Sunday, April 23, 2017

May God Give You Every Good Thing; John 20:19-31

Rev. George Miller
April 23, 2017
John 20:19-31

This week I’m heading to Grand Rapids, MI. It’s a sort of spiritual pilgrimage, as the 1st church I pastored was located there.

As someone who has lived in numerous states, I’ve noticed there are various geographic-specific traditions.

Michiganders are notorious for their frugality and fondness for windmill cookies.

Ohioans are bananas for buckeyes and Skyline Chili served over spaghetti.

Missourians like hamburgers and hot dogs marinated in BBQ sauce.

Minnesotans keep their butter-dish on the dining room table or in the kitchen cabinet so their butter stays soft and can be served at any time.

Something else Minnesotans do- run their fans, all year long.

Discovered this when I went to college at St. Cloud State. Visited friends in their dorm rooms in the dead of winter. Sure, they had the heat turned up, but they also had an oscillating fan going back and forth.

Makes sense. In the summer the fan keeps things cool. In the winter, when windows are closed up for a long, long time, the fan keeps things fresh- moves the air about, preventing stagnation and stank.

Air. Wind. Breath. All play an important part in today’s reading.

If you recall, back in January we did a sermon series titled “Land of Delight”, using Malachi 3 and the book Grounded In God.

Malachi is the prophet who challenges people to be generous so they can see just how much God is going to pour down an overflowing of blessings.

Malachi 3:12 states “Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight…”

Grounded in God talked about experiencing God in the natural world. On January 17 we shared how air, wind, and breath play a role in many religions.

The Buddhists believe that to breathe is to achieve mindfulness and connects us with all living things.

Our scripture tells us that at each stage of creation God breathes new life into the world.

In Genesis, God’s breathe speaks all things into being. In Exodus, a strong east wind parts the Red Sea. In Ezekiel, breath enters into a valley of dry bones so they can live again.

As Diane Butler Bass stated, it is this holy wind of God that animates life, which creates and recreates the world.

It is this holy wind that we encounter in today’s reading as the resurrected Christ breathes upon the disciples to mark the beginning of the church.

In John 20 we have a unique tale, as it seems to consolidate Easter and Pentecost into the same event.

According to John, it’s still the 1st day of the new week. Mary Magdalene saw the stone had been removed, prompting Peter and the beloved disciple to run to the tomb, in which they only saw the linen wrappings.

That night, while the followers of Jesus fearfully gather behind locked doors, Christ appears to them and says “Peace be with you”, not once, but twice.

He breathes upon them and says “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven…”

Air. Wind. Breath.

To breathe is to achieve mindfulness and connects us with all living things.

At each stage of creation God breathes new life into the world- Genesis, Exodus, Ezekiel, and now, John.

It is so elementary, so rudimentary; we almost fail to see how revolutionary this is, this story of how Christ says “Peace”, how Christ says “forgive”, how Christ…exhales.

…let us pause for a moment and think.

John is telling us about Jesus, the Messiah, Son of God. John sees Jesus as the end-all and be-all of every and anything.

There is nothing Jesus cannot do. He has all power, glory, and honor.

Jesus is the Alpha of all alphas, a supernatural Superman who calmly gives direction to his mother while being crucified, and sips wine right before dying.

As John tells it, the priest and Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus for raising Lazarus. Judas betrays him and brings soldiers and police to arrest him.

He is denied by Peter, questioned by Pilate, beaten by representatives of the state, and killed by a foreign government via the means of corporal punishment.

Ridiculed, shamed, lied about, naked, and watching military men divide his clothes.

Jesus undergone an embarrassment of actions, and yet…

…and yet, when the Resurrected Christ appeared to Mary, he said “Go to my brothers…”

Not “Go to the ones who denied me” or “Go to the ones who betrayed me” or “Go to the ones who deserted me.”

But “Go to my brothers,” an expression of family, a statement of love.

Jesus Christ, the Supernatural Superman, the Son of God, comes back, and

-He does no belittle his betrayers.

