Sunday, April 16th, 2017 – An Easter Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10

Audio will be posted shortly.

Matthew 28:1-10
1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

People of God, if you hear nothing else today, hear this and let it sink into your body – grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the risen and living Christ. Amen.

Will you please pray with me. Spirit of the Risen Christ, break through the tombs of our hearts and free us from fear. Resurrect our hope and enliven our love for one another. Raise up within each of us here the desire to be your faithful family forever. Amen.

 Well, it wouldn’t be Easter if we didn’t do this ancient tradition –so let’s go for it.

I’ll say, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” You respond – “Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

On Thursday this week – this community gathered together here for worship. We felt the weight of hands upon our heads as forgiveness was proclaimed for each of us. We witnessed Jesus’ humble love for his disciples as we heard the story of him kneeling down and washing their feet and giving them a new commandment – to love one another as he has loved them. And then knelt down as we took into our bodies the grace and love of God through the body and blood of Christ, the bread and wine of communion.

On Friday, this community gathered here again. And we sat in the darkness of Good Friday together. We listened with our ears and sang with our lungs the story of God’s death, as Jesus’ was betrayed by friends, beaten by enemies, and broken by a cross and buried in a tomb. All the while, Jesus pouring out his love for his friends and entrusting us to each other and making us into a new human family.

They were beautiful and meaningful services– some of my favorite of the entire year, actually.

But here’s the thing – if it weren’t for this story – the story of the Resurrection – proclaimed last night at the Easter Vigil and this morning – if it wasn’t for this story – I don’t know that we would still have those stories. Would they have stood the test of time? Who knows.

Which is to say that today is the linchpin of what was started on Thursday. So thank you for being here to help us proclaim this part of the story. So know that you being here today, regardless of whether you have been with us these past three days or whether you’ve haven’t darkened the door of a church since last Easter – today connects you to those stories too. The forgiveness of God is for you too. The new commandment to love one another as we have been loved is still for you. And the love poured on the cross is for you. And that the new family of God includes you too.

So, today’s story is the story. The one that stitches all of us and these stories together. But it doesn’t stitch them up, like a nice closed seam as if this is the end of the story of God. No, today’s story breaks everything open as if it is just the beginning of the story of God.

Out of all of the Gospel’s stories, Matthew’s version of the resurrection that you just heard is the most dramatic.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (I’m not sure how she feels about that title for the rest of eternity – the other Mary) go to the tomb where Jesus was buried. And suddenly there was a great earthquake. It is the only story of the resurrection to include such a thing. Which is Matthew’s way of saying that what’s about to happen will change the entire world. The foundations of the earth will be shaken and broken. The fault lines of history are beginning to shift.

Along with an earthquake, there is an angel appearing like lightning and sealed tombs being ripped open and soldiers falling from fear and becoming like dead men.

And let’s pause and recognize that it’s the soldiers, who are brought to their knees. Armor and weapons and flexed muscles will never hide or protect us from our fear, folks.

And then the angel appears to the two Mary’s and gives them a message. First, do not be afraid. Second, I know you are looking for Jesus, but he is not here; he has been raised. Come and see. And then thirdly, Go and tell. Tell the disciples he has been raised from the dead, and indeed his is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.

That’s the message – Do not be afraid. He is risen. Go and tell. And so they do. They run in fact to go and tell. And then along the road, Jesus jumps out suddenly from behind a tree or something, he greets them and then he sort of repeats the message – “Do not be afraid. Now, go and tell my brothers to go Galilee; there they will see me.”

There you go, that’s the story of Easter according to Matthew. And I’m left wondering a…why do the angel and Jesus make the women the messengers who carry this earth shattering news that Christ is risen?

Haven’t they done enough?

I mean they are the ones who stayed at the tomb, grieving that first night, until who knows how late. They are the ones who got up early to come to the tomb to grieve some more. Meanwhile, Jesus has had three days of eternal rest going for him.

Please tell me that Jesus is different than the stereotypical male, who tells the women to do his work for him. Or was his resurrection life schedule just as busy and booked as ours that he only had time for a quick hello, but he’d catch up with them later? They’d grab coffee when things slowed down a bit.

