During His last visit to Bethany Jesus had attended a “resurrection” celebration party for Lazarus. Many friends of Mary, Martha and Lazarus had come to participate. Perhaps some who had not been there when Lazarus had been raised to life by Jesus came to see for themselves. There he was, reclining at the table, eating, laughing, enjoying the company. Many (it could be that John actually meant all) believed and put their faith in Jesus.
The next day the party went to Jerusalem to continue at the Feast. The enthusiasm was so robust that on the rutted, dirt path that led to Jerusalem they laid down palm fronds for the donkey to step on. They cried out in cheers of, ” Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” Even some outlier Greeks came and asked friends if they could also meet Jesus.
Details leave some things to the imagination. However, Jesus felt He needed to say something. What he had to say seemed almost out of place in the celebrative climate. He seemed to want to tell the multitudes that had gathered about the kind of life to which Lazarus had been raised. Jesus is seeing that resurrection is a call to serve God. It is a way to show who God is and what he is like. Isn’t that really what glorifying God is all about, showing who He is?
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies it bears much fruit.” Whose life is He talking about? His own? Mine? Both? The crowd leans back to put a bit of distance from words that don’t quite fit the party ambiance.
“He who loves his life will lose it. But he who loses his life in this world will have it into all eternity.” ……. I think it’s both.
In the end, what really makes life sweet? What makes our heart sing with joy any more than hearing the invitation of Jesus, “Follow me.”?
By the time John tells the story of the death of Lazarus in John, chapter 11, it is apparent that it has required layers of plots and subplots, themes and counter themes to accurately express the depth of meaning and significance of Jesus’ life. It is true of the story of anyone’s life. No one would contend that the discovery of electrical current tells everything there is to know about Edison’s life. There are as many characters in Jesus’ story as a Tolstoy novel. Every paragraph introduces us to a new character and a story line that could stand alone. We tell the stories over and over as though complete in themselves. When we stand back, however, we see each story as another pearl on a necklace, more beautiful as a whole than any one pearl alone.
Here is an idea of the thematic layers that could be helpful in understanding John’s good news story. First, in no order of importance, there are the individual stories. John and the Jordon. Andrew, Cephas, Philip, Nathanael, and Mary at a wedding reception. The temple, Nicodemus, and a Samaritan woman coming for water. Wait a minute. She was Samaritan? An official’s son, a lame man by a cistern, and a boy with a sack lunch. There is a storm on the lake and there are people who just don’t get it. Spit in a blind man’s eye on Sunday. The death of a friend.
The stories leap off the page into reality. In verbal staccato they incite our imagination, our admiration, and our hope. Can it be true? Can this really be Him? So, we read them again. This time without putting the book down. There it is. This time it doesn’t get past us. In every word and in every story, we see the plot more clearly now. These are stories that have no intention of standing on their own. Each one reaching back a hand to join the firm grip of the one before. The story is bigger than we could have ever hoped. Our fragmented pieces of the particular become melded together by something that seems more galactic, even cosmic.
He told us. Right up front, John told us what this account was about. It is the unveiling of the universal. The eternal. It was about things we had never seen before. It is the story of what is truer than true. The Word had become flesh. It is the story of a God who has an address. The post office box is next to mine. Our farms share a fence line. The Eternal One is here and now. I can see it now. In every particular story it is as though I am touching forever. I can hear for myself the cosmic resonance in the heartbeat of one who is now standing among us.
There is, however, also a coarse cord that introduces another subplot to the story. Not everyone, it seems, is euphoric about hearing from this “Source of Light” iconoclast. He tampers with the chain of command and income streams and with judgements about who is in and who is out. This coarse cord doesn’t just create a light abrasion but could be used in a potential lethal hanging of long established traditions (translated: privilege, prosperity, and power.)
It is now obvious that several plots and subplots are at work in telling the story of Jesus. The story of Lazarus now becomes pivotal in understanding the tensions between the lines.
Prelude: Jesus had healed a man who had been born blind. On several accounts the moral majority had been offended. One, He did it on Sunday. “You can’t do that. We have laws.” This led to a deeper sense of offense by the tight fisted religious crowd. They accused Him of saying that they were blind. This had to be dealt with. A stoning seemed to be in order. They grasped, but “the darkness could not apprehend Him”. He alludes them.
You might think that the response of Jesus and friends would be more ecstatic over their escape. But that doesn’t seem to be Jesus’ emotional reaction. For the religious tightwads they could no longer see God at work in the miraculous. Their mortal rage was now set on insuring the survival of the system. It was that violent and willful blindness that pushed Jesus “back across the Jordon where John had been baptizing in the early days”.
Does it make any sense that Jesus went back to the place on the Jordon where he had been before? Where he had gotten sopping wet? Sated by the immersive presence of His Father? Was this trip a longing to relieve some corrosive effects of rejection? Perhaps Jesus waded into water where he had once before stepped off the bank. Could the unspoken words of a troubled psyche be, “Father, please say it again.”?
This time, nothing. That we know of.
What is left unspoken, however, is a silent courage to be who He knew himself to be. There had been a wilderness before. “If you are….”. The most damaging temptation of any of us is to forget or deny who we are. To be confused about who we are is to be forever confused about what we are to do. So much of our muddling through life is because we have hidden from the reality of who we really are: children of our Father. Recovery of identity is always expressed in a new resoluteness in doing what we must. We don’t know exactly how Jesus received the word on His river retreat. But we do know what follows. “Guys, we’re going back.” His friends knew what might be in store. The people who had threatened him back in Jerusalem still had the rocks in their pockets.
