Print This Post

Sermon – April 10, 2011 – Come Out

Sermon for April 10, 2011
The First Baptist Church of Lewisburg
Come Out

Ezekiel 37: 1-14, John 11: 1-45
The benediction Christmas Eve is the conclusion of the prologue of Johnʼs gospel, speaking about Christ as having come as the light of the world. When weʼve sung “Silent Night” and still are holding our lit candles, we hear these words: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Todayʼs scriptures are about light shining in darkness– about Godʼs power renewing and invigorating a people who have become discouraged, depressed, distracted, and unproductive– and about Jesus raising from the grave a friend who had died. Johnʼs gospel has two empty tombs–the one out of which Lazarus walks and later, the Easter tomb, the empty one which Jesus revisits in order to speak with Mary Magdalene.
Where does the good news about God begin in both stories? It begins with things looking black, with a people in the Ezekiel story who are nothing but dry bones, and with a friend in the gospel who not only is dead, but who is living in a territory where there is, at least in a sense, a warrant out for Jesusʼ arrest. Thereʼs death there thatʼs already happened and going there is going to result in death.
Some weeks ago a person was asking about the sermon that was going to be preached a couple of weeks later, and said something like, “I donʼt want something depressing,” and it made me realize that I am failing as a Christian preacher because proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ is not supposed to leave people feeling bad. Iʼm thinking about this now because Iʼm talking about how the gospel and the Old Testament lesson begin with dark realities and become opportunities for God wonderfully to bring new life into the picture, and Iʼm a little worried that mentioning the dark realities may get remembered better than proclaiming the achievement and promises of God.
This is important to deal with because Christianity is about light shining in the darkness, and if we are too ready to believe in the darkness and have too hard a time believing in the arrival of the light, then all talk about Christianity is going to leave us feeling blue. Christianity is not what some critics have said, a “pie in the sky when you die” religion, a religion that makes glib promises of everything turning out all right if only people keep in line and trust what priests and preachers tell them. It is certainly not a faith which says that thinking positive is going to influence events in your favor, as if a sunny disposition and a peppy insistence that things are going to be fine will guarantee that things will be fine. It is not the case– and we still, because God has created us with a sense of justice, have a hard time swallowing this– it is not the case that those who do good will be rewarded, and those who do evil will be punished, at least not always in ways we can see or understand.
Itʼs a world-changing and life-changing religion because God does, after all, do something about the world the way it is. God does come into the darkness and raise up the brokenhearted and the dispirited. God does send a Savior into danger to discover, in the pathetic presence of deathʼs power over people, that God is more powerful yet, and by doing that God establishes Jesus as trustworthy, as entitled to be called Lord, to have every knee bow on the earth and under the earth and in heaven.
When Paul the apostle wrote to the Corinthian church and addressed the fact that there were members of the church who denied the resurrection– people who found Christianity compelling enough to commit to trying to claim it for themselves but who just couldnʼt wrap their minds around a corpse being transformed into a living and eternal being– Paul said that if it werenʼt for the resurrection that Christians would be of all persons most to be pitied. Weʼd be the sorriest souls on the planet, because we donʼt deny the reality of pain and of evil and of injustice, we donʼt pooh-pooh and choose to ignore the debilitating diseases of soul and body which limit and torture and stifle the lives of so many, as though our refusing to recognize wrong could jeopardize our faith in God. No; we have a God whom we know in just these circumstances. Our God is a God who finds people in slavery and looks for a way to set them free. Our God is a God who sees people going wrong and tries to get them to return to whatʼs right. Our God is a God who comes as Christ healing and feeding and teaching an ethic of love in a landscape where such reliance on whatʼs good sets him on a collision with the pride, the fear, the arrogance and intolerance of human powers, and it leads to betrayal and torture, humiliation and being put to death.