-He does not damn the disciples for deserting him.

-He does not demand jihad or jail for the Jewish priests or Pharisees.

-He does not say “Ravage, raze, and the ruin the Romans!”


He says “Peace.”

He says “Forgive.”

“Peace be with you” is such a lovely expression. On one hand it can mean “May you be free from worry and full of calm.”

But it can also mean “May God give you every good thing.”

May God give you every good thing…can you imagine any better blessing to breath upon another being?

This sentiment can also be found in Hebrews 13:21 and 2 Corinthians 9:8.

In my opinion, what the Resurrected Christ is doing right here is bringing everything right back to the beginning of the biblical narrative, right back to the books of Genesis and Exodus.

Christ is saying “May God give you a garden growing with goodness; may God place you amongst milk and honey.”

The Resurrected Christ appears amongst very, very frightened folk. He has all the power and authority of all the earth to do whatever he sees fit.

He does not give them a curse. He does not start a war. He does not build a wall. He does not drop the mother of all bombs. He does not have 7 men executed in 11 days.

He says “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

He says “Forgive the sins of any…”

He says “May God give you every good thing.”

If there was anyone, at anytime who coulda, shoulda, woulda lashed out at friends, organized religion, government leaders and foreigners, it was this man who innocently hung on the cross.

Instead, he stepped back into the world, wishing blessings of contentment, blessings of having enough, and blessings of delight.

He is the one we base our faith upon; he is the one our church is built on.

May his breath be our breath as well.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

All Shook Up, Easter Message; Matthew 28:1-10

Rev. George Miller
April 16, 2017- Easter
Matthew 28:1-10

What a week! And Wednesday was one of those days.

Worried for Silvia’s family in El Salvador as they experience tremors that could signal a major earthquake.

One friend dealing with a horrible event; another friend horribly sick from whatever crud has been going around.

Issues involving Syria, Russia, the US and the UN.

An editorial condemning local pastors for not attending a workshop.

Not to mention all the events and expectations surrounding Easter from Maundy Thursday worship to the community Good Friday service to preparing a potent Easter message.

In other words- life.

So I come home and do what I always do on Wednesday- I clean the house, make a cup of tea. Spend time with God. Take a nap. Write my sermon.

As I’m sipping my tea, I just so happen to open up a book called Moments of Peace for the Morning and turn to where the bookmark is.

It reads “Some days you may feel that no one appreciates the unique pressures you face. And perhaps you are in such an exceptional situation that very few really could. God however knows you intimately and cares about what concerns you.

God knows the hidden thoughts of your heart and can see your circumstances from an all-encompassing viewpoint. He knows how you feel when you are emotionally spent.

Always remember that God understands you very well- even better than you know yourself- and can help you overcome any challenge you face. Take heart today by trusting him.” (page 18, Bethany House, 20003)

On the opposite page were the words of Hebrews 2:14 “We are people of flesh and blood. That is why Jesus became one of us.” (CEV)

That reading gave me great peace, and soon I was napping soundly, with my cats on either side of me, one purring, while the other cat groomed itself.

We are people of flesh and blood. That is why Jesus became one of us.

Note the words that are used- flesh and blood. That means real. That means human.

To say we are flesh and blood means that we are more than just spirit, we are more than just mind.

It means we are biological beings and are living and experiencing things in a physical world.

Which means that when something hurts our flesh, we hurt. When something affects our blood, we are affected.

Through our body we experience joy, we experience pain. We experience the world around us, we experience one another. We experience the best and the worst there is.

Through our bodies we experience life.

And Jesus, the Son of God, became one of us. Jesus became one of us so that he too could fully know what it is like-

To face pressure.
To deal with exceptional situations.
To care and to experience concerns.
To feel-

Jesus, Emmanuel, “God With Us”, became flesh and blood; one of us.

So, when Jesus was betrayed by a close friend, he would have felt the physical and emotional pain one goes through when betrayed.

When Jesus was stripped of his clothes he would have felt the emotional and physical sense of shame as you and I would.

