We are in this bizarre time of social distancing, online school/church gatherings, an abundant need, yet rare shortage, of hand sanitizer, lysol spray and wipes, and not to mention suddenly finding that our enhanced internet might not always have enough bandwidth for all the returned children now working/schooling from home along side of Andrea and me.
In the midst of all this craziness we are adapting, we might even say we are evolving. Our household has eaten all of our meals at home for two weeks, Starbucks has sent out people to do coffee welfare checks in our absence, one of my daughters read scripture in church this past Sunday from over a hundred miles away in her pajamas and eating turkey bacon. In addition, we had a reader, and several participants, from other states.
Life is now surreal, it is our new reality, our new normal – it might be temporary or maybe it will impact us permanently.
I, too, am adapting and evolving. After a lifetime of ‘winging it’ with mere bullet points when preaching, my evolving has been to script my full sermon manuscripts for my Sunday message. I have been meaning to do this for too many years to mention, I even sat down once to try but failed – it got boring and laborious. But now, that there are many other options for participants worshipping with us at home than to sit still and listen to a much too long sermon, I must be concise and more respectful of time.
In reality, I have not faithfully followed the manuscript when preaching but it is holding me accountable and timely.
The NOW faith
(manuscript for 03.29.20)
When Jesus called for Lazarus to come forth from the grave, and as Lazarus came out from the tomb, those who opposed Jesus knew the time had come to stop this movement and this ‘prophet’. This was the final straw. They had to stop the talk and discredit the rumors of Lazarus’ resurrection just as they had managed to do with the widow’s son in Nain and with Jairus’ daughter in Capernaum. Few even talked about Jesus bringing those two back to life anymore. Those situations had been easy, plant a subtle seed, call it a resuscitation instead of a resurrection – but those two had not been dead for four days. This one was difficult, there were too many credible witnesses, too close to Jerusalem, and Lazarus had been dead for four days!
The basics of their plan was to kill Lazarus the following day so – no resurrected life – no miracle. If Lazarus was actually in a tomb who could prove that he had risen from death. The opposition could claim mass hysteria, drunken revelers, or use any number of tried and effective lies and half truths. So, they would return the following day to kill Lazarus. An easy and permanent solution which they were convinced was flawless. The next day, however, they found the same crowd at the home of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Lazarus was reclined at the table with Jesus and others, as Martha served as host. Mary then drew even more attention to the living Lazarus as she anointed Jesus with an expensive bottle of perfume. Now there was no way anyone would believe that resurrection of Lazarus was a hoax; there were now too many witnesses were able to testify what they had seen after they interacting with Lazarus for two days 4 days after his death.
If only Lazarus had not died, if only Jesus had not called Lararus out of the grave. But, Jesus had called for Lazarus to come forth and Lazarus actually had.
In the minds of the opposition, this was the point when they made it their unfailing mission to get rid of Jesus once and for all.
This was also the moment when Jesus gave us all a clear understanding of why Jesus came, what he taught, and the manner in which he interacted with all. He came so that we could all have Life Now.
As we take a moment to look at some of the characters in the story of Lazarus death and resurrection we quickly see a picture of the various presentations one the same faith.
There were the disciples, who, after being unable to convince Jesus not to return to Jerusalem due to safety concerns, decided to accompany him to Bethany. Bethany was basically a suburb of Jerusalem and Jesus already had a target on his head. It was the disciple Thomas, who is usually remembered for doubting Jesus’ resurrection, that said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” The disciples had a faith of a soldier, this was their mission – to protect the one who led them.
Then there was Mary, whose deep display of grief in Jesus presence seemed to trigger his tears. Mary was always the one that lived in the moment. Whether it was sitting at the feet of Jesus to experience every moment in his presence, or mourning at the grave of her brother, or even sacrificing her most valuable possession to honor Jesus, she always held back nothing. Mary’s faith was like a sponge soaking up every experience and every moment.
And we have Jesus who had seen death before, this death was different though. At this death we see something we do not see elsewhere, we see Jesus weep. Not just cry but weep. Deep and empathetic weeping, the kind that others notice and cannot be hidden. Rationally, he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, but it was the experience of loss, as viewed in his closest and most loved ones, that made this different. His tears were about the pain of death, the pain that others experience in the loss of a loved one, and possibly the impact that would be felt at his own impending experience of dying. Real soul crushing pain that goes to bed with you at night and wakes up with you in the morning. That feeling you cannot shake no matter how much you rationalize. It hurts, and Jesus, God in the flesh, experienced this at the tomb of Lazarus.
