Sunday, August 9, 2015

Why Is There Night?

Why Is There Night?
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
August 9, 2015
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
John 11: 1-12

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.
Amen.

11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 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.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”[1]

By this time in the Gospel of John we have heard Jesus make many promises, and they are plainly stated promises, he doesn't hold punches, and he doesn't beat around the bush, he doesn't half promise, he promises. . . he promises that he is the Bread of Life, and that he who comes to him shall never be hunger, and he who believes in him will never thirst. . . he has also said that he is the Gate of the sheepfold, that no one comes to the Father except through him, and finally he has said that he is the Good Shepherd, promising, claiming, declaring, that he gives life to the sheep, that his sheep shall never know death but have eternal life. These are very explicit promises, and they deal with the exact literal problems of the human condition: concern for sustenance. . . concern for mortality. and before we can explain these promises  away as merely metaphorical, Jesus performs the literal, the literal version, he does what he has promised, at least so far he has for his promise being the bread of life, when he fed those multitudes by the sea. . . and now we wait for the promise of being able to give life to even  the dead. . . and we know that he does just that here in this chapter with Lazarus, but before he does he waits. . . and I want to focus this morning not on the act itself, but on the build up, on the waiting, and ponder the question why? Why was it necessary for Jesus to wait?
Because it says Lazarus was only ill, only sick, and it says that Jesus loved him, but then when he finds out that he is sick, he stays where he is two more days. . . instead of rushing to his side. . . .I remember there was this one Seinfeld where Elaine's date was in a car accident on the way to meeting her at the movies, and when she gets the message, she doesn't go straight to see him in the hospital, but since she was already waiting in line at the theater for snacks, she goes ahead and buys some juji fruits before going to see him in the hospital, and he got mad, and he wasn't even all that hurt, now you have Lazarus, poor Lazuras, deathly sick, and Jesus doesn't stop off for juji fruits, no he just waits two days before making the trip, and Jesus is our standard for behavior, our model. . . would we wait two days upon hearing that someone we loved was sick, if we knew we were the ones who could cure him? Of course not, now why does Jesus? And why is this a typical thing for God, too, beyond this story. . .
Now as many of  you know because I've talked about it a couple times, and I sent my draft of the first chapter out last week, but I've been trying to write an epic history of the world, leading up to the founding of America, offering the promise of the idea of who we are. . . and having finished the first chapter that dealt with the beginnings and the epic of gilgamesh to show the depths of humanity with only a small consciousness of the reality of God. . . but the second chapter begins with God planting the seed, and beginning his walk, his covenant, his blessing, his promise of Abraham and Sarah. . . God tells Abraham he will make of him a great nation, he just needs to leave behind everything he has ever known, his family, the place of his fathers, and venture out into the land that God is promising. . . So God tells Abraham and Sarah, who have been childless, that they will at long last bear a son. So they go, but time passes, and no son, they travel to the land, a drought comes, they flee to Egypt, the thrive, doubling the size of their flocks, he splits with Lot, Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, a lot of stuff happens, but no son is given. God makes Abraham and Sarah wait. . . and wait. . . and wait. . . I have been struggling all week with trying to explain, because I'm telling the story with God as the narrator, explain why he makes them wait. . . and it has been a major challenge. . . God has to have his reasons, but what could they be?
And it isn't only Abraham and Lazarus and his sisters who have to wait, but it is a repetitive theme, a pattern, a motif even. . . . Noah has to begin building the ark before it ever starts raining, when the Israelites are led out of Egypt by Moses, they have to wander around in the desert before they can enter the promise land. . . David can't build the temple. . . Jonah waits, Daniel waits, Job, poor Job, he totally waits, the prophets said that Jesus was coming, a messiah was coming, but not now, they had to wait, even Jesus himself is crucified on Friday and doesn't rise until Sunday. . . and we wait for Christ to come again. Waiting is a major part of faith it seems. The promises are timeless, but our interaction with them happens very much in time, the slow, ticking reality of time.  Now as we've been waiting for nine months, we get closer and the time seems to stand still. . . although I know DeAnna is trying to extend her summer as long as possible. . . It very much seems  that making us wait is God's style. . . and being still, and waiting from our side of it really does seem to be an important aspect, and important ingredient of faith. . . but that doesn't get us any closer to understanding why. . . but we get a clue here from Jesus. He says that it is all for the glory of God, so that the Glory of God can be revealed, so that the Son of Man can be glorified through it. . .
