Saturday, January 29, 2022

Year C 4th Epiphany 2022 Through the Midst of Them

Year C 4th Sunday of Epiphany, 30 January 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Through the Midst of Them”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Luke 4:21-30

Jesus began to speak in the synagogue at Nazareth: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Good morning. This is the continuation of the story that I preached on last Sunday, and I alluded to these verses last week. I spoke to the pre-judging that was done by the hearers that day. Last week I was looking at the congregation's perspective, but this week I want to turn to Jesus’. Initially the people were amazed, but then he said things they did not expect, they turned on him. Confronting things. Challenging things. And people do not appreciate being confronted or challenged. Most of us avoid conflict as long as we can.

It is easy to make friends when you tell people what they want to hear. But challenge or confront someone in their comfort or privilege and the rage comes out quickly. Headlines local and national prove this daily.

Jesus spoke truth, but when the hearer’s heard the implications the furor rose up. They were assuming that they were the righteous, the chosen, but Jesus in his statement cited twice when the outsiders were favored instead of the ones expected. Confronting privilege and challenging expectations are dangerous indeed.

What is the purpose of education? What is the point of teaching?

It is to equip students. Plain and simple. But to equip people, you have to enable them to handle things that are not part of the plan.

Scientists and programmers at NASA find this the problem when they are developing the systems for the rovers on Mars. They have to be able to make the rover smart enough to do things that it can operate on its own. Think of driving your car, but it takes 20 minutes for your decision to reach the gas or brake pedals or the steering wheel. That just would not work. You cannot remote control your car, and a teacher cannot remote control the student. A teacher must equip a student to be autonomous.

The equipped need to be able to handle things on their own. And to do that they need to meet challenges and rise to the level of competence and confidence to make the tough calls and work things out.

Education is about equipping, not indoctrinating. So easy to say, and so hard to do. We train our muscles at the gym by lifting heavy things. We have to stress our muscles for them to grow and maintain what they already are. Lifting a can of beans is not a workout for me. It is comfortable to do so, but it does nothing if I am trying to be strong. Strength comes from stress. Resilience comes from facing hardships.

Education is not, and cannot be about coddling. I heard it from a preacher one time that the role of a powerful sermon is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Jesus came home to confront the comfortable, and they had assumed they were the afflicted.

I have had some folks upset with me over sermons or other things in worship times, but I have never had a group try to throw me off a cliff, or any other attempt to kill me. Not yet, anyway.

But one of the challenges of speaking the truth is that sometimes you must say the hard thing, the thing that people need to hear, but do not want to hear. One of my mentors used to remind me, a leader does what needs to be done. And as poet Alistair Plass put it:

Are you man enough to see the need?

And man enough to go?

Man enough to care for those who no one wants to know?

Man enough to say the thing that people hate to hear,

To battle through Gethsemane in loneliness and fear? [from Murgatroyd & Pratt]

Jesus told the truth. And that made uncomfortable people angry.

Where is the Epiphany in this? Good question.

In the season of Epiphany, we are given readings where we are shown Jesus being seen as something different, something set apart, something WONDERFUL.

Maybe it was him proclaiming the truth. Maybe.

But think on this. We are given the most ordinary, which in my books makes it extraordinary if we really look at it. “Where’s the miracle in this?” you may ask. Let’s look at the end of the reading…

…all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

We have Jesus getting railroaded, and an attempted lynching. Imagine facing a crowd like that. Imagine the emotion for people that he knew, and knew WELL having grown up there. People who liked, respected, and even loved him were trying to kill him. And in this context, somehow, we see him “[pass] through the midst of them and [go] on his way.” There are times like this when I wish we were given more details, but that is what we have so that is what I teach and preach.

So Jesus stopped the crowd and walked away in their midst. Standing up for oneself and having healthy boundaries is a struggle then and now. Imagine having the strength of spirit and healthy sense of self to stop a crowd. Jesus’ no was No. Period.

He, somehow, did not allow the crowd to have its way. He walked through their midst. That alone is an Epiphany, a show of his light and his power. It was and remains a wonder.