When he endured the crucifixion, as flesh and blood he would have felt the pain, the humility.

The forsakenness that goes beyond the mental and the spiritual and creeps into every sinew, every section of your physical being.

…The depths God went to show just how much we matter, how much we mean to God...

For our Creator to experience our life, even to the point of pain and suffering.

This is what makes part of the resurrection narrative so powerful.

Not only that Jesus would experience the pain of death, but that he would be raised in such a way that says death cannot control, death cannot contain, death cannot consume.

That Jesus is raised, and it is God who raised him up.

But the resurrection doesn’t mean that everything from here on in is going to be perfect.

The resurrection doesn’t mean that suddenly everything is in pastels and the rest of the year will be nothing but pastures of pink and purple posies.

Yes, because of the resurrection we discover that life continues…but it does not mean the tremors decrease.

Let me explain-

Last week we explored Palm Sunday, as told by Matthew the Marketer.

We spoke of how Matthew was a Jew writing for other Jewish people to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah. So he makes Jesus the new Moses. He uses lots of scripture.

And he sure liked to shake things up.

For example, last week when Jesus rode into town, Matthew tells us that the whole city was in turmoil.

The Greek word that Matthew used is more akin to the word “shaken.” So, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, a wave of excitement ripples through the city, shaking it like when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan or Ohio State won the National Championship.

On the cross, when Jesus cries out and takes his last breathe, Matthew tells us that upon his death the earth shook and stones were split, scaring the centurion and soldiers around him.

Then Matthew tells us that on Easter morning, as a new week dawned, two women came to the tomb, surrounded by guards.

And suddenly another great earthquake occurs, a shaking so great it ushers in the arrival of an angel. This scares the guards so much that they shake too.

And the Good News is shared- “He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”

Tumult, earthquakes, guards being all shook up- direct results of God With Us.

And one can’t help but to imagine the tremors that continued within the two women as they ran from the tomb, only to experience the presence of the Risen Christ…

Easter has arrived once again, and with the proclamation of the Good News, comes yet another chance to explore just what does this all mean.

What does the resurrection have to say to us, today?

What strikes me is this notion of Jesus entering into our lives and there being tumult, there being earthquakes, that we become all shook up.

As one theologian stated, Easter is not a cheery “good morning” but a startling earthquake.

And though I have never lived through such a natural disaster, and sincerely worry about Silvia’s family, I think of how sometimes “shaking things up” is not such a bad thing.

Think about your own spiritual journey. We each have our own unique path, sharing some similarities.

How many can recall the time in their life in which they really became cognizant of what it meant to have Christ in their lives?

Of that moment in which you realized that Jesus really loved you, and because of Christ you were never truly alone.

That moment of realization is a bit of a shaking up, a tremor of the heart and soul.

Then there comes that time in which something clicks and you realize not only does Jesus love you, but in Christ you are forgiven, in Christ you are redeemed, in Christ you are justified.

That moment becomes another tremor, as it did for Martin Luther; a tremor that caused John Newton to put pen to paper and write “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”

Those tremors continue as we soon come to realize that if we are loved, if we are redeemed, then how do we live, how do me make decisions, how do we interact with one another that reflects these truths?

These tremors grow even more and become more substantial when we realize that how we live, how we think, how we interact with others… can actually affect more than just us, more than just our family.

That our faith in Christ, our experience of the resurrection can actually bring about a new day, can actually change our community, and can actually change the world.

Think of the tremors that the ancestors of our denomination brought about when they staged the original Boston Tea Party, helping to usher in our country’s independence.

Think of the tremors the Congregationalists caused when they spoke out against slavery or participated in the suffragette movement.

Think of the earthquake caused when Christian leaders like MLK dared to dream dreams and stand up for Civil Rights.

Think of the guards of the status quo who were shaken up when the UCC dared to say in 2005 that all people had the right to marriage equality.

Think of the tremors we here at Emmanuel have been able to do by trying our best to welcome all.

Think of the positive ways we have shaken up the lives of those who come to the Shepherd’s Pantry, Diamond CafĂ© and Vacation Bible School.

