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Bishop Russell's Sermon for Sunday, March 29, 2020


I will confess that while cooped up at the house the last two weeks, I’ve been catching up on a few movies. One favorite is the sci-fi movie "Arrival." It begins with a familiar theme, aliens arrive on earth. But unlike other movies about aliens, "Arrival" is not about gross creatures taking over our bodies or an epic war of worlds. Rather than an alien invasion, "Arrival" is more of a visitation. Spoiler alert, the reason for the alien visit is not to destroy earth, rather it's to give humanity a gift.

The aliens arrive on earth, the motive of their visit is not clear, so earth’s only choice is to try and communicate. To do so, a group of scientists is assembled led by a linguist, Dr. Louise Banks. For months the scientists venture into a cavernous room inside the spaceship. Because of fear of contamination the humans wear heavy awkward protective suits.

As Dr. Banks becomes more and more frustrated at their lack of ability to communicate, there’s a scene inside the ship where suddenly she starts to peel off her protective suit. Her colleagues cry out "STOP!", to which she replies, ”they need to see me.”  Banks walks across the room to the screen that separates the earthlings from the aliens. She places her hand on it, and out of the fog, the alien does the same.  She quips, “now that is a proper introduction.”

Once upon a time a man named John sat down to try to convey what he had come to know about God through Jesus. And he introduces God in a very proper way. “the Word became flesh and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…”

Honestly, God had been trying to communicate with us for a long time, but something kept getting lost in the transmission. So God made a remarkable decision ”they need to see me.” In Christ Jesus, God peeled off the garments of heaven and humbled himself, taking on our very likeness so that we can see God, fully and clearly.

We believe that Christ Jesus is the fullest and clearest expression of who God is, and that is the primary idea running through the entire Gospel of John. In story after story, Jesus peels away at the powers of the world and the presumptions of religion in order to show the world who God is - turning water into wine, healing the blind, feeding thousands, and finally in today's Gospel when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

Again and again, Jesus peels away at preconceived ideas of God, the fixed reality of all that we think we know, and our limited ideas of life. Peeling away at it all, in order to give them and us a gift. And the gift God give us in Christ Jesus is life, but a kind of life that is more than pulse of our heart, or money in the bank, or the number of birthdays we have celebrated.

In Jesus we are given a life that is so remarkably different, it's like being born again. "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Such a life can be hard to grasp especially when you are standing in the midst of death Take for example, Martha who is having a hard time believing anything at all. After all her brother Lazarus is dead, and I mean really dead, four days dead. And death is the most fixed reality of all, an eternal and absolute power in all of creation.

Then Jesus shows up and starts to speak of this new life. Do you believe this? This is a moment that we lose something in the printed version. I say that because in my imagination, there was a very long pause before Martha breaks the silence with what comes next.

”Do you believe this?" All Martha knows is the fixed reality of death, and it's not hard for us to feel what she felt. Most of us have known the sting of death. And here we are. We are Martha. The entire human family is Martha, standing in the midst of death. As of the making of this video, there over 1300 deaths in US alone, and there is no telling how many more there will be. Like Martha we are standing in the midst of death and it may be hard to believe anything from this point of view. And it's even harder when you don’t get the miracle that Martha got. This is how the power of death can take hold of us.

And when you stand in that place, it can be a lot easier to believe in death because we see so much. It's easier to believe in sin and suffering, evil and tragedy, because that’s what makes for news. And because we see so much of such this reality, we are tempted to stop believing in what we cannot see.  

And yet, knowing all that she knows, having seen all that she had seen, without fully knowing what Jesus meant, Martha leans into Jesus’ promise and says yes. And in so doing, Martha sees more. The gift of this larger life is hers---resurrected life. I am not the first to say this. But there are two people who are raised from the dead in this story. Lazarus and Martha. 

“I am the resurrection and the life.” This is the gift of life that Jesus offers to Martha and to us. It is a life unbound from the fixed reality of time and space. It is a kind of life that is free of shame and regret, so it pulses with the gift of joy and wonder. Full of mercy and grace. A life not bound by the powers and principalities of the world. So it is life that gives itself away through generosity compassion and justice. It is a life that will not be defeated by the powers of this world even death itself, because it is a life that is born in a power even stronger than death. That is the power of love. 

I don’t know what burden you are carrying today. I don’t know what has you bound up. I don’t know how the power of death has hold of your life, but I do know this.  

It's okay if you are having a hard time believing, because here is the real point of God’s gift. This story, this story of Jesus is not so much about the belief of people in God. It is the story of God’s belief in us, and it is a remarkable gift.

It's okay if you are having a hard time that God believes in you. Jesus came to us so that we might see God and to give us the gift of life. Like Martha may we lean into the mystery of this life that Jesus offers and whisper yes, each and every day. And let this life take hold of us, that, in turn the world might see Him through us. Amen.   



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