Sermon for Lent 5A, 09 March 2008 John 11:1-45
A couple of parents gave their six-year-old son strict instructions to come home from playing every afternoon no later than 5 p.m. He is allowed to play with his friends up until then, but his parents are quite serious about his curfew. If he is not home by 5 p.m., they begin to worry and call around the neighbourhood to find out where he is. The boy knows this, though, and is careful to arrive every day on time.
One Sunday in March, however, the day Daylight Saving Time went into effect, the boy was late coming home. When he finally arrived, a few minutes before 6 p.m., his mother scolded him for being late. "You know you are supposed to be home by five," she said, "and here it is nearly six."
Puzzled, the little boy pointed out the window. "But the light," he protested, "the light; it's the light that tells me when to come home."
Realizing what had happened, his mother smiled and gently explained that the night before the time had been changed, that everyone had reset their clocks and, now, the daylight lasted longer. The boy's eyes narrowed. "Does God know about this?" he asked suspiciously.
In a childlike way, this little boy shared John's theological vision. Martha, Jesus wants you to know that with God daylight lasts longer than death.
It was a popular belief that soul and body were finally separated after 3 days -- with no hope of resuscitation. Lazarus' resurrection thus points to Jesus' resurrection. The event forces decision on belief or disbelief in Jesus; his enemies understand that the die is cast. It is this decisiveness for faith, in a miracle that surpasses any possibility of rational explanation, that gives the incident its primary dramatic tension.
Remember what we have just heard. Mary and Martha who live in Bethany are some of Jesus' closest friends. They send word to him that their brother, whose name is Lazarus, is desperately ill. "Please come. We need your help. Hurry. He is sinking fast." But by the time Jesus gets there, Lazarus has died. and has been in his grave for four days. Mary and Martha come out to meet Jesus and they express their grief: "He's gone. We've lost him. O Lord, if only you have been here, our brother would not have died."
The family and friends have gathered and in their deep sorrow, they begin to weep over the loss of their loved one, Lazarus. The heart of Jesus goes out to them and Jesus weeps with them. He loved Lazarus, too. And he loves them. and he shares their pain. Jesus goes out to the cave-like tomb and he says to them: "Roll back the stone!" Martha, always the realist and ever ready to speak out, protests: "But Lord, we can't do that. He has been in the grave for 4 days. By now there will be a terrible odour." Jesus says to her: "Martha, only believe, and you will see the power of God."
So they roll the stone away. and Jesus cries out in a loud voice: "Lazarus, come forth!" And incredibly, miraculously, amazingly, before their very eyes. Lazarus is resurrected! He comes out of the tomb. He still has on his grave clothes. His head and feet are still wrapped with mummy-like bandages. Jesus then turns to the friends and family and says to them, "Unbind him and let him go. Unwrap him and set him free."
Jesus wept with those he loved...and he still does. Jesus raised people up, and he still does. He included others in the healing process, and he still does.
150 years ago, 500 people died of cholera in just ten days in one London neighbourhood, marking the beginning of another horrible epidemic. Victorian physician Dr. John Snow of London had already written a controversial pamphlet suggesting that cholera was not caused by "vapours," but was instead a disease of the "gut," spread by contaminated water.
With the high number of deaths in this neighbourhood, he studied the cases and was convinced that a pump at the intersection of Broad and Cambridge Streets was the sole source of contaminated water. In an emotional public meeting, he suggested removing the pump handle so no more water could be drawn from that location.
The rest is history. The handle was removed, cholera abated, and huge engineering projects were launched for sanitation systems and clean water across Europe. Dr. Snow's pump handle affected all of us. It led to improvements in the areas of sanitation and purification, and dramatically improved human life, lowering infant mortality rates and increasing life spans.
Last week Starbucks got a new pump handle. Starbucks shut down. Okay, it was only for three hours (5:30-8:30). But for some the mere thought that all 7100 Starbucks stores in North America were closed was enough to jumpstart trembling hands and throbbing heads. Why did Starbucks take a three hour coffee break? To clean up their pump handle. The pump handle that had first turned on the Starbucks phenomenon had been so changed and corrupted that the company needed a new one.
Or in the words of CEO Howard Schultz, Starbucks shut down to open up and own up to its "first love." Starbucks shut down to rediscover and rededicate the company to the "love, passion, and commitment" of the coffee experience. Starbucks had lost its original pump handle, and the one they were using needed to be replaced.