And how do we do this? How do we speak the truth, even when it costs us, especially when it costs us? And how do we set healthy boundaries, for love of God and care of others and care of self? It goes back to our basic programming as followers of Christ. Our discipleship is not about correcting or controlling. It is not about judging or winning. Our discipleship follows Jesus’ Way. And what was Jesus’ Way? The Way of Love.

So often we gloss over the beauty of I Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter.” Or we dismiss it to weddings. But it is for me a wonderfully concise argument for our foundational programming. Finding that delicate and near impossible balance amongst love of God, others, and self. I read today from a more modern translation so you can hear it again for the first time. From Eugene Peterson’s The Message:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut,

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “me first,”

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

Jesus loved like that. He loved God, self, and others. And he models for us how we can attempt it, too. We can walk through the midst of an angry crowd or even the Valley of the Shadow of Death with Love.

God bless you in your truth speaking. God bless you in your healthy boundaries. But most of all, God bless you in your loving. Amen

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Year C 3rd Epiphany 2022 Seeing Anew

 Year C 3rd Sunday of Epiphany, 23 January 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Seeing Anew”

Collect: Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Luke 4:14-21

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Good morning, we see a powerful story of Jesus today, proclaiming that the Scripture is fulfilled in their hearing. “Hometown Boy Makes Good!” could be the headline. But it all depended on how people perceived Jesus. Just like with us, how people see and experience something says as much about them, if not more so, than what happened.

This comes out in how people respond, and is summed up in the phrase, “Feedback says more about the giver than the recipient.”

Jesus, seen as just Joseph and Mary’s boy, had been out and about in Galilee, and his newfound popularity had preceded him to Nazareth. When he came home, he was given the honor to read the Scripture in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and he chose the passage from Isaiah: 

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

This is what today we would call Isaiah 61:1-2. He rolls up the scroll, and sits down. Everyone was watching him, explicitly it states, “All eyes were fixed upon him.” And he declares then that the Scripture had been fulfilled.

We may see it as a nice and sweet Sunday School, “Yeah! Jesus is Good! God’s in his heaven and all-is-right with the world!” moment. But we may see it that way because we stop it at that point in the lectionary reading.

He goes on to say that: 

24 “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

No prophet is accepted in their hometown. It makes sense. It is hard to break free of people’s preconceived notions. I remember once my mother wondered if I might be interested in applying to be the pastor of my home church in Newport News. Jesus’ line came to mind when I responded to her, “No one should ever pastor a church where people in the pews changed their diapers.”

Once people have an idea of who you are, it is nigh impossible for them to take you out of the category they have placed you in. We have all been there, when someone who knew us at one point in our lives could not let go of that view of us.

And the same was true for Jesus. They saw the boy that they knew. It would take a major rewrite in the collective consciousness for them to see him, no matter his reputation as anything else. And their response, once not one of Epiphany, “Of course, this one we knew was the long-awaited Messiah!” Their response was one of judgment and outrage, outrage which led to violence. Quoting Luke 4 again:


28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

I have stood in Nazareth, supposedly in the room that claims to be the site of the original synagogue where Jesus proclaimed these words. As soon as I could get free from the close pedestrian only streets I looked around for the nearest cliff from which this story continued. 

If Jesus, as good as he was, can be a victim of pre-judging, that is prejudice, what hopes do any of us have?

One of the key shifts that those of us who claim to live lives of grace and truth must make is to let go of our pre-judging that seems innate all too often, and see things as they are instead of the lazy assumptions that what we used to know to be the truth.

What if Nazareth had heard the words that Jesus said, and actually embraced the truth he shared? How might all their lives have been different?

One of the great transitions that we, as followers of the Christ, needs to be is to shift how we see all of God’s Children. We need to let go of our preconceived notions, of the scripts our culture, or our background, or our experience place on us. We need to see with Jesus’ eyes, with Jesus’ heart.

