This morning’s sermon – enjoy!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
April 6, 2014
Believing In A Holy Mystery
What is faith?
In her book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts On Faith, Anne Lamott recalled having to make a challenging parenting decision when her son, Sam, was seven years old. Anne wrote:
The next morning, the day before Sam’s birthday, I was still lying in bed when I remembered an anonymous poem I’ve seen several times over the years. It says after we jump into the darkness of the unknown, faith lets us believe that we will either land on solid ground, or we will be taught how to fly.
I was watching an interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, and the interviewer asked her what faith was and how it could be made stronger. Nadia responded:
Faith is trusting God’s promise. It’s not intellectually ascending to a set of theological propositions. Faith is trusting that we are who God says we are; that God’s promises are being fulfilled among us, even if we aren’t seeing it.
Both of these women – two of my absolute favorite authors – understand faith to be a very unexplainable, yet still very real, thing.
Unexplainable – yet still very real.
Today’s Gospel story – like faith – is very unexplainable, yet still very real. Understanding this story requires us to believe in something that we cannot see, to accept something that does not really make a whole lot of sense.
There are so many other pieces of the Gospel and of Jesus’ ministry that we can understand and explain and see in very literal ways in our lives. Feed the hungry? Okay, I get that! Reach out to the poor and oppressed? Absolutely! Fight for justice? Awesome, let’s do it! Bring someone back from the dead after four days? Eek. This one is tough!
When Jesus heard word from Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus was very ill, he did not drop everything and run to his side to heal him. Instead he told the messenger, “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.” Then he waited for two days before traveling to Bethany, where he found Lazarus dead and buried in a tomb.
And yet Lazarus walked out of that tomb.
Scripture tells us that “[Jesus] cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ [and Lazarus] came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.”
This story does not imply that people were witnessing a spiritual resurrection or that they were feeling Lazarus’ presence somehow in their midst. This story is not about some metaphorical resurrection. No; this story is about resurrection in a very real, very tangible and very literal way; a way that most of us here on earth cannot even fathom.
This kind of reminds me of that Carrie Underwood song, Jesus Take the Wheel. It came on the radio once and my mom turned to me and said, “You know? When I think of that song as a metaphor, it’s beautiful. But if I take it literally, it kind of scares the living daylights out of me.”
Except I don’t think she said “living daylights.”
This story requires us to have faith; it requires us to believe that something greater is going on that we may never understand. It requires us to believe that God was alive and actively working through the resurrection of Lazarus. And we have to believe that God is not just working through Jesus and Lazarus, but also through Mary and Martha and through the disciples and through the people in the community who witnessed such a miraculous event. Because then we can believe that God is working through us.
This story requires us to believe in something that we cannot see, that we cannot understand and that we cannot explain. This story requires us to believe that something is real and true in our lives, even if we do not understand it or cannot make sense out of it.
This story requires us to believe that somewhere within the holy mystery of the resurrection, life is being renewed. And that also reminds us that we have to believe that somewhere within the holy mystery of the resurrection, our lives are being renewed as well.
We have to believe in that holy mystery.
God works in mysterious ways; we have to believe that.
We have to believe.
This is not easy; I get that. But I really do not think that a Christian belief is something that we have or do not have; I think that a Christian belief is something that we intentionally do.
The word “believe” showed up eight times in this passage. And it is so important to recognize that it always showed up as a verb and never as a noun. Jesus never said “belief”; Jesus always said “believe,” “believes” or “believed”. Jesus did not refer to this idea of “belief” as a tangible or innate thing that is within us; Jesus referred to it as an action, as something that we have to do. I don’t think that – as Christians – we have a belief in something, I think that – as Christians – we believe in something.
The act of believing – the action, the effort it requires – is absolutely crucial when it comes to bringing the Gospel to life. Because in order for God to work through us, God needs us to do something.
It is not enough for us to be something; we have to do something. Think of it this way. If you are a fantastic piano player, but never actually play the piano, are you ever going to create music?
If you are a Christian, but do not actively believe, how is God ever going to work through you?
God needs us to be active participants in our faith. God needs us to take part in the act of believing. God needs us to believe this stuff; even when it is difficult.
I know that there are pieces of Jesus’ story that are not easy for us to wrap our head’s around, but God needs us to at least try. Think about it – as we sit here and wrestle with this text, as we commit to believing what it is saying, even if we do not totally understand it, God is working within us.
God needs us – even if the odds are stacked against us – to make a commitment to believe. That is the only way God can really work in this world.
Paul told the church in Rome, “You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” God dwells within us – all of us – and he is so desperately trying to work in this world. We have to believe in order to allow that to happen.
I had the absolute privilege of hearing Nadia Bolz-Webber speak at a leadership academy in Lexington yesterday. During the Q&A, someone asked her about her personal theology and whether she understands and interprets the bible in literal or metaphorical ways. And she said something simple, yet so profound: “I believe it.”
“I think this is why I have so much power as a preacher,” she explained. “This is some crazy stuff.”
Except she didn’t say “stuff”.
“This is some crazy stuff – and I believe it!”
We have to believe. We have to drop to our knees, throw off the protective cloaks that we wear that shield us from the things we do not understand and cry out to God that – despite the darkness of the unknown – we believe.
We have to wrestle with the difficult parts of our faith, knowing that this active participation is opening up a vessel that God is using for real and tangible ministry within our community and here on earth.
We have to sit with the discomfort of being perplexed and not fully understanding every piece of the story and believe that God is alive – still working and still speaking in our midst.
We have to believe in this holy mystery that we call the Christian faith.
And this, my friends, is the Good News that creates us, redeems us and sustains us.
Every single day.
Thanks be to God!