Sunday, April 23, 2017

When in doubt . .

Scripture Reading John 20:19-31 (CEB)  

19 It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”
24 Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”
But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.”
26 After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!”
28 Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”
30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.
Yesterday Leah sent me a message asking if I had an idea for the sermon slide this week.  My answer was kind of. Not really.  Maybe a Tree of Life?  You see, I wasn’t sure which way this message was going to go.  It’s Earth Stewardship Sunday, and I typically preach on creation care this week.  But because Easter was late this year it’s also the week when we preach on the story of the disciple we call Doubting Thomas.  What to do?  Preach on Faith?  Creation Care?   

And then a hymn got stuck in my head.  Actually, it’s been stuck there for over a week, but I’m kind of used to that.  I mean, who doesn’t get music stuck in their head from time to time.  In my case, it’s often one of the old hymns that I first learned as student chaplain in a retirement community, where it was quickly made clear to me that 1932 was a very good year for hymns.  You see, I didn’t learn hymns growing up.  The church I attended didn’t sing except on very special occasions, and then the songs were in Latin.  So hymns weren’t part of my religious upbringing.  I learned some gospel music at Bluegrass Festivals, and hymns like Amazing Grace, but when I came to the Disciples I was woefully ignorant of hymns.  I think one of the reasons I kept coming back after my first visit to a Disciples church, initially, was the music.  Congregational singing is glorious!   So anyway, there I was with a decision to make and a hymn in my head.  This particular hymn was written in 1933, but that’s close enough.  

I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today
I know that he is living, whatever others say.
I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer,
and just the time I need him, he’s always near
He Lives! He Lives!  Christ Jesus lives today!

So, Thomas it is.  Faith. . . and Doubt.  

Poor Thomas.  He really has a poor reputation these days.  I would like to point out a couple of things about Thomas that we usually overlook.  This so-called “Doubting Thomas” is the sameThomas who said “Let’s go die with him.” in the Lazarus story.  Remember?   The disciples tried to keep Jesus from going to Bethany because they were quite certain he would be stoned to death for blasphemy, and very possibly they would be accused alongside of him.  But the very faithful Thomas says, “Let’s go die with him.”   This same Doubting Thomas was, in fact, the very first to call Jesus “My Lord and My God.”    The others had seen him, and acknowledged him as Lord, but in these Easter events Thomas is the first to call him God.   And I have to wonder what it was that Thomas was having trouble believing?  I’m sure he believed the others believed they had seen Jesus.  Perhaps he thought that what they had experienced was a ghost, or a mass hallucination.  After all, it is sort of hard to wrap our minds around someone simply getting up from the grave and walking around.  And not just walking around, but apparently walking through walls or simply appearing in the middle of a room.  These are not things that are in anyone’s daily experience.  NT Wright points out, in the Acts for Everyone Bible Study, that the post-resurrection Jesus somehow inhabits both Earth and Heaven at the same time - his body is physical when it needs to be, and non-corporeal when that is what is needed.  So he can walk through walls, and suddenly appear in their midst, and walk alongside certain disciples carrying on a conversation for hours on the road to Emmaus without being recognized.  And he can be touched.  The women can grab hold of his feet to worship him. Thomas can put his hands in Jesus’ wounds.      This is so far beyond anyone’s comprehension that I kind of don’t blame Thomas for questioning what they had seen.  

Jesus said to Thomas, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”   We like to pat ourselves on the back for believing in Jesus even though we have never seen him.  I’m not sure we deserve that self-congratulatory attitude.  Many of us believe because we have been brought up from birth believing. I can’t imagine not believing that Jesus is my Savior. Even during all the years I spent away from Church, angry at God, (although maybe mostly at Church) convinced I was going to hell no matter what I did, I still believed. I believed Jesus loved me.  I believed he had come to save the world from sin and misery.  I believed he was and is, as the old hymn says, the Balm in Gilead.   

