April 19, 2015 alanyoon

I am the Life

Scripture: John 11: 1, 3-4, 17-27, 32-44

New International Version (NIV)


The Death of Lazarus
11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 
3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then 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?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God

Sermon

A woman Candy Chang lost someone she loved. She experienced the stages of grief and stayed put in the sad/depressed stage for quite some time. 

Daily, she would take walks through her neighborhood and she would pass this old abandoned house. One day as the passed that house she got an idea! She went home, researched and found the owners of the property and pitched her idea to them. 

They said yes and so she collected some items and started on her project.

First, she stripped the old paint and sanded the wall down. Then, she painted the entire wall with blackboard paint. The paint made it so that you could write on it with chalk, wipe it away and write again. 

Next, she made two stencils. One large one and another small one that said…”Before I die I want to…” She covered the entire wall with this phrase “Before I die I want to…” and a blank space after. 

Lastly, she put buckets of chalk in front of the wall and walked away. 

In the following days to come, as she took her daily walk, she read what people had written.

“Before I die…..” I want to

– write a novel
– fall in love
– travel the world to find my place
– live!
– abandon my insecurities
– spend more time with my children
– laugh until I cry

Candy Chang learned about her neighbors through this public art installation. By inviting them to ponder and answer this question “Before I die…” she created a forum for people to share their innermost thoughts and dreams with the community. 

As you can imagine, this project was inspirational. Through it, people gained perspective, a sense of being known by others and belonging to the greater community. 

There now art installations with this same questions “Before I die” painted on large walls in cities all over the world — one in Asheville, NC that I saw last week. 


* * *


In our scripture passage today Jesus addresses these themes:  life and death.

He is out traveling with his disciples, doing ministry, nearing his death and resurrection when he receives this news:

“The one who you love is sick”

The one…

who you love…

is sick. 

Our story begins stressing the depth of love in the relationship between Lazarus and Jesus.

Lazarus isn’t just an acquaintance, someone Jesus has seen in passing or healed before….Lazarus is one Jesus loves. It’s here that we are reminded of Jesus’ humanity. His depth of understanding of our love for one another. He knows. 

Jesus, in his humanity, goes through some stages of grief when he hears that Lazarus is sick and then when he sees that Lazarus has died.

  • Shock – Jesus changes his mind on when to go see Lazarus…it takes him a day or two to adjust and make plans.
  • Denial – Jesus says pretty early, Lazarus is not dying…he’s just sleeping. This likely is the gospel writer John proving the point that Jesus is the Messiah..but regardless, it shows Jesus’ humanity, too. 
  • Anger – Jesus gets a little angry with his disciples and Lazarus’ sisters who don’t seem to know what he is capable of doing. I think the anger is a little bit misplaced as often happens when we are grieving. 
  • Bargaining – Jesus does bargain with God the father in the form of his prayer at the end to help raise Lazarus from the dead.
  • Depression and Sadness – this is the most prominent emotion I see in Jesus. He witnesses Mary and Martha’s grief and “he is deeply moved.” He actually weeps. The shortest verse in the bible is here – Jesus wept. And it shows Jesus’ capacity to experience deep human love. 
  • Acceptance. The final stage of grief is acceptance and I think Jesus did accept Lazarus’ death as he was weeping and in his conviction raise Lazarus. 

We, like Jesus, grieve when someone we love is really ill. 

We grieve when someone we love dies – meaning that their heartbeat has stopped. The breath of life no longer flows. 

And yet, in this same story of Jesus experiencing human grief over death…

Jesus challenges us on what it means to live…and to die. 

23 Jesus says to Martha: “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.

In this response, Jesus fundamentally changes our understanding of life. Life is not dependent on your heart beating, or your breath flowing, or even your memory working. 

Life is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is life.  

What, then, is death?

* * * 

I asked this question to my father late one night at the kitchen table. Here’s what he said:

“If Jesus is life, then death is the absence of Jesus.”

My dad served as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for a while and he told me that when they arrived at a scene, they had a particular test to see if people were conscious or not. 

They would call out, “What is your name?” And if they responded with their name… they were conscious.
And if they couldn’t, they were unconscious. 

Another tactic they would use was to ask the person TO BLINK if they could hear them.

These tests determined if the affected person was aware the EMT was there. If they were able to respond. 

Now, let’s say, we are like the people at the scene and Jesus is the one testing us for consciousness. For life.

We either respond….or we don’t. We blink our eyes in acknowledgement of Christ’s presence giving us life. 
Or….

we don’t. 

Life is when we are with Christ. Acknowledging Christ. In relationship with Christ. 

Death is when we are without Christ. Not acknowledging Christ. Not aware of Christ. 

* * *

I want to be clear that death isn’t a bad thing. It is actually necessary in fact in order to fully experience life. 

Death to sin is what we must do in order to be resurrected with Christ….now, today, forever. 

Theologian Rowan Williams says this about death:

“Death is normally a drastic severing of relations, death isolates; [and that is what we fear in death, being isolated from those we love]… but for Jesus, it is through death that a new and potentially infinite network of relations is opened up. The effect of his death is the opposite of isolation. “Jesus’ death [is] the source of a new shared life.”

* * *

Remember the woman, Candy Chang, I shared about at the beginning of this sermon?

It was the death of a friend – the one who she loved – that brought about newness of life not only to her neighborhood, but to communities all over the world.

The art project “Before I die I want to” brought people together. Connected them deeply. It brought new insight and perspective into how to LIVE.

As we consider their responses and our own:

we see that life is so much more than our heart beats, our breath, our memory. 

Life is about friendships. Relationships. Community. It’s about the depths of love that we experience with each other. Like Lazarus and Jesus.

It’s fully lived when we open ourselves to the depth of Christ’s love for us. 

When we blink our eyes in response “YES” we see you, Jesus, 

we can say our name “Dawn, child of God,” 

we can feel Christ’s life giving touch and warmth. 

* * *

Death has no hold on us except to draw us closer to Christ. 

It’s in admitting our own mortality, like those who responded to the art installation, we truly find what matters to live. 

Jesus says… “I am the resurrection AND THE LIFE.”

Let us live life in Christ Jesus.

Amen.