Relying on Community: Week 5 of Living Unafraid by Pastor Leah Rosso

John 11

Our story this morning is probably one of the most uncomfortable stories in scripture. There are so many awkward moments, it's hard to count them all. There's the moment when Jesus knows that Lazarus is sick and stays away anyway. There's the moment when he tells his disciples he's going back to Bethany even though tension has been rising and to go back means certain death. There's the not so funny joke that Thomas cracks about how they might as well go with Jesus and die with him. There's Martha running up accusing Jesus of staying away too long because she knows if he had been there, her brother wouldn't have died. And that moment when everyone who hears Martha, including Jesus, knows that she has spoken the truth. And then there's the moment when Jesus tells Martha he is the resurrection and the life. And no one can hear what he's really saying because they are drowning in their own sorrow.

And all of this seems so real to me. Because death is always awkward. There's something about facing our own death, about watching someone we love die, about having to look at this reality that we spend our lives trying to ignore that brings out all awkward moments.

And then perhaps the most touching and the most awkward thing of all happens-- Mary comes out to ask Jesus why he wasn't there; why he didn't do something to save her brother; and Jesus begins to weep.

We've been exploring what it means to live unafraid-- how it takes vulnerability, courage, and truth. And here it is-- the one everyone has been depending on-- Jesus-- weeping in the street. It doesn't get more vulnerable than that-- to be caught with your whole body shuddering from the weight of grief; tears and snot running down your face; moans escaping from your body. It is vulnerable; it is courageous; it is absolute truth. When Jesus wept that day the people looked at him and said to one another, "Look how deeply he loved Lazarus."

My best friend is a hospice chaplain. And two weeks ago she sat with a mother whose six year old son was dying of cancer. And as the mother wept, my friend found herself weeping. The two of them, sitting in her living room, weeping out their grief; their sadness; their pain; their anger; true prayers to God.

Ten days ago when I found out that Pam Pille had decided to go into hospice, had decided to stop treatment, I wanted to go outside in the backyard here and throw a tantrum. I will confess to you I did not have the courage to be that vulnerable-- whether embarrassed to be found lying on the ground slamming my fists into the mud, or whether it was my fear of the five foot tall sand cranes, I haven't quite decided, but I did come in here and weep for her family and for us as a community, to lose so much.

And I knew this story was coming this Sunday, and it all of a sudden the seemed completely unfair that Jesus gets to call his friend out of the grave, while we don't get to call out ours.

That's awkward. I don't know why Jesus got to call Lazarus out of his grave. Or for what reason, for that matter, since of course Lazarus died again sometime later. But let me tell you what I do know. I know that Jesus constantly insisted that the Kingdom of God is here and now-- not something in the future or beyond us. And I know that Jesus didn't just say those words, he actually showed us in what was happening around him-- in speaking the truth to the woman at the well so that she could find new life; in healing the blind man on the Sabbath Day so that he could see-- and not just with his physical eyes, but could see God's Spirit at work in ways that the religious leaders were blind to. Jesus lived a life of vulnerability; he lived a life of courage; he lived a life that spoke truth not just with his mouth but with his actions; and he did what he had the power to do-- choosing to bring life and love and hope everywhere he went. But it wasn't a privileged happiness born out of ignorance or misunderstanding of what people were going through. Jesus is able to bring life and love to places where people are discouraged and in despair and have even given up on hope. And this is the amazing part of this God that we worship-- that God walks with us through the darkest valleys; through the places of despair; through those times when we just don't think we're going to make it-- God is with us; and God weeps with us. And God brings life even when all we can see is death.

And part of the way God does this, is by inviting us to have a role. Jesus calls for the people to roll away the stone. Jesus calls the people, after Lazarus has come out of his grave, to unbind him and let him go. Interestingly enough, Jesus does not call on the people to have enough faith for the miracle to work-- Mary insists that Lazarus has already begun to smell-- no one is expecting anything but death. And yet Jesus still calls on the people to roll away the stone and to unbind this man so that he can live again.

The miracle wouldn't be complete without the community. The miracle did not happen outside of community. And why is that? Because God's Kingdom is here. God is here. We have the privilege of knowing what the people of Jesus' day did not know-- that heaven isn't 100 miles up. We do not live in a vertical world in which God is "way up there" in some heaven afar. We are all intertwined-- a great web of life-- in which Jesus weeps; all of the people doubt; and yet new life comes where no one expects it. This is a world in which life and death are not so far apart from each other. It is the world we live in. And in this world, God invites us to be community for one another; God has chosen to work through you and me to do the work of removing the boulders that get in the way for one another and unbinding the things that hold us in death.

I can't tell you why Jesus chose to call Lazarus out of his grave and why it doesn't always happen when we want it to. But I can tell you this. Pam was not alone; and because I know you, I know that Pam’s family will not be alone as they grieve. Mette, another member of our community who died way too young this week, was also not alone, and experienced God's grace and love in new ways in this past year. When she joined this church, less than a year ago, she stood before us and told us that this was the first time she had chosen a faith community. God was still at work in her life, even to the end, even, of course, now that she is reunited with God. Something is happening here. When we experience God's love within community, we find resurrection even in this life. We find healing. We find God. So we can live in the promise that there is resurrection on both sides of the grave-- God is with us; and God has given us each other. We are not alone.