But really, maybe the greater question is – why put this earth shaking, world shifting news that Christ is risen, that death is dead and hope is alive, into the hands of just two grief-stricken women.

I mean, we ensure the proper delivery of the Oscar’s Best Picture winners better than that. At least, now we do.

But Jesus leaves this news upon which the entire world shifts up to just two women who are both overwhelmed with fear and joy?

Don’t you think the Son of God and the heavenly chorus would make better and more trustworthy candidates for the proper delivery of such critical good news?

No. Of course not. Because the earth does not shake, and the world does not shift when the powerful remain powerful and the powerless remain powerless.

You see, the testimony of women would not have been trustworthy in Jesus’ day. So what does Jesus do – he gives them message that changes the world. He gives the powerless the most powerful message and tells them to proclaim it! As an embodied sign of the resurrection – that the kingdom of heaven is here and the world will never be the same.

And did you notice that Jesus changed the message. The angel told them to go and tell his disciples. Jesus said, “Go and tell my brothers.

You remember the disciples  – the ones who when the moment of truth came they bailed. Abandoning and denying Jesus while he hung on the cross. Those disciples. What does our world do to abandoners and betrayers? Well, in our country, we throw them in solitary confinement to rot for months on end. You abandon, you betray us, we will give the ultimate form of abandonment – total isolation.

But Jesus – he calls them brothers.

In the light of the Resurrection, Jesus trusts the ones who are said to be untrustworthy. He claims as family the ones who had denied him as family. The kingdom of Heaven is here and the world will never be the same.

As Preacher William Sloan Coffin has said, what we proclaim today is not just about “one man’s escape from the grave, but the cosmic victory  of seemingly powerless love over loveless power.”[1] And that will makes the ground beneath our feet (and our knees for that matter) quake.

And now we are the ones who get to proclaim that good news. And listen to how we proclaim this gospel news:

Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

 Think about what we are saying there. How is Christ risen? Christ is risen indeed.

Think about that word – indeed. Break it open like the tomb. Christ is risen in deed.

In meaning…in. Deed meaning…action.

Jesus doesn’t say, “Hey! I’m alive. So, you know, it’s all good. Carry on.” No, he says, “Go and tell everyone, I’ll meet them in Galilee. There they will see me.”

What could he mean by that? Why Galilee? Well, Galilee is back where it all began. Back where Jesus found the disciples living out their everyday lives. Jesus says, “Go, I’ll meet you back in Galilee. I’ll meet you back in your ordinary lives! And together we will live life differently.” Living life trusting that death has died – it has no power over us and we need not be afraid. Trusting that if death has died, then the means of death are gone too – guilt, shame, exclusion, fear, worthlessness. They are dead too.

This good news -we proclaim it with our bodies. In deed. Not to make it true, but to show that we trust that already is true.

Theologian Peter Rollins was once asked if he denied the resurrection. And he said this, “Okay, this is the time to fess up. Yes, of course, I do. Everyone who knows me knows I deny the resurrection. I do deny the resurrection…every time I do not serve my neighbor. Every time I walk away from people who are poor. I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system.

And I affirm the resurrection every now and again – when I stand up for those who are on their knees. When I cry out for people (who have been silenced.). Every time I weep for those who have no more tears to shed.”

We proclaimed the resurrection with our bodies, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed.

Now here is what I know to be true. The world does not stop for Easter. Our beloved ones still died this past week. Our country still dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb this week. Arkansas is trying to increase its rate of executions this week because it’s lethal drug is about to expire. We’d rather see a life expire than a drug expire.

The world does not stop for Easter. I know that some of you go home to a tense dinner table, or to the never-ending job search, or to illness or addiction, or to loneliness.

But here is what I also know is true – Easter will not stop for the world. All of those things will not stop the undying love of Christ from breaking out of the tombs we bury it in and coming to you and through you for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. Which is here. Now.

So when you leave here –make sure you get some egg bake. Because it is a good deed. It helps send our kids to camp and mission trips.

