Sunday, April 6, 2014

Stuck in a Bind?

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
28When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When 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.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.39Jesus 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.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I 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.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The 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.”
45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

I’ll never forget open house of my sixth grade year. Mr. D was leaning against one of those old school AV carts with a filmstrip projector on it talking to one or both of my parents. Someone asked how I was doing in class and he said fine. But then he thought again and said that I was a procrastinator and something about not working up to my potential. I don’t remember if he actually used the word lazy, but it sure seemed like that's what he was trying to say about me.

I got good enough grades and while I wasn’t the best-behaved student, I didn’t spend too much time on the "nerd herd" bulletin board. (Whenever we got in trouble, we’d have to write a report on our transgression and our research was posted on the nerd herd. One time I had to write about fingernails after leaving marks on a friend's hand after a vigorous bout of thumb wrestling.)  Looking back, homework and being a stellar student were not important to me in sixth grade. I had other things on my agenda, like thumb wrestling and neighborhood whiffle ball games.

As I was thinking about the story of the raising of Lazarus I was struck this time by the fact that Jesus heard Lazarus was ill and then he waited a couple of days before heading out to visit him. Even though he loved the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, there were other things on his mind. The disciples were lobbying for him to stay put anyway. Last time they were in Judea they made the authorities very unhappy. The disciples were afraid to go back. But Jesus had another plan. 

The gospel tells us that: Accordingly…he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. That one word…Accordingly…shows us that perhaps Christ has another agenda. He was thinking about things differently than disciples and Mary and Martha.

When Jesus and the disciples finally get to the mourning party, Mary and Martha are disappointed. The both tell him that if only he had been there Lazarus would not have died. They say the exact same thing.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Jesus could have prevented this family tragedy. 

But he didn’t.

This is a story about people whom Jesus loves, not the random man or woman on the street healings that are so common in the gospels.  This isn’t Jesus as the wandering wonder man or a thirsty stranger or a mud-slinging healer. This is Jesus as a friend. It's also Jesus at his most powerful.

Mary and Martha seem to think that because they are close with Jesus, he had an obligation to come immediately to heal Lazarus. If he could heal strangers than certainly he would heal friends. They wanted Jesus to submit to their agenda. We know from other Bible stories that Martha is a woman who makes things happen—maybe think of her as the Martha Stewart of the Bible. She's organized and efficient. She doesn’t procrastinate nor does she sit around. In her purposefulness, she doesn’t even wait until Jesus gets there to confront him for failing to live up to her standards. When she heard Jesus coming she went and met him.

I picture Jesus walking into town and Martha running out to meet him, stopping right in front of him with her hands on her hips saying, Where have you been? If you’d have been on time none of this would have happened.

How many of us have been like Martha? We have our plans and agendas about the way things should go in our lives and then something wrecks our plans. God where are you? we demand to know. Why aren’t you doing what I want? Didn't you get the email?

You may have heard the saying: We make plans and God laughs.

Martha made plans, but Jesus had his own agenda.

As we make our plans, we need to recognize that God may have a different agenda. Martha wanted to Jesus to heal Lazarus and avoid death. Jesus wanted something more dramatic. He knew Lazarus would be dead and not just sleeping. He tells the disciples that, yes, Lazarus is dead. For their sake it was good that Lazarus died because those who witness what Jesus will do will believe that death need not have the final word.

When Martha meets him on the road, she first says, Where were you? If you had been here this wouldn’t have happened! In other words, you procrastinated and ruined my plan.

But we also need to give Martha some credit. The next thing she says is, I know that God will give you whatever you ask.

Martha has been paying attention to the teaching on resurrection. She knows how powerful Jesus is and she asks him to act—according to his plan. She hopes that Jesus can do something even though Lazarus is in the tomb. Martha hands the reigns over to Jesus saying, I know that God will give you whatever you ask. Go ahead Jesus, you set the agenda. It’s Jesus who says, Your brother will rise.

So they go to the tomb and Jesus commands them to roll away the stone.

And because old habits die hard, our Martha Stewart character says, NO! NO! It will stink! You can’t have a proper mourning party with that awful smell all around. What will the neighbors say? Nobody will want to be here with us if it smells bad! No, Jesus, we don’t want that.

Jesus tells her to ignore the smell and focus on witnessing the glory of God. And so they roll away the stone and Lazarus comes out, alive. This is Jesus ultimate healing, life from death. Lazarus comes out of the tomb and Jesus commands those around him to unbind him and let him go.

Jesus can heal a blind man, raise a dead man but he forgets to take off the bindings? Why? Probably because it's a teachable moment. We are all at some point or another trapped in darkness. But more often than not we are also fully present in the world and find ourselves in bindings. Like Lazarus we are in the world but confined. We find ourselves so wrapped up in having a perfect house or the greatest car or flawless skin or a killer body that we fail to really live. 

Dominique Ponko Owner of Yogaflow
In my Yoga class, the teacher will tell us to do this crazy, twist wrap thingy called a full-bind.

<--- This is a real full bind done by a                          professional. This is NOT me.

 It can take years of practice to be flexible enough get into a full bind like this. Over the years we practice binding and constraining ourselves rather than experiencing the freedom of new life in Christ. Once I'm in my own, less picturesque version this bind, it's hard to do much else--I can't walk or jump. Truth be told it kind of hurts. And while we can breathe deeply and find peace in those constraints, we aren't meant to stay in them.

We are meant to come out of them just as Lazarus came out of his burial cloths to live again.  

Jesus’ command to unbind Lazarus is a command to all of us to let go of our preconceived notions that hold us down. It’s Jesus' call let go of our own agendas and be open to what God has in store.

Maybe he was looking at Martha when he said this—if so, maybe he really meant don’t try to bind me to your agenda, to your plan for the way things should be. I'm setting the agenda. Go with it. How often are you submitting to someone else's idea of what is good or right? 

Maybe he was looking at his disciples as he said it—If so, maybe he meant, don’t let your fear hold you back. Don’t be afraid to follow where I’m leading. Trust me. How often does fear hold you back from trying something new?

Maybe he was looking at Lazarus as he said it—If so maybe he meant be free from the bonds of death. Don't let the cave hold you back. Drop the burial cloths and embrace life once again. How often do you let your past interrupt your future? 

Are we so used to the darkness of the cave that we are afraid to come out blinking in bewilderment at being truly alive?

It is through the life, death and resurrection of Christ we can break loose the chains of anxiety that hold us back. We can rest assured that God’s agenda is enough for our lives. We don’t have to make everything perfect.

The things that are essential to the eternal will be accomplished. 

Maybe not according to our timetable, but God will see to it.

Sometimes when we break free of our bindings we no longer meet the expectations of the Marthas in our lives. When we aren't constrained by the things of this world, the frantic, manic, get-it-perfect lifestyle suddenly seems unimportant. We may even be called procrastinators or lazy or misguided or naïve.

Like Lazarus we have to let that stone be rolled away and have the bindings removed so that we can get out of that dark, dank cave and into the light, not once but over and over again in our lifetimes. We are awfully good at putting the bindings back on each other and ourselves. But, each time we loosen the bindings, we can catch a glimpse of the eternal. We can come face-to-face with Christ-- a friend, a savior--who weeps with us, cries for us and calls us out of the tomb and into the light of new life.

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