Howard Schultz insisted that this re-plumbing was designed to reconnect the company to the "soul of the past." "This is not about training," he insisted to his employees, looking somewhat somber. "This is about the love and compassion and commitment that we all need to have for the customer."
It is a concept that sounds like a contradiction. Shut down your business in order to open up your business. But the same logic has been used by physicians for years. Doctors sometimes induce comas in patients with life threatening injuries, allowing them to regulate body temperature, reduce swelling, and stabilize fluid levels. Without experiencing the pain and anxiety that put additional stress on their injured body, these patients are able to heal more quickly. They "shut down" in order to help the body
come alive to health.
Maybe this Lenten season we in the church, the "body of Christ," should have taken our own "coffee break." Since it is too late now, maybe we should consider a 3-day, or 3-week, or 3-month shut-down to reboot our churches in Christianity's original operating system. Maybe we need to find our original pump handle, since the living water that has been coming out of our piping recently has not been healing people as much as making too many people sick.
Our pump handle has been corroded partly because of our busy-ness. Look how busy we are. We could not even get a time to hold an important church meeting about the visit of our bishop this coming week. . We feel good about our busyness. But has our "busyness" overwhelmed our true identity? Have we forgotten why the church exists at all?
Starbucks closed down to find the "soul of its past." Maybe the church needs to "close" itself off from all its programs and pageants and plans in order to rediscover why we are what we are.
And who are we? And why are we here? What was our original pump handle?
Ours is a God who does not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted and does not hide his face from them. There is always a sense in which great living is found in the midst of suffering and tears.
An old Yiddish folk story tells of a well-to-do gentleman of leisure much interested in the Hebrew Scriptures. He visited a wise rabbi to ask a question. He said: "I think I grasp the sense and meaning of these writings except for one thing. I cannot understand how we can be expected to give God thanks for our troubles. " The rabbi knew instantly that he could not explain this with mere words. He said to the gentleman: "If you want to understand this, you will have to visit Isaac the water-carrier." The gentleman was mystified by this, but knowing the rabbi to be wise, crossed to a poor section of the settlement and came upon Isaac the water-carrier, an old man who had been engaged in mean, lowly, backbreaking labour for some fifty years.
The gentleman explained the reason for his visit. Isaac paused from his labours. Finally, after several minutes of silence, looking baffled, he spoke: "I know that the rabbi is the wisest of men. But I cannot understand why he would send you to me with that question. I can't answer it because I've had nothing but wonderful things happen to me. I thank God every morning and night for all his many blessings on me and my family."
It is true, is it not? The pure in heart see God. The humble in spirit know Christ's joy and enter into God's glory. "For I consider," writes Paul, "that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
Unfortunately, a lot of people are like mummies, all wrapped up in themselves. And they don't want to become unwrapped. All they do is come unwound at the thought of coming out of their safe tomb or stepping out in faith. But Jesus calls us out of the tomb, sets us free and calls us to move beyond ourselves into a life of faith, commitment, obedience and service.
On the old Merv Griffin Show. There was a time when he was interviewing some body builders. As he was standing there looking at these guys with all these muscles, he asked a powerful question: "What do you use these muscles for?"
One guy answered by flexing his muscles in one of those body builder stances. But Merv said, "No, you don't understand. What do you USE all those muscles for?" The guy said, "I'll show you." And he flexed again in another stance.
Again Merv said, "No. You still don't understand my question. Read my lips. What do you USE them FOR?" The guy posed again.
Jesus calls us out of the tomb, sets us free and calls us to move beyond ourselves into a life of faith, commitment, obedience and service. When we just come to Church and sometimes read our Bibles and just enjoy the fellowship but nothing else, then we're like those body building guests. We're like mummies, still wrapped up in ourselves. Jesus calls us to move beyond self to a life of faith and committed service.
Jesus has given us the most incredible and powerful message of salvation and redemption and love that mankind has ever heard. So why isnâ€™t this church full to the brim? Maybe we are afraid to use those Christian muscles that he has given us. We need to rededicate ourselves to the "love, passion, and commitment" of the Christian experience.
People here, and everywhere, need to know that being a Christian is not about judging and condemning, but about loving and caring and sharing. As the most important day in the whole Christian year approaches, can we get the mummy unwrapped and set him free?