31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
March 29, 2020
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Anyone feeling a little stir crazy these days?
For our family, this is day 16 of “stay safe, stay at home”. And every day, the news seems to indicate that we have a lot more “stay at home” days to come.
Does it make you feel limited? I am feeling limited, and it gives me new insight into our gospel passage from John.
Throughout Lent, I have been sharing stories of Jesus healing, stories of Jesus freeing others from that which limits them. Jesus invited the rich man to be freed from the attachments that were strangling and impoverishing him. Blind Bartimaeus was freed from the darkness of being physically blind and the darkness of living on the edges of society. In his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus offered to her the living water of his acceptance and unconditional love. And last week, we heard the story of how Jesus invited Nicodemus to open his mind and experience the fullness of God.
In all of these encounters with Jesus, people were invited to be healed, invited to be freed from that which bound and limited them.
In this morning’s scripture passage, we see how Jesus himself cannot be limited and bound. The reading begins with Jesus receiving word that his dear friend Lazarus is gravely ill. Any one of us upon hearing this news would feel anxious and perhaps urgent to immediately go and be with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whether we could be of any help or not.
Jesus though is not influenced by anxiety, is never bound by fear – and we see that again in his response to the disciples when he tells them he is going to travel to Bethany. The disciples are afraid for him. Bethany is so close to Jerusalem, and it was not so long ago that the leaders, the powerful, the status quo, in Jerusalem were trying to stone Jesus. The disciples question why Jesus would go back – for any reason.
Jesus is not bound by fear. He is not limited by anxiety. He walks in the light. Jesus is always true to his calling to give glory to God. And going to Bethany is about giving glory to God. Giving glory to God by raising Lazarus, freeing him from death, and from all that limits and binds him. In the Message translation, Jesus says “Unwrap him and let him loose.”; however the New Revised Standard translation says it so clearly, “Unbind him and let him go.” (John 11:44)
And if you stop there, it’s a happy ending. Lazarus is alive. Lazarus is free. Lazarus and Jesus’ stories do not stop there though. Turn to the 12th chapter of the gospel of John and you hear these words:
Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, who he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him. (John 12:9-11)
Jesus has raise Lazarus from the dead and those in power, those who want to keep their power, want to kill him?
This is not a happy ending we expected; however it is all too often true that being healed, being freed, being changed by Jesus’ love threatens people – threatens those in power because they fear losing their power, threatens those who are comfortable because they fear losing their comfort.
We really should not be surprised that not everyone was thrilled when Lazarus was unbound and freed. Look at the history of our own country. When African-American slaves were freed following the Civil War, some states worked quickly to bind them again, passing all sorts of laws to limit their ability to vote. And when large amounts of women joined the workforce in WWII and were free to contribute to the cause as well as to keeping our country going, how quickly we limited and bound them back in the home and kitchen when the war was over and the soldiers returned home.
Being freed, being unbound is not always good news to everyone. It is to us though. It is to Christ’s disciples who have been called to partner with God in creating God’s kingdom here on earth, God’s kingdom of love, God’s kingdom of equality, justice, and peace.
As we feel the frustration in the coming weeks of being bound to our homes, limited in our activities, I invite you to two spiritual practices.
First, the spiritual practice of centering prayer. I invite you to take everything you are feeling, your loneliness, your anger, your disappointment, your anxiety, even your deepest fears which often lead to darkness and hate, and bring it to God. Take two minutes, five minutes, ten even – every day? And sit with God. Be honest in sharing your whole heart with God. Let God’s love, let Jesus’ love heal you, heal every broken part of you.
The second spiritual practice is one of justice. Consider who is going to continue to be bound and limited after this “stay at home” time is done. Consider those who due to lack of education and lack of opportunity will go back to minimum wage jobs that don’t pay them a living wage. Consider those who due to the limits of racism and sexism will continue to be bound and incarcerated, discriminated against and abused. Consider those who due to homophobia and our historical binary system will continue to live in the closet or be limited in expressing their gender identity and fluidity as well as limited in how they can live and love.
Consider those who will continue to be bound by daunting medical bills, whether they had “good” insurance or not.
Consider all of those who will be bound even after this limiting time of “stay at home” is over. Consider all of those who need to be healed, freed, transformed by Jesus’ love and justice.
We can choose to see this as a time of limits, a time of sorrow, a time of grief and lament or we can choose to see this as an opportunity to give glory to God, a time of transformation, a time for the healing of our hearts, souls, and minds,
a time for the healing of our world.
A time for all to be unbound.