Jesus instructs us to love our enemies, and the only way I have ever been able to do that (when I have) is to stop seeing them as enemies. And once I have stopped seeing them as enemies, guess what? They are no longer enemies. Now, I might be theirs, but I have a choice on how I see them, and as I treat people with grace and love MAYBE they will stop seeing me as an enemy, too. If someone sees me as an enemy, why on earth would I ever let them have the power to control how I respond to them. That is how we “turn the other cheek” and “do good to those who hate [us.]” 

In our day and age, when everything seems to become political and divisive, we have taken on a habit that only seems to get worse and worse. I have found myself reveling in it as well. The term applied to it is actually German, as we do not have any common equivalent in English. SCHADENFREUDE, delighting in or finding joy in someone else’s pain. That could be physical or emotional pain. And if I find myself doing that deep-throated gutteral laugh, hea-hea-hea-hea-hea, I stop and remind myself, no matter who they are, they are a beloved child of God and a brother or sister. A fellow Son of Adam or Daughter of Eve as C.S. Lewis put it in the Chronicles of Narnia.

BrenĂ© Brown, in her wonderful new book, Atlas of the Heart, speaks on naming emotions. When it comes to Schadenfreude, Brown admits she struggles with this as we all do in our time. She, I am proud to say, is a fellow Episcopalian, and says when she feels this feeling coming up that she reminds herself, “Nothing that celebrates the humiliation or pain of another builds lasting connection.” Either with the person being pained, or the group celebrating the pain of another. She cites a Ted Lasso  episode where he declares his office a Schadenfreude-free zone. I need to declare my heart this way, too.

None of this is easy, and Jesus commands us this act this way because we would never be able to go there on our own, we may not even be able to think that way without his help.

What would our world look like if we shifted more to the understanding that everyone we meet is a beloved Child of God? A person adored and desired to be in a relationship with the Almighty, just like every one of us?

This is that letting-go-of-our-assumptions, this removing-of-the-scales-on-our-eyes, that I am speaking about.

When our assumptions are not released, we could be like the Nazarenes and try to throw Jesus off a cliff. Or we can have our assumptions transformed, and we can begin to see the world that is. And if we do that, we too can fulfill the promises of Isaiah and Jesus both.

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

When we release our prejudices, the Year of the Lord’s favor has already begun! Amen

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Year C Epiphany 2 WED 2022 The Confession of Peter

 Year C 2nd Sunday of Epiphany WEDNESDAY, 19 January 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Follow Me- The Confession of Peter”


Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 21:15-22

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’

Getting caught up in stuff seems to be our nature. I often think that Jesus gives a cogent analysis of the human condition in the three parables of lostness, the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep, and the Prodigal Son. The Lost Coin is beyond the ability to change its condition. It is lost, through no fault of its own, it is just lost. The Lost Sheep is mindless and without thinking finds itself away from the flock and is out on its own. Lost, alone, maybe afraid, or maybe not smart enough to be afraid. Whatever, he is lost by dumb mistakes or dumb bad luck. But then we have the Prodigal. It was not fate, or stupidity, but an act of volition. The Prodigal chose to leave. However it was, by accident of birth, stupidity, or choice, all are lost.

Peter, in his encounter with the Lord after the Resurrection, is given an opportunity to minister to any and all in their lostness, and in his own way find redemption for himself as well. After his three denials the night of the Passion, we see Jesus ask him three times if he loves him. Of course, Peter emphasizes, you know I love you. And then he commissions and gives him the task and purpose of his life, and I think, us too!

“Tend my lambs! Feed my sheep! Tend my sheep!” He is given the responsibility to care for and nurture the flock of God. He fulfills the age-old story, to be his brother’s brother, his brother’s keeper, if you will. And we are, too. He is also given a heads up, this life of love and service will have a cost. It will be something of pain and shame, and he will not be given a choice. In love, he was given a warning so that he could prepare his heart for this cross which he will be required to bear.

He then is given another heads up, one that we all need. Jesus wonders about what will happen with the disciple that Jesus loved, which we assume was John. ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ Peter, you take care of Peter, and your responsibility is to follow me. Follow me where I lead you! Do not worry about where I lead anyone else. You, follow me! Such good advice for him, for us.