The message had come that Lazarus was dead. Jesus loved these people, Lazarus and his two sisters. His grief was palpable. He wept openly. No danger would now forbid Him to do what he knew he must do. And what was it he had to do? To resurrect life out of its deathly stench. To free up what had been bound. To affirm the plot. Listen to the vibrato that still moves molecules at the edge of the universe, “Lazarus. Come out!!!!!”
Let’s meet again Sunday morning and re-hear some of Jesus’ best words, “I AM the resurrection and the LIFE.”
Each of us is moved toward finding the reason for our existence. The perennial question is the “why” of why we are here at all. We rightly seek meaning and purpose. The remembrance of Christmas is a part of answering that question and finding the meaning we need.
The Jesus of Nazareth story begins to connect us to the source of our own meaning. For once we hear the story OF Christmas we begin a process of understanding that there is a story BEHIND Christmas. This time-bound story of a PARTICULAR child born in the PARTICULAR backwoods town of Bethlehem is actually the story of the eternal God on a cosmic mission to restore relationship to EVERY child in EVERY town.
How did God choose to accomplish this monumental mission? How would the eternal and unseen God choose to interface with the likes of us? Well, there in the story of mangers and shepherds and cow cookies, God chooses to join us in our humanity by becoming flesh and blood with us. All of a sudden “the fullness of time” has a specific date, a specific place and the full and sated Word of what he is really like is first heard in the cry of a newborn baby.
This is the Christmas paradigm that brings the extremes of the divine/human, universal/specific, and eternal/dated and brings one into the other. The Eternal became human. The unseen God now has a face and leaves footprints in the desert sand. His embrace heals our fragile and broken limbs.
Now, back to what the Christmas story has to do with our purpose and meaning. It is exactly this, that the specific act of God in Jesus has now become the universal paradigm for making himself known again and again and again. The universal Christ is once again born in every compassionate touch and every act of love of one space/time individual to another. God continues to become flesh and live among us through our hands and feet. Our words. Our lives. We are not the Christ. But in a manner beyond our comprehension, our purpose goes beyond enjoying God forever, to loving him and serving his children right now and right here in this wonderful little town of Ledbetter, Texas. You will never find a higher calling.
Candlelight Christmas Eve Service
As we gather as a community on the evening of Dec. 24, please join us at 7:00 p.m. for candlelight, communion, music, and worship. Take time to breathe a few moments of peace, and focus on the miracle of Christmas. Come alone or bring your family and friends.
This first Soul Cafe Family Reunion is going to be such fun. I’m hearing all the buzz from Lorri about who is going to show up. A huge dollop of the excitement is getting to see some of our family who don’t live close enough to come every Sunday. So, to all of us still living on the family farm in Ledbetter go ahead and set your alarms and come early. There will always be some last-minute setting up to do but most of all just being around good friends and family is the payoff for showing up. Plan on staying after church for the family meal. Even if you can’t bring a covered dish my confidence is that there will be more than enough. Just come on.
Tomorrow’s talk is about eternal life as it relates to “right now” life. For a trailer load of reasons, the life that is yet to come is a powerful capacity to live life NOW as though it has eternal impact and meaning. The moment we turn in response to the voice of Jesus calling us to follow him, eternal life begins. The transformation that can only come by God’s uninhibited acceptance and grace initiates a reality that will change your life. What God will do he can begin to do today. The Kingdom has begun.
Traditionally referred to as the “Wedding Feast at Cana”, this early story of Jesus has been consistently misunderstood. It has been the reference for funny jokes about wine, and surface observation that Jesus loved parties and wanted everyone to have a good time. Neither is it a story about how Jesus can entertain the guests with magic tricks.
If, however, that is all we come away with in reading this story we miss the depth of what John is saying about Jesus. This is a story about how Jesus is the magnificent picture of who God is and what he desperately desires for us.
Through the first paragraphs of John’s treatise on Jesus, he has laid down the foundation that Jesus was God’s total disclosure of himself. In a portrait of divine health, God has become completely transparent with us. God became flesh in Jesus and pitched his tent with us. We begin to see God’s face and God’s heart in The One who was filled with grace and truth.
This story of water into wine is a continuation and fleshing out of that theme. Whatever we say about this passage must be rooted in God’s willful and complete revelation of himself so that we could understand Him; so that we could know the truth about him.
As well, however, he came to open the curtains on what God’s heart longs for us. This is the story that could easily picture God coming in the front door at Stuermer’s with a huge smile across his face and with hefty resonance loudly exclaim, “Let the party begin”.
Everyone who has ever attended Soul Cafe Church is invited to come for a great worship service at 11am, followed by covered dish dinner-on-the-grounds. This will be a “homecoming” time to visit with friends and family, so save the date and make plans to enjoy the day at Soul Cafe.
INVITE FOLKS WHO HAVE ATTENDED SOUL CAFE TO JOIN US ON THIS VERY SPECIAL DAY OF WORSHIP & CELEBRATION
SUNDAY, OCT. 21, @ 11am
It’s time to ROUND UP everyone for another great season of activities at Soul Cafe Church. Join us on Sunday, Aug. 26, for great music beginning at 10:30, then worship at 11:00 a.m. with singing, food, Doug’s message, and a time to hear about the fall activities & ministry opportunities. Western attire encouraged!