But also leave knowing that the ground beneath your feet is shifting and moving. Tilting its way towards grace and hope.[2] May that give you good courage to face what’s ahead of you with Easter hope. Trusting that the tomb is empty. Christ is alive. Indeed.

For as we will sing is just a moment – The strife is over, the battle is done. You are freed in love to go and love freely. The Christian faith proclaims that we are the body of Christ now. Which means today is our resurrection day too.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] William Sloan Coffin, “Our Resurrection, Too”, The Collected Sermons of William Sloan Coffin, Vol. 1, pg. 67.

[2] Tom Long, Matthew, pg. 322.

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Friday, April 14th, 2017 – A Good Friday Sermon on the Gospel of John 18-19

You can listen to this sermon here.

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the Crucified Christ. Amen.

If you take a drive down 3rd street here, about three blocks or so, you’ll see the old Northfield Train Depot under construction. Many of us have watched over the past year as it has been uprooted from its old home on one side of the street, to its new, more prominent home on the other. No longer hidden behind buildings, but out there in the open for all to see. We’ve watched as workers have cocooned themselves underneath the depot each day in the winter months, building a new foundation for something I wasn’t sure would survive the process. But slowly but surely, like an injured human going through rehab, it is starting to stand up straighter. Its face is brighter and its color is starting to return.

And if you look closely, you can see a small yellow with black lettering sign right next to the building that says, Caution: Depot Being Saved. I slammed on the breaks the first time I saw it last week. Is that really what it says, Caution: Depot Being Saved. Not Caution: Depot Under Construction. Hard Hats Required? Not – Caution: Loose Soil. Watch Your Step. Not even – Caution: Depot Being Restored?

No, it says, Caution: Depot Being Saved.

Who knew salvation was so risky and needed to come with a warning sign.

I thought that could be a good sign for us this Easter weekend: Caution: Humanity Being Saved.

As we continue on this journey of the Great Three Days, today we walk to the cross. And we can try to make sense of it. We can try to explain it. Or better yet, we can just try to experience it with our bodies. To listen with ears and sing with our lungs the story of God’s death and our being saved through it. And to see what stands out to us in our particular moment in life. This is the story so many of us need. A God who suffers with us in our need.

Here is what stood out to me.

In a few moments, you will hear John Ferguson begin our Gospel reading this way, “After Jesus had spoken these words…”

That’s how it begins.

Which begs the question – which words? What did Jesus say right before we head into the passion story?

Well, he’s praying. And he finishes his prayer this way: Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me maybe in them, and I in them.

Those are the words. And it is immediately after those words, that Jesus and his disciples head out into the garden to meet the lynch mob looking for Jesus.

Whatever follows, whatever we’re about to hear, whatever we can hold onto and dare to digest…is for the sake of making God known to us. So that we would know God, and know that Jesus, and the love that God has for Jesus, are alive in you.

There are all kinds of moments in the story that will share this with us, but I want to draw your attention to one moment in particular. That moment at the foot of the cross, when Jesus is in the last moments of his death. Hanging there on the tree, looking through blood and sweat and pain and human cruelty and human shame and betrayal and sadness, he sees his mom.[1] And the one disciple who stuck around. And he says to his mother, “Woman,” and the gesturing with his eyes to the other disciple, “behold your son.” And to the other disciple, “Behold your mother.”

And immediately after that, Jesus says these words, “I am thirsty.”

I am thirsty. Most of us hear that as a sign of his humanness and his tortured death. But I think it is more.

A couple of weeks ago, some of us heard another story from the Gospel of John, about Jesus meeting a woman at the well. And there he said, “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” And the woman says to Jesus, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty.”

And he does.

But now Jesus is thirsty. Why?

Because in this moment, Jesus has finally, fully poured himself out for us. Giving the world all of the living water that was within him. And in doing so giving to us all that he has .

And the moment when that is complete – the moment he becomes thirsty, fully poured out of living water – is the moment from the cross when he creates in us a new human family. Giving up his seat at the family table, offering his chair to this beloved disciple who is unnamed (maybe because your name belongs there).  “Mother, this is your son now. Behold him.” “Beloved, this is your mother now. Behold her.”

