Isaiah 25.6-9 and John 11.32-44
My friend, Donald was the name I added to the list of “saints we’ve lost” I heard you call out during the children’s story.
Donald died 3 weeks ago, joining David, my other best friend from Junior High School. We were sort of 3 musketeers back then.
I never quite expected at 51, to be “the survivor.” It’s sort of sobering, eh? And impresses on me an unbending reality: we only have so much time here. When one dares to remember one’s mortality, that there are only so many days you will be given, the question comes up, “how then do I want to use whatever time I’m given?”
Memories bring us comfort and hopefully gratefulness. They also bring to mind the mysteries of life and death. The surprising twists and turns. Unexpected places the years take us. How life works out.
The raising of Lazarus, the 7th of John’s signs, is the ultimate revelation in his Gospel. Yes, Jesus can make the blind see, and the lame walk, the dumb talk, and the deaf hear. But in case you have any doubt left (we all do, don’t we?), he even has power over life and death.
Jesus tells people to open the grave. They know better, having much more acquaintance with “stinking death” than they ever would have wished for. Despite their doubts, they do what Jesus asks (I think there’s a point in that, church!) Next Jesus commands the dead man, “Lazarus, come out.” And miracle of miracles, a corpse is quickened and the man emerges living from the tomb.
(Wherever there’s any sort of death in our lives, could Jesus replace it with life?)
It’s the next that Jesus does that I want us to lift up this morning. He issues a second command, this time not to the deceased, but to the living. And for me, it’s almost the most important part of the story…
Here’s Lazarus standing there, alive before their eyes, but still wrapped in the bandages and burial cloths in which he’s emerged from the tomb. And Jesus instructs the community gathered, “Unbind this man from what has held him — even if just figuratively — in death.
Yes, the waves and the winds obey his voice. But life and death answer to his call too. So does individuals and communities, despite their lack of understanding and doubts.
Many in the crowd are moved to faith. His opponents realize his threat, and, failing to understand the implications of the miracle he just performed, conspire to destroy him. But that’s just the latest episode in the story line that’s been building for the whole of Jesus’ ministry.
What I want you to consider this All Saints’ Sunday is that second command. Jesus asks — and expects — the people there to participate in the miracle, God’s miracle; or actually to complete the raising of Lazarus.
Not only does Jesus have the power to feed, forgive, heal, restore, bring to life, redeem. He also seeks to involve us in such godly undertakings. In fact, he expects us to complete them. Church, do we recognize — and claim — the miraculous things God means for us to accomplish?
Not just solitary acts of kindness or compassion. But how, together, God means for us to heal the world.
Billi shared a video with me this week about how people could transform our economy from consumer goods and waste to a system that values every person and is most basically about meeting people’s real needs. Could we really make such a radical transformation and accomplish that?
Or we’re in a bind with the Cupboard right now. Since the Governor ended general assistance, we’ve seen the numbers of needy people showing up each week almost double. This at a time when Philabundance, Philly’s food bank, is facing empty shelves and asking us for donations. But maybe the task before us isn’t figuring out new food sources so we can keep packing bags to last a day or so. Maybe the goal should be ending hunger?
Likewise the shelter opened on Thursday night. Certainly it’s good that we open our doors and offer space to people who otherwise might have no alternatives but the danger of our city’s winter streets. But, beloved, 29 years is too long to have men sleeping on the floor of our social hall. Isn’t the greater goal to end homelessness?
I don’t mean for the bigger picture to blind us to the miraculous outcomes from our individual undertakings either:
Do you know someone who is struggling and alone for whom is your presence or simply listening might make a huge difference?
One of you told me last week about giving someone a ride because she didn’t have any other way to get to work. Consider the difference that simple act makes for that sister’s life.
I saw on-line yesterday, Diane and Harvey, down in Ocean City cleaning out their shore house after Sandy, inviting over anyone who might still be without power or who just needed a dry place…
Either way, big or small, God means for us to do miraculous things. God wants to do these things in, with and through us. Maybe God cannot complete these miracles without us?
If we were to think for a moment, I bet each of you could come up with your own examples of miracles that have already happened, and a longer list of those that are waiting to be completed.
Saints aren’t only those who have already died. Saints are those who are holy. The “hasidim” in Hebrew. But no one can make him or herself holy!
That’s God’s doing. Holiness isn’t some inherent quality. And it’s not a product of anything we can do. Rather it’s sort of an add-on… we’re holy simply because we matter that much to God.
I always like that Paul begins his 1st Letter to Corinthians… he was writing because they were arguing and talking bad about each other, giving the better place to the rich and powerful… in short, they were far from the kind of community God hopes for. But, Paul still addresses the letter: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are holy in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…” If the Corinthian church could be saints, we should mean to them too!
What’s it mean to be holy? Holy are the people and things that are set apart to do God’s work (we’re back to Hasidim in Hebrew). But here’s the thing: people too often think only that others and what they do can be holy. We set up holiness heroes, King and Ghandi and Mother Theresa, I worry, sometimes to let ourselves off the hook.
But here’s the truth, beloved: any work we do is holy when it’s done in faith and as part of your minstry. Changing diapers because our kids aren’t potty-trained yet. Or someone else’s kids’ diapers in day care. …it can be holy work.
Anna, selling cookies or magazine subscriptions for the Girl Scouts can be holy.
Nancy and Jackie, helping friends as they age with things that are getting difficult for them is holy work.
Creating a home where laughter and love resound is holy; so too is creating a classroom where students learn.
Making sure that we encourage people to get out to vote. Or deliberating which candidate to vote for, and then making sure we make it to the polls to cast our vote, that’s holy too.
Or earning your living so you can do important things with your money… yep, even money can be holy. I’d add in this Stewardship Season, supporting the ministry of your church financially; Karen, that’s holy too.
Visiting your homebound neighbor or a sick friend. Holy.
Befriending the kid in the class that the other kids pick on. Holy for sure.
Starting to get the idea? There’s precious little in life that can’t be elevated to a place where God is at work through you, to heal, comfort, and restore. The thing is, very few of our people know this. And even those of us who do, even we often loose touch with our various callings. Most of our people, I worry, underestimate what they do with most of their time. We fail to claim all that we do as our calling.
Much of their time, they don’t think of their activities and goals as worthy of the church’s or God’s attention. And sometimes we don’t want to be seen, much less called out! We reserve words like “Holy” and “Sacred” and “Saints” for the extraordinary, cordoned-off, infrequent or rare aspects of our lives. We miss that they can apply and bless the everyday and the mundane elements of our life — transforming, elevating them to nothing less than our participation in God’s promises to care for the world God loves so much– right down to the littlest and last details.
Church, God is still doing amazing things. And God expects us to participate and help in those things — maybe even complete them.
Let us begin by remembering and giving thanks for the saints, living and dead, great and small, who are all around us.