Wembley Downs Uniting Church
Fullness of Life (Karen Sloan) 9.3.2008
Readings: Ezekiel 37: 1-14; John 11: 1-45 I read an article the other week, which profoundly moved me and gave me a small insight into the human condition. It comes from a little column that appears weekly in the Weekend Australian and is title `this blank life`. The blank is filled in by the person writing, so it may be this confused life, or this wild life, depending on what the author is writing about. The one that caught me was entitled `this resilient life` and I would like to read it now. (The article told of a 7-year-old boy learning to play drums. The school concert was scheduled so parents and other interested parties dutifully turned up to listen to what, they knew, would not be very wonderful music! Sitting in the front row of the audience, they were dismayed to hear one mistake after another in the performance. The mother expected to have to console and comfort and tearful little boy after this, but instead, when the piece was finished, he exclaimed loudly: `Crap, can we start again?`) In this little story we have an incredible example of the power of life over death, the power of living over dying. We have a sudden and vivid image of a life raised up from the ashes, and of a community following along, swept up in the creative energy it brings. Just because a little boy does not wither and die, but says, `Crap, can we start again`. Love binds and builds, heals and hallows, redeems and restores. So says Robert Roth from Sojourners. Love gives life and this power of life originates from God in every moment, forming living, healthy relationships even from the depths of despair. This is the message from John`s Gospel, a message repeated over and over again in various stories and settings. For John`s gospel is also about life and love, God`s love and about the new life found in Jesus. It makes up only 10% of the New Testament, yet it provides over a third of the references to love. We get this message so often that sometimes when we read John we may feel we are being beaten over the head by a dead fish. Because as the gospel progresses the stories get more dramatic, more imaginative, so there can be no doubt what John is trying to say. It is probably the reason passages from the gospel are interspersed between ones from Matthew and Luke in the cycle of the lectionary. But because of this it is a gospel quite different from all the others. John is called the spiritual gospel, because it contains lots of stories and writings that try to direct us to who Jesus really is and what that means for us. As Bill Loader points out the first three gospels consist of sayings of Jesus and anecdotes about Jesus which are ancient in form and reflect a consistent style and theme. John contains some of the same material, but is very artistic, more poetic, and often more imaginative. It comes from a Christian community of the late first century, which may trace it roots back to the apostle John, but this is not certain. What is certain is that John`s gospel is full of metaphor, exaggeration and uses symbols to express what is very difficult to express. The use of Old Testament symbols for Jesus is found everywhere in the text, such as Jesus is the light, bread, water, wine and of course life of the world, which we see in the story today about Lazarus. But to take these stories literally is to miss the deeper, spiritual meaning of them and reduce Jesus to a miracle worker. And Jesus was far more than that. He brings the message that God is the source of life and love and that source is available now. Let us examine the reading today about Lazarus. This is a big story, coming after some others have tried to get the message across. It is like John is saying, `What do I have to do to make you understand?`. The story is initially about a real death and a real bringing back to life. Lazarus was in a tomb and had been dead for four days. The story seems real, Lazarus is dead, there is weeping, even from Jesus, there is the smell of the corpse and the appearance of the body. Martha`s, and later Mary`s, lament that if Jesus had been present earlier Lazarus wouldn`t have died. All the things you would expect when someone dies. But the story is only setting the scene for what is to follow, and what is following is the affirmation that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Like lots of John`s writings there are two levels to the story. Jesus says that Martha`s brother will rise again, but she is only thinking of the resurrection on the last day. Jesus corrects her misunderstanding, `I am the resurrection and the life, anyone believing in me, even if they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die`. We move from the future to the present. Martha is thinking in the future, Jesus brings it to the here and now, when he says, `I am the life`. Jesus is the person who brings life to the dead just as he is the light of the world who brings sight to the blind. Again there are people who cannot get the message; Mary and Martha are stuck at the basic level of the story. They are called to move on, to see the real truth. This pattern of correcting someone who has the wrong idea is also found in the story of Nicodemus, who thinks being born again is a physical reborn. In that exchange Jesus makes the statement, `No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again`. Nicodemus takes the words literally and misunderstands: `How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother`s womb and be born?