Sunday, April 02, 2017

Sermon; Lent 5A; John 11:1-45

What is the mission of the Church?
The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

On this fifth Sunday in Lent we have our final story of restoration. Two weeks ago we heard Jesus crossing boundaries to restore the Samaritans and Jews to unity. Last week we heard the restoration of sight to the blind man, as well as of how difficult restoration can be. And today we have a life restored in the form of Lazarus. This final restoration, however, becomes the basis for having Jesus killed.

There is in these three gospel stories an overall arc of restoration being presented to us.

This arc of restoration began two weeks ago with the story of the woman at the well. In that story, I pointed out that Jews and Samaritans were deeply divided by a variety of events throughout history. The longer this went on, the more entrenched the two sides became. It stayed that way until Jesus crossed that uncrossable boundary and made the first move toward restoration and reconciliation.

As followers of Christ, it is often up to us to step into the gap or cross boundaries that are designed to keep us apart. As followers of Christ, it is often up to us to begin the process of restoration and reconciliation.

This process is rarely, if ever, easy, as we saw last week. A blind man's sight was restored. Washing in a pool that means “sent,” he was sent to proclaim Jesus as a man of God.

The first difficulty he encountered was in the general disbelief of others that he had his sight restored. It can be difficult to convince others that you have left your old ways behind and now see things in a new way.

Another difficulty comes when you invite others to see things in new and different ways. This was made explicitly clear last week when he told the religious authorities about seeing a way to restoration and reconciliation through the man called Jesus. The people to whom he was sent preferred the blindness of what they knew to the vision of what could be. That new vision was enough of a threat to the way things had always been that the man was removed from his religious home.

We are charged with moving toward restoration, but we are also shown that making that move is rarely easy.

And today we have the ending of the restoration arc.

One question that comes up with today's story is, “Did it really happen?” I don't know if it did or didn't. I think this story offers us the chance to make a statement of faith: I believe that God, through Christ, has power over life and death. This is a story of life and death.

Jesus is told Lazarus is deathly ill, later becoming aware that he has died. He makes his way to Bethany where, after talking with Mary and Martha, he orders the stone rolled away and calls for Lazarus to come out. Lazarus has been restored to life. And if you read further on in this chapter, you will see that this restoration becomes the catalyst for the religious leaders to hatch a planned assassination.

Restoration is not only difficult, it can be dangerous.

You see, Lazarus is not only Lazarus, but Lazarus also represents all people who are classified as Other by those in power.

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity.

If we see Lazarus as a type of Other, then this idea of restoration has far-reaching effects. Jesus restored Lazarus to life. Jesus took him from a place of death, a place where he could be conveniently ignored, and made him equal to those around him. This is what restoration to unity looks like. And for his efforts, those in power planned to have Jesus killed.

There are plenty of Lazaruses in the world today – Others who are living in and around a figurative death, in places where they can be conveniently ignored by those in power. Women without access to proper care. Minorities with no clout or voice to keep from being marginalized. Homeless veterans. Working poor who can't pay for basic needs or medicines. The list goes on.

And when we as a people try to restore Lazarus to life, we run into any number of obstacles designed to keep them in the tomb. We also, depending on our position, may experience a type of death resulting from planned attacks. Restoration of the Other can be risky business – politically, socially, and economically.

But there is life beyond what we see or cling to here. Christ lives in us when we work toward restoration. Those marginalized or conveniently forgotten can be given a life of equality should we choose to work for restoration.

Restoration, like justice, is a long arc. It begins with us being willing to step across gaps and boundaries. It will come up against walls of resistance. It will bring us face to face with death.

But should people on the other side be willing to listen, should people be willing to see in new ways, should people be wiling to actually work for unity, the life we are promised will allow us to live, even though we die.



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