Rev. Pamela Shepherd
John 11: 1-45
Do you believe this story? Do you believe Jesus raised Lazarus, a real man, from the dead? Do you trust in resurrection? Has it happened to you in your life?
The Old Testament reading we didn’t’ use this morning is from Ezekiel, the story of the valley of dry bones, where God, from a valley of dried out old bones, raises up and breathes new life into people.
These stories—from the Valley of Dry Bones and from Lazarus, are meant to prepare us to become Easter People. They are meant to prepare us to trust resurrection. Notice I didn’t say believe in it. It’s not about belief, even though in John’s gospel it says at least 40 times, believe in me, believe in me, believe in me….. John’s gospel has an awful lot to say about believing, for a preacher to stand before you and say, it’s not about belief
The Greek verb,”pistevo”, which is translated as belief, means to entrust, commit to, or put your trust in: especially to entrust one’s spiritual well-being to Christ. (Strong’s Greek Dictionary)
Jesus wasn’t talking to his grieving friends, Martha and Mary, about ideas they should hold in their heads about him. That is a peculiarly modern fascination, to think that our religion is about our spiritual opinions. Jesus is saying to his friends in this late first century spiritual text: Do you trust me with your well-being? Do you trust this path we’re on together? Commit to me, walk in trust with me: that is the Resurrection Life.
Pistevo: put your trust in/ to commit to…. We are about to welcome new members into our church at our Easter Service, and we will also be baptizing Lisa Spencer. This means, well one thing it means, is that the Easter sermon will be really short. The more important thing it means is that here and now, in the 21st Century, there are human beings, bright, intelligent, thoughtful human beings, who are willing to lay down lives of isolation, selfishness, and lonely individualism to join in and trust Christ Community.
In light of these people’s commitment to join their life with Christ; in light of the commitment so many of you have made here, to enter and be part of the Living Body of Christ, let’s hear our text again with new ears:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who trust in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and trusts in me will never die. Do you trust this?”
German theologian, Dorothee Soelle, tells the story of a taxi driver asking her if she really believed in the resurrection. She answered him: tell me, what difference will it make in your life, if the resurrection is real or not?
Shall we just break out into groups and discuss this–this rising from the dead business? Our faith tradition says this is the core of our faith, and I absolutely trust resurrection is the truth. And yet, as your minister, supposedly in charge of your salvation, I don’t care if you believe it or not. I just don’t believe, I really do not believe, that what we believe in our minds, or don’t believe, is the point to our religion.
The point of our religion is so much simpler: we are to enter the watery depths of the holy. We are to trust in, and swim in, and sink into God.
Jesus did not tell his followers to go out and convince other people to believe a certain thing. He told them they were empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God alive in them, to go about the world doing good and healing themselves and other people–to do the things he did. To preach, to teach, to heal, to comfort, to welcome, to feed, and yes, raise the dead. To insist on a world where the broken get healed and the people keep rising.
I don’t care whether or not you believe God raised Jesus up to glory, although, I do want to say, for the record, that I am quite certain God did. What I want to insist we keep on doing is raising people from the dead.
I don’t know anything about the resuscitation of dead bodies. If you think Easter is about resuscitation, you’ll have to ask someone else about that. For me Easter is about being raised from the dead, and in community, all the time, God works through people like that.
Robert Hoch, a professor of homiletics (that means preaching) wrote about his work with a local Catholic Worker Community that provides showers and clean clothes to people who are homeless and living on the streets.
He writes: During my stay with the Cherith Brook Catholic Worker in Kansas City, I helped as the community hosted showers and opened a clothes closet for people living on the street. Many entered the shower room waiting area looking beaten, tired, and as neglected as the urban cityscape itself. People avoided eye contact. Conversation was limited. But as each emerged out of the showers, clean and wearing a fresh set of clothes, a new life seemed to come into their eyes. They shone with the warmth of their humanity restored, shining with the luster of care and dignity.
What I witnessed, I suppose, was a little resurrection, a resurrection of a person in community and a community in a person. (WorkingPreacher, April 6, 2014)
Those of us here who participated in our Bread Together and Shower Program, or who volunteered to host the emergency winter shelter, or who volunteered at the Ashland Food Bank, have witnessed resurrections just like that.
When Bread Together first started here we used to joke that we had Communion happening upstairs where we were serving breakfast, and Baptism happening downstairs, as soap and hot water and the gift of community, raised up weary people into life.
We have a woman now who comes to our church three times a week. You don’t know her. I don’t know her either. I only know that some months ago she asked if she could shower here.
So three times a week that woman showers here. It is a simple thing. A little thing. It costs us almost nothing. It is not world-changing. And yet, when I watch her come out of the shower and head back to the street, I see we are helping one soul hold to life. She may be sleeping on the streets and pulling her belongings in a pushcart, but for the moment she was welcomed somewhere; for the moment she is well dressed and orderly. That, to me, is resurrection. That simple commitment to another person’s life that the worst news is not the last news—that beyond every death remains life.