Today we acknowledge January 18 The Feast of the Confession of Peter. We remember that he was the first to voice that Jesus was the Messiah publicly. Many had thought it, but Peter vocalized it. And I remind you, immediately he tried to tell Jesus that he need not suffer and die. He was promptly rebuked. Once again, Peter, you take care of Peter and follow me.

Don't be looking around, comparing or contrasting. You take care of you, that is it. May we chew on that today, and follow Jesus! Amen

Monday, January 10, 2022

Year C Epiphany 1 WED 2022 Ecce Homo

 Year C Epiphany 1 WEDNESDAY, 12 January 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Ecce Homo”

Collect: O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 1:29-42

The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated

means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

The season of Epiphany is all about the declaration to the world who this person Jesus is.

Often the portrayal of Jesus in paintings is entitled, Ecce Homo quoting Pontius Pilate after Jesus’ scourging. The Latin comes from St. Jerome’s Vulgate. “Behold the man!”

We see several seeing Jesus for who he is in our reading.

John declares that he is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and that he is the “Lamb of God.” The vision that he received made it clear for him that he was the one.

Then John shared it with two of his followers. One of them was St. Andrew, who shared it with his brother, St. Peter.

We all have ways we were given the image of this one, the Man, the Messiah. We all also have ways we tell the world how we understand and how seriously we take this one, however we see him.

How do we declare who Jesus is? How do our lives say, “Behold the Man!”

Pilate respected Jesus, and had a grudging admiration of him. It was hard to let him go, and he was not willing to take the political fallout for releasing him.

We have a hard time knowing how what we live and what we project will be seen and heard. But that is not our responsibility. We trust the Holy Spirit to precede us, and to lay the groundwork for what our recipients need to see and hear. Just like John the Baptizer. He heard the Spirit, and it was confirmed by the events at hand.

As has been said to be an apocryphal statement of St. Francis, “Preach at all times, when necessary use words.” How does your life preach the Christ?

Think on that today.

Protect yourself, friends. How we behave and care for one another during these crazy days shows how seriously we take the mandate of Christ to care for the “least of these.” Amen

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Year C Christmas 2 WEDNESDAY 2022 Unbind Us

Year C 2nd Sunday of Christmas WEDNESDAY, 5 January 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Unbind Us”

Collect: O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 11:17-27,38-44

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘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?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

So here we are again. We are delayed today because we have icy roads, and the schools are opening late. I am actually glad. We are now 5 times higher on the infection rate that shut us down not even a year ago. There are more cases now than at the worst of the last year and a half. I trust that it will be no surprise when we have to make the call to suspend in-person gatherings for a time.

And here we are contemplating resurrection. I wish we could be like Lazarus, and despite our stink, despite what appears to be our imminent demise, despite all the fuss, we could have the stone rolled back, and we could hear Jesus words commanding, “Unbind them, and let them go!”

Now Lazarus did nothing to make this happen, he had just been faithful in what he was responsible for, caring for his sisters and responding to Jesus’ teachings about his way of loving and following and serving God.

Jesus considered him and his sisters friends. And Jesus even wept at the word that Lazarus had died.

I think on the things that I do or that I left undone that brings Jesus to tears.

My prayer is that this time of stink, this time of what seems to be decay and our demise, our time of grief and heartbreak, and death, that we will be faithful as Lazarus was, and that we will be ready for resurrection when it is offered. If it is.

Resurrection is rare biblically, with only a few examples ever mentioned. But one thing that is throughout Scripture is that even in the worst of times, in times of war, or famine, or death, God prevails. A righteous remnant always is saved and left to carry on the faith in the living God. Think on Noah, the prophets, the Babylonian Exile. God always finds a way around the horror and the heartbreak. And even when they attempt to kill the very God that saves the righteous remnant, even there, we are give a Resurrected Lord.

That is my hope. That is the faith I preach and teach. That is the unique heart of our Good News.

In these dark days, hold onto that light. Hold onto that Hope. That is the heartbeat of Lazarus, and may it be ours as well.

Have Hope. Fear Not. Amen