Think of the tremors, the shakes and the seismic shocks that your own experience of the Resurrected Christ has brought to you.

The tremors, the tumult, and the earthquaking-ness of the Good News is not limited to one Easter day or one empty tomb experience, but it reaches out to all aspects of creation.

Yes- some of Easter’s tremors will knock us on our feet; some can scare us,

But hopefully some of Easter’s tremors will inspire us, will give us great joy, will lead us out into the world, and will bring us even closer to God.

Easter morning is not a one-time event. It is an occasion that happens again and again and again and again.

Easter Sunday reminds us that we are people of flesh and blood. That Jesus shook the world when he came here just like us.

That Jesus shook the world through his teachings and healings, eating and being.

And that God forever shook our world, and continues to shake it up through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel.

And that we are all the better because of it.

For that, we can say Amen and amen.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Marketing- Matthew Style, Matthew 21:1-11

Rev. George Miller
April 9, 2017
Matthew 21:1-11

It’s been a busy week for news. On the pop-culture front, there’s the brouhaha about the Pepsi add featuring Kendall Jenner.

The ad features various kinds of people staging a protest, in which everything is solved and everything comes to a positive conclusion when Kendall simply offers a police officer a Pepsi.

Muslims, gays, brown people all cheer and celebrate that through Pepsi all the problems of the world are pacified.

Public uproar was swift and unforgiving, criticizing the ad for diminishing the real issues and struggle people have been protesting about.

There are 2 things I can say about the Pepsi ad- if the product was replaced by the bread and cup of Communion we would have an entire discourse on sacramental theology.

The other comment is this- hate it or like it, Pepsi’s ad was brilliant because it did what marketing is supposed to do- make people aware of what you’re offering.

Sure, people were upset, but Pepsi got a week’s worth of free advertising, news stories, parodies, social media posts and consumer awareness that no amount of polar bears got Coca-Cola.

Pepsi’s ad did what marketing is supposed to do- raise awareness.

Marketing has been around for ages: Lucy doing a commercial for Vitavegameatamin, Hope and Crosby shilling for Lucky Strikes, Marie Antoinette saying “Let them eat cake.”

An example of effective marketing is the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew had a message for the masses- Jesus Christ is the Messiah.

Matthew was a Jew writing for other Jewish people who wanted nothing more than for his peers to realize that Jesus was the right one for them.

If Matthew was alive today he would say that with Jesus you are in “Good hands.”

Matthew would say Jesus “Is the sweet one- uh huh.”

Matthew would say that Jesus is the “best part of waking up.”

Matthew believes that Jesus is the path to salvation, and he will do anything to share that Good News…even if it means finagling things a little bit.

So Matthew takes the story of Jesus and spruces things up a little to get his audiences’ attention.

He finds ways to subconsciously connect Jesus to Moses. So if Moses was a baby in Egypt, Matthew tells us that baby Jesus lived in Egypt.

If Moses received the 10 Commandments on a mountain, then Matthew has Jesus teach the Beatitudes on a mountain.

Matthew combs the scriptures to find verses that he can apply to his story of Jesus.

So if John the Baptist is in the wilderness calling people to repent, Matthew finds a scripture in Isaiah about a voice in the wilderness.

And this is all well and good, and was totally acceptable in his day.

Matthew is doing what he can to get his message across. He truly believes Jesus is the 1 we have all been waiting for. Matthew is marketing the heck out of Jesus, but because he is human, he does have a misstep here and there.

Example- today’s story, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

Everyone from common folk to religious leaders to politicians and the military have come to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, the “12 Hours of Sebring” for Religious Types.

The story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem is one of the few stories that is told in every one of the Gospels, but each Gospel writer tells the story differently.

For example, John is the only Gospel that mentions palm branches. Mark includes an interaction with bystanders who worry that the disciples are stealing the colt.

But Matthew, Matthew does something so outrageous. I wonder if anyone even noticed it…

…Matthew has Jesus ride in on not one, but 2 animals. Look at verse 7-

“…they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.”