Maybe I have a slight advantage over Thomas.   You may find this hard to believe, but I was a bit of a rebel.  When I was in 7th or 8th grade I challenged the teacher at the Wednesday night religion class by asking, “How do we know there is a God?”  Instead of being given an answer I could mull over, I was chastised for disrespect, and told I was simply to believe and not question anything.  I told my father, who, after grumbling about the teacher, took me outside.  He walked me up to a large tree and said, “This is proof that God exists.  How could the miracle that is a tree happen if God’s hand wasn’t involved?”  We talked about trees and other amazing parts of creation for a while, and I understood that he was right.  From that time forward I have had a sort of personal mantra.  When in doubt, look at a tree.  

How many of us have absolutely believed in Santa?  No doubts!  Santa was real!  And the proof was presents!  As time passed that belief may have undergone some changes.  We may not believe in the same way we used to.  But there are still presents.  

Seems to me that's the same sort of proof we have that Jesus is real.  The question isn't whether he was a real person, because the fact that he existed has been recorded in histories other than the Bible, but whether he is our Savior.   The question is whether he is the Messiah, the one anointed by God, to bring the Word to the people who most needed it, to bring light into our darkness.   And the proof, as I see it, is in the presents - the gifts that we have received as a result of our belief in him.

In a conversation the other day I said something  about ways in which Dr. King might have changed his perspective, as evidenced by some of his later writings and interview, had he not died.  It was quickly brought to my attention that he had not simply died, but had been murdered.  And yes he was, but I argued that the manner of his death didn't have a bearing on the body of work he produced prior to that.  It absolutely does have a bearing on how we remember and honor him, and certainly on the ways others have written about him, but not on the body of his written work.  He knew, from the very beginning, that he might very well die because of his work, but he didn’t let that stop him.  The same can be said of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Oscar Romero.  All three were great teachers, writers,  theologians and preachers, men of the cloth who stood boldly against the powers that be in defense of the oppressed.  We would remember them for the body of their work even if they had not been murdered by those whose authority they threatened.  But their martyrdom has assured their place in history as men of great integrity and strong Christian faith. 

Jesus was also a great teacher, and perhaps his sermons and parables and lessons would be remembered and taught today, as the teachings of the great Greek philosophers and great Jewish thinkers of his and earlier times are still taught.  There are certainly many who see him as a teacher, even a great prophet, but nothing more.  There are those who deny his miracles and healings.   There are those who claim he couldn’t have cast out demons simply because they do not believe in demons.  There are even those who doubt his resurrection.  There are numerous theories as to why the stories of his resurrection were told, including the much derided “Dave Theory” (named for the movie Dave, in which a look alike stood in for the President of the United States).  And I must sadly point out that many of those who believe these things are Christians, even ministers and theologians.  Me, I believe in miracles.  I believe that Jesus rose on the third day, and spent the next 40 days teaching his disciples the things they would need to know to continue to carry the Good News into the world.  I believe that they went on to perform healings and other wonders, and that these things are still possible today.  

But the real proof that Jesus is the Savior, the Messiah, the one anointed by God to heal the world, is to be found in the gifts we receive.   The gifts of knowledge of God’s care for us, and God’s forgiveness, the gifts of peaceful heart and serene mind.   But the greatest gift we receive, the one that proves without doubt that Jesus is the one who was sent by God to heal the world, is to be found in the words that he repeated in so many different ways.   “Love one another.”  Love God and love each other.  Go out and feed the hungry, care for the poor, clothe the naked, comfort the prisoner, heal the sick.  Go out and invite everyone on the streets in to join in the banquet.  Forgive your brother or sister as many times as it takes.  Love everyone!  Welcome everyone!   Reject no one, for Christ himself welcomed all to his table.  

When we go from this place today, let us open our eyes to see our risen Savior, our living Christ, in the face of everyone we encounter.

