Monday, April 3, 2017

We’ll never be transformed if we aren’t willing to walk into the tomb.

Brad Sullivan
5 Lent, Year A
April 2, 2017
Emmanuel, Houston
John 11:1-45

We’ll never be transformed if we aren’t willing to walk into the tomb.

Thinking about the raising of Lazarus from the dead got me thinking about death and the fear of death, and that got me thinking about Star Wars.  To be fair, most things do, but fear of death is a recurring theme in the Star Wars saga.  In Star Wars there is something called “the Force,” an almost divine-like force that some people can tap into and use to perform great feats and do great good.  There are others who can tap into the force, but use it selfishly.  The way they use the Force is called The Dark Side, and through The Dark Side, they bring about great evil.  The tragic hero of Star Wars, Anakin, is one of these good force users, but he is particularly afraid of death and the death of those he loves.  So when he receives a vision of his wife dying, he is terrified, and he seeks the advice of the wise, old Master Yoda. 

Anakin explains this vision of death, and Yoda says, "Careful you must be when sensing the future, Anakin! The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side."
"I won't let my visions come true, Master Yoda," Anakin replies.
Yoda says, "Rejoice for those around us who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy, the shadow of greed, that is."
"What must I do, Master Yoda?"  Anakin asks.
"Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose."

Sadly, Anakin didn’t really take Yoda’s advice and through his fear of death and loss, he ended up acquiring great power through The Dark Side and became an embodiment of evil, the infamous Darth Vader.  Anakin was unwilling to face the tomb, for his life and the life of those he loved, and so he became and brought about the very thing he feared.  

Now most of us aren’t going to become an embodiment of evil because of our fears, and yet Yoda’s advice still applies to us.  “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”  Jesus said something similar in his teachings about not worrying and about losing our lives.  Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will wear, Jesus taught.  “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34)  Worrying, he taught, won’t change anything or help you in any way, but it will make you afraid and miserable.  Closely tied to not worrying was Jesus’ teaching about our lives.  He taught us to let go of that which we fear to lose.  “For those who want to save their life will lose it,” Jesus said,  “and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

How much of our time is spent, like Anakin, “sensing the future”, worrying about some possible future catastrophe?  How much of our resources are spent trying to stave off death?  We fear, we worry, and we take actions that are guided by our fear and our worry of death and loss, and those actions usually bring about greater death and loss. 
Jesus would prefer that we let go of that which we fear to lose and trust instead in him.  That’s what he showed us in his raising of Lazarus from the dead.  When Lazarus was deathly ill, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, and Jesus apparently had every intention of healing Lazarus, but only after he died first, right?  Jesus waited around and let Lazarus die before he healed him, and he did so for two reasons:  one so that people could see that he, that God, has power even over death, and two because it was very important to Jesus that people believe in him.

Jesus waited around till Lazarus was good and dead before deciding to go to see him in Bethany “so that [he], the Son of God [would] be glorified through [Lazarus’ death and being raised from the dead].”  See, just before this story, Jesus had been in Jerusalem and had given sight to a man who was born blind, a miracle so great that no one had ever heard of anything like that ever happening before.  Many who did not see Jesus actually perform this miracle, however, did not believe that Jesus had done this, and later, many of them even tried to kill Jesus for claiming to be God’s son. 

So, Jesus left Jerusalem, went away across the Jordan River and then received word that Lazarus was sick.  When he arrived in Bethany which was very close to Jerusalem, with Lazarus already dead, many Jews from Jerusalem were there mourning with Martha and Mary.  Ok so, we don’t know if these were the same people who tried to kill Jesus, but they were from the same place where those doubts and death threats had come.  In fact, Jesus’ disciples were afraid of going so near to Jerusalem, believing that they were going to be killed, since last time they were there, people tried to kill Jesus. 

So, Jesus returned to Bethany to show people from Jerusalem not only a healing, but to show them that he had power to raise the dead back to life.  Jesus wanted these people to believe in him.  It was important enough to Jesus that people believe in him, in fact, that he waited for Lazarus to die and risked being killed in order to show that he truly was God’s son, and those who saw believed.

So why was it so important to Jesus that people believe in him, that he would risk so much?  Because Jesus wanted to heal them too, and believing in him was the healing they needed.  They needed to believe in him who is the light and life of all creation.  They needed to believe in his power over death.  They needed to believe that his teachings were true, that they could let go of that which they feared to lose, and trust in him.  Jesus wanted them and us to believe in him because Jesus knows what our worries and fears bring us when we follow after the ways of our worries and fears. 

Ultimately, our worries and fears bring us to The Dark Side, to Darth Vader.  Consider when we don’t trust in Jesus and don’t follow in his teachings.  Times when we have been hurt and we don’t let go of that hurt, we don’t forgive, and we cause greater strife.  Times when because of our hurt and our perceived righteousness, we retaliate and cause further harm.  Consider how much suffering is caused by our epic battle with death.  How many are killed in order to protect the lives of others.  Consider the suffering caused by our battle with all kinds of death:  physical, emotional, relational, death of goals, dreams, etc.  How often do we try to stave off and prevent death at all cost, rather than accepting death and trusting our lives and our deaths with Jesus?

Trusting in Jesus, believing in him, means letting go of that which we fear to lose.  Trusting in Jesus means being willing to face the tomb, trusting in resurrection, in Jesus’ power over death.  That’s a lot of trust because even trusting in resurrection, we don’t know what’s going to happen.  Trusting in Jesus, we need to let go of that which we fear to lose and accept death in order to be transformed. 

A couple I know and gave some counseling to was limping along with their marriage basically on life support.  Their marriage was dead, but neither was willing to face that truth.  Finally, one did, but rather than simply say, “ok, let’s get divorced,” this person said plainly what their marriage had become and did raise divorce as a possibility.  That was a bit of a shock to the other.  So, together they began facing the tomb in which their marriage had gone.  They looked at what was causing the death of their marriage.  They looked at what they each of them were afraid to lose, what each of them had to place into the tomb in order for their marriage to survive.  They worked together, and they both allowed some things to die.  Some of their dreams of what they wanted their lives to be died.  Some of their visions of what they thought marriage should be died.  Through those deaths, they found new life.  Through their willingness to enter the tomb, their marriage was transformed.  They found new life, resurrection, by letting go of that which they feared to lose and entering the tomb.

See, what Jesus ultimately wants for us is transformation.  That is why it is so important to him that we listen to him and believe in him.  Jesus wants us to be transformed into light and life, and we’ll never be transformed if we aren’t willing to let go of that which we fear to lose and walk into the tomb.  If we trust in Jesus and believe in him, then we can accept and face our deaths.  We can enter the tomb and be transformed.

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