Will you choose life or death?

pexels-photo-568027.jpegLazarus is ill. He’s been ill for some time so his sisters send a message to Jesus. They’ve seen Jesus heal others so why not Lazarus. Jesus decides to prove a point and doesn’t come right away. By the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus is dead and has been in the tomb for 4 days. Jesus stands with Mary and Martha and weeps with them. The NRSV says he was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” Jesus experiences deep grief at the death of his friend. He immerses himself in Mary and Martha’s grief. He’s right there sharing every moment with them. Many of us will have seen the raw grief of families whose children died this week in Florida. We’ve seen the grief and anger of Colton Boushie’s family. That’s the raw emotion that’s taking place outside of Lazarus’ tomb. The scene goes on for a while before a calm starts to descend. No amount of grief and anger can change the deaths that have occurred.

Jesus wants the tomb opened. No wants to open the tomb. What would opening the tomb prove except that he’s dead? Jesus insists. They open the tomb and Jesus calls to Lazarus. I imagine the murmurs of the gathered crowd. They all know Lazarus is dead. Why doesn’t Jesus know? Just like the story of the cross, this should be the end.

But what happens next? I wonder what Lazarus thinks about having his name called by Jesus to come back to this world. When someone dies, we sometimes hear people say, “Jesus called them home” but in this case, Jesus called Lazarus to life. Lazarus has a moment where he has to decide between life and death.

Thinking about life and death in the broadest sense we are given a choice between life and death each day. In order to live fully, we need to choose life. We live in a time where violence is becoming normalized, where we spend more time with technology than in real relationships, where the earth is being destroyed but our lives are comfortable. This comfort is a form of death. It takes us away from seeing, feeling, touching what’s going on in the world. We see the anguish of families torn apart by senseless violence and then go back to being comfortable in our bubble. To really live is to place ourselves, like Jesus, in the midst of the grief, anguish, chaos, the joy and celebration of life and really experience it fully.

As I watched the news this week, I saw students and families asking for gun control. In the face of death and violence, they are seeking life. In their distress over the outcome of Gerald Standing’s trial, Colton Boushie’s family is harnessing the energy to create change. Whether you agree with the outcome of the trial is not the point. The family is choosing life. Their energy could be put into more violence, hatred, revenge instead they are seeking to create something good out of Colton’s death.

Choosing life is a choice and our comfort, our routines sometimes get in the way. Lent calls us to choose life. Lent invites us to pray for ourselves, for each other, for the earth. Lent invites us to fast—to give up the things that get in the way of abundant life. Lent invites us to giving—giving our time, our energy, our money to support God’s work in the world. God calls us to life.

To choose life is a choice. Will we stay in the tomb or choose to walk out embracing all that life has to offer?

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Help Me Stand Strong

strength-prayers-1482413_1920.jpgEver have a moment where you wonder why bad things happen? What did I do to deserve this? John 9 tells the story of a man who is blind from birth. The first question the disciples ask is: What did this man or his parents do to deserve blindness? Jesus doesn’t really care why the man is blind. Jesus simply has compassion for him and heals him.

When we encounter people who are struggling in life we sometimes want to know how they ended up in a particular situation. In other words, are they worthy of our care and concern? There is an important role for story-telling in helping us to understand what happened so we can prevent the same thing from happening again so that people responsible can be held accountable. But offering care and compassion is not tied to sin—to what someone has done or not done.

As the story moves on, Jesus heals mixes saliva and mud, smears it on the man’s eyes. Jesus sends him to wash and when he returns he can see. The neighbours and the community don’t recognize him anymore. They wonder if this the same man that they’ve known since he was a child. People begin to question the man. He keeps affirming that he is the same person they have always known and that Jesus was the one who healed him. This speaks to me of the process that happens when people come out about their sexual orientation or gender identity. As those of us in the LGBTQ community begin to talk about who we are, we say it’s still me. Who I am hasn’t changed. What has changed is your perception of me.  Sometimes there are questions about how or why people identify a particular way. The why or how isn’t necessarily important. The important part here is that we recognize that of God within someone. You can hear the man in the story says that Jesus is from God. As he affirms God is at work in Jesus he is also affirming that the healing, the thing that everyone is questioning is also of God.

When the neighbours aren’t able to figure out what happened, the Pharisees get in the action. These were people who are very observant of the Jewish faith. They were concerned that Jesus had done this healing on the Sabbath day, the day of rest. But they continued to question the man and he kept responding. I was blind and Jesus healed me. Then the temple authorities called the man’s parents and asked them how he had been healed. They refused to answer because they were afraid of being tossed out of the temple. This goes back to the on-going conflict the writer of John is dealing with between the Christian-Jews and non-Christian Jews. The parents don’t want to lose their place in the temple so they will not intervene for their child and they will not support him. Being removed from the temple essentially resulted in shunning by the community—they would lose social and business connections as well as their place of worship. The parents put the responsibility for answering questions back on their son.