Say what?

Is Matthew trying to tell us that Jesus rode in on 2 animals at the same time?

How did he do that? Was Jesus so limber he could straddle two animals at the same time?

Does this mean Jesus was bowlegged?

Or, did Jesus ride side saddle, and he rested his feet on the colt, kind of like the foot cushion of a moving sofa?

Or was Jesus really, really cool like that and he just stretched out Cleopatra-style, resting his head on his hand, like “Hey- I’m Jesus- how you doin’?”

Why oh why oh why would Matthew tell us Jesus rode in on 2 animals when Mark, Luke and John do not?

I say it goes back to the marketing.

Matthew wanted to find a way to make sure his telling of Jesus fulfilled the scriptures.

So he found in Zechariah 9:9 a scripture that read-

“…Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

It’s a beautiful piece of writing that uses a poetic art form called parallelism, in which you restate something in a different way to add emphasis.

Zechariah states that the king was riding in on a donkey, then he explains it is a colt- the foal of a donkey.

He is not implying there are 2 animals.

It is akin to me saying “Last night I had the most delicious dinner, a hamburger, a hamburger covered in bacon and blue cheese dressing.”

I’m not saying I had dinner AND a hamburger, I’m simply stating what I had in a way that sounds much more poetic than saying “Yo- I went to the Caddyshack last night.”

Zechariah is simply using poetic license to say that our king will ride in on a donkey.

But Matthew, in his zeal for marketing, slips up, confusing the sentence structure to think the prophecy is saying there is an adult and a baby donkey that the king is riding upon.

So…when Matthew the marketer writes his account of Jesus entering the city, he adds this extra detail as a way to say to his Jewish customer-base “Look how Jesus fulfills the prophecy; see how Jesus is the sweet one we’ve been waiting for all along.”

Which means that if we were to film today’s story as a TV commercial, we’d see the disciples over here, the crowds over there, spreading out their cloaks and cutting branches from the trees, we’d hear them shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna!”

And we’d see Jesus somehow, someway, riding in to town on not one, but two animals.

If that is true, it would’ve been his greatest miracle of all time.

So- what do we do?

Do we throw the whole entirety of the Gospel away because of one possible mistake?

Do we give in to skepticism and question every and all things Matthew says?

Do we blindly accept Matthew’s telling and say “This is the inerrant Word of God free from all errors and questioning it is a sin!”

Do we ignore it away?

Do we find relief in knowing that even a Gospel writer can be a Left Shark and make a simple mistake?

Is our faith strong enough that we can admit that there are instances in the Bible in which we can’t say something is 100% fact, or 100% fiction, but we can say something is 100% truth.

Because I’m not mad at Matthew the Marketer for what he did here. I think Matthew has nothing but the best intentions and what he is saying is this-


Into this holy season, into a time and country ruffled with political leaders, soldiers, military maneuvers,

Into a place filled with turmoil, deplorables, common folk, men, women, innocent children…

…Jesus enters.

Into a Holy Week full of absolute uncertainty, Jesus enters-

In control.
About to shake things up.

Ready to show all of us just how far God’s love will go for the sake of the people and for the sake of the planet.

Who cares if Jesus rides in on one animal or on two?

What Jesus is offering right now is greater than Pepsi. More powerful than Putin. More precise than tomahawk warheads.

Jesus has entered into the city to offer a chance, a chance for us to cleanse our ways, to accept the invitation to attend the Lord’s heavenly banquet.

A chance to know that the greatest thing any of us can ever do is to love the Lord with all our heart and with all our soul and all your mind and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves…

…What will we do?

Will we shout “Hosanna!” or will we shout “Crucify!”?

Will we wave palm branches before the King, or will we strike Jesus with a reed?

Will we live in such a way that we cower in fear, or will we come to the tomb ready to be truly alive?

Amen and amen.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Who We Are; John 11:38-44

Rev. George Miller
John 11:38-44

Life is a series of discoveries, learnings and lessons.

