The Promise of All Believers

You know this place, don’t you?

Where this story unfolds.

Not the physical place, but the emotional space.

You’ve felt it.

Grief on the wind, hopelessness in the air, a cave that’s buried someone you’ve loved, something you’ve dreamt.

You know this place, don’t you?

Mary and Martha and the friends of their village are mourning the death of their brother Lazarus. Hopeless, angry, lost.

Jesus was absent, late, indifferent, name the adjective, and it’s also what you’ve felt about God before.

Can you see yourself there?

In the story.

In Mary or Martha, a villager, Lazarus?

Can you see God there?

In the story.

Sure, Jesus is the one resurrecting somebody, speaking to Lazarus buried in a cave, Come out! Of course we see God in the story.

But I’m not talking about the ending; where is Jesus in the midst of the story?

Look back, he’s right there in the thick of it, bursting into tears like everyone else. Mourning. Grieving. Overwhelmed.

It seems that God knows this place, too.

And that’s the real miracle of this story.

When Lazarus had died, and his family and friends were grieving, Jesus was too. That’s the miracle.

Sure, maybe resurrection comes at the end, for him, for our loved ones, for us, but in the meantime, in that messy, broken, liminal space of how things are and how things should be, of the now and the not yet, that in-between space of grief and loss and pain — that’s where God is, too.

With us.

So that as our loved ones are on the other side with God, somehow too, God is on this side with us also.

We talked about miracles at our midweek bible study this past Wednesday. Are they real — did they really happen?

I can’t prove that miracles exist anymore than I can explain why God seemingly intervenes sometimes and not others.

But this is what I know.

That the God we worship, to whom we pray for intervention, does intervene. Maybe not like we have imagined or hoped for, but every single time, God reaches in, steps in.

Like Jesus did here.

That when grief had swept in like the tide, it overcame Jesus too, and he burst into tears. He felt their pain, and he was present in their despair.

And every single time that’s happened since, whether we think God was late or absent or forgetful, God steps into that grief and feels our pain again. Every single time, God is present in our despair.

Maybe we see a miracle, maybe we don’t, or maybe it’s in our own hands, or maybe it’s in someone else’s, but no matter what, God is there. Which means no matter what, you are never ever, ever, ever alone. Every single time, that miracle occurs.

In a world where leaders and representatives don’t listen to us, when doctors don’t have the time to sit with us for more than 15 minutes, when ministers and counselors have time limits and family and friends are often too busy, too distracted, too distant, the real miracle is a God who is big enough, powerful enough, creative enough to birth the heavens and the galaxies and the universes with a word and a big bang, but who is also close enough, small enough, cares enough, to grieve and cry and join you in your pain and your struggles and your fears and your diagnoses and estrangements and debts and financial concerns.

And on days like today, when we grieve and miss our loved ones, like any day really, when we long for eternity to come, it’s enough to say to the hope we’ve buried in the caverns of our hearts:

Come out!

You know this place, don’t you?


Sermon preached at FBC Worcester, MA on November 4, 2018, All Saints Sunday

John 11:32–44; Wisdom of Solomon 3:1–9