Unbind! Let Go – March 6, 2016

“Unbind! Let Go!

Ezekiel 37:1-14 John 11:1-45


I remember driving to the airport to get a flight out of town one day when I encountered some unusually slow traffic…some of them even stopped. Some of the people had got out of their stopped vehicles and were walking around or standing on bumpers to try to get a better look at what had caused the problem. Of course, they could not see the true cause….just a long line of vehicles as far as the eye could see. I turned off the road and found an alternate route to the airport. I got there in time. As our plane took off I looked out the window and saw the cause of the delay…a major accident…and the long line of vehicles. I then had a better perspective. Today’s story from John is about perspective. God’s perspective. He sees a bit more than we do down here on the ground in our lives lived in a very small part of the world. Lazarus…Mary and Martha’s brother…had died and was buried when Jesus arrived. Mary and Martha were upset that Jesus had not been there earlier. They believed Jesus might somehow have prevented the death of Lazarus. They felt Jesus…the Son of God…had abandoned them…though they had sent a message to Him. For them it was a crisis…a serious loss. Some of us have felt the same way. The death of a loved one has happened for many of us. How can we earthbound creatures…living in and experiencing only a small part of God’s creation…come to understand God’s love…to really believe in God’s love…despite our own crises? First…we must recognize and accept that we never understand His workings in their entirety. When delays…hardships…losses come to us we cannot expect to know all the details…all the answers…all the reasons. If we spend all of our time asking why…we are not using our time wisely. Notice how Mary and Martha felt. Notice how they reacted and what they said to Jesus? Have you ever felt this way. “Where were you Lord? You came too late.” That’s what Martha and Mary asked. We’ve probably asked questions like… “Where were you when my loved one died? Where were you when my marriage dissolved? Where were you when my parents divorced? Where were you when my father became an alcoholic? Where were you when my beloved was sent to jail? Where were you when I was cheated out of a promotion? Where were you when my child went astray?” I have been in a position to ask five of those questions. I’m sure that in our sanctuary this morning there are others who can attest to having been in situations where they have asked one or more of those questions or something quite similar. Notice this. Jesus did not speak harshly…or rebuke the women. Think back to when you asked those questions. Did God speak harshly or rebuke you? You see…it’s not sinful to ask questions or to tell God how you truly feel…just as Martha and Mary did. That might sound like heresy in light of some of the things we have been taught. First… remember that we must always be reverent toward God. After all, He is God. We are His creatures and must always bow to Him. But…that does not mean we are not allowed to express to Him how we truly feel. Routinely…we have feelings that ought to be shared with God. The feelings may not be considered by some to be right, but they are feelings that need to be brought honestly to God. But…too often…once is too often…we do not…for fear of losing something. God is more patient and accepting than we sometimes realize. Read the story of Martha and Mary and their interaction with Jesus again. See the patience. Feel the love. The problem is caused by the misconception…the wrong perception…that New Testament Christianity requires that “good Christians” never cry or express their inner feelings. That’s an incorrect perspective. I remember vividly sitting in the intensive care room of a woman whose life was being sustained by machinery the evening after she had a stroke. Her two daughters had flown to town from Virginia. They were there with me. They were faced with making the decision to end the mechanical support of her life. Their emotions ran a gamut…anger …sadness…joy as they shared memories…and finally peace when one of them said that she heard God say that it was time for their mother to come home to an eternal life of peace…happiness…no more pain…and reunion. Their questioning and reaching out to God…even in anger…brought them the answer they needed that night. When King David was disillusioned and filled with sorrow he expressed it to God. It became part of Scripture…what we now call the Psalms. Read them all. In them you’ll find questions of God…anger…and hurt. God did not criticize David…or punish him in some way for his words. I cried when my father died…even as I was saying some words at his funeral. You’ve seen others do the same thing. I’ve been a part of five memorial services in the past 15 days…two of them for people in the prime of their lives…one was 42 years old and the other just 59 years old. They had died from the ravages of cancer. Each time I asked God some questions…shared my hurt…and acted just like Martha and Mary. I’ll probably do it again. But…asking those questions is not a sin. In fact…God wants to hear your questions…God wants to answer your questions. Just as Martha and Mary did…God wants us to pour our hearts out to Him. That is what he wanted from Habbakuk. That is what he accepted from David. That is what he allowed with Martha and Mary. When they had done so…Jesus reminded them that He was the resurrection and the life. He added that whoever believed in Him…will live even though he dies…and whoever lives and believes in Jesus will never die. As we reflect on our years…we can find times when we might have been like Martha and Mary…hurt by the loss of a loved one…or in some other way. We will hurt again. At those times we might want to consider the story of a young seminary intern. He was asked to lead a group of high school students. He thought it was a wonderful experience. During that internship he was mentored by a pastor and experienced lay leaders. The layperson closest to him was named Barbara. She had great conviction and hope. Her heart was devoted to the church and its ministries. She gave him advice and guidance for six months. She was an inspiration to him. One day Barbara phoned him to say that she had a brain tumor. Then he understood why her athletic physique had started to show signs of deterioration. She told him that the tumor was inoperable. He watched her waste away. Two months later…just before she died…she took his hand and talked with confidence about her faith. The young intern could tell that Barbara knew it was hard for him. Her last words to him were “Don’t worry about me. I’m about to go on the greatest adventure of my life.” Soon after that she died. I’ve heard other preachers tell similar stories. I’ve had the privilege of hearing similar thoughts from dying members of churches I’ve served. Think about Lazarus for a moment. Though he was resurrected in the story we heard today…at some point he died a second death. He probably had normal feelings of worry for those he was leaving behind…perhaps even fear. But…he had confidence. He knew that Jesus had a relationship with death like no other. Jesus was resurrection and life. Lazarus knew he wasn’t going to a cold and lonely grave. Perspective is something we can choose. We can be one of those who dwell in the traffic jam…standing on the bumpers…trying to figure out what in the world is going on…maybe talking about it with others with the same perspective. Or….we can…choose to believe in the Scripture….like today’s story from John. We’ll then be moved above the traffic jam. There we’ll see that help is not just on the way…but here…now. We’ll see that God is in control. In so doing we unbind ourselves. We let go of those hurts that keep us from the joyous path that God has for each of us. Let us…from that perspective…celebrate the gift of joy…strength…comfort and release with our Lord Jesus Christ and our sisters and brothers here today. Let the celebration begin at the Lord’s Table. All are invited.