July 17, 2016
Please pray with me – May the words I speak reach hearts that need to hear them, may the thoughts I share inspire thoughts of your own, and may all of us share in this time of learning and reflecting, recognizing the presence and grace of God among us all. Amen.
The third window in this 10 week series is titled “I AM the resurrection and the life.” The window itself was erected in the memory of Robert Romans who was associated with this church from 1871-1921. Unlike our other memorials to date, there was very little to find out about Mr. Romans. The single entry I found was on a genealogy website that shared that his sisters may have operated the famous Waverly Inn here in Halifax, but I wasn’t able to confirm this. All that being said, he was important — because he lived. Today we remember him as we think about the message contained in the window dedicated to his life and service.
This week’s scripture passage was chosen because of the order in which I took the photographs of the windows. Interestingly, like last week, our reading is lining up with the suggested readings from the revised common lectionary. The reading that was read from Luke is that reading and in it we are introduced to the sisters Martha and Mary. These women were loved and well known to Jesus. You can tell because they are very comfortable in his presence. In this story Martha is so comfortable with Jesus that she takes him aside to complain about her sister Mary. I recognize myself in Martha and I think many of us do. Martha is busy. She is preparing meals, she is making sure everyone is comfortable, she makes the home, she serves the food, and she works hard to take care of others. Martha is busy with earthly things. Jesus was never concerned with earthly things. He taught that God would always ensure that we had enough. He taught that worrying was akin to lacking in faith. Jesus taught that if we place our full trust in God we can rest assure that God will provide us with all that we will ever need.
These teachings – these words are what Martha was too busy to hear. It may seem to us, as it did to Martha, that Mary was shirking her responsibilities. But, in the eyes of God and in the heart of Christ, Mary was doing the only work that really mattered. Mary’s heart and mind were set on learning the way of God through the teachings of Jesus. She sat at his feet and worried no more about the work while he was there because it didn’t matter to her then. There was a special guest in the house and he came to see her and she understood that he didn’t want her to fuss over him. You see, there will always be a time for the work…..but when Jesus visits your house and your heart, for God’s sake….literally, for God’s sake, stop working and listen and learn how to follow God’s will for your life!
It isn’t easy to do this. In fact, it can be one of the hardest things to do, right? –to stop being busy, to just stop “doing” just to be “doing”? Like Jesus said to Martha, we are “distracted and worried by many things.” What happens if we don’t ever stop and really recharge our souls? What happens when we fill our days with business? – always wanting more, always striving for perfection? What happens when we build stress after stress, worry after worry? What does it do to us? –
–It kills us. ……..
How many of you know someone who seems spiritually dead? Or maybe, at some point in your life you have thought to yourself, “I feel dead inside”…. If we are not careful –if we are not full of care for spirit then it will die even if the body lives….Jesus says that sometimes this kind of death is necessary so that our lives be transformed to glory God.
One of my favorite commentaries and explorations of the gospel of John is written by a local chap and Hindu man named Ravi Ravindra. His book is called, “The Gospel of John in the Light of Indian Mysticism.” I have never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ravindra, but his writing has changed my life. I always felt close to God when I practiced Yoga and Meditation and it was his writing that began to help me make connections between the scriptures in my Bible and all the things I was studying through Yoga. When I this week’s reading came from John I grabbed this book from my shelf and sat down for a read.
For me, there is something about the story of Lazarus’ stinking corpse standing up and coming back to life and walking out of that cave that just doesn’t ring true – it is just too unbelievable to me. It is not that I don’t believe in miracles – I really do. But, I am also a scientist. I am trained to doubt, to ask questions and look for evidence. As much as I am idealist, my sense of what is possible is deeply rooted in my knowledge of how things work. When an important story like this seems too impossible, I know there has to be something more. I always suspect that there is bigger meaning to the story than just what I can skim from it’s surface.
So I dove in. I asked myself if this was simply a story about a man physically dying and then coming back from natural death to the land of the living? –This is how it is written after all. If I am only going to read it at that level then I can honestly tell you that I don’t believe this story to be a fact. I can’t and quite frankly I don’t want to. I learned that I must read the Bible and the stories of Jesus for their truths not for their facts. Otherwise, I risk only believing the stories that seem factually possible. Then the Bible becomes a pick and choose buffet or build your own sandwich bar rather than the rich well-planned, nutritious full course meal that it really is. If I read theses stories for truth then they are all possible. I choose to read the Bible, as Marcus Borg says, “Seriously, not literally”.