For example, the concept of death.

Due to different experiences this week I’ve come to the conclusion that there are various kinds of death.

There is the kind in which death is death. For example, when a mousetrap snaps and breaks a rodent’s neck, there is no coming back.

Or, that unmistakable sickingly sweet smell that comes from the walls, signaling that something somewhere is dead and decomposing.

Then there is the kind of death that seems most assured, unless you do something about it.

For example, my flower garden. Due to the lack of rain, my plants have been drying up, wilting, turning brown, woody, and ready to be pulled up.

Monday I watered the garden to at least give the hibiscus a chance to survive.

Next day two of the plants were suddenly standing taller and seemed to have added some leaves over night.

Watered 30 more minutes on Tuesday. Next day a little green bud appeared on one of those ready-to-be-pulled up plants; a pop of purple decorated the front bush.

Watered some more on Wednesday. Now one plant had some pink peeping out and the petunias were standing upright as opposed to being slumped over.

By Saturday a plant Maydean gave me last year suddenly showed not one, not two, but three flowers fixin’ to flourish.

And in this seemingly dead and done garden an orange butterfly flit and fluttered around.

So there are at least 2 kinds of death- the dead-is-dead kind, and the dead-until-you-do-something kind.

There’s at least one other- the gone-but-not-forgotten kind, in which memories can make themselves known at any moment and loved ones can seem momentarily alive.

That’s what I experienced when I spoke about my Father’s twinkling eyes last week. It’s what happens when one of his favorite songs come on.

I can be driving down Lakeview and if something from “Chorus Line” or “Camelot” comes on, it’s as if I’m back in Dad’s car, going to the store or coming back from Commack…

…It is not that easy to talk about death. It’s a topic that affects us all.

But there’s something about today’s reading that is particularly pernicious.

How do we speak about a story in which a dead person is brought back to life when we know, we KNOW, that in this congregation are people who have lost a child, a spouse, a friend, a grandchild, a parent, a peer, and there is no way, no fantabulous way in which that person is ever, ever, EVER going to come back no matter how much we pray, no matter how much we believe, no matter how much we beg, plead, threaten, thank, or try to coerce God?

Oh! It would be so easy to be the kind of preacher who would say “This story is 100% real. It happened just as it was told, with every fact, every figure, ever detail correct!”

Then I could just dismiss anyone simply because their faith is weak and they truly don’t believe.

Oh! It would be so easy to be the kind of preacher who would say “This story is 100% made-up. It never happened and it is simply an allegory.”

Then I could just dismiss anyone for not being illuminated and progressive enough in their theology.

But to do the first could wound people who truly do believe, pray really hard and possess a truly fortified faith.

And to do the latter would strip all sense of mystery and wonder from the scriptures, to deny the wonderfulness of a God who cannot be contained.

What to do with a story like Lazarus when on one hand you are realistic and understand the allure of allegory?

What to do with a story like Lazarus when on the other hand you know that miracles do materialize and love the magical mysterious?

I don’t know what to tell you today in regards to is this story real news or fake news, if it actually happened as told or if it’s just a faith-based fairy tale.

Do we explain or explain away the story?

Perhaps like the flowers that simply needed some watering, there is a middle ground.

Perhaps between fact and fiction, we can find…truth. What is a truth that this story of Lazarus is trying to tell us?

One truth is that God, through Jesus, has a way to bring forth new life even when things seems dead as dead can be.

Let’s take a look at the story- what the people say, what they do, and how we know them.

There’s Jesus, who’s hanging out with his bros. He hears that Lazarus is sick but he delays going back for 2 days.

The disciples tell him that it’s too risky to go there, but he goes anyway.

There’s Martha who meets Jesus, holds him accountable for current events, while also proclaiming that Jesus is the great I AM.

There’s Mary who rushes to Jesus. She kneels, she speaks, she weeps.

Jesus weeps too.

Mary shows Jesus where the body of Lazarus is. With them are the Jewish neighbors; they console the sisters; they cry.