The authorities call the man again to answer questions. This time when he answers the questions, the man has lots to say. You can almost hear is frustration as he says it again.

“One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. I have told you already how it happened, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples? Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he Jesus comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (NRSV)

The questions that he is asked, again and again, strengthen his faith in Jesus. Having to defend his faith helps him to be able to articulate who Jesus is for him. It helps him to be clear. He practices first with the neighbours—people who know him well and know him as a person. Then he begins to publicly defend himself. He doesn’t really have a choice. The man born blind is being questioned from every side. His life has been turned upside down. His livelihood has been begging but he no longer has that. No one is going to give to sighted, healthy person. He has no skills. He needs to be accepted into the community in order to survive. If he can’t convince the community that Jesus is of God, he will not have a place.

For those of us, like myself who are comfortable, it’s often easier to stay silent. I sometimes stay silent because I don’t want to upset anyone. It might be less complicated to say silent. Being able to stay silent is a source of privilege that not everyone has. Often it is those who are most vulnerable who use their voice to speak out against oppression, injustice, violence. Speaking out sometimes makes people more vulnerable and more of a target for hatred and violence.

We aren’t told what happens to the man born blind but unless others speak up for him, recognize that of God in him, his entire world will fall apart. Those of us who are comfortable, need to use our voices to stand with folks in our community and world who are vulnerable. We need to recognize that of God in the most vulnerable and lend our voices in support.

Unexpected Living Water

pexels-photo-296282.jpegThe story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well  offers an invitation to living water.

Imagine the Samaritan woman for a moment. She comes to the well in the middle of the day when no one else is likely to brave the heat. She knows what people say about her…The woman who couldn’t keep a husband. The woman who brought disgrace. She hears the whispers as she walks through the market when she has to go there to buy something. She tries to avoid it so that she won’t have to hear it. Just like she avoids going to the well when other people might be there.

But then a chance encounter changes her life. She goes to the well at a moment when she hopes no one is there. But a stranger is waiting—a man, a Jew. She knows she shouldn’t talk to him. It will just fuel the chatter about her. The man speaks to her and asks her for water and she questions him. “Why would you ask me for water?” Jesus offers her a drink of the “living water.” At first, the woman takes this literally, asking him where he will get this water—he has no bucket. As they engage in this conversation, the woman realizes that she needs the water. Very matter-of-factly Jesus tells her to call her husband. She responds by saying she doesn’t have a husband. Jesus doesn’t lecture her. He doesn’t question how she got into her situation. He simply acknowledges her reality. He doesn’t try to fix or change her.

Then the conversation moves to faith. She wants to know why Jews and Samaritans worship in different places. Jesus explains to her that it won’t matter where people worship as long as they worship in Spirit and in truth. The spirit is the breath of God that is within each of us. We think something being true means that it is factual. What was intended in the Greek seems to be a sense of dependability and loyalty. If we worship in Spirit and in truth this seems to suggest that we depend on the breath of God within us. We are loyal to the spirit of God within us.

Each of us needs to find the spirit of God within us. The spirit of God within me will look different than the spirit of God within you. We each have a unique breath of God that makes us who we are. The Samaritan woman had the breath of God within her and Jesus recognized that spirit. It spoke to him. The conversation that the Samaritan woman had with Jesus gave her the ability to depend on the Spirit within her. It gave her the courage to be the person God created her to be. In being the person God created her to be, she received the life-giving water of Jesus. This life-giving water is for everyone.

In Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples not to go through Samaria and not to speak to the Samaritans. Matthew excludes the Samaritans but John specifically includes them.
The writer of John was having a conflict with the temple authorities. John’s Christian-Jews were trying to share what they knew about Jesus with the Jewish community and having little success. So in this story they seem to be expanding the audience—if our community won’t listen, the Samaritans will listen.

We all need to be refreshed by the living water but sometimes those of us who have spent a long time around the church become immune to the water being offered. Its easy to get caught in our routines. The time we spend at church becomes a burden. Maybe the relationships are too challenging so we step back. We might be a bit like the temple authorities John was pushing against. We are comfortable.

And then Jesus speaks to an outsider. Someone with different ideas. Someone who doesn’t seem like us. Someone that its easy to whisper and gossip about. That person finds the living water. It refreshes and renews them. They invite us to drink. We are invited to come and see. We are invited to drink the living water—sometimes by someone unexpected.