Come and See

Posted by brianmaas in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Preaching on the All Saints gospel from John (11:32-44–the raising of Lazarus) was a different experience this year–because of the settings? recent experiences? new perspectives? Probably “yes” to all. In the middle, the muddle and the mess of all the rapid change that surrounds us, I became keenly aware of the reactions to change among the personalities in that text.

Mary, Martha and even their neighbors have faith in Jesus’ power–to a point. “If you had been here . . . .” “Could not [Jesus] . . . have kept this man from dying?” Their trust will take them to the edge of their understanding. They know healing can happen. But they also know that death is final. And what they know limits what they’ll believe. When Jesus asks that the tomb’s stone be removed, Martha objects to him venturing into a dead end–and a smelly one, at that. No doubt her sister and neighbors were feeling the same.

But then the stone is removed and Jesus calls out to the only one whose faith isn’t limited by what he knows–Lazarus, the one beyond knowing, beyond help, beyond hope. And unlimited by what he knows, Lazarus simply hears. And life happens. Yet those who know that this can’t possibly happen are so upset that they begin to plot Jesus’ death. When Jesus refuses to fit their faith, their solution isn’t to broaden their faith–it’s to eliminate Jesus.

How much of what we know–particularly of God’s will for us and for God’s mission in the world–limits what God can be up to? How often do we stand near our expectations of what Church is and lament those expectations’ apparent bondage to death, unwilling to endure the stink of letting those expectations and desires die? How much of what we know God wants the Church to look like limits the liberating faith that could let us respond, like Lazarus, to Jesus’ call? What are we willing to let die so that we, as the Body of Christ, might truly live?

I won’t pretend to offer answers to these questions–frankly, I’m a little uncomfortable with my own answers to them. I know how God would like the Church to be, if only God had the benefit of my experiences and opinions. I’m also aware that too often, my invitation to “Come and See” mimics that of the crowds at Lazarus’ tomb–it’s a mockery, an invitation to a dead end.

I pray God might grant me the faith instead to make my “Come and See” the invitation to life, possibility and change, as it is every other time it’s extended in John’s gospel. And that I might die to the temptation to limit my believing to the bounds of my knowing–to shrink Jesus’ power to the size of my understanding.

6 Responses to Come and See

  1. Vera Hummel says:

    I heard this lesson Sunday and walked into it through the use of a wonderful icon, Jesus and Lazarus, that included lots of other participants in the scene. I was invited to consider what my own response was, and is, to the scene and the story.

    I doubt that my belief, or lack of it, has any impact on what God can and does do. I do think my belief, or lack of it, seriously impacts how often I notice God at work in my world — oh yes, and in me! I wonder, too, whether or not I might let go of more expectations and desires for the church if I just considered what the personal cost of “letting go”, and personal cost of hanging on, has on my ability to be used for the sake of God’s will and God’s kingdom. More and more, I come to believe that hanging on represents a cost and letting go represents freedom.

  2. brianmaas says:

    Thanks, Vera. I’m with you on the letting go vs. hanging on–but hanging on so often feels safer! No wonder Luther called security the “greatest idol.”

  3. Jonathan Jensen says:

    With what-we-do-know often being cancelled out by what-we-don’t-know the Lazarus resuscitation still points us forward to Easter where life is not just extended, but made new and transformed into God’s future and God’s kingdom. Already Christ shows that he could bring us back to life, yet he still must pour out his own life on the cross.

    • brianmaas says:

      Jonathan: you make a helpful distinction between life being extended–resuscitation, and life being transformed–resurrection. And you’re right, thanks to Jesus’ willingness to endure the cross, we get to experience the latter. My hope is always that we’re willing to endure our own crosses, to die in order to live. Preaches well, but hard to do. Thanks for calling us to it nonetheless.

  4. Michael Ostrom says:

    As a young pastor, I saw myself primarily as an “actor”, a minister of the gospel armed with a message to share with those who had yet to hear it or needed to hear it again and again. Nowadays, I feel more empty-handed than “armed,” and less an actor than one who needs to be “acted upon.” More and more I find ministry is putting myself where Christ promises to be – encountering the word with two or three others or caring for the “least or these” – and waiting to see what happens. I don’t know what to expect anymore. I don’t even know what to hope for, especially when it comes to the church as institution. Confidence is at an all-time low. Perhaps I need to spend more time with the Lazarus’ of the world.

    • brianmaas says:

      Michael: I appreciate the notion of being “actor.” I shared–and too often still share–that illusion. I make myself the subject of the verb of the kingdom rather than the object. It’s God who acts on me, uses me, transforms me–not I who do these things to God, myself or God’s world. That’s pretty countercultural in a “can-do” world, but that’s nothing new.
      I think the church as institution may be in hospice. And as with any beloved one, I grieve that. But I also know that until that death happens, church as Body of Christ will always be limited. My hope is that we’ll one day soon experience the Body of Christ, unlimited. Of course, that’s also my fear–I’m not sure I could handle what God would do if we managed to hand over the reins. But where there’s risk, there’s thrill–and joy. Again, preaches well but hard to do. All the more reason to give thanks for those like you who preach it and struggle to live it.

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