` Jesus corrects his misunderstanding, `You must be born of the spirit, born from God`. We also hear it in the story of the Samaritan woman, who does not understand that the well of life is not just water, but God, ever present. Lazarus will eventually die, but that is not what the story is about. Rather like all the statements about Jesus being the light and bread of the world, so Jesus is the life of the world. It is to celebrate the claim that in Jesus people will find life. It is often termed eternal life in John but it is not some magical thing that occurs at death, it is a quality of life that starts right now, it is the sharing the life of God here and now and forever. For Jesus is leading us to God, the ultimate revelation. And this is an important point. It is the God whom we find present in Jesus, who brings life. And what is this life. It is something deeper, more mysterious than mere possessions or money, career or family. It is a mind set, an attitude, an awareness and deep-seated certainty that no matter how far away from God we become, he is not far away from us. We are sharing our life with God, every day, and he is sharing his creative life with us. Suddenly Jesus` words can become profound, `I have come to give fullness of life. I have come to show you God is ever present like a spring. Tap into it to connect with one another; love one another`. This connection to God allows for an openness, which in turn brings a freedom to embrace life rather than hide from it, embrace people rather than run away. But it is not easy. Because life is full of light and dark, some we can control and some we can`t. In a sense, therefore, Lazarus represents every person, who is dead and bound in a tomb. The tomb may be grief, loneliness, war, poverty, drug addition, mental illness or social injustice. The list can go on in our broken and at times hopeless world. Yet Jesus raises Lazarus up, and he comes out of the tomb still wearing the clothes of death. `The dead man comes out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.` Jesus says `Unbind him, and let him go`. He not only raises him up and gives him life, but he sets him free. It is a very powerful story and we know that while it may have been written as part of a post Easter experience, it remains true for many people. People have been brought from death to life through the love of God represented in Jesus, through the love of others, and through the support and nurture of community. And this is the critical point, for often we cannot find this fullness of life alone. It sometimes takes a community to break the chains and enter the tomb to bring us out into the light. Richard Rohr suggests God comes to us disguised as our life. In other words God is here and now, in every transaction between each one of us, in our relationship with the world around us, and at every moment. When life is difficult, unjust, painful or bleak, or the situation we find ourselves in too hard to change, the holy leads us beside still waters and restores our souls, whatever we are and whatever we have done. It is this power of life that Jesus continually refers to, the life, light and bread of life. But sometimes we can not do it alone. Sometimes the pain and hopelessness is too much to bear, and this is where the life of community is required. When in John the word love is used, it is more often used as a verb than a noun. Feelings won`t suffice, actions must be the order of the day. And it is these actions, these loving, caring compassionate actions that bring life and light to those many many people who are in darkness or death. Transformation through love, and through the creative power of God. Sometimes the community, be it one or one thousand have to act for God. We seek God, and when we can`t find him, we seek each other. That`s what we need to remember. I would like to end this service the way I started it, with a newspaper article. This one is about David Wirrupunda. God enables us to break stereotypes and provide the world with the unexpected. David Wirrapunda is an Eagles player as all those Eagle supporters will know. But he is also a champion of his people and has set up a foundation to support aboriginal youth in the north, which this article was about. His aim is to make change slowly, from the ground up, to bring life to his community, which is in darkness. One of his forebears, a man named Sir Doug Nicholls who was a Christian, once told him, `a footballer could preach a sermon by the way he played the game`. Perhaps he does. But so can we. But for those who do not play football it is how we relate to people, how we react to money and career and how we incorporate love, compassion and justice into our daily life. And we can only do this day in day out by tapping into God`s spirit, that creative energy that nourishes us, sustains us and drives us and our community forward into the fullness of life. Fullness of life for me is a place of openness, to God and to others, that leads to a freedom to share and to care. And within this life, hope burns brightly. No matter how bad the bad times get, there is always the possibility of a new day. It enables a little boy to say, with great feeling, `Oh crap, can we start again.`
130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882
Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands, Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands