Monday, November 2, 2015

“Take Away the Stones” (John 11:32-45)

They had come to Jesus because their brother—Jesus’ friend—was sick.  These sisters—Mary and Martha—believed that Jesus could heal their brother; but, Jesus did not jump up and run to bring healing upon their brother.  No, Jesus stayed put and Lazarus dies much to the chagrin of his sisters.  Needless to say, Mary and Martha are sad and disappointed.  Now Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days when Jesus finally arrives . . . deader than a door knob and getting quite smelly lying in the tomb. 

Mary could not hide her disappointment, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Seeing the sobbing of the sisters, hearing the wailing of the mourners, Jesus was disturbed.  Mary told him to “come and see” when Jesus asked where he was laid.  The reality was setting in . . . Jesus was moved to tears.  Those who witnessed is tears understood how much he loved his friend, Lazarus . . . yet, at the same time, they were curious as to how a person who could make a blind person see did not keep his friend from dying.

True, in the start of this story that was not shared in this reading this morning; Jesus had stated that this would happen . . . that it would be a show of the power of God . . . that Lazarus would die.  He told the disciples that in the end it was all necessary in order for them to believe.  And, sure enough, it happened just as Jesus said it would happen . . . Lazarus was dead and had been dead for several days before Jesus showed up.  He had been in the tomb for four days when Jesus arrived.  There ain’t much hope for a person who had been dead for four days. 

Yet, Mary came to him believing that he could save Lazarus from the illness that ailed him . . . she believed that Jesus could keep him from dying . . . believed that if Jesus only showed up everything would be fine.  Thus she was a little appalled when Jesus shows up too late.  Those who had seen him perform miracles had also believed . . . they believed that Jesus could have cured Lazarus of his illness, kept him from dying . . . believed that Jesus could do this; but, he didn’t and now it was too late.

The writer of this gospel does not explain the reason for Jesus’ emotional response when he asks to see where they had laid his friend.  The writer does not tell the reason for Jesus’ tears.  No, the writer only tells us that Jesus “. . . was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”  The writer leaves that up to the conjecture of the reader and listener of this story.  One could think that it had to do with the fact that Jesus did not like seeing those he loved suffer . . . did not like seeing them cry.  One could think that maybe it had to do with the knowledge he had that he could have prevented this whole mess had he only done as Mary had asked him to do.  One might believe that Jesus understood that this was an unfair situation to thrust upon his friend . . . to allow him to die, just to prove a point to his disciples and those who would witness the miracle.  You can believe whatever you want to believe, but the writer gives us no clue as to why Jesus weeps beyond the fact that he “. . . deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

So, they go to the tomb. 

Here at the tomb the glory of God would be revealed . . . just as Jesus had told Mary when she first came to ask him for help.  But Mary, Martha and those gathered around, could not understand . . . could not believe . . . how the glory of God would be revealed through the body of a dead man.  When Jesus asks them to remove the stones that sealed the tomb, Martha insists that it is too late . . . Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days . . . he was deader than dead.  “But, Lord,” Martha said, “by this time there is a bad odor . . .”  For those gathered, the whole situation was beginning to stink.

Yet, Jesus remained staunch in his words . . . “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”  He remained adamant in request . . . in his actions . . . he wanted the stones removed.  With the removal of the stones it all came to be . . . Lazarus was restored to life . . . the people witnessed the glory of God . . . there was belief.  They discovered faith.

“Take away the stones,” he said.

Isn’t that the secret to any relationship?  Isn’t that the key to intimacy?  You have to remove the barriers . . . the stones . . . that keep the light out . . . that hide the truth . . . that separates.  Jesus knew that by removing the stones the glory of God would be revealed in the resurrection of Lazarus . . . that in seeing a dead man restored to life . . . the people would believe.  That they would discover faith.  With the stones removed the writer of this gospel tells us that “. . . therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.”

With the stones removed the people could see.  So it is for all of us.

I imagine that we could all names the stones that keep us from seeing . . . that keep us from believing . . . because we all have them.  It could be the many obvious ones like prejudice, race, education, wealth, poverty, dogmatism, culture . . . we all could probably name a few of these as they usually fall under the various “isms” we all know.  It could be our traditions and having always doing the things that we have always done in the same way over and over again.  It could be any number of things that separate us from God and one another . . . stones that shut out the light . . . that hides the truth . . . that keeps us from believing and having that relationship with God and one another.  It does not matter what the stones are in each of our lives . . . we all have to identify them on our own; what matters is that we begin to recognize them as being barriers that separate  and keep us from truly seeing the glory of God in our lives.

What matters is Jesus telling us to “move the stones.”

Jesus tells us, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”  Faith begins with the removal of stones . . . begins with removing that which keeps us from seeing the light . . . that keeps us from experiencing the truth.  Jesus can reveal it, but we have to move the stones first.  Until the stones are moved we can never truly experience the glory of God . . . we can never have faith.

Jesus said, “Take away the stones.”  Amen.

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