Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
We all live with our dreams. Now, you may think that dreams are only intended for high school and college graduates with such inspirational phrases as “stick to your dreams, dream dreams, and let your dreams become a reality.” So you may not be aware, that for all of us dreams color our judgement of the past, the interpretation of the present, and our decisions for the future.
Mind you, some dreams are unexpectedly cast upon us. I never dreamed of being a virtual pastor. At least when the congregation is seated in the pews in front of me, I can see when people have closed their eyes and drifted asleep. As a virtual pastor, it pains me to know that listeners can actually fast-forward through my sermon. Do you not how hard I’ve worked to get to this day?
To be honest, most of our dreams aren’t lost through trial or tribulation. Most just fade away. Looking back, you may not even remember when the dream became unimportant. You wake up one morning, and you realize that the University is not going to award you the research grant that you have longed for. And that’s fine. You’re never going to become wealthy or captivatingly beautiful, and that’s OK. Nor, are you going to sign a pro-hockey contract at age 50. You may make it onto the front page of the Hill and Lake Press, but your face will never adorn the cover of Time magazine. Yes, most of our dreams just fade away, and we move on almost unaware that God has nudged us in a new direction.
Unfortunately, that is not how the Coronavirus has struck you and your dreams for your family. Dreams are a powerful force in our lives, and they can become so battered and beaten by the world that they no longer have the power to carry us through the day, much less into a new tomorrow. You may not realize it, but in these awkward, painful days, when your dreams have been taken from you, you are experiencing grief, and so is your family. You are mourning the death and loss a positive and joyful force that was leading and marking your days.
So do not surprised if you see tears in these eyes of those you love. Countless dreams have been taken away. Dreams of graduation. Dreams of the perfect basketball season. Dreams of a summer vacation. Dreams of longed for economic stability. Yes, even the dream of protected innocence has been taken. So my friends, let those you love, mourn the loss of a dream- and remember, you can mourn yourself. For God blesses you in your weeping with sacred tears.
St. John’s teaches us that even Jesus, who knew what would come to pass, wept over the shattered dreams of his beloved friends, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. No doubt there were skeptics who chided Jesus for not arriving in Bethany earlier. As he wept beside the tomb of his friend Lazarus, they whispered curiously, “See how much he loved him!” While others responded, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Obviously, God doesn’t always prevent bad things from happening to good people. Good people’s dreams and lives have been changed. We can all find someone else to blame- or someone else to curse. But bad things do happen to good people, even to those whom Jesus loves and those who love him. And so 2000 years later, Mary and Martha’s cry continues to echo, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Understandably, devout Christians try to explain these things away and defend God , but their explanations often only make things worse. Beware of anyone who has a solid theology to dismiss evil and sorrow, and glibly cries, “God is good all the time.” Some might say to you that “God has a plan.” Really, I would say. God has a plan that involves sickness, tragic deaths, painful losses, shattered dreams and destroyed economies for years to come. Others might state, that, “Everything happens for a reason.” And they add something trite or trivial, “God wanted another angel in heaven.” Truly? Is God so selfish that he causes all kinds of pain and suffering in this world just so he can have an angel by his side?
The problem with pain, suffering and tragedy is that it defies all that we think we know about God – that God has the power to heal and create, and that God is all-loving and merciful. And yet, there are times when God’s power and love simply fail to come together for us. They are these random, painful occurrences as we are experiencing now with a global pandemic when we don’t feel either his power and strength or his love and mercy. Rather we feel only his absence. And our voices echo that of poor Martha’s, “Lord, if you had been here.”
But my friends, watch and listen to Jesus in this story closely. Christ sees the grief that Mary and Martha are suffering. He doesn’t criticize, challenge then or try to argue away their sorrow. Instead, he joins them in weeping. And then, defying all the laws of nature, he brings Lazarus back to life. You see, as wonderful as the miracle is, the healing is not simply about Lazarus. Certainly, Jesus loves Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, and I believe that he was truly moved to tears by his love for them, yet in Holy Scripture, we should remind ourselves that miracles are intended teach us two things: One- who Jesus is, and two, what we can expect of his future promises. The stories are not meant to generate a faith and trust in miracles, but rather they are to intended to help us deepen our faith and trust n Christ.
Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” That is your promise as well. God is there all along, in the suffering, in your isolation and safe distancing, in the crying and in the letting of dreams. That is the nature of God’s love that the miracle of Lazarus reveals. We trust in a God who is with us and will not let us go, a God who empties himself in love for us, a God who weeps and suffers and dies with us, even a death on the cross, promising that we are never alone. And so Jesus said to Marth, “Your brother will rise again.”
This is the Lord’s promise, to you and me. Even when all the world seems to be crashing down around us, God will give you new life-again. Even when sin and evil have overtaken you, God will breathe a new spirit into your life- again. Even though your dreams and hopes have been shattered, Jesus will enter your life bringing you a new dream and a new hope- again.
Now you may be wondering, so how do I experience and glimpse this new resurrection and life in Jesus Christ? The closing verses of the story suggests three way in which I believe you may glimpse this new beginning.
First of all, Jesus offers a simple command, “Take away the stone.” It’s an odd command, for certainly Jesus who was about to raise Lazarus from dead, could have moved the stone as well. But the command implies a divine truth for your life and for your dreams. Jesus will not do for you what you can and should do for yourself. God’s infinite grace will not coddle and spoil you, nor will it allow you to rest on your past laurels. If there is to be a miracle of resurrection in your life, you must bend your back and strain your muscles and heave, playing your little part, changing your outlook, opening yourself to new possibilities, forgiving those whose judgments you cannot accept. St. Augustine once said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” My friends, in order for God’s miracle of healing to happen, you need to take away the stone in your life, and let go of the old dream that cannot be.
Secondly, there will always be an awkwardness that occurs when you truly place all of your trust in God’s mercy and grace. Why, you may ask? I think it’s because we believe that God will mess it up. We sit up late in the night in our beds fretting about the details that God has overlooked. We offer God counsel, instead of listening to him. It’s rather like the poorly written sign outside the front of the church. “Don’t let worry kill you. Let our church help.” For poor Martha, it was a quick involuntary protest. She was fearful that something dreadful would happen. Her brother Lazarus had been buried four days. In the heat of the Middle East, she was certain that the body had already begun to decompose. Surely Jesus was forgetting this. Surely he was not about to bring upon about this crowning horror. “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” To which Jesus answered, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”
We should remember that at times God may appear to act strangely and indifferently towards us. You may wonder how much more you can take. But my friends, it is only afterwards, when looking back, that you will see for yourself and confess your own folly in having doubted.
And finally, you must always keep your eyes on Jesus, and Jesus only. Do not be obsessed with other ways or answers. Jesus was surrounded by watchful eyes. Some of them were doubtful, and others quite hostile. Others hoped to see a complete failure. But Jesus lifted his eyes and heart to heaven in thanksgiving for what he knew that the Father would give him. “Father, I thank you for having heard me.” Then Jesus said, “Come out.” And Lazarus came forth alive. The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him and let him go.”
That is your word of hope, my friends. Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life and new dreams. His promise doesn’t end with Lazarus. It is for you and your life as well. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.