Deep Cries Out – Lent 5

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1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

John 11:1-45
11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

I thought about opening with something from The Walking Dead or World War Z about zombies or mummies because Lazarus comes out of the tomb wrapped as if he were a mummy, but I could not find one not gross and then you would remember that I played a clip from The Walking Dead instead of the sermon.
In the psalm text today, the voice waits for the Lord and cries out for the Lord, just like Mary and Martha hope that God answers their cries for their brother’s healing.

Sometimes we read these stories and think that’s just it, they’re mere stories. About characters, as are our tv shows or movies, not real people. I find myself talking about characters on tv shows like they’re real people. Blah Blah does this, feels this, she wouldn’t do that, he would definitely do that. There really was a Lazarus and a Mary and Martha, and there was this man called Jesus. He was fully human and fully divine. Meaning the God part of him could see the larger picture, but the fully human part of him, felt like we do, with real emotions. Jesus was not a drone or a robot. He was a living, breathing human being with moments of clarity and sureness of purpose as well as moments of doubt and wrestling. You read about his calmness in the face of his best friend being sick. Much is debated about whether he knew that Lazarus would die at the outset of our pericope today. It doesn’t say what he stayed two days longer for and it doesn’t say when he actually knew that Lazarus had died, but obviously he tells the disciples, who think that Lazarus’ just sleeping. In verses 14 and 15, “14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

And then we have a side conversation that the disciples had with one another saying the Jews were already riled up against you and if you go back there they’ll probably stone you, and Thomas answering in verse 16, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Let us go, that we die with him???!!! We all know the story has a happy ending, but if one of my brothers died, I would be devastated. And I would want a miracle. Knowing me, I would demand it! I would fight for it. Because that’s what big sisters do. We may torture them when they are younger, but no one outside of us can mess with them and if there’s a way to prevent them pain, I will certainly do whatever it takes. That’s basically what Martha does, but Jesus seems to be detached somewhat from the situation until Mary runs out to him weeping. Jesus fell apart at seeing Lazarus’ tomb. By the way, a bit of Bible trivia, this is the shortest verse in the Bible, verse 35, “Jesus wept.” Seeing Mary’s grief and her tears, made Jesus face his own grief. Jesus cries along with us. Jesus cries for the hurting in our world. Jesus cries when we each face our own particular “valleys of shadows of death.” We may not know we need a savior who feels, but we do. We may not comprehend how important it is to have a God that is both indeed part of the triune God and is God with us, Emmanuel, fully living breathing humanity, but we do.

I appreciate in verses 41 and 42, “So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” He’s modeling what we need to do. Come to God with our requests because God already knows our prayers and petitions. God hears. God answers. There’s a beauty in the prayers we actually articulate and those that the Spirit articulates as the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, when we cry out. God always hear you. You may not get the answer you seek or you don’t always see the miracle that you thought you would, but God is present with you every step of the way.

Through our Lenten journey as we make our way to the cross, we celebrate the defeating of death and we claim the words in verses 25 and 26, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” But may we not forget that it wasn’t easy for Jesus, he didn’t just snap his fingers and go to a place of acceptance. He had his own Garden of Gethsemane. We don’t go straight to acceptance either. We have to journey through all of the stages of grief. There’s real grief with a loss of a loved one and trite answers like “it happened for a reason” or “God needed another angel in heaven” bring little comfort. We can celebrate that “all things work together for good for those that love God,” but God doesn’t cause a girl to be sexually assaulted, a young father to be diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, or an accidental drowning. There’s a tension, a dance that comes through questions of theodicy and we sometimes wonder if God can work good. It’s okay to question God. It’s okay to yell at God. Aren’t we glad that we love a savior who knows, intimately, what it means to be human? To feel the full weight of the brokenness of our world?

So I’ll leave you with these words that mean a great deal to me and basically encapsulate what I’m getting at,

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless Babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save

Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory
Sins curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a lifes first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

I will stand, I will stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground, all other ground
Is sinking sand, is sinking sand
So I stand

Lydia and Lazarus – Are you a better giver or receiver???

We’re going to be looking at the Biblical characters of Lydia and Lazarus, but as we prepare our hearts and feet to be in action for National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, that Gator Wesley will be hosting, I thought I would begin with this video that shows the ever-widening divide between rich and poor.

These are some pretty eye-opening statistics.  But I invite you to not let the research/fact part of your brain take over urging you to gloss over the information downloaded.  As an African proverb says, “Statistics are numbers without tears.”  In other words, we can tune out or trick our brain into thinking that these are not real people.  Real struggle.  Real challenge.  Real hunger.

The actual title of this chapter is “Who Are Your VIPs?  You Need a Lydia and Lazarus, Rich and Poor.”  So the author of the book, Len Sweet, is setting up a dichotomy between Lydia, who represents the rich and Lazarus, who represents the poor.  I will read the passage where we meet Lydia for the first time.  It’s in the book of Acts, when the early church is first forming.

