You may know that I have been trying to bike more and drive less. Because my biking is primarily for the purpose of transportation, I have slowly been figuring out the best routes to get to the places I normally go.
Lazarus is the brother of Mary and Martha. When he becomes ill, his sisters send for Jesus, but Jesus delays his trip to Bethany for the express purpose of revealing God’s glory. Before Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus dies. Mary and Martha are angry with Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” they say. But Jesus declares, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Clearly, Jesus plans to raise Lazarus from the dead.
He waits until there can be no mistake, waits until Lazarus has been dead four days, waits so that no one can erroneously claim Jesus’ actions are merely a healing. Jesus makes sure that everyone sees Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead by the power of God.
I’m going to start by telling you something that might be shocking. I dislike how many Christians do evangelism.
At its Greek root, the word evangelism simply denotes the practice of sharing the gospel. While that practice is certainly something we want to do, we want to share the gospel, the details about how we share the gospel are important, at least to me.
Just as people of other religions do, many Christians believe that we have a corner on the market of truth. Right?
By the power of God, the Israelites had escaped slavery in Egypt, successfully crossed the Red Sea, fled from the Egyptian army, and found refuge in the wilderness and even manna each morning laying on the ground like dew to feed them. They didn’t know it at the time, but they would wander in the wilderness for forty years while they searched for the promised land. They would soon receive the Ten Commandments and a host of other laws.
In the meantime, the people were thirsty. The wilderness into which they had been spewed was much like our own desert landscape here in Arizona: dry, harsh, prickly, sandy, home to a plethora of insects and reptiles.
When I was 15 years old and getting confirmed, I wrote in my required confirmation essay that I would never be a leader in organized religion because I didn’t believe organized religion was necessary for the world.
Six years later, I was sitting in worship at the home congregation of my college roommate, and I just suddenly knew that I would be a pastor. My view on the subject hadn’t changed, to be clear. I didn’t want to be a pastor; I just knew that I would. It was like the decision was taken completely out of my hands.
Oscar Romero was a Roman Catholic priest turned bishop and then archbishop of El Salvador from 1977 until 1980 when he was assassinated by para-military personnel inside a church in the middle of a worship service he was leading.
During those three years, he used the pulpit and his regular weekly radio address to call out corruption among El Salvador’s leaders and the repression of the Salvadoran people. There were many things to fear in El Salvador in the late 1970s: disappearances, torture, rape, murder, the low-level threat of military occupation of city streets. In this context, on November 13, 1977, preaching on the very same biblical passage we read today, Archbishop Romero echoed Jesus’ words. He said: I tell you, brothers and sisters, let us not be frightened.
To be a reformer of the church is risky. Today, we remember and celebrate the work of Martin Luther, a reformer of the church, who lived in early sixteenth century Germany, the reformer whose name our own Lutheran church bears. Where Wycliffe and Huss and Tyndale were silenced, either through the successful banning of their books or their execution, Luther’s voice somehow managed to be heard.
Mother Teresa was an Albanian woman who early in her life devoted herself to service as a Roman Catholic nun and lived most of her life in India. The letters she wrote during her lifetime show that Mother Teresa struggled with wide and deep doubts about the existence of God, the love of God, the grace of God.
About nine months ago, someone in our community sat in my office, and we talked about life. This was not an unusual situation.… I spend a lot of time talking with you who are part of the Grace community about life, about illness and death, about unemployment and vocation, about school and relationships, about questions you have about God and the world. So, when I sat with this particular person in my office to discuss life, it was not unusual. What was unusual was that, after talking about her own life, this person turned to me and asked me questions about me and about my life, the kind of questions I would normally ask other people, questions that revealed she really had been listening to me.
I don’t own a TV, but even I can’t get away from the political ads and political news...Facebook and other social media, NPR, the front page of the paper. Everywhere, we hear about Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and John Kasich, Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Everywhere, we hear about issues like health care and foreign policy, education and climate change. Everywhere, we hear about political math, the changing demographics of voters, and superdelegates. These days, we can’t get away from politics so much so that even today’s gospel is political…but in a way far removed from—and I do apologize if I offend—the absolute ridiculousness of current US politics.