He lives!   He is Risen!  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Do Not Be Afraid

Matthew 28:1-10 Common English Bible (CEB) 

28 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ I’ve given the message to you.”
With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”
With great fear and excitement, the women hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.   Every preacher knows what that fear and excitement feels like.  They are the feelings with which we approach the crafting of the Easter message.  There’s a lot hanging on the Easter message.  Everybody knows that churches will be filled to the rafters on Easter and this sermon might be our only chance to guilt some of those visiting family members and such into regular attendance!   OK, maybe guilt isn’t exactly the right word.   And certainly, in these days of YouTube and podcasts and live streaming, the message gets out to whomever wants to hear it even when it isn’t Easter.  But the fact remains that congregations have filled the pews on Easter hoping to hear something amazing, and preachers have approached the pulpit with fear and trembling, hoping to measure up to their expectations.  

Do not be afraid!”  The angel said it to the women - although not to the guards on the tomb, placed there by the high priest so that the disciples couldn’t come and steal the body of their rabbi to make the prophecy come true.  They even tried to get Pilate involved.  Matthew tells us that “The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard[of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone”  (Matthew 27:62-66)   

What they didn’t understand was that Jesus wasn’t like all the other self-proclaimed messiahs that had been plaguing them for decades.  Jesus was the real thing.  His disciples didn’t have to steal his body.  God had already claimed it.  By the time their guard got there to assure that the tomb was sealed against intruders it was already too late.  They did their duty, those guards, standing there to assure no humans came to steal the body.  But when the angel came - clearly not a human with his face as brights as lightning and his snow white clothing - they were so terrified and fainted dead away!  The women, however, did not.  To them the angel said what messengers of the Lord have always said, “Do not be afraid.”   And then, when they were on their way to do as the angel directed, they met Jesus.  And they fell to their knees and took hold of his feet and worshipping him.  

I wonder what he looked like.  No really.  The angel was bright and awesome and terrifying!   On the mountaintop, when he met with Elijah and Moses, Jesus was also bright and awesome and terrifying.  But here, as the women were running from the tomb back to where ever the disciples were hiding, Jesus appeared to them as himself?  An ordinary, human appearing Jesus?  Clearly they recognized him right away.  They didn't have any problems touching him, his feet at least.  But he, too, said “Do not be afraid.” 

Clearly they were not afraid of him.  So what was he telling them not to be afraid about, I wonder?   All we can do, really, is guess.  The devotional we have been reading this Lenten season suggests that the women may have been fearful about what would happen to them in the future, that they may not be able to go back home again after having left families and homes to follow him.  Perhaps, although Mary of Magdalene, for one, probably hadn’t been home in a long time before that.  She was the woman from whom he cast out a demon, after all.  She may very well have been wandering, homeless, for a long time, talking to herself, like some of the homeless women we have all seen.  The “other Mary” mentioned in this Gospel was most likely Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, so she wasn’t worried about losing her home over devotion to Jesus.  But certainly they, like all the other disciples, would have feared the Temple authorities, those who had Jesus put to death.  

So Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.”  Then he repeated what the angel had told them, that he would see them in Galilee.  He was telling them, in essence, that they should go home. Leave the place where he died, and where they might still be in danger from the Temple authorities, and go home.  Go back to where it all began.

Jesus told them to go back to the beginning.  Easter is always a new beginning.  Two nights ago, we came to this place to commemorate the death of Jesus. We came here to listen to scripture readings and music that told the story of his passion and death.  We took nails, nails many of us had been carrying with us since Ash Wednesday, that we had been praying over, that we had been figuratively filling with all the sins and character defects we wished to give up, and we hammered those nails into the cross, leaving them behind there, so that come this morning, this Easter morning, we could begin afresh.  We left those nails to represent all of our faults, so that we could go back to the beginning, back to that day when we were baptized and made a vow to turn our wills and our lives over to God, becoming new in Christ.  

