility.
But we are not defined by our possessions – no matter what we might think
Instead we are defined and shaped by the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ. 
If we continue to seek out our identities in the stuff we have –even if it is good stuff, we will never truly ‘find’ ourselves.
But if we are willing to, as Jesus says ‘lose ourselves’ for his sake – and we have to be willing to lose or at the very least use what we have been given for the sake of Jesus and those Jesus loves. 
It is only then, in participating in the creation of the kingdom of God and the resurrection of the world that we can truly find ourselves. 
Jesus is telling us that it is in commitments to Him and the work that He has for us to do that we discover who we are and what our lives are all about.
So, then.  There are some questions for us to consider on this Lazarus Sunday:
What are you willing to do (or better what of yours are you willing to give up or have less of) in order to bring (new) life to the dying in the world around you?
The Lazarus effect is an example of literally bringing life to those in need – but this only happens if people invest in the lives of other people, even people they will never meet
Where can you be investing what you have (and who you are) in saving life and giving life to those around us?
As Jesus comes to Lazarus’ tomb he began to weep – We have to be moved by the plight of God’s children, our brothers and sisters.  So moved that, just like Jesus, we are compelled to do something – anything that we can, giving anything that we have – to help them. 
After Jesus weeps, he then acts to rectify the situation, using what was available to him to bring (literal) resurrection to Lazarus (and of course, to the whole world).
This is our call to participate in and respond to the grace of resurrection.  To create our own Lazarus effect in the lives and the world around us.

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