Date: February 28, 2016
Title: “Off the Record with Lazarus”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: John 11:1-43
Barbara Kingsolver, in an essay entitled “High Tide in Tucson”, writes about the hermit crab which is a part of her family. This crab – whom they named “Buster” – arrived by accident, coming home in a shell Kingsolver picked up on a Caribbean beach.
As her daughter is sorting through this gift box full of shells, she suddenly shrieks and runs to the other side of the room, because the largest shell in the box has begun to move, all on its own. Kingsolver writes:
First it extended one long red talon of a leg, tap-tap-tapping like a blind man’s cane. Then came half a dozen more red legs, plus a pair of eyes on stalks, and a purple claw that snapped open and shut in a way that could not mean “We come in friendship”.
Who could blame this creature? It had fallen asleep to the sound of the Caribbean tide and awakened on a coffee table in Tucson, Arizona, where the nearest standing water source of any real account was the municipal sewage-treatment plant.
Kingsolver goes on to tell the story of Buster’s life. They gave him a terrarium full of gravel because, as Kingsolver says, When something extraordinary shows up in the middle of the night, the least you can do is name it and give it a home. They gave him water and learned that Buster was fond of leftovers, and that his red-letter day was any day they cleaned out the refrigerator and gifted him with the odds and ends discovered at the back of the fridge. They soon realized that Buster needed a continually changing assortment of seashells to try on and cast off – that this was essential for Buster’s habitat and his happiness.
And gradually, Kingsolver and her family began to recognize themselves in Buster – in his shifting cycles of activity and inactivity; in the growing edges which necessitated movement from one shell into another; in the careful attention to life, even when it involved the most confusing changes from tropical seas to high desert plains. She writes:
Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, the loss of a job or a limb or a loved one, a graduation, bringing a new baby home: it’s impossible to think at first how this all will be possible.
It is impossible to wrap our heads around, to unleash our imagination long enough to see how drastic, even catastrophic change can not only be survived, but can also be transformative. So what do we do in those moments when everything has changed? What hope is there for us when we feel as if we have been abducted out of tropical waters onto a desert plain? What do we do when our hopes or dreams have died and been buried, and then Jesus has the audacity to come along and raise them up again?!
This morning, as part of our Lenten sermon series, we are going “Off the Record” with Lazarus. Now, it is important to note here that this is not the Lazarus found in Jesus’ parable, the one played off against the rich man in the story. No, this Lazarus is one of Jesus’ friends, the brother of Mary and Martha, who are two of Jesus’ most faithful followers. And as the story goes, Lazarus falls ill while Jesus is away. His sisters know this is a serious illness, it is not just a common cold. So they send for Jesus to come and heal him. And what does Jesus do? He procrastinates, and delays, and doesn’t seem too concerned for the welfare of his friend.
We can understand how Mary and Martha feel. First, they are worried sick. They do what they can, but it is evident their brother is slipping away. So they call for Jesus, trusting that only Jesus can save him. And he is close enough to come, but he doesn’t come until it is too late. I imagine the women greet him with no small amount of emotion: Jesus! Where the heck were you? If you had been here, our brother would not have died! What were you thinking?!
And then, in the midst of the tears and the trauma, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb.
I can’t help wondering how the drama felt from Lazarus’ side of the story? This poor guy was dead. He had already passed through the portal and gone beyond the suffering. Wrapped in burial cloths, in the dark and quiet of the tomb, Lazarus is where there is nothing left to lose. And then he hears Jesus’ shout “Come out!” Come out, Lazarus – things are about to change. Come out – let go of your losses, and your fears, your despair and your unsettled grief. Come out! See a world beyond your own suffering, a hope beyond your own hopelessness, a love beyond your own dark void.
I think it must have been hard for Lazarus. It must have been as hard for him to respond to Jesus’ shout as it for us. We are not so far removed from Lazarus, you know. We have found our own tombs and in one way or another, we all need new life. We all need Christ to call us away from the grave – away from all the ways we manifest death in our lives. We need Christ to call us away from the habits and the thoughts, the fears and the hesitations and the limits we place on ourselves and thereby unwittingly choose death over life. We need Christ to call us away from hopelessness and heartlessness and to breathe life back into us – not just sometime in what we hope will be a distant future, but right now. We need Jesus to breathe life back into us today.
When the church staff gathers together each Tuesday morning to do the business of our team, we usually begin with some sort of check-in and connection with each other. Sometimes that takes the form of a game or a contest; at other times it might be a song or a prayer or a question for reflection. This Tuesday as we gathered, the sun was shining and we came into Room 110 commenting on how good it was to see the sun after so much rain. And the question was asked, “Where have you noticed signs of new life this week?” Some shared about the natural world, the beautiful flowers and trees budding and bursting into life. Others reflected upon relationships – new friends, new plans, new dreams. And then one of the staff commented, “Isn’t this what Lent is all about? It is a season of new life.”
Indeed, Lent is a season full of new life and new possibility for life, if we will only remember that God’s promises are not meant to be delayed. They are not only about eternal life, about heaven in some far-off and distant time or place. Rather, the Gospel is meant to make a tangible difference to us now. God’s love is meant to make things possible for us now. Christ’s power is meant to open up opportunities, to transform relationships and to call us out of our self-imposed tombs now.
Brene Brown suggests:
You are imperfect, and you are wired for struggle; but you are worthy of love and belonging. How true that is! We are all imperfect. And we are wired for struggle – we hang out in the tomb from time to time. We all struggle to hear Jesus’ voice and to respond to God’s love, asking us to “Come out into life!” It is equally true that we are all worthy of God’s love, and worthy of belonging to one another. We are worthy enough to help each other unbind the things which tie us up in knots.
I remember well the day I helped my husband move out of our house and into his own apartment. Now, I have to tell you, this is not something I would recommend to anyone else. He took the pickup truck loaded with furniture, while I drove the station wagon full of clothes and books and household items. Our two children sat in the back seat of the station wagon, innocents caught up in a cyclone of grief. Halfway to the new apartment, weeping all the way, I heard a big sigh escaping three-year-old Kate. And then I heard her rather petulant complaint:
Are we going to have to do this crying thing every day?!
It was like Jesus shouting to me “Come out! Come out of yourself and see the life around you!” Come out of your pain and see God’s healing; come out of your loss and receive God’s love; come out… you are worthy… come out and live.
David Whyte puts it this way in his poem, “The Winter of Listening”:
What is precious inside us does not care to be known
by the mind in ways that diminish its presence.
What we strive for in perfection
is not what turns us into the lit angel we desire…
What disturbs us and then nourishes has everything we need…
Inside everyone is a great shout of joy waiting to be born.
Inside you there is a great shout of joy waiting to be born. You are imperfect. You are wired for struggle. And you are worthy. And as difficult as it may seem, as painful as it may feel, you can be like Lazarus today. Praise God! It is high tide, and time for us to move out into the flow… today. Amen.