"Jesus Knows Better"

4 November, 2012 – All Saints Sunday

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion 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.”

Prayer.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Mary blames the death of her brother on Jesus.

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

Never mind the fact that Lazarus died of natural causes,

He had many complex medical conditions,

And he never took 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.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,”

Speaks much more to the state of a grieving sister

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’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 asks us to stretch our beliefs.

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.

Generally speaking, Saints are venerated;

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

The word veneration comes from the Latin,

Venerare, 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 return 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 Saint’s Day,

With the following Sunday being set aside as All Saint’s Sunday.

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

We speak the name, to make it 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

And that has now received his / her just reward

By ascending 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.

Over the past year I have been reading and reflecting a lot on Greek Orthodox spirituality,

As related in the books written by Kyriacos C. Markides.

Dr. Markides is an American professor of sociology who is on a life-long spiritual quest,

Seeking understanding through the teachings and his relationship with

Father Maximos,

Who, in his younger monastic life, was an abbot at Mount Athos, in Greece,

And more recently and currently, an esteemed abbot on the Island of Cyprus.

He makes a few points that shed insight for us

With the story of Lazarus, on this All Saint’s 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.

John Wesley referred to Theosis as moving on to Perfection.

In our earthly life

Some make more progress in their 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 recite 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

And growing into a perfect union with Jesus.

Theosis is heavenly;

And heaven can be achieved by the Saint

Here on earth,

Or later on in heaven.

Secondly, Dr. Markides relates Father Maximos’ point that

We’ve come to place

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

And we have lost our roots that place

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 corpse formerly known as Lazarus.

Our God is the same One who demonstrated as much with 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 our life in the presence of the Divine mysterious,

To drink in Its grace,

To discover that at its very core

Is love.

The pathway to Theosis is 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 and professors.

But we experience the transformation of our souls, by God’s grace,

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 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

Also be ours.

Amen.