Meg Peery McLaughlin
“The Other Half”
October 31st, 2021
John 11, selections
17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 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 four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 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.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 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.”
On this All Hollow’s Eve, we’ll likely see some pair costumes.
I had it on good authority that for our Halloween Spooktacular after worship
that were going to have an Anna and an Elsa
a Kristoff and a Sven
but I’ve since learned that this family (who shall not be named) chickened out
thinking that church couldn’t handle it.
Perhaps they missed the polka hats last week. UPC can handle anything.
So I don’t know what we’ll see after worship at our children’s/youth event,
or what we’ll see tonight:
perhaps a Luke and Leia Skywalker
Mickey and Minnie Mouse
Sometimes, we need one thing to always go with another,
as if they are two sides to the same coin,
two halves of the same brain.
If Jarrett were preaching this sermon,
he would not miss this chance to speak of the B-sides of vinyl.
(You know this about him by now.)
When song singles were released on 45s
you’d be foolish if you didn’t flip it to the other side.
If we never listened to the B side, the other half of the record, we’d miss songs like:
the Rolling Stones you can’t always get what you want
the Beach Boys god only knows
Elvis Presley’s hound dog
Always pay attention to the other side, the other half.
Today we remember the saints,
knowing that everyday, there are those of you
who know what it is to feel
as if half of you is missing:
a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a child, a friend
As C.S. Lewis said “losing a beloved is like having an amputation.”
We have recurrent pains in the stump all our lives,
and have hardly a moment when we forget the absence.
All is different, our whole way of life changed.
And grief during covid, well, that’s a whole other thing.
It’s as if we are living a half-life.
With the lack of ritual and limited in-person support,
our grief has not been able to see the full light of day.
Perhaps it feels insensitive to read the story of Lazarus today,
when Jesus gets his loved one back for some more time
when we would give anything for another touch, another moment.
Thanks a lot, Jesus.
Frankly, acknowledging that tension is part of this scripture’s power.
This story opens with Mary and Martha letting Jesus have it.
It’s adult friendship at its best — with all its honesty and authenticity.
I’ve rarely seen grief show itself without anger;
and neither of these women hide that from Jesus.
This story offers us an important reminder that our faith is not without big feelings,
big opinions that we are allowed to lay bare.
One wise scholar said that “Prayer is not about finding peace,
or about accepting whatever happens in this life, no matter how tragic,
as the will of God.
It is rather a sharing of the whole self and an entire life with God. ”
That’s what Mary and Martha model for us here.
And Jesus response to their grief,
is the promise on which we stake our whole lives.
I am the resurrection and the life. He says.
There’s that name of God: I am who I am.
I am the resurrection and the life.
Those who trust in me, even though they die, will live.
Never has there been a memorial service where I have not uttered these words.
Over and over
by fresh dirt and old granite,
in that garden and on these steps
here and miles and miles away
sandwiched in between amazing grace and abide with me
over and over
I have repeated this promise
Jesus said I am the resurrection and the life.
And I’ve imagined with you
what that eternal abundant life looks like beyond our sight:
what pain is finally ended,
what bitter estrangements are ultimately healed,
what joy at God’s grand feasting table might taste like.
Jesus’ promise is the good news for the saints we will name during our prayer today
and for those who you will whisper in your pew or on your screen
and it is good news for us
we who long for that glad reunion with them
we who yearn to see God face to face.
But friends, that is only half of the good news.
What happens then, what happens there is good,
but it’s incomplete.
And we need not try to survive on a distant hope;
because we have a present gift.
When Jesus says I am the resurrection and the life
he not only speaks of a future gift
but of a current reality.
Now, here, on this side of the grave,
we are given life and life abundant.
When Jesus speaks of this life, he speaks of a quality of life
that begins now and continues forever,
life that shimmers with the goodness and joy of God .
And as Jarrett named last week it is life that is rooted in love,
indeed stemming from a loving relationship with the triune God.
You’ve seen it, no doubt, you’re living it, are you not?
When you’re startled out of your routine and notice beauty
When you give yourself in service and find you’re not empty but filled
When you welcome another to break bread at table
When you realize you don’t have any right words and silence will do just fine
Life and life abundant here and now.
Yes, we saw it in these saints:
in Don Hunter’s singing
Janet Poteat’s baking
in Roy Caroll’s scholarship
in Jude Exantus’ joy
We who walk in this resurrection life
are like Henry David Thoreau
when he said
“I wished to learn now what life has to teach,
and not when I come to die, discover that I have not lived.”
When Jesus promises
I am the Resurrection and the life
it’s a two fold promise. It’s then and now.
There and here.
And we are glad to share in both halves of this good news.
Just after Jesus speaks it,
and just before he calls Lazarus out of the tomb,
As a kid, I remember hearing this was the shortest verse of scripture “Jesus wept.”
Leave it to a preacher’s kid to assume the best scripture is the shortest one.
And as I aged, I was struck by what it meant the one who promised life,
had a life.
Jesus was human, after all, just as he was God.
And the incarnation gives us the scandalous news that God cried.
The God of the universe had diaper rash as a baby, got food poisoning, laughed so hard that goat’s milk came out of his nose. It’s outrageous, people.
As irreverent as this talk it may seem,
it’s one of the greatest gifts that the Christian church has to offer the world. Christianity is not primarily a set of philosophical principles,
or nice platitudes; we can get that elsewhere .
Christianity is a lived faith,
because God has promised life and chosen to live life among us.
He wept over his friend.
Were we to have time to read this whole chapter from John,
we’d see that this act of raising Lazarus,
of giving life and speaking of resurrection life is what gets Jesus killed.
From this day forward, John’s gospel says that they planned to put him to death.
When Jesus Lifted Lazarus out of his coffin he put the final nail in his own.
Makes you wonder if Jesus knew this somehow.
When Jesus wept the bystanders said, “See how he loved him,”
but they only got about half of it—the obvious half.
The half they didn’t get was that he was also weeping for himself.
As Ted Wardlaw says, “ to choose life, real life—not just the sort of life characterized by breathing and displaying all the vital signs, not just the sort of life which our consumeristic society thrusts upon us, but instead the sort of life which is given for others—to choose that kind of life is costly,
and the extravagant cost of it is enough to make anyone weep. No wonder Jesus wept.
Jesus alone endure this cost.
That is what the Reformers meant by sola gratia — grace alone.
The gift of life and life abundant isn’t something we earn, it’s all gift.
But by now in this sermon, you’re surely waiting for the other shoe to drop.
We’ve been talking halves.
So, what, preacher, is the other half of this good news? the B-side?
the Anna to this Elsa?
Friends, the other half of grace is our response to it: gratitude.
And saying “yes” to Christ’s gift of life abundant
means saying “no” to any and everything that would hinder life for a neighbor .
So, church, go from this place
in the full knowledge of the whole good news.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life
today and tomorrow
at the grave and as you draw each new breath
in life and beyond death
for you and for our neighbor