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April 2, 2017, 12:00 AM

Say the Word

by Sandy Bach

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 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.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was...

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles[e] 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.[f] 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..."

Jesus Raises Lazarus to Life38 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.” ... 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.”  (John 11:1-45 NRSV)

 

She hadn’t felt well for weeks.  The doctors couldn’t figure it out.  She was tired and rundown.  She was depressed and weepy.  She could barely get out of bed in the morning.  They ran a battery of tests. Finally, a result came back that made sense. She had mononucleosis. A virus commonly associated with college kids, only she was 40 years old.

She was sent home to bed rest for 30 days. It was a relief to know what was wrong and that she’d be okay, so she followed doctor’s orders to the letter. Sure enough, within 30 days she was back at work and regaining her strength and stamina.

Two months later she returned to the doctor. Same symptoms as before. This time the diagnosis was quicker in arriving. She had chronic fatigue symptom. She was sent home for another 30-day sick leave.

She didn’t care. She was neither angry nor sad. She was numb from feeling so lousy for so long. And that’s when she died a Lazarus death.

It was years later that she called it a Lazarus death. She believes today that she needed renewal and resuscitation and revival. She needed what only Jesus could give her: life.

For days and weeks, she sat in her favorite chair with no radio or TV; no books or magazines. She sat there reviewing her life. It wasn’t a conscious action on her part. It occurred after she prayed to God, “I don’t believe you caused this virus. But, I believe you want to use it for a purpose. I’m too tired to fight you or the virus. Have your own way.”

She didn’t like herself much. She had become the businesswoman she had vowed not to be: angry, proud, looking for a battle at every meeting. Bitter, even mean. This wasn’t her and slowly as the days passed, she felt different. She wanted to do things differently. She wanted to be a proper reflection of a Child of God.

Her return to work took about 45 days. Her resurrection about a year. She found friends who stepped in to unbind her and set her free. She became a woman who cared about others and learned to view life in new ways.

The name, Lazarus, means, “God helps.” When have you been a Lazarus? Or when have you met Lazarus and helped unbind him?

Lazarus is the one who’s meaning in life is corrupted. Lazarus is bound by the things of this world that have little meaning to most, but Lazarus believes them crucial to life.

Lazarus can be socially dead. The workaholic who can’t let go of his job for even a weekend of rest. Lazarus is found among the spiritually  or the emotionally dead. He is in need of nurture. He is filled with self-doubt, or he’s placed on the edges of society to fend for himself. He is the oppressed.

Lazarus dies because he tried to do everything for himself without allowing others in. Lazarus dies because others judge him to be not good enough, not the right color, not the right religion, or not the right credentials.

Lazarus needs to be unbound and set free. Lazarus needs us to cut those bandages that bind him. And Lazarus needs community to help tear away fear and anxiety and loss and grief.

Lazarus is the hail-fellow-once-met who everyone loves. Except for Lazarus who is convinced that he’s unlovable, even by God.

Lazarus is the worn out single mother trying to make ends meet day after day. She’s tired of being judged lazy, so she reaches out for help only when she can’t do it herself.

Lazarus finds life-made-new in community that empathizes even if it can’t relate. He finds new reality because the community shows him a better way and loves him even when he can’t love himself.

We are that life-giving community when we take some time to talk with another who just needs a listening ear.

We are the life-giving community because we know and understand the power of prayer. We know who we are and we know our limits. We know God’s call on our hearts to help others.

We are the life-giving community who craves to do more and prays for a door to open. We’re the life-giving community when we shake a stranger’s hand, not knowing any of their pain, but perhaps passing along something meaningful, anyway.

During this Lenten period we have been on a “Journey to Salvation.” We began in God’s Garden of Eden where we couldn’t stop ourselves from entering into temptation. We knew then that we needed a savior.

So God called Abram and Sarai to begin this journey with a journey of their own. A journey out of hopelessness to a new beginning that only God knew about. Their hopelessness became hope and though they stumbled often, they managed to be the vessel that created a great nation.

But, we found ourselves in slavery and God helped us out over and over again. God provided protection from enemies, food and sweet water. When we became parched and dry, we cried out again and God, once again, provided living water.

Meanwhile, God kept doing new things. One of them was choosing a leader for Israel from the least and the last. We learned to turn our fears of lacking what God needs into rejoicing that we are, indeed, enough.

And this week, we journey into death that brings new life.

What will you do with what you’ve learned these past weeks? How will you respond to the God of new beginnings; the God who brings hope out of hopelessness; the God who provides greatness out of the least and the last; the God who brings new life out of death?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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