Monday, April 3, 2017

Unbind Him, and Let Him Go

John 11:1-45
A sermon for the people

Thursday night, Paul Furukawa, Pastor Steve, and I went to a kick-off assembly for the San Antonio Sponsoring Committee (we’re still working on the name).  This is a new and diverse collaborative coalition of leaders from congregations, schools, and non-profits which are building a network with the capacity to act effectively and faithfully by organizing our time, talents, and resources so that we can use our gifts to affect life here in town for the common good.  Our hope is to inspire businesses, the city, clergy, and laity, people of faith, to address issues that affect everyone in the city such as high quality public education, access to health care, living wages, and fair lending among many, many others.

Thursday night, with the permission and blessing of the executive council, Abiding Presence publically announced our commitment to the work of the Sponsoring Committee by making a financial pledge for the year, by promising to attend workshops which will help form the work and intentions of the committee, and by committing to a time of conversation, a “Campaign of Conversations”, if you will, in which we at APLC will sit one-to-one or in small groups to talk honestly with one another about the things we are concerned about, especially those things which affect in our lives here in the San Antonio area.

So I’m wondering, what gets you up in the morning?  What are you passionate about?  What worries you?  What keeps you up at night?  Is it a rise in neighborhood theft?  Is it the cost of healthcare?  Is there are feral cat problem near your workplace?  Does someone you love have difficultly reintegrating into society following incarceration?  Is your child getting what she needs from the school system?  Or are you a teacher struggling to get what you need from the school system?

What has you so worked up that you have trouble resting or trouble focusing on other things?  What has you feeling cut off and alone?  What has you bound?

…In the gospel reading today, Jesus performs his biggest miracle…he raises Lazarus from the dead. 

Jesus is away from Bethany when he hears the news that Lazarus is ill.  And he waits for two more days before going to him.  So, by the time he gets to Bethany, Lazarus, the one whom Jesus loved, has been dead for four days.  Now, this is important, because the ancient Jews believed that the soul would inhabit the body for three days, but on the fourth day, the soul was gone.  A little nod to Billy Crystal in the Princess Bride here, after the 4th day, the person was no longer “mostly dead” but really, really dead.  Beyond hope for resuscitation.  Beyond mortal hope for resurrection.   

But Jesus knows better.  Jesus knows where to place hope, and (spoilers, dear ones…it’s not in the grave!).  And so he travels to Bethany and greets Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus.  And he is moved to tears by their grief…which is his grief also.  And he says two things. 

First, he says to Lazarus, “come out!”  And Lazarus, trusting the voice of his beloved teacher and friend, does the impossible, he responds to the invitation and comes out of his tomb…out of the place which has been holding him trapped and cut off from everyone else…he comes out of a place which by its very design supports death.  But holding onto hope and trust, Lazarus moves toward the voice of his Savior.

Second, Jesus addresses the community, “unbind him, and let him go”. 

Unbind him.  Take off the oppressive garb of death and free him to life in the sun among God’s people.

Now, Jesus was most assuredly capable through either human or divine movement of unbinding Lazarus.  He could have pulled off that linen by hand or snapped his fingers and commanded a legion of angels to do it for him, but instead, Jesus instructs the community to “unbind him, and let him go.” 

When we were baptized, we were baptized into community.  We were baptized into the body of Christ.  And, let me just tell you, in the body, there are NO insignificant parts.

Some of you know that about two weeks ago, I broke my little toe.  I had gone back to Alabama to pick up my kids and our belongings.  Someone had left the weights from the grandfather clock in the middle of the walkway, and since my arms were laden with boxes, I couldn’t see them and WHAM!!...a great deal of hopping around and several naughty words later, we determined that my sweet little baby toe, the one which never gives me a reason to think twice about it, was broken.  Let me just tell you, since then, I have had many occasions to think about that baby toe.  You just don’t realize how much you use it until you can’t use it well.  That little toe provides balance and stability and mobility in ways I never even imagined until it was injured.  The part of my body I regarded as insignificant and cute-but-useless is actually terribly important to my daily life.  The last couple of weeks I have really been living into the Corinthians text:  there are NO insignificant parts of the body.

Which is beautiful, because we are baptized into the body of Christ.  We have become part of one body with all of humanity.  And there are NO insignificant parts.  And by our baptism into the body of Christ with ALL OF THE PARTS we are therefore bound up in the very Trinity.  And we are bound up in God’s continual creating, redeeming, and sustaining work in the world for all of God’s people…and God’s people are ALL people.

And we are called to look closely at our neighbors…the ones in our community…and to see where they are bound and to “unbind them, and let them go.”   To unbind them from the things that would keep them tied to worry and resentment and to death…both literal and figurative…and to release those bonds so that they may be free to live life as God intends…safely and creatively and freely and with the joy of being bound not to death but to God in love and in life abundant.

 This new chapter at Abiding Presence of community work through the San Antonio Sponsoring Committee is just that, a new chapter in a long story of community commitment.  At APLC we are no strangers to unbinding others.  No strangers to being a caring community…to caring for our greater community.  We were born out of this very neighborhood…out of community…and we spent our early years caring for those who live in it.  Did you know that this congregation is responsible for the first fire station in the area?  We are!  We organized and did the work to show the city that a fire station was necessary in this part of San Antonio, and eventually our efforts paid off…and our neighbor’s homes were made safer.  Ask Jarrell Pruitt to tell you the story.

And we are really good about caring for folks who come to us.  I’ve seen members of this congregation offer rides, meals, and extra nights in a hotel for all kinds of folks.  I’ve never, ever seen anyone leave this place hungry.

And those are just a couple of ways we’ve organized our resources to unbind our neighbors.  I imagine you can think of several more. 

The challenge is to keep doing the work of unbinding our neighbors from the death shroud.  But it is not ours to do alone.  God has provided us with a community…one which we unbind and one which unbinds us so that we all may be free to be tied up in God’s abundance.  We only need to be open to living into our baptismal call…in which we are claimed by God, called into community, and propelled forth to “unbind him, and let him go”…the whole body of Christ…even, or especially, the baby toes.


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