Lazarus, come out! -or- Owning Our Sainthood

Preached on the Feast of All Saints at All Saints Episcopal Church in Detroit, MI.  John 11:32-44

 

“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
These are Jesus’ words to Martha, and to all the Jews crowded in deep mourning for their friend, their brother, this man Lazarus.

“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
This is not meant to be comforting.  It’s certainly not what we’re taught to say to people who are grieving the death of a loved one. Rather, these words are confrontational, challenging.  Jesus is broken up.  He is weeping.  And instead of comforting his friends, he says,

“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
Sometimes I wonder if Jesus wasn’t more distraught over the lack of faith he was witnessing, than over his friend’s death.  But then, what is the difference?  Isn’t it just as troublesome when someone’s faith dies?  Don’t we also grieve when we love someone and we watch them ruin themselves?  Watch them ruin their lives?  When the life leaves their eyes?  When the joy vanishes from their soul?  Isn’t that just like a death?

Perhaps it’s someone that hasn’t ruined their lives, but they have lost that connection to faith, that reason for being.  Maybe they still function in the world just fine, but something inside them has died, something inside them has become lost.  Isn’t that just as distressing?

And when that happens, when we see that happen to someone – especially someone we love – it’s as if a little part of us dies too.  A part of us loses a little hope.  A part of us steels up for some more disappointment.  A part of us gives in to death.  And that part is lying in the tomb with Lazarus.

And there is Jesus… challenging us, confronting us in our moment of fear, our moment of giving in to death.  And he says…
“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

And I think this is a most apt question for you, my friends, on the day of your patronal feast – this All Saint’s Day.  This day when the entire church celebrates this feast with you – in honor of all the saints that have come before us, all the saints that will come after us and, most especially, all the saints that sit here in the pews with us… as well as those who have yet to find their way here.

It’s this last group of people that I’d like to focus on for just a minute – the saints who have yet to find their way here.

The Lazarus Heart by Michael Bilotta

These are the people who are thirsty for something in their lives, but might not have come to the knowledge that it is the gospel – the good news of God in Christ – that they seek.  These are the people who are searching for meaning, for direction… or, perhaps have stopped searching because they have never been offered a hand or a heart.

These are the saints who are locked in the tomb with Lazarus, who need Christ to come and roll away the stone.  These saints need us.  These saints need you and they need me.

I’m often asked this question, “How can we get more people to come to church?”  It’s a good question.
And it’s one that stumps many people mostly because they don’t believe the answer.  What people forget is that we are no longer living in a world where going to church is a given.  We are no longer living in a world where the majority of people actively seek out a congregation or actively seek out a faith of any kind – whether it be muslim, jew, hindu, sikh, buddhist.

And we lament this. We sit outside of Lazarus’ tomb and weep.  We wait for a savior to come to save them and to save us, if we’re honest.  We weep and we wait.  And we forget.

We forget that our savior has already come and that he has created disciples in us.
We forget that we, by virtue of our baptism alone, are the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
We forget that we are the ones called to roll away the stone and open the tomb and release Lazarus from his death.  That we are the ones sent to call out to our friends, “Lazarus, come out!”

So, back to the question: “How can we get more people to come to church?”
The answer, my friends, is that we own our sainthood.
We own our baptismal vows and take them with us beyond the walls of this building for this building is not the church.  The church, rather, is the Body of Christ – and that’s you and me.  The answer is that we must offer ourselves in service to Lazarus, in service to the thirsty, to the troubled, to the searching, and to those who have given up the search.

The answer is that we truly become what we are called to be… Christ’s hands and feet in this world.
When we stop worrying about how to get people into church, and start taking church to people… it is then that we will truly bear witness to All the Saints.  It is then that we will see the glory of God.

The word for this is “mission,” my friends.  And there has been some good work done here in this building over the past two months as members of this parish worked together to develop a mission statement for All Saints, Detroit.

Now, this mission statement, is just that – it’s a statement.  So, it’s important that we remember.  We must remember that without us, without you and me, without our commitment to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world, it remains just a statement.

It only becomes a mission when we are willing to go out roll away the stones from the tombs.
It only becomes a mission when we recall our baptismal vows and take them with us into the world every single day.
It only becomes a mission, when we stop waiting.  For our savior has already come and commanded us to join him in his mission.  We are his disciples and we are called to his mission.

Today, on this celebration of All Saints Day, let us put aside what fears we may have and let us remember who we are and whose we are.
We have been sealed in baptism as Christ’s own.
And so we are Christ’s disciples.  We are the priesthood of all the baptized.  We are the Body of Christ.

So, let us embrace Christ’s mission – our mission.  Let us truly make this statement into a mission statement – one that calls us out of our own tombs of death.

Let us own our sainthood.

And let us go out with our savior, out to every tomb of death, where people are lost, where souls are thirsty.  Let us stand at the edge of those tombs with our savior and roll away the stone and call to these saints who have yet to find their way.  “Lazarus, come out!”

For it is then, that we will see the glory of God.

About Michelle Meech

I want to unfold. I do not want to remain folded up anywhere, because wherever I am still folded, I am untrue. -Rainer Maria Rilke
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