Do not be afraid.  It’s not easy to give up all those faults.  We’re actually quite fond of some of them.  How many of us take some pride in being stubborn, for example?  I mean, it’s fairly easy to look at the Seven Deadly Sins and say, “Oh, yeah, those are bad.  I don’t want any of those!”  I mean, no one wants to be slothful, or gluttonous, or envious, or filled with lust, or greedy, or wrathful, or prideful, after all.   Well, gluttony is bad, but then there’s chocolate.  And it’s Easter.  Who can avoid eating a bit too much chocolate on Easter?  Who would want to?  And a bit of lust is a good thing between married folks, right?  And we have a right to be proud of some things, don’t we?  And am I being slothful if I do pretty much nothing on my day off instead of, say, cleaning the house? Or is that self care?  And there are definitely cases of righteously justifiable anger. Surely that’s not a sin.  Perhaps it’s only really a sin if it goes beyond a certain degree.  Maybe we’re operating with the wrong definition of some of those things.  

See - not easy.  And that’s just the Seven Deadlies!  There are all of those other faults and sinful behaviors and trespasses against other people.   We may easily find ourselves thinking, “Oh heavens, I will never be good enough!  I will never be able to really give up all those things.”

My sisters and brothers, do not be afraid.  For the Good News is this - you are forgiven.  You are forgiven as many times as it takes.  It’s not a once and done proposition with God.  Jesus died at the hands of sinful humans, whose sins of fear and pride left them no alternative when their power was threatened, yet even at the moment of his death, Jesus asked God to forgiven them, even those who turned him over to the Romans, even those individuals who beat and tortured and killed him, even those in the crowd who were complicit in his death.  Even Judas, who did only as he had to in order for the prophecy to be fulfilled.  If all of those are forgiven, then surely we are as well.  Jesus told us over and over again, in his parables and his sermons, that ours is a loving and forgiving God.  Over and over again, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness to those most in need of an understanding of God’s grace.   Sometimes he would speak those words and add to them an admonition to go and sin no more.  But mostly he simply spoke words of assurance, that through the grace and love of God, we are forgiven.  

Easter is a day of new beginnings.  It is day upon which we can take comfort in knowing that God loves us, just as we are.   A day upon which the light of God’s love is most evident.  A day upon which we can walk forward into the light, celebrating our new life in Christ. 

And the even better Good News?  It is that we celebrate Easter every single Sunday.  Every single Lord’s Day throughout the year is a reminder and a remembering of the resurrection, of the opportunity for new life that God gives to each of us each and every day, of God’s gracious love and forgiveness.   My brothers and sisters, let us go forth into the world, unafraid, sharing God’s grace and love with everyone we meet.  Let us go out shining with the light of God’s love, celebrating the resurrection of the Christ, and our new lives.   

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Untie Him!

Scripture Reading John 11:1-45 (CEB)

11 A certain man, Lazarus, was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This was the Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped his feet with her hair. Her brother Lazarus was ill.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This illness isn’t fatal. It’s for the glory of God so that God’s Son can be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was. After two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s return to Judea again.”
The disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jewish opposition wants to stone you, but you want to go back?”
Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours in the day? Whoever walks in the day doesn’t stumble because they see the light of the world. 10 But whoever walks in the night does stumble because the light isn’t in them.”
11 He continued, “Our friend Lazarus is sleeping, but I am going in order to wake him up.”
12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he’s sleeping, he will get well.” 13 They thought Jesus meant that Lazarus was in a deep sleep, but Jesus had spoken about Lazarus’ death.
14 Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died. 15 For your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you can believe. Let’s go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (the one called Didymus) said to the other disciples, “Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus.”
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was a little less than two miles from Jerusalem. 19 Many Jews had come to comfort Martha and Mary after their brother’s death. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.”
23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.”
28 After she said this, she went and spoke privately to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here and he’s calling for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. 30 He hadn’t entered the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave, they followed her. They assumed she was going to mourn at the tomb.
32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. 34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?”
They replied, “Lord, come and see.”
35 Jesus began to cry. 36 The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”
Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”
40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?”41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”
45 Therefore, many of the Jews who came with Mary and saw what Jesus did believed in him. 


