Monday, November 02, 2009
Not in the Miracle Business
All Saints Sunday, 2009
There was once a man by the name of Mordechai, who lived in Bethany. He was an old man, a merchant who had passed on his business to his sons, and they had prospered. They took good care of their father, Mordechai, keeping him comfortable with good food and would light warm fires on cold nights for him. As he got older and more infirm, they hired young women who would cook and clean for him, and bathe him.
But the inevitable day came, and as all people do, Mordechai died. The proper prayers were said, the mourners hired and the crowd gathered to remember Mordechai. He was a righteous man, and while not sinless in the eyes of God, he was still a good man, full of compassion and charity, living modestly.
It was a close family, and there were many friends who gathered. One family who didn't however, was Lazarus'. His family did not attend Mordechai's funeral because they were conducting one of their own, for Lazarus himself. That is to be forgiven, so the sons did not think any more about it.
Then they began to hear the stories of Lazarus and Jesus, and then saw Lazarus himself when Lazarus came to pay his respects. And they were filled with confusion and anger.
"He was dead, and now he isn't? Why couldn't that happen to our father?" "If this Jesus person could have used Lazarus to make a point about the power of God, why couldn't he make a point with our father as well?"
"If he has this power, could he not come use it to raise our beloved father?"
And so it felt with every person, perhaps, who stood and watched as they opened the tomb, and smelled the stench of the dead, heard Jesus command Lazarus to come out, and saw him indeed do so. And unfortunately, they would miss the point.
Jesus is not in the miracle business. Jesus did not come to earth for us so that we can make requests. He is not our last defense against the consequences of our actions, and he is not here to interrupt the natural courses of our lives. He is not even here to save us from the damage we have perpetrated to our own bodies, the violence and neglect we commit on others, and the shortening of life that results.
Jesus is in the love business. The story of Lazarus shows us that Jesus loved Lazarus. Jesus loved Mary and Martha. And to show them how much he loved them, and therefore how much God loved them and all people of Bethany, he caused God to raise Lazarus from the dead, with the appropriate words spoken around the event. Indeed, if Jesus had come into town before, saying "if you believe, you will see the glory of God", and "I am the Resurrection and the Life, even those who die, they will live, and everyone who believes in me will never die, but live", some folks would have said something like , "Oh, gee isn't that nice", and others would have said something closer to "Yeah, right".
So the point of Lazarus being raised from the dead isn't to bring Lazarus back. It's to show that the power really is present in Jesus, and therefore in God. Resurrection is possible. And for Jesus to do it with tears in his eyes with love for this family is just as important I think; Jesus is the son of God, and while he was on earth, he was the embodiment of God's character. So if Jesus wept over Lazarus, so did God. He knew Mary and Martha and Lazarus, and realized, way back at the beginning of Chapter 11, that Lazarus' death was a good opportunity to show love and power to people. That's why he waits; go back and read it; he does!
Now, the story of Mordechai I told in the beginning is not from the Bible. But the questions the sons ask are the questions we all ask. When our loved ones die, we want to know why. If they have been ill a long time, or were very old, that is one thing, and for most, easier to digest. But we all know stories and people who have died that are not so easy, and we want Jesus to step in and perform the miracle that he performed on Lazarus. We may even want it to be for the same reasons, to show God's glory.
Well, God isn't in the miracle business. He's proved his power over death not once already, but twice. Lazarus, and then Jesus himself. Then Jesus ascended to heaven, and we were given the power of the Holy Spirit. He is in the love business, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, so are we.
Death comes to us all. When one of us dies, what happens? We gather, help out, make a meal, take covered dishes to the family, and other small and loving things that help get people through. We celebrate the lives that have gone. If someone dies in an untimely way, the cause of their death sometimes becomes something to fight against, to focus on defeating.
It is all loving witness.
The names we read this year for All Saints run the gamut, from a full life lived to one cut brutally short. Each one of their stories is known by someone here, and there are stories around their passing that give witness to the love and glory of God, if we have eyes to see.
If we have eyes to see God working in the love business.