Good Friday is only some weeks away and it is to vividly believable, especially in the world we inhabit with images available of those slaughtered by natural disasters and human malice. Good Friday is so unsurprising once we grow up enough to see how self- interest resists accommodation and the belief in violence as a solution to problems quells more constructive efforts. Good Friday is so credible, with its only-the-good-die-young plot and its you-canʼt-fight-City-Hall outcome that who doesnʼt wrestle with calling it “Good?” Every Sunday School kid whoʼs ever lived asks the question. Why is it called “Good?” The answer is that what follows it is so marvelously wonderful, so dazzlingly great that its power and purity and promise spills over its boundaries and changes everything around it into something that can be called good. Itʼs all part of the love of God, and the dominion of God over every evil, coming to light. Itʼs part of the light overcoming the darkness, after all.
I know why people resist recognizing the dark picture into which God comes. Itʼs because sometimes even a little something bad can spoil something otherwise fine, like the day you were enjoying until some rude driver, or some grouchy clerk, or some unappreciative employer, or some suddenly sick pet or unexpectedly unpleasant conversation derailed it. You go along feeling good about yourself and grateful for life and then your feelings get hurt or something worries you and it casts a shadow. That makes it easy to feel like your religion can only mention happy things, because the sad things you get enough of anyway, and even a little negative seems to outweigh a lot of positive.
The positive, though, in our faith is an overwhelming positive. Itʼs why Jesus compares our circumstance to that of a woman who has given birth. Jesus says that the joy of giving life to another human being is so great that all the pain and anguish of travail is forgotten, subsumed in the delight which follows. Thatʼs how Jesus urges disciples to frame the difficulties we have in our lives. Pain is real, but God gives life, and new life outweighs the anguish.
So do I dare say that the nation is in an economic crisis, an identity crisis, a moral crisis, and a political crisis? Can I say that without all of us getting stuck on thinking how bad everything is, and how hopeless it sometimes appears? It is not hopeless. If Christ were not resurrected from the dead and we were just pretending it were so, then it would be hopeless. Then we would of all persons be most to be pitied.
No; all kinds of things are wrong. Things are wrong and, not surprisingly, that gets to people. People become cynical. People become apathetic. People become angry, and bitter. People get desperate, and people look for others to blame and to oppose. People become selfish. It looks like thereʼs not going to be enough and so by golly people are going to make sure they get whatʼs theirs.
All that is forgetting the God we have. Itʼs the God we have always had, the God who is a specialist in coming into undesirable circumstances and making a difference. I donʼt know why people give up their faith when they notice how the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that time and chance happen to them all. The Bible knows that. Jesus says God sends rain on the just and unjust alike, and if we read that as unfairness, Jesus sees it as evidence of Godʼs mercy and benevolence. The world is the way it is, and God knows it, and God has done something about it and God continues to do something about it.
Those who are dead, if they hear the word of God, will live. Thatʼs the message of Ezekiel and itʼs the message of the story of Lazarus. What God has to say will invigorate the weary, and motivate those mired in self-pity and despair. What God has to say will bring to new life what has been empty, and unproductive, and with no promise.
When things look grim it can even be a comfort to be in the tomb. People say that– not that theyʼll kill themselves, but that the world is getting so bad theyʼll be glad when they donʼt have to deal with it anymore. Some people have given up dealing with it already– theyʼre not praying for the world anymore, theyʼre not giving to the world anymore, theyʼre in their tomb but theyʼre still breathing. What is their hope? Their hope is in a Lord who comes into the realm of death and submits to the power of death in order to set them free from it, who weeps at the misery of human existence but knows that life overcomes it, when life is from God, and who cries out to those who rest in tombs, “Come out!” Come out, and unwrap yourselves from helplessness and victimhood, and live in the company of your Lord, who is the Resurrection and the Life.

To read sermons from past years, hit the “View All” link beneath the “This Week’s Sermon” button, and then hit the “Archives” link in the sentence at the top of the page presenting recent sermons.