Living day by day in a world where joy, happiness; the good things of this life are tempered or balanced by suffering, death; things profoundly unjust, bordering on what might be considered absurd and immoral push many to their knees in prayer. Life, for some, at times can seem small, without meaning, seemingly denying the glory of God expressed in life itself. Yet, it is from this life, and no other that many cry out, like David in Psalm 130, for some relief, deliverance, healing; something to soothe the pain or to express the joy occupying one’s life at the moment; there is a profound need for a savior.
The text of John 11:1-45 is skillful as a response to Psalm 130, reminding us today that there is a savior, yet this savior, that is Jesus Christ tends to reconfigure, transform and even frustrate the desires, hopes, expectations and agendas of even the people he called friends, those whom he loved, his disciples, he troubles the waters of a human imagination sequestered at the feet of economic and political interests. Jesus rarely saves or redeems exactly the way expected. Reading the text, we encounter the situation of Mary, Martha and their baby brother Lazarus. According to the text Jesus was well aware of his dear friend’s death and I suspect Jesus being Jesus was very much aware of the anguish and sorrow of Mary and Martha. Yet Jesus took his time saying, “This illness will not lead to death, rather it is for God’s glory, so that the son of God might be glorified through it.” When Jesus finally arrives at the house of Mary and Martha, Lazarus is wrapped in grave clothes, in the tomb, and dead four days. Interestingly, all through the gospels there is an eagerness even an urgency in Jesus to help, to make well, to heal, to feed, to give sight to the blind, but in this text, we find no eagerness, no urgency more so we find a savior who seemingly treats his friends differently than those who, though also children of God, might not be considered friends or disciples, there was an urgency to help the stranger! I suspect that Jesus felt that those who had been around him more, who knew him, his disciples, would not lose sight of the mission at hand. Jesus expected more of them that people unaware.
In vs 20-22, Martha approaches Jesus, saying, “Jesus, Lord if thou had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know, that even now whatsoever thou will ask God, God will give it thee.” Martha spoke these words amidst her and Mary’s frustration with him (John 11:20, 28-33). This was not the first-time Mary and Martha were frustrated with Jesus (see Luke 10:38-42). Seemingly, death held a different importance and space for Jesus than it did for Mary and Martha. Yet Mary’s confidence in Jesus far outweighs struggles of human understanding. She has more confidence in Jesus than in the problem which would end with the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus.
The text begs the question, “How do we hold suffering, dying and death amid a savior who receives these difficult and troubling events, even his own gruesome death, as a means to the glory of God, the resurrection.” I suspect that Jesus doesn’t want to minimize death but seeks to reframe death from a period to a comma. That death is not the end! Why should death be received in this light? I would imagine, from a philosophical, theological or agrarian perspective death would be a means to new life yet when many encounter, in real time, the death of friends, colleagues, family members it can be mentally and emotionally taxing, demanding, even exhausting, far from thoughts of a bodily resurrection. Death is one of those topics people rarely ever touch until forced to by circumstances. And then, in some cases, all hell breaks loose. Jesus’ treatment of death would seem to be one meaning of the text and life in Christ that death is a means to new life and in this sense the death and resurrection of Lazarus gives somewhat of a sneak preview of divine things to come.
The situation of Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus at Bethany, should not be surprising or unusual as our savior, the eldest son in a single parent household, a carpenter, a onetime refugee due to the dangerous life threatening policies instituted by Herrod (sound familiar), homeless, a person who, because of who he was, knew instinctively that the sacredness of God’s humanity entitled all people to unconditional love, free and universal healthcare, and an abundance of food, to name a few contemporary concerns. Jesus was an unorthodox Jewish Rabbi upending the norms and expectations of his day as he sought to reveal and express the glory of God, to usher in the Kindom of God, thus gradually becoming a threat to both the Roman and Jewish establishments, an enemy of the state but the hope and salvation for a world of people longing for relief from systems and processes which supported the empire.
Mindful of Rev. Dr. William J. Barber’s Barbers book, “The Third Reconstruction” and Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated March 24, 1980, in San Salvador, El Salvador because he sought to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, some may find this reading of the text somewhat uncomfortable needing a Jesus and his Church to be complicit in the affliction experienced by many living under the cruel power and authoritarianism of a few for the sake of religious or political gain, cultural animus, wealth, ego and agenda’s. Yet based on the actions of Jesus, read in the text and throughout the gospels, the stance of his Church and those who choose to follow Jesus, must be about the ushering in of the Kindom of God, and in this sense to reveal the glory of God. (Pause)
The title of today’s message, “The Lord may not come when you want Him, but he's always going to be there on time.” A quotation of Louis Gossett, Jr. Based on Job 35:14 is a reminder that at times there may be a huge difference in the agenda of the one who prays incessantly, fasts and reads scripture daily, and maintaining Christ centered relationships, seemingly doing the right and worthy things of Christian life yet when confronted by life’s circumstances and a God whose touch cannot be felt some become disheartened, asking “Where is God, Why have you forsaken me or why didn’t God answer my prayer. The problem may not be the acts or the actions of the Christian but their perspective about the situation or circumstance. The fundamental question asks of the Christian must be, “Is my thinking, and in this my life about the Kindom of God or the world. Are my expectations rooted in the Kindom of God or in the world? Kindom living is not so much about political, material or economic persuasion, more so it is about a way of life, a way of looking at the world as Jesus saw it. While there are many lessons to be gleaned from the text on Mary, Martha and the death of their brother Lazarus it is the lesson of confidence in Jesus. Jesus Christ is always bigger than the problem yet if our thinking is not Kindom thinking we may miss the very point of life itself.