Sunday, April 5, 2015

I AM the Resurrection and the Life - Do You Believe This?

Do You Believe This?
John 11:1-26; John 20:1-18
April 5, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

John 11: 1-26
Narrator:  A certain man, Lazarus, was ill. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying,
Mary and Martha: "Lord, the one whom you love is ill."
Narrator:  When he heard this, Jesus said,
Jesus: "This illness isn't fatal. It's for the glory of God so that God's Son can be glorified through it."
Narrator: Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was. After two days, he said to his disciples, "Let's return to Judea again." The disciples replied, "Rabbi, the Jewish opposition wants to stone you, but you want to go back?"
Jesus:  "Aren't there twelve hours in the day? Whoever walks in the day doesn't stumble because they see the light of the world. But whoever walks in the night does stumble because the light isn't in them. Our friend Lazarus is sleeping, but I am going in order to wake him up."
Narrator: The disciples said, "Lord, if he's sleeping, he will get well." They thought Jesus meant that Lazarus was in a deep sleep, but Jesus had spoken about Lazarus' death. Jesus told them plainly,
Jesus:  "Lazarus has died. For your sakes, I'm glad I wasn't there so that you can believe. Let's go to him."
Narrator: Then Thomas (the one called Didymus) said to the other disciples, "Let us go too so that we may die with Jesus."
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was a little less than two miles from Jerusalem. Many Jews had come to comfort Martha and Mary after their brother's death. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained in the house. Martha said to Jesus,
Martha: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn't have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you."
Jesus:  "Your brother will rise again."
Martha:  "I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day."
Jesus:  "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
John 20: 1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."

Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.  

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."

Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

For the last forty days, as we prepared for this celebration of resurrection, we have been studying the Gospel of John and the “I AM” sayings of Jesus. As you came in, you might have seen some of the symbols of that study – the gate, the bread, the light, the good shepherd, the way, the path, the vine and branches. Meanwhile, in our Wednesday morning Bible study, we’ve been studying the Book of Esther, and the ways in which God is present, even when it seems that God is absent.

Throughout the scriptures, we encounter this seeming paradox, a God who is at once obscure and obvious, distant and also present.  The I AM saying of Jesus you’ve heard today, “I AM the resurrection and the life,” comes at a time when God must have seemed far, far away from Mary and Martha. Jesus has come to Bethany, to the home of his dear friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. They had sent him word that Lazarus was dying; they sent word, and he DID NOT COME!

They were wondering where he was, why didn’t he come?
But, as you heard, Jesus does return to Bethany, and when he does, he comes bringing resurrection and life – to Lazarus. Our second scripture, also from John’s gospel, is the story of that first Easter morning, when another Mary comes to the tomb, and finds that resurrection is real, and Christ is truly present, even though she does not recognize him at first.

One of the challenges of Easter morning worship, as I am sure you can imagine, is that preaching Christ’s resurrection necessitates acknowledging his crucifixion. To say that Christ is risen and lives means nothing unless and until we first say that Christ was crucified and died. Most of us would prefer to skip over that part – we like the happy ending of Easter, where Jesus is raised from the dead. Otherwise, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, our church services would be packed!

We like the promise of new life, and an eventual resurrection and life in the world to come. That gives us comfort, when we, like Martha and Mary, stand by the grave of a loved one. It helps us to believe in resurrection, to believe in another world, better than this one, when we are crushed by problems, grieving, when we are struggling, when we feel alone. We express our Christian hope in the future tense, like Martha: "I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day." And that is truth.

But we fail to recognize resurrection here and now, in the present. So often, like Mary Magdalene, we see Jesus right in front of us, and we don’t even recognize him. Perhaps it is because, like Mary Magdalene, we are not expecting life, not looking for resurrection. Look for death, and you will find despair. Look for resurrection, and you will know new life. But to recognize it, we have to first become acquainted with death. Before a new beginning, there must be an end.

We have to acknowledge our own our eventual final, physical death. And we have to send some of ourselves to the cross to die: we have to crucify all those traits and actions  that blind us to life. When we put to death those things that make us less alive: self-will, self-deception, self-indulgence-- we experience new life: compassion, honesty, generosity.
Do we believe this?

If we do believe it, then Easter is something more than a Sunday School lesson or a once-a-year-nod to religion. If we really do believe in resurrection, here and now, our very lives will be demonstrations of that truth. If Jesus really, truly is the light and the way and the resurrection, Easter is more than just a preview of coming attractions. Easter is here, now.

This past week, we began a new ministry in our community. This program provides bags of food for kids,  food they take home from school for the weekend. It’s a small thing – a bag of cereal and fruit, some spaghetti-o’s. It is also a huge thing – a bagful of hope. It’s a bag of life! 

Last week we received a note from a fifth grade teacher at our partner school. She said, “A student in my class received a buddy bag on Friday, and he was THRILLED!  I wish that I could properly express the look on his face.  I explained that he would get a bag each Friday as part of a special program.  He had a HUGE grin and said, ‘You mean I get this every Friday?  Wow!’
Then, he ran around the classroom and showed the two other students who were also still there after school.  His expression was one of happiness, pride, and relief.  I could tell that the bag of food meant more to him than any one of us could ever imagine.  He left clutching it in his arms.

Such a small thing – a bag of food.
But such a big thing – a gift of hope.

We do this because we believe in resurrection.
We believe in the one who was raised from the dead who calls us into new lives of grace and mercy and love. So as we gather here for worship today, surrounded by the symbols of the great I AM, surrounded by the lilies and the Easter light streaming in the windows, we gather in the presence of the risen Lord. He is here, standing right in front of us.

When the crowds asked for bread, he answered, “I am the bread of life.”
We have this bread of life, here, today.

When the lost asked for help, he answered, “I am the light of the world.”
His light shines for us, here, today.

When the flock felt lost and afraid, he answered “I am the good shepherd and the gate to the sheepfold.” Jesus guides and protects us, here, today.

When his followers needed strength, he answered, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Cut off from him, we can do nothing; but connected to him, and to one another through him, we feel his power, here, today.

When his disciples, in those last moments before he left them, worried about how they would find their way, he answered, “I am the way.” That way is open to us, to all of us, here, today.

When Martha stood in front of him, wondering why he had been so far away in her moment of need, he answered, “I am the resurrection and the life.” That resurrection and life, God incarnate, is here for us now, today.

I challenge you, people of God, to be open and aware of resurrection, here, now, today.
You will find it in a thousand places –
listening to a story you have already heard a hundred times,
cooking a special dinner for those whom you love,
struggling with a fugue at the piano;
putting a baby to bed;
gazing at the sunlight reflecting on the water,
singing songs of hope,
writing a note of care.

Resurrection happens when we are open to God’s spirit, to recognizing Jesus.
Resurrection happens when we die to ourselves and arise to life in Christ.
New life is now.

Because standing right in front of Martha, at her brother’s graveside, is Jesus, the resurrection and the life.
Standing right in front of Mary Magdalene, at his OWN graveside, is Jesus, the resurrection and the life!

Resurrection is right here, right now, right in front of us!
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
Do you believe this?

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