I was especially blessed yesterday.  I was a participant in the Relay for Life.  Jane Ono had invited me to give the invocation, which was a great honor all on its own.  But because I am a cancer survivor I was celebrated.  I got a T-shirt and breakfast and a bag full of goodies and even a medal!  The first lap was the Survivor’s Lap, and as we walked around the Fowler High School track the other participants and the Bandits Cheerleaders circled the track and cheered for us.  Some of us were pretty healthy and walked the lap easily.  Some were using canes or walkers, or were supported by caregivers, and it was a little harder for them.  Among the survivors was a woman who had come all the way from LA to join us, who walked very slowly, and who was determined that she was going to complete the circuit.  When she crossed the finish line the applause and cheers were louder than ever, and tears were flowing freely.  It was awesome!  It felt like watching a miracle happen right in front of us.  

As I walked that lap I realized that 18 years ago this week I had the first of many surgeries for my cancer.  I knew that because the Sunday after my surgery the elders from First Christian Church in Orange, California came to pray with me, and the scripture they read was the story of Lazarus.   It meant a lot to me that day, as I was feeling as if I had gotten my life back.  

This particular passage always means a lot to me.  Every time it comes around in the lectionary it impacts my life in a different way.  My freshman year at Chapman I attended worship on this particular Sunday at All People’s Christian Church in LA and Pastor TJ Bottoms preached a sermon titled, “Move the stone”.    He talked about not letting obstacles stop you from doing what God has called you to do.  I kind of needed to hear that as a 44 year old college freshman, and a woman called to enter the ordained ministry.  Both of these things were going to be difficult, but his message that day kept me going through the hardest times.   I even kept a little note on my refrigerator for years that said, “Move the stone,” just in case I forgot.

This is always a pretty hard passage to deal with.  First of all, it’s long.  It’s very long.  There is so much to unpack that a 15-20 minute sermon simply cannot do justice to the totality of this passage.  Second, it has Jesus exhibiting emotions we aren’t used to seeing in him.  In the beginning he seems indifferent to his friend’s illness.  Jesus, who had gone immediately to heal a little girl and a centurion’s servant and many others, stays where he is when he hears his friend is sick.  What was that about?  We think he did that so he could bring Lazarus back later, but it just seems strange that Jesus would let his friends, Mary and Martha, suffer so when their brother died.  He becomes deeply disturbed, some translations even say angry, when he sees Mary weeping and when he approaches the tomb.  He cries, something most of us do when we are deeply moved or grieved.   We tend to think of Jesus as always serene and calm . . . well, except maybe during that one visit to the Temple.  He was pretty angry then . . .  But most of the time, he seemed, you know, Christ- like.  In this passage, however, he goes through all kinds of changes. He exhibits all kinds of emotions. And lastly, after he goes through all of these emotions and then he makes it very clear to all present that he is not raising Lazarus through his own power, but that God is doing it in response to Jesus’ prayer.  By the way, if anyone still doubts that Jesus was fully human, this passage really should convince you of that fact.  

Jesus’ disciples thought he was going to his death, but decided to follow him back toward Jerusalem anyway.  It is worth noting that the one who said, “Let’s go die with him,” was the very same Thomas whom we call “Doubting Thomas” because he questioned whether Jesus had appeared to the others after the resurrection.  (There may be a quiz on this the week after Easter.)   

This time the title in today’s Lenten devotional, which I am sure you all read diligently this morning, took my mind in a whole nother direction.  Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” 

One of my preacher friends this week wondered how on earth Lazarus managed to walk out of the tomb with his entire body tightly bound as they did in those days.  Someone said “The same way Morticia Adams walks in her tight skirts”.  Someone else said that he lost weight during the 4 days in the tomb so they fell off.  Another suggested he hopped like a bunny.  One even said something silly like, “With God all things are possible” which in this case is not a good answer.   Because Jesus does find it necessary to say “Untie him.”  So the bindings were still there.  They hadn’t fallen off due to weight loss.  God didn’t mysteriously remove them.  He probably did walk the way Morticia Adams does.  Or the way prisoners walk when they are shackled.   One of the translations I looked at this week even said, “He shuffled out of the tomb.”   

