Praying in the Flesh
Here's a copy of my sermon from Sunday's service based on Jesus' visit with Mary, Marth and Lazarus in John 11. I've also made a crossword to go along with the sermon, so see if you can solve the puzzles as we go along.
Jesus is a terrible super hero. First of all, he doesn’t have a secret identity, so he’s always getting himself and others into trouble. Secondly, he doesn’t have a secret hideout. He is always traveling, staying and eating at other people’s houses, and his followers have to rely on the hospitality of other people, too. And finally, Jesus always waits till the very last minute and sometimes days or weeks too late to pull out a miracle.
Why can’t he be more like Superman or Captain America and show up right when people are in need? Superman flies to the rescue at the faintest cry of injustice, which he can hear with his long-range hearing. Captain America runs as fast as he can into a battle and puts out that beautiful shield to save the day and he makes everyone feel safe with his big smile.
Instead, Jesus is more like Carol Danvers, you know, Captain Marvel. Maybe you don’t know her, because half the time she just plain doesn’t show up, and when she does, it’s always at the point when you think there’s no way the good guys could win, and suddenly she comes out of no where and does what no one knew was possible. And she almost never smiles.
Yep that’s Jesus, Fully God, and Fully Human. All the powers in the world, but as slow as your average Joe. Sometimes it is even hard to know what his superpowers are. We’ve all been frustrated like Martha and Mary. We send Jesus a message, ask him to fix the problem that we know he can tackle, and then wait for him to come through, even when everyone else has lost hope.
We confess that Jesus is fully human and fully God, and sometimes we mistake his humanness for Godliness. We see him comforting Martha and Mary, and we see our holy comforter, we see him calling Lazarus to life, and we see the Lord of Life, the one who Is the Resurrection and the Life. We see his ability to act and do as a reflection of what God does, but in really, we are the ones who feel the need to touch, the anxiety to fix what is broken and the desire tp resurrect the things that stop living. We forget the great God of the Hebrews is the one who “Is” not the one who “does”. God doesn’t promise to fix our life, but God does promise to be with us.
We are the ones who yearn for personal connection and we resist being alone at all costs. Sure, Jesus had no problem being alone in the desert for 40 days, but us, we can hardly stay at home for 1 day before we have to find someway to get connection with other people. This Social Distancing is driving us nuts because we can’t touch or visit each other, but I think what is even more frustrating is we are under direction to stay home and not go anywhere. Isn’t there more we can do to flatten the curve? Yes, the more we stay home, the more we are flattening the curve…but that just does not offer any physical or social satisfaction. Acting, talking and traveling, these are things humans do.
When we expect Jesus to come, speak and act, we end up mistaking his Godliness for humanness.
We see him get angry and we see him cry, and we see these things as a reflection of how we respond to crisis and grief. We see him pray, and he demonstrates how God hears human prayers, too. Jesus lives in his skin, and responds to the realities of sickness and death like a human, but with the power of God. He shows vulnerability as if that was the super power he came to share like no one else could.
And this is where his human emotions confuse me. When he first sees Mary and all of the people with her, the story teller says, he became indignant.
Now this is a great word to explain the greek, meaning to well up with anger because of an injustice. You’ll need that definition for your crossword, if you’re following along. This scripture doesn’t say he was filled with regret, or sadness for his failure to act. He feels emotion for a wrong that has taken place.
And this is where it seems so strange to me, because he knows what is going to happen next. He knows that Lazarus will live again, he knows that they will all soon be happy, but he still gets angry and feels that it is all unfair.
Is he angry at God or at the world for letting this happen? Doesn’t he understand that this is what happens in life, that people die? Surely this anger or indignation is his humanness showing through, the frustration with limits to what can or cannot be done, the feeling of powerlessness, and the grief for what will never be.
And this is where we fall into the trap of labeling our humanness as evil and godliness as good. We fault ourselves for “being human” when we show weakness or confusion, and when we show anger or hatred.
But in this experience, Jesus, the one who lived without sin and had no fault within him, experienced all emotions, even when he knew the outcome.
He had all the power in the world to right any injustice, and yet he allowed himself to feel powerless, to stand in frustration with the events before him, and to weep for the loss of his loved one.
We experience these emotions mostly because we do not know the outcome. Jesus chooses to stay in the moment, to be present with Martha, to listen to Mary, and to express grief alongside her and her community.
When we look for his human qualities we can see an example of how we were created to be, how we have the capacity to reflect the image of God by being authentically human, living in our flesh and by the Spirit.
We are reminded that when we were created, God declared us and all created things as very good.
During my conference back in January with the Presbyterian Educators, Lisa Sharon Harper, a storyteller and activist, was teaching us about the deeper meaning of the Hebrew words in Genesis 1. She describes it this way that human beings were created in the image of God and therefore, “the face of God is vested in all people. Not just the priests, (not just the Hebrew People, not just Jesus), but in All people. Then, God gave humanity dominion over all creation.” And within that dominion God charged us “to serve and protect the wellness of all things.” And this relationship, this commitment to “the wellness of all creation is declared to be power-fully Good.”
We were created with the capacity to make decisions and act in preservation of the wellness of all humanity, even all creation.
When you find yourself feeling indignant for the injustice in your life and your community, may you feel the presence and power of Jesus Christ sitting next to you in your suffering. When you feel the need to skip to the solution or end of the story, pause with Jesus, and rest in the knowledge that he is holding you through the long road of waiting. You can use the superpowers of Jesus by simply being vulnerable about your suffering and sharing in the suffering of others, from a social distance.
Our current situations during this Pandemic are not the only frustration of suffering in our lives. Some of you have lost jobs or put your businesses on hold. Our loved ones continue to develop other diseases and die from known viruses and circumstances. Our bills must be paid, meals must be made, and clothes still need to be washed. All of us are on edge, all of us are vulnerable, and all of us are exhausted. As we look for daily victories and resurrections, Jesus prays for us, Jesus weeps with us, and Jesus stands indignant for us.
When we can pray for one another, weep with our neighbors, and voice our feelings of anger for the injustice shown to our neighbors, we experience the glory of the God, the beauty of God’s love for each of us and God's desire to nurture life, even through stillness, even through the vulnerable needs of the human flesh.
The resurrection of Lazarus was only part of the miracle in the lives of these people. It was a foreshadowing, or a fore-lighting rather, of the freedom and life that was waiting for them when they answered the call of Jesus to be the humans that God created them to be: loving with mercy, acting with equitable justice, and walking in humility with God.
In the coming weeks, we will have progress and we will have failure. We will make smart choices and we will make mistakes. More people will become sick, and only some will recover. As we prepare ourselves for the death and loss to come, we must hold on to the life and resurrection that is available to each of us, and we can share in the presence of Jesus, by being authentically human with one another, sharing in our struggles and speaking up for those in need. Amen.