November 1, 2015
I Am God's Child, by Reverend Kinsey
Yesterday at my Moral Monday planning meeting, they had this ice-breaker where we were invited to talk with our neighbor for a couple minutes and find out why they had come. What was their interest in this event? So I turned to the person on my left to introduce myself, I’ll call him Greg, who looked perhaps a generation older than me, and was a member of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus.
Greg told me his story, I’m a WWII veteran, he said. I was shot in the war, and almost killed. I was willing to give my life to my country then, and I still am today. I fought in the war because I believed in a country that affords us great opportunities, equality for all, and freedom. But now I feel that all that is under threat today. And I want to do something about it.
Greg didn’t have a lot spring left in his step. And like many veterans of that war, his hearing wasn’t all that great anymore either. But, you couldn’t question his sincerity and commitment and his willingness to change the world. I was proud to have met him, and to be sitting beside him. His quest for life, even amidst the threat of death, was deeply moving to me.
Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha in our gospel, really had died, and was in the grave, a cave with a stone lying against it. He was already smelly with the stench of decomposition, we are told by John, because it was now the 4th day of his entombment. But never-the-less, Jesus prays to his motherly-Father, and then, called to Lazarus in a loud voice, to come out. In the name of the powerful God and giver of life, come out, and live again!
Today, on this All Saints Day, we not only recall, the words of life, and message of salvation of the gospel Good News, and how we’re joined to, all the baptized who have gone before us, those with us here, and those saints yet to come, but today, we will be witnesses to God’s powerful gracious gift of new life, as Raul is baptized, into the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.
Now, Raul is not that old! Not, for example, as old as I am! But he’s no new-born babe either! When was the last time we baptized an adult here at Unity? Usually it’s a child, as in most Lutheran churches. And so it’s always special when an adult comes forward, never having been baptized before, to desire this gift of new life. And for Raul, battling cancer so bravely, this is indeed a special gift of life for him, and for all of us, to be part of.
We’re not always so cognizant, so aware of our baptisms, of course. Can you remember the day you were baptized, or even your baptismal date? Do you remember your child’s baptism, or your parents, or your sibling’s baptisms? But if I asked you about their birthdays, I’ll bet you’d know!
So today, I want you to know this about your baptisms, “You are God’s child, deserving of love and respect, and God will use you to change the world, and raise you up to new life.”
Do you believe that? Are you confident of that? If you are, I want you to say it with me: “I am God’s child, deserving of love and respect, and God will use me to change the world, and raise me up to new life.”
And that’s what’s so compelling about the raising of Lazarus. Even though he wasn’t resurrected to life everlasting in this story, he was given a 2nd chance for today, for the present moment, to live again with his sisters and his good friend Jesus. And so Mary, kneeling at Jesus’ feet – like she did while Martha was washing dishes, and she was listening to his teaching – now pleads with Jesus, through her weeping, to do something! Mary’s friends were also crying, and, Jesus was deeply moved too, says John.
In fact Jesus’ words, that he was, “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved,” may not be a strong enough translation of the Greek. “Greatly disturbed in spirit,” is more of a strong mixture of passion and pain that comes from anger at Lazarus’ death. And the second verb, “deeply moved,” is tied to a stirring up of oneself on the insides. It can be used in a physical sense for stirring up deep dark waters, and signifies an internal disturbance that is akin to almost being physically sickened and disturbed.
So Jesus is deeply sympathetic to the death of Lazarus. He weeps too! He is torn up, inside and out. But he has come to demonstrate God’s power and gracious promise of new life. He has come to, stir up the waters, and change some lives.
And indeed, Lazarus does come out, his hands, feet, and face, bound and wrapped with the strips of grave clothes. Then Jesus said to all of them gathered there, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Jesus raises us up to new life. But we, the community, must take the next step, helping our sisters and brothers let go of their old lives that had bound them up. Lazarus is raised by Jesus; Unbound by his family and friends; and is set free to once again serve God and the world. This is the new life that we are given already here, in this world.
In the resurrection with all the saints, we will see the vision of God’s new heaven. That’s the revelation St John of Patmos had. That a new Jerusalem, a new holy city, comes down out of heaven from God, after the first heaven and the first earth pass away. John lived in a terribly difficult time for Christians. In the beginning of the 2nd century, Christians were pacifists, and probably would be accused of being “do-gooders” today. They were growing steadily as a movement, but they were also still a small minority in the Roman empire, an illegal religion. Depending on the Emperor, they could be rounded up and arrested, and even killed for their faith.
So, as you know, Revelation is full of deadly and gory images for the most part, until, that is, you get to this beautiful passage in chapter 21. Despite the suffering John’s seven churches underwent, the promise of the resurrection and new life, and the new holy city coming down from God to live among mortals and be our new home, was an awesome gift to celebrate! “God himself will be with them,” said John, and “[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things [will have] passed away.”
Whatever has bound us in the past and kept us from the baptismal promises of new life, we truly desire, are washed away. In the death and resurrection of Christ we are made new persons. We don’t have to fear death anymore, and that frees us up to live better, more giving, and more for-giving lives.
“Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true,” says the voice from the throne. “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”
Raul is baptized in this water today, the water of life. And we all are joined together with him, and with all the saints, to the life that never ends. Unbind us, and let us go – so that we are free to live a new life in Christ Jesus, our LORD.