Sunday, August 16, 2015

Do You Believe This?

Do You Believe This?
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
August 16, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 11: 17-27

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus  had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles 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.  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.” [1]

So we want to continue where we left off, and last week I was speaking about how often throughout the  Bible and in our lives, God seems to make us wait, and wait, and wait. It is a major part of faith, this whole waiting thing. But God does have a sense of humor, and just when you think you've got it down, he throws a curveball. . . so on the day where I preach about waiting, and patience, and wondering why things take forever, I experience some of the fastest time you'll ever face. It is like I had been lulled to sleep by the slowness and repetition of the Gospel of John, and God felt it was necessary for me to have a moment straight out of the gospel of Mark, where everything happens immediately. . . From 3:30 a.m. to 4:10 God sped things up for me. . . . too say the east it was immediate. . . and immediately called the midwife, and immediately we moved into the bedroom, and immediately the water broke, and then immediately Susanna's head was out, then immediately all of her was out, and immediately I put Susanna's body into DeAnna's hands. . .  immediately I was done, and immediately Susanna came into our lives! So that was our piece of providential irony for us,. but now we return this week to the Lazarus story. . .
Jesus finally returns to Judea, risking his life, as we know from last week, but by the time he gets there, after waiting the two days, Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. And Jesus meets Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha. . . and this is their only appearance in John's gospel, but in Luke two sisters, Mary and Martha are also present. The story about them in Luke is famous because Martha does all the work, the cleaning, the dishes, etc., while Mary listens at Jesus' feet,  the story has become famous, being synonymous with giving types and categories for women to fit into, as a Martha or a Mary. . . but Luke does not give the town where they live, he just says a small village, not necessarily Bethany, and there is no mention of Lazarus. . . which is strange in itself, don't you think? Here is a major miracle, a raising someone from the dead type miracle, and John's is the only gospel that includes it. . . but another gospel includes what could possibly be Lazarus' sisters, if these are the same sisters afterall., which is the general consensus.
Martha though who gets so much grief for having her priorities out of whack in Luke, is given a real place of prominence here, because finally for the first time, and there has been a long line of candidates so far, but finally for the first time someone answers one of Jesus's questions about belief, and identity, who he is, in the right way. Jesus asks her, saying, "I am the resurrection and the life.  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?" and she answers, yes!
Now remember back all the way to the beginning of this gospel, it has kept a pretty straight rhetorical path. . . the first promise, was about believing and receiving, way back in John 1, "but to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." and that promise has continued. There have been people trying to place Jesus in a smaller their shaped size box, but it just has not been right, but here Jesus asks plainly, this is who I am, do  you believe it, and she says yes. . .  I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world. In the other gospels Peter is given that honor of being the first to proclaim it, but here it is Martha, maybe doing those dishes did pay off in the long run.
Now let's back up a minute to look at how she gets there, because there is more to the story and more to the exchange. First off, before Jesus even shows up, before he says anything, Martha is convinced, that had Jesus been there he could have stopped Lazarus from dying. . . so at that point she is testifying to the idea that Jesus is a healer, and that he has power over illnesses. It is possible that she has seen if first hand, because it says they are close, but at the very least she has heard tell of his works, that he has healed many, so why not Lazarus. That is believing that Jesus is a healer. . .
The next thing she says though, is "even now God will give you whatever you ask." There is the next piece. Jesus is a healer, and he is in with God. He is like the prophets of old, like Moses, like Gideon, like Deborah, Samuel, Elijah,, many others, he seems to know the will of God, can perform the will of God, or at least can bend the will of God, wield it, at a moment such as this, that obviously God has powers over life and death. . . perhaps Jesus could get God to do that for her. . .
Then Jesus says, "Your brother will rise again," and here is Martha responding to Jesus like he is a Rabbi, teaching about the hidden things, the future, the apocalyptic time when the dead will be raised on the last day to be judged. This is cutting edge teaching, it isn't orthodox agreed upon, consensus doctrine, but much more radical, and Jesus is a radical kind of teacher. . . nothing that Martha is saying is out of order at this point. . . Jesus is Healer, Prophet, and Teacher. . . all pretty standard stuff. . .
But then Jesus brings up this Resurrection and the Life business. . . let's take a look at that more closely. What does Jesus mean when he says I am the Resurrection? What does he mean when he says he is "the life?" Resurrection, the resurrection. . . within the context of what Martha brings up, it could mean that Jesus is claiming to be that future apocalyptic event. I think that is what makes the most sense to me. . . You believe in a future day when all things will be made right, when the dead will be raised, when justice will be served. . . You believe in that day, I tell you, I am that, I am he. . . If you believe in that, the resurrection, then believe in me, we are one and the same. . . and then life. . . there is another point, we haven't gotten to it yet when Jesus says, I am the way, the truth, and the life. . . so he makes the claim twice, here and there. . . what does it mean to be the life. . . what is he talking about?
It is one thing to say I am the resurrection. . . I am this future event, where justice will be, where the reign of God will begin. . . You could make the argument that it is very much like Jesus saying in the other gospels that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, how near, standing right in front of you. . . this resurrection that the people have been debating it is not just about debate and it is not further on, it is now, and you will see it. . . I get that part. . . but life is so much more interesting because it is simple. .  it is a really vibrant simple metaphor. . . to be the life. . . not just life but the life. . . that other lives may exist, but I'm the real one. . . Life is an amazing thing. . . and I'd be lying if I said I haven't thought quite a bit about life this week. . . Holding, being the first to hold a new born baby, if only for a nano second, you feel life in your hands. . . warm, heart beating, fragile. . . a miracle. It is quite a metaphor for Jesus. . .that real, that warm, that alive, that precious and close. I am the Life, he says. . . The Greek word is even less fancy. . . it is Zoa, from the same root that things like zooology and protazoa comes from. . . life in the animal, basic, pulse having, fruit bearing sense. . . do you remember what the first commandment is in the Bible, the first commandment for life. . . be fruitful and multiply. . . that is what life is, what life does. . . Jesus is doing just that, "The" best example of "Life" being fruitful, multiplying, shedding life around. . .that's what life does, it gives off more life. . . Jesus is leaving behind him a trail of life like none we have ever known. . . Real resurrection, real life. . . that is what Jesus is. . . and Martha hears, and she takes him at his word. . . . Yes I believe. . .
The question that Jesus asks is no different than he has asked throughout this gospel, and it is no different than he asks today. . . Is Jesus just a healer, someone peddling newness of life. . . Is Jesus just a prophet, a fancy priest, someone on the ins with God, who can get things, like Red in the Shawshank Redemption. . .it's good to know Jesus, he is in with God. . . Is he just a Radical Teacher, shedding insight on the future. .. . . Yes, and if you add Resurrection and the . . Life to that, the answer grows exponentially, the size of what Jesus is. . . add some of the other ones from here. . . Way the Truth The Life. . . The Bread of Life. . . the Good Shepherd. . . the gate of the sheepfold. . . the definition grows. . . Jesus asks her, do you believe this? She says Yes. . . a few lines later her brother is raised from the dead. . . Jesus asks us the same question. . . .Do you believe this? What is our answer?

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 11:17-27). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.