Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Glory Don't Sink!

In staff meeting yesterday, Sally our children's director asked me if I had a preference on what the focus in the children's church sermon should be. "No," I said, "It's really up to you. You could preach about Lazarus or baptism or All Saints'. You pick what you think will be best." Quickly, she replied, "Good. Thank you. I was worried that the boys in children's chapel would want to talk about how much Lazarus stank and that we'd never get to the rest of the story."

She has a good point. One of my favorite lines in the KJV is John 11:39, when Mary says to Jesus, "Lord, by this time he stinketh." This Sunday, as we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, we hear a part of the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:32-44), and it's hard to get past the physical. (And I don't think we should.) John tells this story with great tension between God's mighty acts, which transcend the limitations of this physical world, and our ability to see them despite our reliance on the world we know. It's as if John is begging us to experience the slowly developing faith that starts with Martha and then Mary saying, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died," and climaxes with Jesus calling out to his friend, "Lazarus, come out!"
In the middle, we get to watch even Jesus' closest friends struggle with who he is. Although omitted in this reading, John 11 starts with the disciples' confusion over whether Lazarus is merely sleeping or really going to die. Then, we hear Lazarus' sisters confessing their faith that Jesus has power to heal the sick--that he is God's anointed one--but the tears that dominate the scene (even those of Jesus himself) cloud our sight. As we stand outside the stone-sealed tomb, we know that Jesus is someone special, but do we know who he really is?

Jesus tells them to roll away the stone. (Can the foreshadowing be any thicker?) And, then, we hear the objection: "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days!" And what is Jesus' reply? "Did I not tell you that, if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" Jesus takes Martha's reasonable, rational, physical objection (and that of everyone else--including the reader) and turn it upside down. He puts it back to them as a question of faith. Didn't I tell you? Don't you believe? What do you think it means that I am the Christ (11:27)? Haven't you put all the pieces together yet? And then, in his prayer to the Father, Jesus reminds us that he has "said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe."

My Lord, already he stinketh! But God's glory don't stink. What are we looking for? What are we expecting? What are we hoping the Christ will do? It's not too late. Sickness will not win. Not even death can defeat God's Christ. If you believe, you will see the glory of God--the living, breathing, unbound glory of God.

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