If only you were here…

This week’s sermon was inspired by John 11:1-45 and

This week was one of those “how many times will the Spirit change this sermon” kinds of weeks. It was a week that so much happened…

At the beginning of this week, with just a few short weeks before harvest, Israeli Defense Force bulldozers uprooted and buried 1500 apricot and apple trees and tore out grape vines on the farm of Palestinian Daoud Nassar. For almost a century, four generations of Daoud’s family had lived and farmed this land. The family has deeds of ownership for the land dating back to the Ottoman Empire. This wasn’t just any farm. It was called Tent of the Nations and also housed a center for teaching peace and nonviolence. All kinds of people, including Israelis, came there to build a community that could focus on dream of peace. (http://www.concordmonitor.com/home/12090495-95/my-turn-bulldozers-leveled-a-dream-of-mideast-peace)

Master, if you had been here…

[Hold Silence]

The New York Times published a lengthy article which was the result of a longer investigation. The article revealed some startling information:

As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities.

The cheap labor, 13 cents an hour, saves the government and the private companies $40 million or more a year by allowing them to avoid paying outside contractors the $7.25 federal minimum wage. This in essence makes the government, which forbids everyone else from hiring people without documents, the single largest employer of undocumented immigrants in the country. In one county in Ohio, the Sheriff reports that his county saved at least $200,000 to $300,000 a year by relying on about 40 detainees each month for janitorial work. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/25/us/using-jailed-migrants-as-a-pool-of-cheap-labor.html?_r=0)

Master, if you had been here…

[Hold Silence]

A college student who posted videos that documented his rage against women for rejecting him killed six people and wounded 13 others on Friday night.

Master, if you had been here…

[Hold Silence]

A week ago a 9 year old girl was shot in the neck by drive by shooters who were looking for someone else. On Monday, a 17 year old was shot just up the street near Kaiser Hospital. And last night on Nicol Avenue, a 30 year old man was killed.

Master, if you had been here…

[Hold Silence]

There’s so much grief in our world. So much pain. When God created the world and called it good, I don’t think anybody realized that someday, God’s people created in God’s own image would hurt each other with semi-automatic weapons and bulldozers. I wonder if God imagined that the ones created to enjoy the amazing bounty of creation would end up being afraid of walking down the street, of playing in the front yard, of working for better lives for their families.

Where is Jesus? Somebody needs to tell him that the world is really sick – nearly dead – and that he should come right away!

Jesus, if only you were here…
Please. You’re way overdue.

[Hold Silence]

When Jesus arrived on the fourth day after Lazarus’ death, he was greeted by Martha:
Where have you been, Jesus! If you had been here, none of this would have happened.

Now, the information John provides – that this is the fourth day – is really important. It’s repeated two times in the longer version of this story. When Jesus and his disciples were traveling through the region, it was believed that the life force of the body stayed near the deceased for three days after physical death.

That means that if Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, he is beyond all hope. As Peter Woods so aptly put it: Four is a hopeless number. It was a hopeless day.

Mary and Martha, the neighbors, the disciples, even Jesus know it. They know that God acts on the 3rd day. Always.
It was on the 3rd day that God provided the sacrifice for Abraham so he wouldn’t have to offer his only son Isaac.
It was on the 3rd day that God appeared to the people and descended from heaven to the top of Mount Sinai in blaze of fire and smoke.
On the third day in the belly of the fish, Jonah was spit out onto dry land.

None of these happened on the 4th day. On the 4th day, there is no miracle to be found. Not ever. Everyone knows this. Even Jesus. It’s no wonder they are weeping. Lazarus is dead and the one person who could have stopped it arrived too late. The only cry left to Martha is: if only you had been here…

Now there are any number of reasons for Jesus’ late arrival. We only get a glimpse at what seems to be him intentionally avoiding the moment. But why? Was he certain that he wouldn’t arrive on time anyway? Was this some kind of divine interplay that allowed him to have foreknowledge of God’s plan? Did he understand his role in this drama as the one who would show God’s control of life and power over death?