And in that is our salvation. In that is our being saved. Jesus pouring himself out for us on the cross in love, so that we might be created into a new human family.

At the foot of the cross. God makes the human family complete. By making us God’s family. By pouring out God’s own life and living water into us. So that the love with which God has loved Jesus may be in us. So that God may be in us. In our life… together. Because that is the way. The way to abundant life. New life now. Eternal life. That is the way we are being saved.

Preacher Michael Curry tells a story about an interview he heard on NPR years ago. It was an interview with a man named Norman Gershman. He is a noted photographer. He had recently completed a documentary and published a photographic essay entitled, “God’s House.” It’s the story of the Muslims of Albania during the Second World War. As the armies of the Third Reich were infecting Europe, destroying everything that they touched…rounding up Jews and others and killing them, the Nazi armies moved toward Albania. Word was forwarded through diplomatic channels to the Foreign Ministry of Albania, that they were determined to turn over the names of all Jews living in Albania.

The foreign minister of Albania was a Muslim.

And he refused.

Before the Nazi arrived in Albania, the Jews of Albania disappeared. The reason was that this foreign minister organized a network of Muslim communities. And there were the words he used to inspire them – “The Jewish Children are your children. The Jewish people shall eat at your table and sleep in your homes. For the Jewish people are our family.” And the Muslims of Albania saved over 2,000 Jews from the Holocaust.

At the foot of the cross, Jesus saw his mother and his disciple and said, “Woman behold your son.” And to him, “Behold your mother.”[2]

And then Jesus, “I am thirsty. I have poured it all out for you to see. My living water is no longer in me. It is in you. The human family.”

On the cross, Jesus shows us the way. That we are most alive when we pour ourselves out in love for one another. As one family. And like that depot, being saved like this – it will up root us. Caution: it will put our comfortably settled lives at risk. We will no longer stand in the places we’ve always stood. We will be changed. We will be different. But through it we will be given a new foundation to stand on. And the color of life (abundant life) will start returning to our cheeks again. When we pour ourselves out in love for each other. Our new human family.

And that sign idea from earlier – I got it wrong. It shouldn’t say, Caution: Humanity being saved. It should say, Caution: Human Family Being Saved.

May we all meet each other tonight at the foot of the cross – the place where we are being saved.  Amen.

[1] Michael Curry, http://download.luthersem.edu/media/cbp/cbp2010/20101004-s.mp3

[2] As told by Bishop Michael Curry at Luther Seminary in 2009. http://download.luthersem.edu/media/cbp/cbp2010/20101004-s.mp3

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017 – Sermon on Jesus and the Dead Man in John 11:1-45

Audio will be posted shortly.

John 11:1-45
1 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.

Friends, grace, peace and mercy are yours from the one who lived for us, who died for us, and who now claims victory over every grave, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior

A couple of years ago, there was a Christian radio talk show host who was taking calls from the listeners. A woman named Barbara called in. Barbara shared that she had problems. A lot of problems.

She had problems with her boss at work, she had stress in her marriage. She was in conflict with her teenage children. She had bouts of depression. As she continued on, the talk show host interrupted her and said, “Barbara, let me ask you something. Are you a believer? If you are not a believer, you’ll never solve any of these problems. Now, Barbara, are you a believer?”

Barbara hesitated a moment, “I…I don’t know” she said.

“Now, Barbara, if you are a believer, you would know it. Either you are a believer or you are not. Now, Barbara, are you a believer?”

“I’d like to be, I think. I guess I’m more of an agnostic at this point in my life.”

The radio show host rose to that bait, “Now, Barbara, there is a book I’ve written that I’d like to send you….And in this book I have indisputable, irrefutable proof that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and he is who he says he is. If I send you this book, will you become a believer?”

I don’t know. I’ve had a lot of problems with preachers.”

 “I’m not talking about preachers, I’m talk about proof. I’ve got irrefutable proof. Now, if I send you this book, will you become a believer?

