Monday, April 3, 2017

Lazarus unchained

My sermon this week was based on John 11:1-45.

To download an audio of my sermon, click here.

I have heard the story of Lazarus my whole life, and yet there is a point which is so obvious in this reading that I simply never noticed before preparing my sermon this week.  We are told that Jesus stood outside the tomb and beckoned Lazarus to come out, and we are then told that "The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth" (John 11:44).

If he was bound hand and foot and also effectively blindfolded, how could he possibly come out of the tomb?

Maybe I'm being pedantic, like the people who argue how many people were actually in attendance when Jesus divided up the fishes and loaves (Gospel accounts differ), but for some reason this image of a bound Lazarus captivated me, and it got me to thinking.

As we approach Holy Week and Easter, we are asked to contemplate the resurrection of Christ, and I always have the same problem when it comes to the Biblical miracles: whether or not I believe in them, what am I supposed to do with them as a modern Christian?

The thing is that resurrection is God's business.  But we do have a part to play.  We need to decide how to respond to this resurrection.

I don't know anybody who has been dead for three days and has been brought back to life, and likely neither do you.

But I do know people who have been handed terminal diagnoses and who have recovered.  I do know people who have had to face depression and mental illness, and who are able to live today with joy and peace.  I know people who have recovered from addiction, lived through the death of a spouse or child.

I know people who have felt dead or wanted to die, and who live fully and joyously today.  I know people, myself included through my struggles with depression and addiction, who can relate very viscerally to resurrection.

I suspect if you stop to think about your own life and what you have lived through, so can you.

I have never sat down with someone who has been through such a situation and heard them say, " I really need to buy a Ferrari" or "I really need a bigger house".  I have heard them say, "I need to spend more time with my family" or "I need to give back to my community".

This is the whole point about resurrection: it is about change.  Not a change from life to death and back to life again, but a change in our hearts and minds an spirits that realigns our priorities and our perceptions of the world around us and our place in it.  Resurrection in that sense is new life indeed, and when you are resurrected, you have to live your life differently.

What we need to understand is that we are already a resurrected people, you and I.  Through Christ, as Christians, we have been brought to life and Christ has beckoned us from the door of the tomb.

But few of us act like it.  Too often, we forget or ignore this superlative aspect of our faith.  Why?

I think like Lazarus, we are bound.  God resurrects, brings us back from the brink, helps us to overcome, but He does not do the work for us.  Like Christ, God beckons us from the door of the tomb, inviting us to cast off the things that bind us and to stagger blinking into the sunshine of new life.

What are the things that bind us?  What are the things that prevent us from exiting our tomb and grasping that new life?  Greed, selfishness, anger, fear, laziness, hopelessness...these are just a few of the things that could bind us and keep us in our tombs.

I had a mentor who used to say, "Whoever or whatever keeps you up in the middle of the night is what binds you".

Certainly we have all lain awake at night pondering a situation or person, rolling over anger, worry or regret.

Don't get me wrong, some things are worth getting angry about, some things are genuinely worrisome and I am not inviting people to a life of cavalier recklessness.  But I am inviting us all to cast of the things that bind us and prevent us from living happy, joyous and free.

Whatever binds you this Lenten season, whatever your tomb is made of, I hope you can walk out of it and live the resurrected life.

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