Now, then he hits the road. . . and the disciples warn him. . . Jesus do you really want to go back down south to Judea? Really? Do you remember last time? Do you remember the last chapter? When we were there they were going to arrest you and stone you, and you just barely escaped. . . and that was the word they used escaped. . . daring, narrowly, and you really want to go back into all that mess again. . . you can almost see our frustration coming through them as well. . . You found out about Lazarus two days ago, and now you are going. . . he'll be alright. . . do we need to go, why stick our nose out, and put ourselves in danger? And Jesus answers them and says they need to go, but how interesting in a story where time, and the passage of time seems to be such an issue, that Jesus answers the disciple's concerns with a statement about time, he says, aren't there 12 hours of light,  "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them."
Now what in the world does this have to do with them being ready to stone him? Now there is that old description of a person who likes to talk, o yeah he likes to talk, if you ask him what time it is he'll tell you how a watch works. . . now Jesus, should we really go back there, those people don't like us. . . o well there are 24 hours every day, and 12 of them are light and 12 of them are dark. . . .  do what. . . this is even strange for the Gospel of John. . . . but I couldn't help thinking that time here is an important piece. . . and that there is balance placed in the created order of things. . . .there is a time of light, and a time of darkness, there is a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to scatter stones and a time to bring them all together. . . and it stands to reason that there would be a time to live, die, mourn, and then have Jesus raise you from the dead. . . So it's natural, it's a part of life, but why? what does it do? the glory of God, the glorifying of the Son. . .the setting of things in their proper order. . . what does it do?
As I was thinking about what God would say to Abraham at each step of the journey. . . at the drought, in Egypt, where he lies to save himself, when he has his break from Lot, when he  fathers Ishmael through Hagar. . . and still no Isaac. . . Any one of those would have, could have destroyed the promise of God. . . if Abraham would have died of starvation in the drought, been killed due to the jealousy of him over their desire for Sarah, if Lot, if, if, if. . . and in each Abraham takes things into his own hands. . . is he doubting when he does. . . but no matter how long the wait is, God's promise doesn't change, no matter how long the road is God's promise doesn't change, no matter how dark the night is God's promise doesn't change. . . no matter how long Lazarus has been dead, Jesus still raises him. The time aspect matters to us, and I'm not sure why it happens, perhaps it is to test us, test our faith, but even if we fail that test, even if we doubt, and take things into our own hands, even if we do everything we can to get in the way, in our time. . . the promise of God stands firm.
There is hope in there for the patient and humble. . . perhaps patience and humility are part of what Jesus means when he talks about love. . . perhaps the ingredients of love are sacrifice, faith, freedom, patience, and humility. . . and in making us wait God is teaching us to love? I’m not sure. . . but we it does seem that having to wait is just the way it is. . . perhaps what Jesus is trying to show us, that his promises are just the way it is, too. . . Imagine having the same confidence in the promises as we have in the waiting. . . in the night as during the day. . .
I want to finish end with a prayer, that in the Northumbria Community is to be prayed each evening, just before the night, but that we may watch for the morning. . . .
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
ff
Opening sentences
My soul waits for the Lord
more than those
who watch for the morning,
more than those
who watch for the morning.
ff
Call: Out of the depths I have cried to You.
Response: O Lord, hear my voice.
Call: With my whole heart I want to praise You.
Response: O Lord, hear my voice.
Call: If you, Lord, should mark iniquities:
Response: Who could stand? who could stand?
ff
I will wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in His word do I hope.
ff
Expressions of faith
Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.
ff
Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.
ff
Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.
ff
Lord, You have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am,
today I believe.
ff
Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.
ff
Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.
ff
Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.

Canticle
In the shadow of Your wings
I will sing Your praises, O Lord.
ff
The Lord is my light, my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the refuge of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
ff
In the shadow of Your wings
I will sing Your praises, O Lord.
One thing I ask of the Lord,
one thing I seek;
to dwell in the presence of my God,
to gaze on Your holy place.
ff
In the shadow of Your wings
I will sing Your praises, O Lord.
ff
I believe I shall see the goodness
of the Lord in the land of the living.
O wait for the Lord!
Have courage and wait,
wait for the Lord.
ff
In the shadow of Your wings
I will sing Your praises, O Lord.
ff
Blessing
See that ye be at peace among yourselves, my children,
and love one another.
Follow the example of good men of old
and God will comfort you and help you,
both in this world
and in the world which is to come.

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen[2]




[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 11:1-12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[2] “Evening Prayer”, Celtic Daily Prayer. Harper One, 2002, pg. 22-24, also available: http://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/evening-prayer/