“I don’t think you are listening to me. I am having trouble at this point in my life just basically trusting.”

 “Barbara, we’re not talking about trust. We’re talking about truth. Now, if I send you this book with proof will you become a believer?”

“Yeah, I guess so. If you send it to me, I’ll become a believer.”[1]

I don’t know about you, but I resonate more with Barbara than with the Christian radio host. Believe. It’s a hard and complicated word in Christianity these days. For the host, to believe is to have irrefutable proof. But for Barbara, just trusting was hard enough.

Believe – it is a word that that too often seems synonymous with data and proof. And too often, it can make us stumble and fall, believing that we are not believers and that perhaps we don’t belong here. Just this week, I heard three people say, “That word believe. That’s where I struggle.”

Believe – it is used 7 times in all of Matthew. 15 times in Mark. 9 times in Luke. And in the gospel of John…84 times. And it is a word used 8 times in our gospel reading today. Interestingly enough in one of the most difficult stories of John to believe – the raising of Lazarus.

If you ask me if I believe the story we just heard, my head starts to spin. If I do believe it, if I do take it literally, all sorts of questions start to creep up. Does Jesus really wait until his friend is dead so that he can prove a point to everyone else? Did anyone ask Lazarus what he wanted from all of this – what if death was a welcomed gift to him and now to rip him back from the beyond? What is Jesus going to do when Lazarus dies a second time? And why did Jesus pick Lazarus to raise again –was it because Jesus loved him? Why not Nicole, or Jenny, or Chuck, or Paul, or Andy, or Simon, or any of our loved ones?

But I think our English language fails us here. You see, the word in Greek for believe – pisteuo – is not meant to be a brainy, cognitive word with facts in mind. But rather is to convey something of the heart. Something of relationship. In fact, a better translation, scholars say, is…trust. If I ask, “Do you believe me?” – you are going to think about what I’ve said. If I ask “Do you trust me?” – you are going to think about our relationship.

If you ask me if I trust this story, suddenly something new opens up in me and I’m invited into a deeper wonder about what this story is inviting me to trust about God.

So, if to believe it isn’t to think correctly, but rather to trust, to give your heart to, I want us to spend time at those places in this story where Jesus invites others to trust in him. Because when he does and when they do, something happens there.

Jesus is with his disciples and he’s just heard that his beloved friend, Lazarus is ill. And in what seems to be an unusually compassionless moment, Jesus doesn’t go right away. He hangs around for two days. And then once Jesus is seemingly aware that Lazarus has now died, then Jesus says, “Let us go to Judea again.”

But the disciples don’t want him to go – Judea is where the danger is. That’s where they tried to stone Jesus. Judea is where Jesus (and presumably the disciple’s) life are under threat.  It is where death is. Not only Lazarus’, but Jesus and perhaps the disciples’ too. Jesus says, “We’re going there because Lazarus is asleep and we are going to wake him.” Terrified and self-protective and misunderstanding him, the disciples say, “If he’s asleep, he’ll….he’ll be alright.”

They don’t want to go. So, Jesus has to be clearer: “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may trust.” They don’t want to go, but they have to go, because there is something about Lazarus’ death that is for the sake of their trust in Jesus. Please notice that Jesus invites them to trust while they are already his disciples. Which says you can still be a disciple of Jesus and still be a bit shaky on the trust thing. Now, having told them that this is for the sake of their trust in him, then Jesus says again, “C’mon. Let us go to him.”

And surprisingly, Thomas says “Okay, let us go. Let us go and die with him.” I think that line is profoundly beautiful. Thomas, the one we so often call doubting, is the one who is brave.  You see, when we start to trust Jesus, we can do brave things. We can go to Judea. The place where death and danger are. We can face death together. Let us go and die with him, Thomas says.

They arrive at Bethany. Martha hears that Jesus has arrived and she goes to confront him.

Lord, if you have been here…my brother would not have died. Are there anymore hauntingly truthful words to the human experience than that? This is the question we all ask. And it brings comfort to hear someone so close to Jesus, whom Jesus loves, like Mary, to ask the same question.