Maybe… just maybe he was afraid to go. His disciples made a good point – the leaders of Judea were seeking to destroy him – to crush the movement that seemed to be growing around him – to kill the hope for the world to be a place of justice and mercy for all God’s people. Could it be that he knew that nothing good would come for him in Bethany?

We only have to read a few verses ahead at the very end of this passage and we can see that for some of the people in and near Jerusalem, raising Lazarus was the final straw. Clearly many believed Jesus was too dangerous to continue living and working among them. From this point forward, the story moves quickly toward Jesus’ arrest, false charges, trial, torture, brutal execution, and burial in his own tomb.

This is a crisis moment for Jesus – a turning point in his life’s work and in his life – that required him to weigh Lazarus’ life and his love for Mary and Martha against his own existence. It’s Martha’s voice we hear, but Jesus is the one who has to decide that he is willing to lay his own life on the line to raise hope out of death in that little town near Jerusalem.

We know how this story ends – Jesus asks Martha and the crowd: Do you believe I am the Resurrection and the Life? And then he calls Lazarus out of that tomb. But it’s not quite that simple for Martha. She has to choose. If she says “Yes!” then she has to put aside her grief and her anger at Jesus. As a friend of mine put it: She has to “let herself fall into a faith that offers no certainty and no promise of comfort.” And finally, she has to let go of everything she has understood as essential and make a real commitment to live differently with her love for Jesus at the center.

Jesus risks his own life to bring new life to people who were certain that they stood in the front of a tomb where Lazarus’s body was already beginning to smell like death. I love how Peter Woods said it: “Jesus calls Lazarus out of the hopeless tomb, on that hopeless day, in the middle of a hopeless crowd.”

And at the very end of this story we hear another voice: from that day on they planned to put him to death.

What good is resurrection of Lazarus if it resulted in Jesus’ own death? And as followers of this Jesus, some 2000 years ago, what does this have to do with us? Jesus is clearly not here. He is risen indeed – but not to hang around here on earth with us. He doesn’t seem to be walking up to the cemetery and raising our loved ones. He doesn’t seem to be spending time at Kaiser, healing our sick. He doesn’t seem to be stopping young men with guns from wreaking havoc in our neighborhoods. He hasn’t yet appeared to bring peace in the Middle East or to free undocumented workers from our jails and prisons.

When we read a story like this one – and we think about the enormity of the miracle Jesus performs, it’s easy to get lost in the: “that was then, this is now” arguments that often seem to strip our faith of anything helpful. If Jesus is the only one with resurrection powers, or if these are simply allegories – stories about hope – that are meant to give us courage somehow but have little basis in real life, We might be right to cry out!

Jesus, if only you were here…
Please.

[Hold Silence]

If we believe that our only way out of this fourth day world is Jesus. Then our only cry has to be: Jesus, if only you were here…

But what if he is already here? What if the question to us isn’t do we believe Jesus can do this but: Do we believe Jesus has been raised to new life and is alive in each one of us here today? Do we believe that when we come to the font that we are given the gift of Christ’s life? Do we believe that when we eat at the Lord’s Table we are taking into ourselves the life of Christ? What if, as his followers – as those who wear the name Christ – it is now our job to show up on the hopeless fourth days in our world and bring new life. What if it’s our work… our responsibility… our call to help all God’s people live more fully, more vibrantly, more meaningfully – to help all Gods people experience what it means to be truly alive?

When we arrive at a tomb… Like Martha, we must fall into faith trusting that Christ is alive within us. His spirit is strengthening us so that we can risk everything to work for new life. We cry please come Jesus and we will hear him say:

You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, in you, the Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though it’s the fourth day, will have new life and will live to share that life with others. Come Lord Jesus! Help us believe. May it be so!

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