Monday, March 27, 2017

Strange Timing


Like many of John's narratives, the story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45) has several different layers. There isn't one sermon that is to be preached. One could preach on a prefigurement of resurrection or being bound and let go or Jesus weeping or Martha's confession or several other things. Today is Monday, and I'm still a little homiletically hung-over from yesterday, so I'm having a hard time figuring out which direction I'll take. For now, though, I can't help but notice a similar and strange theme in yesterday's lesson about the healing of a man born blind and this Sunday's lesson about Lazarus dying and rising again.

I spent a good bit of last week thinking and writing about the nature of God's will. Jesus claimed that the man was born blind so that the works of God might be revealed in him. That's a hard thing for us to hear--the kind of thing preachers are wise to engage very delicately in case someone should take something she or he said and run with it in a direction the preacher did not intend. There is a weird sort of timing behind that statement of Jesus. Did God cause the man to be born blind so that God's work might be revealed in him? Does that mean that God restricted this human being to decades of blindness simply so that Jesus could show his power? I don't think so. I don't think that's how God works. But I'm not willing to throw away Jesus' statement completely. Something's going on there, and it deserves our attention. The best I can make of it is that Jesus saw an opportunity for salvation in a man born blind and so, looking back, is able to say that his blindness is an opportunity for healing without necessarily saying that God caused a baby to be born blind exclusively for this purpose. I know that I'm not standing on solid footing. I'm not really happy with it either.

But this Sunday we hear something similar--at least in terms of timing. When Jesus' disciples let him know that his friend Lazarus is sick, Jesus replies, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." There it is again! Jesus appropriating an event or condition to the divine plan. How does he do that? Other than a crass, self-centered, would-be healer, who would proclaim that someone's sickness is ordained so that God's glory might be manifest in that person's healing? "I hear you have cancer. Well, let's give thanks for that! This is a chance for God's glory to be worked in you!" Who says that sort of thing? Apparently, Jesus does.

What's the lesson here? When the authors of the lectionary put these two stories in successive Sundays, what where they--or the Holy Spirit--trying to teach us? I don't know mow important it is, but it gives me a chance to see Jesus as one who helps us put all things together and in order. No, it's not as simple as "you got sick so that God could heal you," but there is a connection between all of us, all of our suffering, all of our challenges, and what God is doing in the world. All things are being fulfilled in Jesus. All things are coming together. All things are finding their perfection. In Jesus, whether healed or not, whether lived or not, whether prosperous or not, whether happy or not, the outcome is in God's hands. In both stories, Jesus invites his disciples--those closest to him, those watching his every move--to see how he is able to turn a situation of hopelessness into one of promise. Does that mean every sickness gets healed? Of course not. Does it mean that those who are denied a miracle cure are not part of God's plan? Absolutely not. But does it mean that Jesus, a person of perfect faith, is able to see and know and believe and trust that each person and each situation has a place in God's work of salvation? Yes, without a doubt. And that's what he invites us to see--last week, this week, and always.

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