Monday, April 3, 2017

Cross Culture: Resurrecting

   It was the fourth day. The body had been washed, anointed, and wrapped in strips of cloth. Then it was quickly buried. Decay had already set in, and the stink of death put an end to their hope.
   In the beginning, when Lazarus had first fallen ill, Mary and Martha had been quietly confident. Jesus would help them. They had no reason to doubt or worry or fear. They had seen their friend perform many miracles. A dying child had been restored to health. A man who had been paralyzed for 38 years had been made to walk. And a man born blind had received the gift of sight. It was amazing! Jesus could do incredible things! And all of those miracles had been for strangers. If Jesus could do so much for them, then, certainly, he would come to the aid of his dear friend.
   So they sent word, “Tell Jesus to come quickly. Lazarus is sick. He needs you.”
   But Jesus did not come. And Lazarus had died. It was a great loss. But, of course, there was a lot to do. Arrangements must be made. The body must be tended. People must be notified. Work... it can be a comfort. But, slowly, the truth began to sink in. Lazarus was dead.
    Even then the two women held out hope. There’s time! His spirit has not left the body. When Jesus comes, he will make things right. Our brother will live again.
    But, still, Jesus did not come.
   And, finally, the women were forced to face the bitter truth. Their BROTHER was gone. He was not sleeping. He was dead. They would not see his face again. They would not hear his voice. They would not feel the comfort of his embrace. How could Jesus do this to them? Jesus had abandoned them. They had believed in his power to heal, and he had let them down!
    When Jesus finally arrived, the two women lit him with all their grief. And all their anger. And all their tears. “Where have you been? If you had been HERE, our brother would not have died.”
    Can you hear their pain? Jesus did. He heard the agony of hopelessness. Grief. Despair. He heard the cries of hearts that were broken. Dreams that were crushed. Lives that were shattered. And the pain moved him to tears. He wept. Our Lord stood at the entrance of his friend’s tomb, and he wept.
    And then Jesus did what no one even dared to hope for. He raised Lazarus from the dead. He called out, and Lazarus came right on out that grave! He had been dead, and Jesus brought him back to life!
    It was impossible. For you and me and even for the very best of doctors, it IS impossible. But not for God! Nothing is impossible for God. God can do anything. Even resurrect the dead. God is that powerful. God is more powerful than death.
    For the past four weeks, we’ve been looking at the way Jesus encountered the world. John 3:17 tells us that Jesus came into the world to redeem it. To save it. To make the most of it. Jesus called people to live differently from the world around them, so we’ve been looking at some of the traits of that alternative existence. We considered the rationale behind this Cross Culture: our purpose is to please God. Then we looked at resistance. Cross Culture resists the temptation to conform to the world’s expectations. Next, we contemplated redeeming love. Cross Culture seeks to redeem the world, not condemn it. And then we focused on reaching. Cross Culture reaches out to share God’s saving love with everyone everywhere. Then we concentrated on restoration. Cross Culture seeks to restore people’s relationship with God and their relationships with one another. Today, we turn our attention to resurrection.
    Seems like, everywhere you turn, people are trapped in hopeless situations. Immigrants escape war torn countries just to live for years right outside the gates of refugee camps. Inner city kids bypass the temptations of sex and drugs and alcohol just to get caught in the crossfire of gang violence. Teenage girls run away from abusive parents just to end up the victim of a jealous boyfriend. Then there are the working moms who face insurmountable stacks of overdue bills. Aging execs who get downsized. And one family after another is torn apart by infidelity or addiction or disease.
    But, for all those who have lost hope, Jesus offers the impossible. “I am the resurrection,” he says. “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.”
    It sounds impossible. But it’s not for God! Nothing is impossible with God. Just look back at what God has done before. In the very beginning, God takes a formless void and creates the entire universe! Out of nothing! It was impossible! But not for God. Nothing is impossible with God!
    Just look at Abraham and Sarah. It was a hopeless situation. An elderly couple with no children and no hope of EVER having children. But God promises to bless them with more descendants than there are stars in the sky! It was impossible! But not for God. Nothing is impossible with God!
    Or how about Joseph. Now THAT was a hopeless situation! A boy sold into slavery by his own brothers. But God saves him, raises him up to a position of power and influence, and even manages to bring the family back together again in peace. It was impossible! But not for God. Nothing is impossible with God!
    Or what about Ruth. Could there BE a more hopeless situation? Her husband dies, and, instead of returning to her father for support, she commits herself to her mother-in-law, another widow. And, together, these two vulnerable women make their way to the tiny little town of Bethlehem, where they feed themselves off of the ears of grain that have been left in the fields after the harvest. But God saves them both! Ruth finds love again and becomes the great-grandmother of the King of Israel! It was impossible! But not for God. Nothing is impossible with God.
   Friends, this is good news! It is good news for all lost causes, every broken heart, and shattered lives everywhere. Sometimes, we lose hope. We find ourselves in the midst of an impossible situation. Like Mary and Martha, it is the fourth day. Optimism, hard work, and faith have given way to doubt and despair. We see no way out, no answer, no hope, no promise, no relief, no possibility of life. And then God steps in! And does the miraculous! The impossible! The unimaginable! Because nothing is impossible with God.
    Just ask Brooke Ellison. In 1990, she decided to walk home from school, rather than take the bus, and a car hit her as she crossed the road. Her body was thrown nearly 100 feet, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breathe on her own. The doctors were not certain the girl would live, but Brooke was worried only that she might fail junior high! Eventually, she left the hospital and began to be tutored at home. If she had math problems to do, she would figure them out in her head and then tell someone else what to write down. But not only did Brooke finish junior high with a top grade point average, she also graduated at the top of her high school class and then went on to study at Harvard, where she graduated magna cum laude with degrees in psychology and biology.[i]
    It was impossible! But not for God. Nothing is impossible with God.
    Or ask the people of Community of Grace UMC in Huntington, WV. In 2008, three local congregations voted to close and form one new congregation known as the Community of Grace. Today they offer 2 worship services every Sunday, classes for children, youth and adults, and 2 mission teams that have traveled to southwestern US Indian reservations, Haiti, and Africa. It was impossible! But not for God. Nothing is impossible with God.
    Just ask Eugene Clark. He was a gifted musician, but in college he began to have terrible problems with his eyesight and with arthritis. After graduation he secured a job as a music director and organist with the Back to the Bible Broadcast in Lincoln, Nebraska. But, ultimately, Eugene’s eyesight failed him completely, and rheumatoid arthritis confined him to bed. Despite these debilitating conditions, he continued to write music; he dictated melodies, harmonies, and lyrics for others to record. Eugene was bedridden and in constant pain for the last 20 years of his life. But he had hope in the midst of a hopeless situation. That’s why he could write:
Nothing is impossible when you put your trust in God. Nothing is impossible when you’re trusting in his word. Hearken to the voice of God to thee; is there anything too hard for me? Then put your trust in God alone, and rest upon his word; for everything, o everything, yes everything is possible with God.[ii]

[i] Brooke Ellison and Jean Ellison. “The Brooke Ellison Story: One mother, One Daughter, One Journey.” (Previously published in Reader’s Digest as: “Miracles Happen.”) New York: Hyperion, 2001. Published on the Reader’s Digest website at Downloaded March 11, 2005.
[ii] The story of Eugene Clark is told in A Promise Kept, a sermon written by Frank VanCamen, pastor of Northwest Community Church in Malcolm, Nebraska. The sermon is one in a series on the book of Genesis, and it is published on the Northwest Community Church website at /Genesis21/1-6.html. Downloaded March 10, 2005.