At the tomb Jesus stands amongst all the people. He speaks. He thanks God. He calls out to the one he loves.

He tells them to unbind Lazarus when he emerges from the tomb.

But there is one person in this story who does not speak, who does not say a word, who barely acts or does anything.

We have no idea what this person looks like; their appearance is hidden behind gauze and strips of cloth.

It is Lazarus, who is dead, who is cut off from community and family, who is bound up and blocked by a boulder.

It is Lazarus who is brought back to life.

So- why, in this momentous narrative, doesn’t the author give Lazarus any lines? Why doesn’t the writer tell us what Lazarus looks like?

Why doesn’t the Gospel go into detail about just who this person is that Jesus weeps for?

…Could it be, in a wibbly-wobbly, metaphysical kind of way that Lazarus is actually us?

Could it be, regardless if this story actually happened or is fully made-up, that the author is trying to tell us something-

That we are Lazarus; that we have all known what is it like to have died in some way; that we have all at one time been bound up and behind a boulder?

Could the author purposely not have given us any details or words to describe Lazarus because the author wants this scripture to be like a mirror- a mirror that we hold up and see ourselves and our own story being acted out?

Maybe the Gospel of John doesn’t want us to ask if God, through Jesus, can revive someone we love.

Maybe the Gospel of John wants us to recall “Once I was dead and bound and behind a boulder and because of Jesus I became alive again.”

Think about that for a moment…

How many of us here have a testimony? How many here can point to a time in which somehow, some way we were dead?

Dead to the world? Dead to life? Dead to love?

How many here, some way, somehow were dead?

Dead due to addiction? Dead due to finances? Dead to a job situation or unemployment?

How many here today have ever been dead to family or friends or even to yourself?

Dead is not fun. Dead is not pretty.

Dead is dark. It is dank and rank. Dead is depressing.

And yet we have all, ALL been dead at some part or at some point in our life.

Anyone who is part of a church experiences death all around them; there is no way of escaping it.

Church members die; our matriarchs and patriarchs pass on. We hear about one another’s family members and friends, so we pray, we console, we send cards, we weep with and for them.

We also witness the other kinds of death people go through from divorce to disabilities to dashed dreams.

So we pray, we console, we send cards, we weep with and for them.

But…because of Christ, we also get to see people coming back to life and we get to see them being unbound.

Think of those we know who have gone through the process of losing a spouse, who have endured the pain of seeing a loved one fade away.

And though it is never easy, and though it takes time, how many have been unbound from their heartbreak and discovered that it’s possible to love again, it is possible to date, to woo and be wooed, and it is most certainly possible to be romantically revived at 50, 60, 70 and 80?

Think of how many have been caught up in the death grip of addiction. How addiction has its own way in which it leaves a stench and separates one from family and friends, God and all the things that make life good.

How many recovering addicts can pinpoint the moment in which they had hit rock bottom, they felt most separated from God, that they were basically dead?

How many can point to the moment in which it felt as if Jesus had come to their tomb, called their name and had the cemetery clothe unbound?

How many other forms of death have people experienced here?

The news that cancer had appeared? The chronic condition that will never go away buy only increase?

The death-like state that comes from oppression, depression, recession?

How many can say that some way, at some point in their life, they were dead, and Jesus Christ, came into their lives, wept for them, and said “Come out.”

Today’s sermon dares to say that we- WE are all Lazarus, and that Lazarus looks like us, Lazarus speaks like us.

Because Lazarus is us.

As Lazarus, there are ways in which we die; there are ways in which we are raised; there are ways we are left forever changed, and affected by our experience.

We are, each and every one of us, Lazarus. We all have experienced a death, a binding up, and a separation.

We are, each and every one of us, Lazarus. We are beloved by Jesus. We are worthy of weeping over.

We are, each and every one of us, Lazarus. Which mean that in Christ, we can experience new life, and a setting free.

In Jesus, we’re all given that chance to experience the Good and Everlasting News and to once again sit with Jesus at the table, and to be part of the ever-living community. Amen and amen.