Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Raising of Lazarus

After the raising of Lazarus Jesus was clearly a dangerous man.

As Bishop Sutton put it, when dead people don’t stay dead the world is unstable. Anything is possible. I may have responsibility to create new possibility.

After Lazarus Jesus is clearly a dangerous man.

But surely he cannot raise himself! The Sanhedrin met late into the night.

What then to do about Jesus of Nazareth?

He is calling us to repent – to change the direction in which we search for happiness.

We may be comfortable with the rulers of the world. We may have worked hard for an accommodation. This will make it impossible to continue!

Caiaphas said unto them, Ye know nothing at all. Do you not see that it is expedient that one man die for the nation rather than the whole nation should perish?

These were priestly words, prophetic words. Soon enough they were to be proved true, just not in the way Caiaphas had meant them. The Temple would be torn down, and all would be swept away of the Sanhedrin and its rule. And someday, Rome too would go.

They were faced with a problem. And they began to see their way to a total solution.

Others since have faced the dilemma of death and resurrection. Over the years of the war and even in the decades preceding it, a pastor in Nazi Germany struggled with the question. What should I do – what should we do – what should the church become – in the face of massive, industrial, institutional evil?

He thought resistance would be enough – nonviolence would be enough. He organized a community, along the lines of an Anglican monastery or (more fancifully) Gandhi’s ashram – a community of believers whose life together was a beacon of peace and a training ground for the future church. But that future would not be a future in which his church could fit. Not as it was. He came to see that. And so – he accepted the change.

What happens?

The raising of Lazarus prefigures the death and resurrection of Christ. It is a sign that points to the working of God’s power in the world. The miracles of Jesus, these wonders he works in the world, are signs pointing to God’s promise of eternal life realized now. Not far away or long, long ago but here and now, among us: God is with us. Eternal life – everlasting life – begins. A new order of the ages now begins – with us. Today, if you like – and yesterday and today and for ever.

That is because repentance, turning toward Christ, a change in direction as we seek for happiness, is to be raised up with Christ – not just once, one day, in a lifetime, but every day, every hour, every minute, every decade. Each moment can be a moment of decision, of discernment. What is God’s call for me now? In this how am I called to be a Christian? How are we called to be Church? How are we called to be the people of God here, now?

Repentance – the essence of Lent, the pre-requisite for reconciliation, the stuff of new birth – means re-orienting from the world darkness to the light of the world, to Christ.

It happens every day. Are we part of it? That is our call and our challenge.

Let’s hear a bit more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a young man, a pastor, teacher, and theologian, when the National Socialist Party took power in his native country, his beloved Germany. He gave a speech on Radio Berlin the day after Hitler became Reichschancellor, to remind the Führer – the Leader – that his power was relational, contingent, limited. For some reason the broadcast was cut off. 

And eventually he came to a strange decision – that loyalty to Germany and loyalty to God required of him a profound disloyalty to the state, as then constituted. Bonhoeffer joined a conspiracy to prepare for the end of the Nazi regime - and to work for that goal. They even were involved - somewhat tangentially - in an elaborate plot to kill Hitler.

It was a difficult and controversial choice to make - one we still wonder about.

No other loyalty finally mattered before allegiance to God and all other loyalties were questioned in light of the Gospel.

For to live is Christ: to die is gain. What does that require?

What is required of you, O Mortal, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? 

To do justice to the God-news calling – but how?

Each of us in each part of our lives, and all of us in our life together, face this question.

What happened to Lazarus was a prefigurement, a foretaste, of what was to come. It was a sign of what was about to happen. It did not in itself change the world. What it did was point to what was really significant - the God-action in the world fulfilling his promise.

What was about to happen would change everything forever.

The life-giving action of God calls forth faith, in Mary and Martha, in the disciples, in us.

What was about to happen was the light of the world shining brightly - the glory of God being revealed - the life source of love pouring itself out for the redemption of the world - that all who believe in him should not die for ever but should have everlasting life.

I AM the resurrection and the life - do you believe this?

Yes, Lord, she said, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, who will carry all things to completion in the last day.

That day is here. That time is now.

And she came, and saw, and believed.

At the tomb of Lazarus death was denied for a time.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer received a sentence of death - and an offer to escape. But he realized that, take it or not, that offer was only a reprieve. Death would be denied for a time. For death to be defeated would require something more. Something essential would be torn away, would be lost forever, would be changed completely. And not by his doing either.

It would be the Cross - the Cross of Christ - carried and borne and suffered on Calvary - that would redeem and save the world - and in that death, that tomb, death defeated forever.

How are we to deny the one who died for us? How are we to accept his gift of life for us?

We are to receive, in this moment of decision, a change - a chance for life to begin anew - and it will require of us not less than everything, as God gave us not less than everything.

Those were heroic times, dangerous times. The times of Nazi Germany, the time of Jesus. But what about us? What about our time, our lives? How shall we now live?

We may seek what is expedient, convenient, useful - as Caiaphas did - we may seek a partial solution, a temporary fix - or we may seek the kingdom of God. What does it mean to us as a church to follow Jesus? To be open to change, in our lives, our hearts, our actions, our behaviors? What we give up and what we gain, by accepting Christ as Lord?

It may mean some simple things - some day to day things - for the decision to follow Jesus is one that happens any moment. It may mean discernment - choosing life - in little ways. It may mean a new attitude toward what we possess, hold dear, cling to - for life.

We may be clinging to something we need to release, let go of, in our search for Christ. Favorite behaviors, activities, choices, preferences, - little things, loved things, favorites - may gladly go by the wayside. This can happen when we follow Christ to life, for life.

For life to begin anew in our hearts may mean every thing, little or big, seems reoriented, redirected, as we change the direction in which we search for happiness: as we repent.

Repent and turn to the Lord. That is the prophets’ call to us. That is the Savior’s gift. That is the invitation of the Holy Spirit. That is redemption, and the new beginning of life.

Together we seek that new life in the name of Christ. It is not easy, it is not ‘safe’ - not in the world’s way of safety, not a contingent, part-time kind of security, but a full, forever, and total gift. The one who gave us life, the one who redeems our lives, is the one who is with us in our lives, coming with us as we journey through the wilderness of this world to the ultimate home, where we become most truly ourselves, as we live into his kingdom.

May we live in Christ, and may Jesus live in our hearts, forever.

In the name of God, source of all being, Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


The Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton, remarks at clergy conference, Alderbrook, Union, WA: Tuesday 5 April 2011.


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