Then there was Martha – Martha often gets a bad rep, considered too controlling, maybe too rational, probably too concerned about every detail. She was the one that was honest with Jesus, even when it didn’t sound very holy or righteous. She was always looking at the obvious but, at the same time, looking for more. But it was also Martha who took off running to Jesus the moment she heard that he was close, while she could see no trace of him she ran at the simple mention of his name.
It was Martha who allows us all to better understand that Jesus came to so that we can have life now. It was possibly for Martha, and then for all of us who read her story, that Jesus permitted four days to pass following Lazarus’ death before he returned to Bethany. It was Martha that had the interaction that provided her, and us, the essential element of faith, a faith that permits us to understand what it is to Live Now. We see this displayed in the dialogue that was probably less than a common paragraph, a lesson that began with Martha’s statement:
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha was placing her hope on, and defining her faith by, a coming event, a coming moment – Resurrection. Jesus corrected her, and possibly our, theological understanding through his use of three small, yet powerful, words that explained everything:
I, Am, Life.
The one letter word ‘I’ is pretty self explanatory. Jesus is talking about himself, there is no question, what comes after ‘I’ refers to him, and only to him. We see this same definite direction as Genesis one says,
‘In the beginning GOD created’
It is also much like the “I’ in his statement detailed in John 14:6
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
There is no discussion or argument, he is referring to himself.
The word ‘AM’ is not an event to come, or even an event that has already taken place, actually it is not an event at all. ‘AM’ is a statement of ‘was being’, ‘now being, and ‘will begin’. It is, in the case of Jesus, an infinite identifier. Jesus is, Jesus was, Jesus will be, Jesus is a forever ‘Now’. This is what Jesus is and it is what Jesus does. He was before Martha embraced and followed, it was what Martha experienced as she journeyed with Jesus, it was her own resurrection and her existence – it was why she automatically took off running. It was in this teaching moment with Jesus that Martha a Now Faith began to click, she began to understad.
I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.
Greek word zóé: life or live
It is not just life as we think of it but both of physical or present and spiritual now or future existence.
Martha, without realizing it had already experienced the life, she had already partaken of the resurrection for she had also previously been dead in her sin. Jesus, in very definite, yet simple, words, taught Martha, and us, that his mission was not just about a future event, a physical resurrection or his own resurrection, or our own eternity, it is about NOW, and the faith he leads us in is a NOW faith.
As followers of Jesus we are also partakers of the resurrection that IS Jesus and of the NOW life, we are not waiting for this life it is NOW.
Faith, the faith we call Christianity, is not a waiting faith, it never was and never will be. We do not wait for a moment and then start living, we do not delay the life until heaven – We live NOW.
It is when we are alone and when we are with many, it is when we are surrounded by those who treat us unfairly and when we are around those who we can fully trust, it is when we are poor and when we have plenty, it is when life is miserable, it is when life is pleasant, it is when life is scary and when life is easy, it is when we are uncomfortable and inconvenienced and when things are just right, it is when we feel unloved and it is when we feel loved, it is when we are free to move and do and it is when we are in quarantine and lock down. It is NOW.
This is what Jesus was talking about when he prayed:
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
This is OUR mission, that we would live now in as if we were living in heaven. It is our reality as believers, it is our way of life as followers, it is living in the unseen and enjoying even in the midst of the unenjoyable.
It is NOW.
So, How do we live in a NOW Life, a Now faith?
Much like the Disciples, Mary, and Martha, who each approached their believer journey, their life differently, living with a NOW faith is also going to be personal.
Somewhat different for each of us, somewhat different depending on each of us.
It probably will start by looking for our Joy, the Joy that reminds us what our calling, our mission, is – what are life is about. Not just happy things but those discoveries that remind us of our NOW faith. Maybe it is a memory grasping truth, maybe it is a happy or a sad moment or experience, possibly it is just realizing that what you can see and how life feels is not always true to what life is.
It is what takes us back to the place that Martha went to when she realized that she was not waiting for an event but that life was right there with her.
It is what led Martha hold a dinner party the next day in honor of Jesus. It is what led Lazarus to recline at the table with Jesus, it is what led Mary to anoint Jesus.
What is your LIFE NOW FAITH leading you to do?