So, what does Jesus do. Standing at the tomb of Martha’s grief, Jesus assures her that Lazarus will rise again. She hears this as a pretty thin statement of comfort. Yes, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. But Jesus jumps in and says, “Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. Martha, those who trust in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and trusts in me will never die.”

Which is to say that Jesus isn’t just Lord of the world beyond, he is Lord of this world. It is to say that Jesus didn’t just come to give us life after death, he came to give us life before death.

And then Jesus asks her a question: “Do you trust this?” Just like the disciples, he invites her to trust him. And please note that Jesus loved Martha before she confesses her trust in him.

But Martha does confess, “Lord, I trust that you are the Messiah.” And notice what Martha does now that she trusts him, she goes. The disciples trust him and they go to Judea the place of death. Marth trusts him, and she goes. She goes back to her house, the place of death. When we start to trust Jesus, we can face death again, in a new way. Without all the avoidance and the fear. But with new hope.

Pretty soon, Jesus asks to be taken to the tomb of his friend. And the first thing Jesus does is he cries. He weeps. And it is the shortest verse in the Bible, because nothing can describe pain this deep. Only tears will do. We try and we try to use words but they fail us. No words can match what we feel inside. The first thing Jesus does when we show him the dead places in our life is he weeps. Can you trust that?

Jesus tells them to roll away the stone. But they don’t want to. It stinks in there. Which is so honestly human. The last thing we want to do is actually look at and smell the dead parts of our life, let alone invite God in there.

But he reminded them that they can trust him.

And so they do it anyways. And then Jesus prays a prayer that everyone seems to be eaves dropping on. “Lord, I have done this so that they might trust in me.” He’s invited the crowd to trust in him. And then out of his depths Jesus roars, “Lazarus, come out.”

And he does. And listen to what Jesus says next. Jesus says to the crowd, “Unbind him. And let him go.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Unbind him and welcome him home.” Or “Unbind him and give the man some water!” He says, “Unbind him and let him go.”

Jesus says to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea. Again, I say, Let us go.” Thomas say, “Yes, let us go and die with him.” And now Jesus says to the crowd, “Let him go!”

What could that all mean? I can’t be sure, but I’m drawn to the fact that every time Jesus invites someone to trust in him and they do, he sends them out to go somewhere. Every invitation to trust in Jesus seems to lead to movement. And what’s the movement? To face the scariest thing in the world – death, or the parts of our life that are dead. To face death in good hope. Trusting that death isn’t outside the realm of God’s presence and love and life can be found there.

Faith, belief, trust in God revealed in Jesus – it doesn’t protect us from the scariest parts of life, but rather helps us to face them. Together.

Where do you see people trusting in God and then stepping out into places of death in order to fine life there? I see it in the White Helmets – the Syrian Volunteers who wait each day for the sound of bombs dropping. And when the bombs drop, they rush in. To search and rescue survivors. They know there is death there – 166 of them have died in their work. But they go anyways. To find the life.

I see it in Canada, as they cross the one-year mark of, unlike many other countries, opening their homes to Syrian refugee families.  Of risking life in the midst of death.

I see it in the people brave enough to go to their first AA meeting. I see it in the AA sponsors, brave enough to answer the phone when a stranger maybe desperate and hurting.

I see it in the gay, lesbian, and transgender people of the last century who were willing to hear God call them by name and to come out of the tomb of isolation and prejudice that society put them in, and then literally risking their life in order to pave a path for those today to be welcomed and included in communities and churches like this one.

Where do you see people trusting in God and then going out into places of death, in order to find life?

Friends, God is standing outside our tombs of fear and brokenness and hesitation, calling us by name. Inviting us to come out of our tombs and to trust that nothing – nothing – can separate us from the love and presence of God.

So, let us go and die with him. Risking life for the sake of life, for the sake of each other. For while in the midst of life there is death, in the midst of death there is life. And Jesus is the resurrection and the life. And we can trust him. Amen

[1] As told by Tom Long, in a sermon at Duke Chapel on May 1st, 2011.