Pastor Jon Hughes
Molalla United Methodist Church
Reflection: May 29, 2022
Scripture for today: Psalm 8, Acts 1:1-11, John 11:17-46, Luke 24:44-53,
Reflection: There He Goes…Here We Are
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I’ve always had a hard time with the concept of Jesus having friends. Followers, yes, but not friends. I picture Jesus sitting on a hilltop or on the steps of a synagogue or even out on a boat anchored just off shore with thousands of admirers drinking in the words of his lessons, but people with whom he can just sit back and relax and laugh and eat with? That’s where I have trouble. Even those stories of his visits with his friends – his visits with Mary and Martha, for instance, are full of symbolism, such as when Mary anoints his feet and wipes them with her hair. I mean, really – when was the last time one of your friends got up while you were watching a movie together and poured a pound of perfume on your feet then wiped them with their hair? It’s just not an action that sits comfortably in my mental image of friendship.
But Jesus does have friends in the Bible stories. He refers to the disciples as his friends; there are depictions of him sitting around the campfire with his mates, after all, even if they’re arguing among themselves who he’ll regard as his BEST friend.
Today’s story from John is a story of Jesus on his way to his friends’ house – the home of Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus. I mentioned them earlier – they’re such good friends, apparently, that they merit mention several times in the Gospel stories. There’s the story where Mary sits and listens to Jesus’s stories while Martha does the cooking. There’s the story I mentioned earlier of the anointing of Jesus’s feet. And there’s today’s story – where Jesus arrives for another story four days too late to prevent the death of Lazarus.
I share that Gospel story today because it illustrates so much of the human side of Jesus. The verses leading up to our passage today show Jesus saying some mysterious things; he knows Lazarus is ill but says that he’ll be all right. Then, after waiting two extra days before going to Bethany, he flat-out tells the disciples that Lazarus is dead, but that they’re going to go visit him anyway.
But today’s story shows that mysteriously divine person arriving at the home of Mary and Martha to find the household deep in grief. Even though Jesus has finally arrived the home is still wallowing in despair and it’s at this place where the shortest verse in the whole Bible occurs – “Jesus began to weep.” (Or, depending on the translation it can be even shorter – “Jesus wept.”)
Why did Jesus weep? He knew what was coming. He knew he would raise Lazarus, his friend, up from the dead. Even though Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days and should be stinking like crazy, Jesus reversed all that and raised his friend. So why did Jesus weep?
I wish I could say that the Gospel came right out and told us, but I have my suspicions. Jesus wept because of the grief of his friends. Even knowing that Lazarus would, in a matter of minutes, be walking out of that tomb, Jesus felt the grief of his friends and was overwhelmed by it to the point of tears. Jesus wept not because he had no hope, not because he was himself in a state of despair, but because his friends were. A man to whom all of creation owed its existence cried because of the sadness of that very creation.
Our other Gospel lesson and that of Acts tell of the glorious side of Jesus, as he gives his final message to the disciples and rises into Heaven. Both the Gospel of Luke and the book The Acts of the Apostles were written by Luke, so the passages we read today fit together like the ending of one episode and then the recap of that ending and the beginning of the next episode. In both we see the final words and deeds of Jesus as he prepares to ascend. Luke tells us the disciples were given the understanding of the scriptures and were told to wait for the next big thing – we’ll talk about that next big thing next week.
But let me be clear here – ladies and gentlemen, Jesus has left the building. We’ll hear his voice a few more times, but his body is gone until the end of days, until he returns to live with us forever. There’s a reason he filled the disciples with the understanding of the scriptures; the work of Jesus the man may be done, but the work of God that he taught to the disciples is just beginning.
Jesus left that ascension day. He rose up into the sky. The disciples watched it with their own eyes and I’m sure the main thing going through each of their minds was this: “Oh great. Now what are we going to do?”
This week was a pretty horrible one. This morning I placed pictures of nineteen children and two adults who were murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. All week long people have been pointing fingers, raging about the easy availability of guns, screaming that gun control deprived people of their ability to defend themselves, shouting accusations at the police for their decision to delay their response. And you know what? I feel convinced that through it all, Jesus wept.
I believe Jesus wept at the grief of the families who will never again see their children at play. The families who will never again share a meal with their loved ones who were murdered. I believe Jesus was wracked with sobs as He saw the carnage and the sadness and the devastation that one young person could reap with a gun.
I believe Jesus wept as people expended their energy on their fury over the situation. I believe Jesus wept as our society once again ran around waving our hands in the air, spouting out great slogans about what we should be doing…and then accomplishing nothing as the grief fades and the memory of the event gradually washes away…until next time.
And I believe Jesus wept because he knew that, in this environment, in this society, in this country, there will be a next time.
Last week I posted this message on our church’s Facebook page on the internet: “We send our thoughts and prayers to the victims of yet another murder, this time in Texas. But more important is to remember that while we are thinking and praying we can also be DOING something about it. We can act while we pray. We MUST ask ourselves what Christ would do about this and then act accordingly. I don’t believe Jesus would say ‘thoughts and prayers’ are enough.”
Jesus knew when he ascended into heaven that his work wouldn’t stop. We’ll look at the actions his followers took after the ascension in the coming weeks, but they took action. They didn’t take the challenges of their faith and their commitment to Christ lying down. They went into the world preaching the message that Jesus taught them, the message that entered their hearts and burned there with the mission that would consume the rest of their lives. They took action in the name of Christ and such was their commitment that they were even able to perform miracles in His name. Imagine having a conviction so deep and true to Jesus’s lessons that you were able to work miracles through Him.
The disciples didn’t manage the creation and spread of what would become the largest system of faith in the world through thoughts and prayers. They changed the understandings of humanity throughout the entire planet through their action – their action, not their thoughts and prayers!
I am so tired of school shootings and church shootings and grocery store shootings, and I will be honest that I am often at a loss for what to do. I send up my prayers every time I read of yet another massacre; I hope we all do. But I am convinced that this isn’t enough. Jesus will hear our prayers and offers comfort and compassion for those who are hurting, but ladies and gentlemen, Jesus has left the building for now, and he left his disciples in charge. If we are to consider ourselves his disciples – and I do – then we need to be clear that Jesus left us with work to do in this world. And you know, even though I feel like I’m at a loss right now, the answers to this dilemma are out there. So right now we’re offered this: we can continue to sit back and offer our thoughts and prayers while Jesus continues to weep, or we can work to figure out what to do.
I believe Jesus entrusts us to DO, not just to pray. I believe it’s long past time for our society to wrap our arms around the problem of mass murder in this country – to discover the causes for violence, to address those causes, AND to manage the weapons used by those who would seek to do violence.
Jesus set a pattern of action for us when he overturned the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple. When he fed the crowds who came to hear him. When he healed the sick and injured and drove the demons out of people who were possessed. Jesus was a man of action on the day he was nailed to a cross, because he knew his act of sacrifice would offer a new way and a new hope to all the world – if only the world would embrace that new way.
Friends, I don’t know what to do right now – but I know that we are called to do something. I know that we are called to prayer, but we’re called to so so so much more. So whatever it is – let’s accept the mission from Christ and start doing.