Marks of the Jesus Community
Our story today begins, as the last two weeks' stories have, with another honest conversation with Jesus—this time an anguished, angry cry of grief: if only you'd come on time, this wouldn't have happened....
sometimes bad stuff happens, sometimes death happens sooner than it should
but life experience also tells us that it's not the best thing to 'fix' things, avoid bad stuff at all costs, deny the realities of life. Personally I know that new life has sometimes come to me from going through the awful stuff, not avoiding it. Both for Lazarus and his family, and maybe even for Jesus whose own faith may have been challenged by those bystanders who doubted him, a dark and tragic experience brought light and life to them.
so before we get to the JC purpose, perhaps we need to be honest as well....honest first about who we might be in this text
we meaning the congregation, the community, but if you've come with a particular weight on your soul, you might more need to listen for where you individually might be....
Let's first ask ourselves if we are the people around Jesus, alive and well, or are we like Lazarus?
In KJV Martha protests, he stinketh! I loved that when I was a kid. Leave him where he is, don't add complications to my life, Jesus! He's stiff and dead and has no more relevance. Either the body of Christ, the church is biologically dead, stiff and beginning to smell a bit—and lots of people out in the world think we have no relevance at all.....OR we are a people who've been called and and made biologically alive, unbound, unwrapped, living in light not darkness
If this Jesus community or the church universal, or you individually, is Laz, we need to hear Jesus command – come out! come out of your stiff and bound places, come out of our dark holes of inactivity and irrelevance, and LIVE—that's the good news, the best news we have to offer the world! God brings life! Abundant life!
We are still a force to be reckoned with!
So, if that's true, and I believe it's on its way to being true here, then we have purpose- in fact a threefold purpose that we take from Jesus' other instructions in the text:
1 believe, and you'll see God's glory
of course there are difficult times when it's hard to believe, when we seem to lose our faith. And then we miss out on the ways that God is at work. But in the JC, when my faith is low, you hold it for me, and when your soul is empty, I stand by with the love of God ready to pour out. God is always at work, God's glory is always there; sometimes we have to trust the sight of others when we can't see it ourselves.
Jesus came late to this awful time in Lazarus' family. In their belief system, the third day was traditionally when God came...Jesus arrives on the 4th day, the hopeless day.
2 remove the stone—the JC sets about removing obstacles to Life and wholeness for those who are stuck in dark places. Stones can be attitudes or situations or people or systems, that prevent God's grace and God's wholemaking way from happening in individuals and society.
This week as a nation votes, the JC must be concerned first and foremost about removing obstacles for the least, the last, and the lost.
Almost every week, our JC is asked to help someone financially, whether through our pastors discretionary fund or through our 50-50 outreach—we remove stones temporarily, with a grocery gift card, and this week we went one step further and helped a man start to earn money for himself with a leafblower, but there are systemic stones that need much more aggressive removal through social action. The JC is often strangely inactive in that kind of stone removal.
3 unbind those who are tentatively moving out into the light, but still bound up and wound up, still trapped in the old rags of non-life. (Lois' story)
You see, it's one thing to be brought back to the light of day, but it's quite another to be unbound so you can actually move, maybe even dance, which is probably what happened in the rest of the story! we are drawn by Jesus from the depths of human pain to the height of God's compassion. Surely that's worth celebration and joy. What would it take for you, for us, to be seen as celebrating, joyful, dancing people??
So there we have it; if we listen to the commands of Jesus, we have our purpose, and if we look at what Jesus does throughout this text, we find our calling and our purpose filled out in pretty clear ways:
Jesus enters into human mess, weeps with the hurting, challenges assumptions about how things have to be, stretches belief beyond belief, reaches into dark places, brings new life and second chances, and prays thankfully.
Can we do any less?
May God's power strengthen us, God's life flow through us, and God's grace lead us to dance unbound.