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Sermon: Last Word

If only

If only

If only

Two short words

Yet long words

Longing words

Piercing words

Inflamed words

Spoken without filters

Wrenching words

Condemning words

Mournful words

Spoken by Martha

Spoken by Mary

Spoken by us

I am

I am

I am

Two last words

Grave busting words

Life-giving words

In flesh words

Spoken by

the last Word

Gary W. Charles, April 2, 2017

(inspired by John 11:1-45)

Last Word

Text: John 11:1-45

(Gary W. Charles, Cove Presbyterian Church, Covesville, VA, 4-2-2017

If you want to make lots of money in the movie business today, dust off an old Marvel comic book and resurrect an action superhero. Along with remakes of the classics – Superman, Superwoman, Wonder Woman, the Incredible Hulk, and Batman, newer movies also feature Wolverine, Spiderman, Ironman, Aquaman, Thor, Captain America. In the comics, superheroes find a winning way to confront super villains and no matter how evil the world, superheroes always prevail in the end.

Some people see Jesus as yet one more superhero and they read today’s story that way. As Superhero Jesus, he hears about the impending death of his friend Lazarus, but does not rush to save him, because he knows that even after Lazarus dies, he will go to the tomb, shout down death, and brother Lazarus will come out dancing. He dismisses the “if only” protestations of Martha and then Mary, because superheroes always prevail in the end; so Martha and Mary should know that! Later, Jesus can even go to his own tomb knowing that as a superhero he will only be paying it a fleeting visit.

I doubt if the movie business will ever make much money off “Jesus the Superhero,” though Mel Gibson gave it a good try some years back. Even in John’s Gospel, Jesus is way too human to fit into a comic cape. Jesus does what any feeling human being does in the face of death; he joins his friends Martha and Mary and he weeps.

Jesus weeps. Well, that is a problem and the presenting cause for Jesus to be disqualified from admission into the Superhero Club. Superheroes do not weep; they get even! They chase down the mutant gene that has caused Lazarus to get sick unto death and then they destroy that deadly gene. They zoom into the tomb and in a fantastic display of power walk out of the tomb holding the dead man, now living, on their shoulders. Then they round up all the scoffers in the crowd and destroy them with a fantastical flourish. That is what superheroes do! They do not weep!

No matter how hard we try to script him that way, Jesus is no superhero. True, in John, there are hints of superhero behavior by Jesus. He knows what the dense disciples cannot figure out; he knows that Lazarus is not having a three day sleep; he knows that Lazarus is dead. In this story, Jesus is more than a human friend of Lazarus; he is also the Promised Child of God, chosen to bring life to the world. Jesus does what no one before and no one since has done; he calls Lazarus, long dead, to walk his stinking self out of the tomb. And, Lazarus does.

Even so, throughout John, Jesus is all too human. He meets Martha and Mary, just as he meets us, in our grief. Faced with the death of a friend, Jesus the not-so-superhero weeps. Faced with the pain of grief and horror of death, Jesus wept. He still does.

Jennell, Kelly, and I have each spent significant time in Haiti. The poorest country in the Northern Hemisphere, a short plane ride from Miami, was devastated by a catastrophic earthquake in 2010, only to be followed by a catastrophic hurricane in 2016, only to be stripped of its natural resources by international businesses and foreign countries, and Jesus weeps.

Did you know that our country has “the second highest child poverty rate among 35 industrialized countries . . . A child in the United States has a 1 in 5 chance of being poor and the younger she is the poorer she is likely to be.” (Children’s Defense Fund). Over twenty million children in the U.S. live in extreme poverty, many having access to no more than one meal a day, while income inequality has reached record highs, and Jesus weeps.

In the 140 years of record-keeping, the past ten years have been the warmest years on record and last year was the warmest year of all (source: NOAA), and still leaders across the land play ostrich when asked to deal with the daunting consequences of climate change, and Jesus weeps.

A few years back in Atlanta, Brian and Sharon and Joshua Blount paid us a visit. Josh went for a run and was stopped by the neighborhood patrol. His only offense was that he was a young black male running in a predominantly white neighborhood, and Jesus weeps.

Hardly a day passes without news of a friend, a church member, a colleague whose body is being assaulted by cancer or whose mind is under attack from dementia or whose personality is being ripped apart by mental illness, and Jesus weeps.

The church in America has reared one or more generations of young people who do not see Jesus as a Superhero nor do they see him as the beloved and chosen Child of God. For too many people today, Jesus is simply not on their everyday radar at all. They do not necessarily think poorly of Jesus; they simply do not think of him at all, the One who is the light of the world and our living water, the resurrection and the life, and Jesus weeps.

Maybe John made a mistake in how he tells the story of Jesus? Maybe the story should begin where it ends, with the Risen Jesus looking far more like a superhero, walking through doors, appearing and disappearing out of nowhere. Maybe John, along with Matthew, Luke, and especially Mark, start their stories in the wrong place.

After all, who wants to follow a Jesus who hours before his own death begs God to change God’s mind? Who wants to follow a Jesus who can be angry enough at economic exploitation to disrupt shady commerce going on in the Temple? Who wants to follow a Jesus who does not call down a legion of angels against wrongful execution as devils nail him to a cross? Who wants to follow that kind of Jesus?

I do. I want to follow a human Jesus, who weeps in the face of death, who gets angry in the face of economic exploitation, who trusts in the grand love of God even when that love does not bypass the tomb. I want to follow Jesus right out of Lent and into Easter, right out of all that is deadly in me and in the world into the life-giving purposes of God.

I want to stand by my mother’s and father’s and brother’s graves and know my Redeemer Liveth and because Jesus does so will my father and brother and mother and so will you and so will I. I want to eat this bread and drink this cup because Jesus invites me to a feast where the food never runs out and where the dress is “come as you are.” I want to follow Jesus into prison cells and under the bypass of highways, into homeless shelters and into refugee camps, and into schools where the children enter hungry every morning, because if the parable Jesus tells elsewhere is true, that is where I will surely find Jesus, not the Superhero Jesus, but the Beloved Child of God, Jesus.

I want to trust in the all-too-human, weeping, crucified, and yet, by God’s grace, risen Jesus who is the last word of God, a word of life, who gives life, who calls forth life even from the bowels of death. Now that is a Jesus worthy of all my trust. In that Jesus, I do trust.


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