“Jesus Knows Better”

November 7, 2021 – All Saints Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 11:32-44

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone.

And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 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.”

| Centering Prayer |

“Lord, if you had been here,

my brother would not have died.”

(John 11:21, 32)

Mary repeats the charge first made by her sister, Martha.

Mary and Martha blames Jesus for the death of their brother, Lazarus.

That’s quite the charge to heap on Jesus, don’t you think?

Never mind the fact that Lazarus may

may have died of natural causes.

We just don’t know what caused his illness.

He may have had many complex medical conditions.

Perhaps he didn’t take care of himself.

Never mind the fact that Lazarus didn’t have access to health care as we know it.

And, never mind the fact that Lazarus had lived a good, long life for that day and age.

Their charge

“Lord, if you had been here,

my brother would not have died,”

Speaks much more to the state of grieving sisters

Than it reflects the true nature of Jesus’ pastoral responsibility,

Or lack, thereof.

I’d suggest

“Lord, if you had been here,

my brother would not have died”

Reflects Mary and Martha’s deeper cultural belief about death,

One that most of us share:

That life is good and death is bad.

Death should be avoided at all cost.

Death should be avoided AT ALL COST,

even if it involves intense, chronic suffering.

Death should be avoided AT ALL COST,

even if it cost others a fortune.

Death is the enemy

And it STINGS.

Jesus thinks differently.

His approach to death,

as evident in our Gospel lesson for today,

Tells us he isn’t buying our popular assumptions about death.

Jesus knows better

And challenges us to consider death and its effects more deeply.

A quick Wikipedia search of the word “Saint”

Brings a diversity of beliefs from across Christendom

(and other world religions)

about what a Saint is,

what a Saint does, and

why a Saint is important.

Yes, a Saint is a football player

From New Orleans

With a 3 and 1 record

Playing the Atlanta Falcons today at 1:00 pm.

That’s not the kind of Saint I’m thinking about.

Generally speaking, “a Saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness, likeness, or closeness to God.”

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint)

Depending on the context and denomination, a Saint is venerated.

That is, honored or remembered for their high degree of sanctity or holiness.

The word veneration comes from the Latin,

Venerare (vene’ rare), meaning

to regard with reverence and respect.

Traditionally, the faithful disciple of Christ

Demonstrates veneration outwardly by

respectfully bowing or making the sign of the cross

Before a Saint’s picture or icon,

their bodily remains (called relics),

or their statue.

This is why we turn to photo albums and visit cemeteries.

Inward veneration is to remember and reflect upon the individual,

To consider the Christian lessons taught by both word and deed,

That made them holy.

November 1st is the date set by the Western Church

– Roman Catholics and Protestants alike –

to celebrate All Saints Day,

With the following Sunday being set aside as All Saints Sunday.

We Methodist have become very good at the veneration of Saints.

We speak the name, breaking the silence.

The spoken name makes life and death real.

We light a candle and bow in memory of a Saint in our life.

We place the candle and reflect upon the life that was lived.

As the flame ignites and the smoke ascends

Our faith brings assurance that

our loved one has now received their just reward and

has ascended to God in heaven.

This is important.

It is important for our own encouragement and wellbeing.

It is important that the memory and stories of the Saints be told to our children

So that their legacy might live on forever.

This is important because it is an exercise in the intellectual and physical aspects of our faith.

A number of years ago,

I read and reflected a lot on Greek Orthodox spirituality,

As related to books authored by Kyriacos C. Markides.

Dr. Markides is an American professor of sociology.

I highly recommend his book

“The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality.”

(https://www.amazon.com/s?k=9780385500920)

He makes a few points that brings light to the story of Lazarus

on this All-Saints Sunday.

First: The soul moves to Theosis.

That is to say,

By Divine grace,

our soul is transformed and

obtains likeness with Christ

– Union with Christ.

This should sound comfortably familiar

to all of us in the Wesleyan tradition.

We Methodist have always placed a strong emphasis on entire sanctification,

Or the transforming effect of God’s sanctifying grace.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divinization_(Christian) )

John Wesley referred to Theosis as

moving towards Perfection,

a reference to Hebrews 6.

In our earthly life

Some make more progress towards Perfection than others.

Ours is not to judge.

Ours, as a Church, as an Ecclesia

Is to encourage, to support, to facilitate,

To pray for each and every soul and our quest

“To become One with Christ and

One with each other,”

As we pray in the Communion liturgy.

In Eastern Orthodox thought

Death becomes little more than a reference point

In the soul’s obtainment of Theosis.

This is why the Eastern Church prays for the dead;

That each eternal soul might continue to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Sainthood is obtained at Theosis,

Either in life or in death.

It is the complete shedding of the ego

Growing into a perfect union with Jesus.

Theosis is heavenly;

And heaven can be achieved by the Saint

Here on earth,

Or in a future heaven.

Secondly, Dr. Markides makes the point that

We’ve come to place

Too much value on the Western approach to the intellectual and scientific.

We have lost our roots that places

Spiritual value on God and the miraculous.

If we rebalance our lives

with the known and the mysterious

With science and theology

Then perhaps the pathway to Theosis becomes much easier to travel.

The intellectual, Western approach to the story of Mary, Jesus and Lazarus

Is to attempt to explain away the miracle of resurrection.

Cells break down at death.

Chemical processes take place.

Flesh becomes putrefied and decays.

Therefore, Lazarus could not have been “truly” dead.

He must have been in a natural, deep coma, from which Jesus aroused.

Right?

Not so fast!

Jesus knows better.

What we have left behind in our unbalanced,

Intellectual approach to God

Is that

the same God who is the Creator of life

Is the Lord of life!

God can breath life into those old dry bones in Ezekiel.

God can give life to a decaying, rotting, four-day-old corpse

formerly known as Lazarus.

Our God is the same One who demonstrated as much

By the resurrection of Jesus!

God could even give life to a stone,

if that suited God’s purpose.

It is not ours to explain how or why.

It is our purpose to live life

in the presence of the Divine mysterious,

To drink in Its grace,

To discover that at its very core

God is love.

The pathway to Theosis is to become the love of God.

The journey towards Perfection is to be transformed into the heart of Jesus.

To be a Saint

Is to live and die on the journey towards God.

We learn in schools, and our intellect is expanded.

We grow with the transformation of our minds

at the feet of teachers, instructors, and professors.

But we experience the transformation of our soul,

by God’s grace alone.

This transformation takes place

In the Ecclesia,

In the Church,

As we become One with the love of God.

We move from brain to heart,

– From thought to love –

As we become One with Christ and One with each other.

This is what redeems and transforms the world.

This is what opens the door to heaven for one and all,

Where one day,

Every knee will bow and

Every soul will be as One with the Lord.

This is the journey of the Saint.

Today

Even as we pray for the journey of those who’ve gone on before us,

Even as we pray for the journey of one other,

By God’s grace,

May the journey towards Perfection

… the journey into love …

Also be yours.

Amen.

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