Holy Trinity Episcopal Church


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    Nov 04, 2018

    24th Sundat after Pentecost

    Passage: John 11:32-44

    Preacher: The Rev. Nathan M. Finnin

    Series: Year B: 2017-2018

    Category: Pentecost


    This morning’s Gospel reading includes, in part, one of the most famous scenes in all the New Testament. The raising of Lazarus from the dead.  And it is a story that, on the surface, seems more appropriate for Halloween, than it does for All Saints’ Day.  You have death, you have horrendous smells that accompany death, and at the end, you have what sounds an awful lot like a zombie, an undead man, wrapped in bands of cloth, emerging from his tomb.

    However, I don’t want to talk much about that this morning.  Sure, it’s an intriguing scene.  It calls to mind some fantastical imagery.  And, it raises a whole lot of question.  But, to me, it’s not the most interesting thing going on in the story. The most interesting thing to me about this morning’s Gospel, is what it has to tell us about living together in community with one another, and about how we relate to one another, and to God.

    First, it’s important to lay a little back story to the passage.  At the beginning of John chapter 11, we are told that Lazarus is ill, and that his two sisters, Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus, telling him that their brother was sick, and ostensibly asking him to come and do something about it. And, we are told that even though Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus, he waited days before going to visit.  It is after all of this...after the sisters send word to Jesus, after he waits two days, after Jesus travels back to Judea where people were literally just trying to stone him to death, that our Gospel reading picks up this morning. And it is with that backstory, that we can begin to make sense of what is going on, and what it may have to do with our own lives.

    So, here we go. The first line of our Gospel reading this morning tells us that Mary was upset.  She says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And what she is really saying is this: “God, if you had been here…if you had been present, then bad things wouldn’t happen, and I wouldn’t have to feel this pain.” I have a sense that some of you may already know this, but just in case, it’s worth me saying…that’s not how it works.  God’s promise to us is not that we will not experience hardship.  God’s promise to us is not that we will not experience sadness, God’s promise to us isn’t even that we will not experience death.  God’s promise to us is that we do not have to experience those things alone, and that those things, hardship, sadness, and death, do not have the final word.

    What does have the final word is Love, and Life.  Specifically, the love and life and light that is Jesus himself.  And here’s the kicker, we are, by our divine nature as people created in the image of God, bearers of that same love and life, and light. That’s what we’re reminded of in the celebration of All Saints’. Not just that there are those who have gone before us that have carried the love and life and light of Christ, but that we too have that same love and life and light of Christ inside of us.  Now, whether or not we access that is a different story…but I only get one sermon today.  So, what I believe we are reminded of in this morning’s Gospel, is that we are part of the divine story. And not just the fun and easy parts. In fact, I would argue that our role in the divine story, is even more important when it comes to the hard, death-filled, stench-filled, sadness-filled parts of the divine story.

    As we see from Mary and Martha this morning, part of our responsibility is to reach out to the divine. Not just for ourselves, but for others. Mary and Martha send for Jesus, knowing that they need him...that Lazarus needs him. Their mistake is in assuming that he would meet them on their timeline.  I mean…come on! How many of us make that mistake? How many of us reach out in distress, only to convince ourselves that our prayers have gone unanswered, when it doesn’t turn out the way we want, or in the time-frame we think we need? How many of us ask for God’s help, or healing, comfort, with the unarticulated supposition that we know exactly what and when that help, or healing, or comfort should look like. The reality, of course, is that God is always with us.  Working toward resurrection. God is always part of our journey, even if it’s not obvious to us at first. God is always working, on God’s time, to give us what we need, new life. The problem is, new life isn’t necessarily what we want, or even think we need.  What we often want is for our old life to work better. We want to keep doing the things we’re doing, but with different outcomes. We want to keep doing the things we’re doing, and have other people change. Again, sadly, that’s not how it works.  God’s invitation to resurrection isn’t about sustaining an old life.  It’s about being invited into new life.

    We are not told what illness Lazarus had.  We are not told the nature of his death.  But we are told that Jesus showed up. That Jesus shared in Mary and Martha’s grief.  And that Jesus called Lazarus into new life.  But he didn’t stop there…I believe that the most instructive part of this morning’s scripture is found at the very end. Jesus said to the crowd, “unbind him, and let him go.” To me, this clearly tells us that the promise of resurrection, that the invitation to new life, is one that takes place in the context of community. “unbind him, and let him go.” These words may be more powerful than the words "Come out!" As Sam Candler, the Dean of the Cathedral in Atlanta has said, “[these words communicate the need for] the community to assist in the resurrection. "Unbind him, and let him go."

    There are people yearning to live resurrection lives.  And. There are folks who have risen from the dead, but who are still tangled up in burial clothes.  They still have the sheets and coverings of death all over them. They are still bound up in something, bound up in old bondages, old arguments, old sin. You know what that's like. You know what it’s like to try to live new life, but you seem somehow to still be in bondage to the old life.  This is where we need community. We need others. Often, it is the task of Christian community to complete the action of Resurrection.  Jesus has called forth new life: Lazarus, come out!" But Lazarus still has burial clothes on.  So Jesus says, "Unbind him, and let him go. "That’s our charge. Unbind somebody.” [1]

    Now, some of you are probably thinking, “Oh gosh, is he going to talk about recovery again?!” YOU’RE DARN RIGHT I AM!! Do you think there is any way I would be here today, if it weren’t for my wife, my fellow clergy, this parish, being willing to help unbind me? Do you think there’s any chance that I would be living the life I’m living right now, still bound up in the shame and guilt and isolation that comes with suffering from addiction?  NO! Absolutely not. It is not something that can be done in isolation. That’s not how resurrection works. That’s not how the invitation to become who God created us to be works.  We can’t do it alone.  And that’s why I need a communion of saints.  That’s why we all need a communion of saints.  People who have gone before us, people who travel this journey with us now, who are willing to do the hard work of shining Christ’s light in world.  We need one another.

    Candler goes on to say “Where you find someone struggling to be free, unbind them and let them go. Do not keep them tangled up in the old affairs of sin and death. Those clothes constrict and make us ill.  When we refuse to let someone go, when we refuse to forgive, when we refuse to see new life, it is we who are keeping them dead.  The community has that power.  Jesus, therefore, proclaims to us, to all of us, to the Christian Church: "Unbind him, and let him go." [2] Guys, we are in the business of assisting in resurrection, WITH God. This morning’s Gospel makes it clear.  We must help one another.  We must love one another, even if we don’t like one another.  And we must be willing to allow others to help us.  To remove our burial cloths, so that we may fully live into the abundant life we are offered. That’s our work. To be in relationship with God, and to be in relationship with one another, reminding each other that abundant life is not only a future hope, but is here. Always. Now.



    [1] http://day1.org/1086-unbind_him_and_let_him_go

    [2] http://day1.org/1086-unbind_him_and_let_him_go