Untie him and let him go.  I like the way Lynette Johnson spoke of this phrase in our devotional.  She said, “Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb, but he instructs the others present to unbind, to set Lazarus free.  Jesus renews his life, but it is up to others — his sisters, his friends and neighbors, the leaders of his synagogue — to set him free.”  (Society of St. Andrew Daily Lenten Devotional 2017, pg. 28)  

I can’t help but think of all the people who have come forward lately to join the church.  Many of them (but not all) are quite young - high school and young adults. Some have been coming around for years, and some are pretty new to the whole idea of church.  Some of them have come here because in this place they can freely be themselves.  Some of the younger ones have come here because in this place they aren’t told, “You are the future.”  They are told, “You are the Church - now, today.”  Some, maybe even most, come from a different tradition, but find that this congregation and this denomination are the best fit for them.  All of them have said they are willing to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.  All of them have said they are willing to serve this congregation they best way they can, with the gifts and talents that God has given them.  All of them have heard that still, small, voice telling them, “It’s time to go forward and become an official part of this family,” (even though I suspect sometimes that voice is Jordan’s.)  It is so exciting to me that in this place where I have been called to serve, God is reaching out to such diverse and talented people. 

Jesus has renewed all of these folks, and put them into our hands.  It is our job to untie them and set them free to be the people God intends for them to be.  It is our job to make sure there is a safe place here for them and for all others who come.  Coming to this place, especially for those who are kind of new to the idea of being part of a church family, is pretty exciting.  Now.  But what about later?  Some can’t be here every week, or even most weeks, because of work or family obligations.  How do we continue to nurture them and set them free, if they can’t be here on Sunday?  

Someone said to me recently, “I know I’m ok right now.  It’s the long term I’m worried about.”  When a person has made a significant change in their life, and the excitement of the new thing has worn off, that is when we are most needed.  For Lazarus, everyone would be all over him on this day and for the next week or so, maybe.  But there would come a time when it’s just Tuesday.  The wonderment of his return to life has died down and he has to figure out how to just get from day to day in this new reality. He was dead!  And then he wasn’t!  And that has to be weird to live with.   After I healed from my surgery and my friends stopped coming by to check on me and help with daily chores, I had to find a way to deal with my new reality, one in which the cancer might come back any time or not.  I could ignore it or I could worry about it or … I didn’t quite know what to do, how to live one day after another, in this new reality.  I knew my life would never be the same again.  I had faith in God, of course, and I knew that no matter what, I would be ok.  But what I needed was to have people around who were willing and able to be supportive, even in the ordinariness of daily life, because I really didn’t know how to do ordinary any more, any more than Lazarus knew how to do ordinary anymore.  

Similarly, many among this church family and in my own circle of friends have lost loved ones recently.  Almost before we know it, the services are over, the flood of loving family and friends is gone, and suddenly life is back to “normal,” except that nothing will really be normal again, in the way we’ve always defined normal before.  Ordinariness is taking on a new appearance.  New routines are being developed.   

The work of the church, our work, is best done in the ordinariness of every day.  After the resurrection, after the excitement of new membership, after the surgeries and treatments, after the loss of our loved ones, after whatever it is that marks a new beginning to a life,  that is when the work of the church begins.  The work of the church begins in earnest once the excitement has ended, in the day to day setting free of those who now face a new reality.  To paraphrase Lynette Johnson, we must be the ones who unbind them.  We must be the ones who nurture and encourage them as they go forward into their new reality.  We must e the ones to whom they can turn in their new ordinariness.  When you go out, remember those for whom life has become different - reach out to them, let them know that they are not alone.  Just as our Lord has set us free, let us also be the source of freedom for those who need us in their lives.