Lent 5, Year A
Ezekiel 37:1-14 † Psalm 130 † Romans 8:6-11† John 11:1-45
I’ve been thinking all week about what it is to write a sermon and send it to you all in this format. Just wondering on and off: wondering what my work is, what we need from each other right now.
I woke up this morning with this memory that seemed important. I remembered travelling to Scotland in January 2007. It was a trip purchased with miles given to me by a St Andrew family because they knew I didn’t have much money. My mom had died suddenly, and I needed to go home. This family, by the way, would do the same thing, in June of the same year when my dad died.
On the morning of that first trip back to Scotland, or maybe it was the day before, a couple of youth group members came to me; I honestly can’t remember who and I can’t remember where we were. All I remember is what they were holding. They were holding 15 cards. Cards in envelopes of different sizes and colors: like a pile of birthday cards. And on the front of each card was neatly written a time: the hours in sequence between when my plane would take off and when it would land in Scotland. They told me they were for the trip and to open them at the appropriate time.
I don’t remember much about packing for that trip or getting to the airport, but I do remember placing the 15 cards for the 15 hours ahead of me in my carry-on bag and I remember getting to the other side of security and opening the first one. I remember the feeling of the envelope and the cheerful card and the equally cheerful hello inside. I remember being a little surprised and then delighted that this first message was just a, “hello, thinking of you” kind of thing and not some profound words of wisdom.
Some folks in youth group youth had known that some company on this trip was something they could give me and could only be a good thing and so they had each written me a card. They had asked others, including a few adults, they felt comfortable approaching to do the same. I don’t remember what was in each the fifteen cards, but I do remember opening them, not always on the hour, but when I needed. Sometimes I opened one or two at a time, sometimes when the hour came around as instructed, sometimes going back to read a cheerful hello or joke someone had written; sometime just to take in, feel in my hands again a homemade card someone had created or to smile again at an awkward hello from someone who didn’t really know what to say, or a picture someone had drawn for me, or to read a thoughtful note, some words of wisdom, when I really needed them.
And I remember very clearly being back on the other side of the ocean in a place that held a lot of mixed up memories and emotions and loss that I hadn’t yet sorted through and finding a quiet place to read every single one of those cards in order a couple of times through. I know now they grounded me, reoriented me. At the time I think I wished they would remove me from the journey. They didn’t of course, but they reminded me of something that has become even more clear over time, that the story, my story, this story we are in together is bigger than any of us, It’s simply beyond me and it tells me that am loved. Loved in ways I didn’t know before - always have been – always will.
I woke up with this memory with this morning, having gone to bed wondering what we are doing as we do the work of the church during this time; and what this work needs to look like. It seemed like an important memory but at the same time, I heard a little voice dismissing it as somehow not really relevant.
You see, there are those memes and notes on social media that are telling us that what we are being asked to do right now is not that hard. And of course they are true. Absolutely, staying home, being with family are good things in my world – hopefully in yours too. But still I realize I am sad and worried and scared about where we are and how we got here and the suffering that others are enduring. So, I resisted the voice and I turned to these texts: these texts about death and confusion where God is in the midst of it all.
And at the same time, Jesus seems to suggest that there is power at play that they don’t understand, and that I realize I don’t understand. Jesus actions in this story have in the past made me more angry and more confused. Why did he stay away? Why did he let the man die and then raise him when he could have prevented it? I don’t pretend to understand, and I don’t think I am meant too. That is maybe part of the point: the movements of God are beyond me. Yet at the same time they are for me, for you.
I have seen God move, show up over and over – sometimes I don’t realize I have been held until afterwards but I know I can trust it even if I don’t fully understand it. I have seen love that can cut through loss and despair and confusion in the most unexpected ways, and it has brought me to where I think I can grasp something of what Jesus wants Martha and Mary to hear, to know.
I think Jesus is telling Mary, telling Martha, telling us, that the life I offer you is different sometimes from the life you think you need. You are bereft right now at your brother’s loss, but you are asking for things that are not yours to ask for. You are looking in the wrong places right now for the life that will hold you. Death and suffering will come, but I am in it with you, and life, real life, a life that cannot be extinguished, remains.
Of course, you should do all you can to preserve the living, you are made for that, I made you for that, but when it is beyond you and you can’t get to what you think you need, I am here. And you will see eventually that I am always here, no matter what, even if you can’t feel me, loving you, holding you, reorienting you to the hope and goodness that transcends living or dying.
It is a life that is beyond you, but here is the thing, it is also in you, pushing you, compelling you to act in love for others. And when that love brings you to despair for over loss and suffering, I am still here reminding you that it never goes away and cannot be overcome.
And I think they do come to know this mysterious reality, these sisters. In just the next scene Mary anoints Jesus, in his words, to prepare him for his death. She knows now that loving in this life brings hardship, it’s something she cannot change, but it seems to me that while she no will longer shirk from it. Instead she will trust in the one who somehow, in some way will not leave her, and in whom she can find the strength to continue in the extravagant acts of love and mercy that she was made for. In the end that is where she will find what she needs.
Those cards, beloved; your faces on my computer screen; nurses, doctors, and scientists working round the clock; staff at homeless shelters and food banks offering a place when there is nowhere else to go; words from friends across a telephone line or in a cards that arrive in my mailbox - all signs of a goodness and a love that does not, cannot stay away. It is a love and a goodness that calls us, compels us to work for life as we are able and that will be with us getting us through when it’s all beyond us. And it is a love and goodness that is waiting for us, trusting in us, to turn each other and to God to work out together where we have been and what needs to happen next as we commit ourselves to keep asking for and working for extravagant love and mercy for all, because that is where ultimately God is found. Amen.
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