In his book, Ravindra invites us to think about the relationship between Jesus and Lazarus in a very spiritual sense – in the light of Indian mysticism if you will. This is a new way of thinking about this story for me and maybe for you too. What if Lazarus was in a deep personal turmoil? What if his “sickness” was a state of anguish and despair brought on by the work of searching for God? What if Lazarus was experiencing a “dark night of the soul”? What if this spiritual journey was so serious that his family was worried about his mental state? What if they thought he was going mad and that he would never come back from it? What if Lazarus was letting go of EVERYTHING he was, to become EVERYTHING he was supposed to become in God? What if his death was the death of the self?
Ravindra also points out that the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead doesn’t appear in any other gospel. This is important. Ask yourself this – If this story is a fact and it is the reason that the Sanhedrin decides to execute Jesus as the writer of John suggests then why doesn’t it appear anywhere else? Ravindra says this:
“…the whole episode is inner and symbolic, enacted in an intimate circle of love and thus not recounted in more esoteric synoptic gospels. Whatever Jesus may have taught crowds, his call to his own close disciples was always practicing dying – dying to their lives, dying to personal human relationships, dying to the whole world, dying to everything that did not pertain directly to the will of God.”
So, Lazarus died. Spiritual death is required for spiritual life.
Enter Martha. Martha “the doer” meets Jesus on the road as he comes to help Lazarus rise from his spiritual death. Martha speaks this truth to him, “Lord, if you had been here he would not have died.” We often read that line as blaming Jesus for he brother’s death, but what if it really was just speaking the Truth? Ravindra suggests that Lazarus may have been Jesus’ closest pupil. The book suggests that he was the one whom Jesus loved. Interpreting Martha’s statement in this new way recognizes that the absence of Lazarus’ spiritual guide and master was required for him to let go of his attachment to his earthly life. Martha implores Jesus to do what he can to help, even though her brother, as she knew him, was gone.
Jesus assures her that Lazarus will indeed rise again, that he will live anew, and that she doesn’t have to wait for some distant unknown time. Jesus assures her that he will live now because, as he tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even thought they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” It is a simple, yet profound statement that speaks of the foundation of our faith as a resurrection people.
This “I AM” statement plants itself firmly in the present. Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is now. This is the fifth of seven times that Jesus makes a clear “I AM” statement in the book of John. The “I AM” statements are significant because they echo the Old Testament response of God to Moses’ question about who he shall say sent him. The voice tells Moses, “I AM that I AM, I AM sent you.” In John, Jesus tells us that HE is the way to GOD and he tells us how in these statements. The “I AM” statements are like the key to the map that is the way of Jesus Christ and the way of Jesus Christ leads us home to God. The statement “I AM the resurrection and the life” reminded Martha that the kingdom is NOW and is in HIM and all she and all God’s people need to do is follow his teachings and believe that what he says is true. He asks, “Do you believe this?” and Martha makes her statement of faith – Jesus is the Son of God and he is God coming into the world!
What does all this mean to you and I? –We too must die if we are to live. William Shakespeare said, “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.” We need to stop worrying about when we will die and start living the life that God wants us to live. But if we find that we are dying a thousand deaths because we are afraid, driven to perfection, never happy with what we have, stressed out, sick and…. well, just stuck then we need to let that life die so that we can rise up and truly live. Martha needed to be reminded of this and so do we. We need to be more like Mary than Martha now and put our work and business aside and sit at the feet of Jesus and soak up the Word. We need to hear the lessons that teach us how to live. “Love one another as I have loved you,” he said. We need to read the words that show us why we need to let go. —-It is written, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” When we do this, when we let ourselves die to the way We think we are supposed to be, this is when the miracles happen.
“Lazarus come out” Jesus said. —and he did. But he couldn’t do it alone. He needed the help of his friends in the end to help him be truly free from the ties that bound him to this state of being dead so Jesus said, “Untie him” and they did. And he was free. This is the Truth I hear in this story.
- Jesus is the way to God.
- If we follow his teaching we better be ready to learn that we need to die to live again.
- If we want to live again then we must follow his way.
- If we are willing to die, God’s grace will enter in.
- Jesus loves us –he loves us so much that he will call us from the darkness of death and say, “come out”.
- And when we are ready, he will send people to help us pick ourselves back up and set us free.
Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” –——- So, do you believe this? And if you do, do you hear him calling you to let go and live again?