 

Acts 16:11-15

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Conversion of Lydia

11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Lydia is found in the Bible only in two places both of which are in Acts.  When it says that she was a dealer in purple cloth that was a signal to readers that she was wealthy because purple cloth was expensive so it was a sign of nobility or royalty.  Her husband is not mentioned anywhere in the passage, but it says she and her household were baptized, which most likely would have included her children and servants.  She offered hospitality in her home to Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke.

Let’s flip to Lazarus.  First off, it’s not THAT Lazarus.  It’s the only parable that Jesus ever told where he gives the main character a name.  Lazarus is Hebrew for “God helps.”  He gives all of the characters names except for the rich man.

Luke 16:19-31

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

These texts have been playing in my head all week as I’ve prepared for this sermon and this is my main take away.  We often receive from people we would think or assume have nothing to offer us.  We often receive from people we would think or assume have nothing to offer us.  Is it easier for you to be the giver (like Lydia and her patronage providing for the ministry of the early church) or the receiver (like Lazarus who depended on the alms of passersby and who only had dogs to lick his wounds)?  We’ve all heard the saying that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  But, and I’m speaking for myself here, it is much more difficult for ME to receive.  I love giving gifts and being generous with my friends and family.  My default position is to be a giver and I rarely can wait for Christmas or a birthday to give gifts to those that I love.  Mike and the kids get Christmas or birthday presents all year long.  My love language is gift giving.  But something about receiving gifts makes me uncomfortable.  I know it sounds silly, but I care so much getting right the appropriate reaction to show my appreciation to the giver, that I often wait and open the gift or the card in private.  And that’s not fair to the giver.  I’m robbing them of the joy of giving by hiding out so they can’t see my actual receiving.  Have you ever noticed that when you take the love languages quiz that it only asks how you SHOW your love language?  But it doesn’t take into account how you want to BE loved?  Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, Physical Touch.  What’s your love language?  Is it easier for you to give than receive?

Jesus was a good receiver.  Have you noticed that he was never in the role of host and he was comfortable in that?  He was always the guest.  That convicts me.  Because it so hard to be placed on the side of invitee rather than the one doing the inviting.  It gives up a certain amount of control and makes you vulnerable.  In Atlanta this past week, we had the opportunity to hear Barbara Brown Taylor, one of the most respected preachers of her generation, on the virtues that shape her preaching life.  She told us that research has shown the believability factor is central to you being considered a “good” preacher.  That was broken down to the visual factor, the vocal factor and the content.  The statistics may surprise you.  It did me.  The visual factor made up 55% of the votes, the vocal factor 38%, and the content of what you’re actually saying only made up 7%.  She posited that it had less to do with what the preacher says but how a preacher lives.  How the things match up, the authenticity, the integrity.  She gave us her three virtues:  reverence, courage, and self-forgetfulness.  She then challenged us to come up with our own virtues.  Mine was vulnerability.  And that surprised me.  That was the first thing that came to mind in this season of life.  I’m challenged to be vulnerable each Sunday and Wednesday as I preach, lead the communion liturgy, pray out loud, and give the benediction, because I don’t know if the words are going to come out or not and that has shaped who I am.  For those that don’t know I had brain surgery in May and I lost my ability to speak but it’s slowly coming back.  I’ve appreciated SO much the grace in which y’all’ve walked this journey with me.  I know if you asked me a year ago what my virtue would have been I would NOT have answered vulnerability.  Sometimes we need to be brought down low, to fully trust in and rely on God and the community around us.  Sometimes the “rich” need to get the fuller picture of what God has to offer them instead of relying on their own strength, their own wealth, or their own power.

We must remember the words of Mother Teresa in A Simple Path, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”  In many ways, the rich are spiritually more vulnerable than the poor because they’ve not HAD to rely on God.

Have you ever been on a mission trip where you thought you were going to serve “the poor people,” and you realized at the end of the trip that God had given you abundantly more through the people you were supposedly “serving” than you gave in return?  I’ve had countless experiences like that.  Through Salkehatchie, a work camp that we have back in South Caroling, on mission trips, in the summers I spent working at the Cooperative Ministry, a one-stop service center for the homeless that provided clothes, food, counseling, and cars to the needy.  I’m sure many of you can think of a similar time in your own faith journey.  If not, I would encourage you to go on our domestic spring break option or our international option.  It has the potential to be life changing.

But, the disparity in our world should not just be a thing that we do on a mission trip.  It’s building relationships that cross socio-economic barriers ALL THE TIME.  Sweet writes, “It’s one thing to have a heart for the poor.  It is another to use their bathroom.”  Let me repeat that.  “It’s one thing to have a heart for the poor.  It is another to use their bathroom.”   I couldn’t be blunter than that.   We should be in ministry WITH the poor.

We all come at the Communion table as one.  “In the early church, the agape feast followed by Communion (the Eucharist) was a “family reunion” where the rich and the poor shared food and fellowship together without regard to class distinctions and social status.”  And on this All Saints Sunday we remember those that have gone before, the communion of the saints, and gather with them at the table as well.  Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day – all are examples of saints who have gone on before but those whose lives we should emulate.  May we live out our faith in word and deed, may we be in ministry with not in ministry to, may we humble ourselves and in our vulnerability may God teach us and mold us and shape us to fully rely on God.