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Sermon Summary 4.3.22 "Laughter, Weeping and Unbinding..."

The 5th chapter of the book Soul Reset by Rev. Dr. Junius Dotson is called “Life in Crisis.” I think we can all identify a bit with that title after this last two years. He writes about some times his world was shaken - the unexpected death of his mother, learning his father was not the person he’d grown up calling Dad. Big moments.

While I personally can’t identify with those crises - I think we all have moments in life that have shaken us - and sometimes they even happen in the midst of joy. We opened worship with the story of the Wedding at Cana and I talked a bit about how John’s gospel is organized differently than Mark, Luke and John. A cosmic creation story. - “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” and John the Baptist’s witness - but no birth narrative. Rather John points him out and on the next day and the next, Jesus begins calling disciples - including the story of Philip that I preached on last fall. Then “on the third day” (does that ring a bell?) is the wedding at Cana. Jesus first “sign/act” or miracle in John’s gospel.

The first time we meet ‘the mother of Jesus” is here in Chapter 2, where the first words she speaks are to Jesus when she notices “they have no more wine” at the wedding. Now as good Methodists we might not see a crisis here - but there is one. Running out of wine will reflect poorly on the bridegroom. He will be seen as unworthy of his new bride and greatly shamed.

I was asked recently if Jesus laughed. We will read soon that Jesus wept - but did he laugh. I can’t point to a specific verse that says yes - but I’m convinced he did. He formed quick and deep friendships. He shared meals with strangers who became friends. He attracted disciples - I’m convinced there was much laughter in his groups and in his life. Do we see God as angry and distant - stern. Or does God laugh and play?

Going back to the text, Jesus responds in a way we often read as harsh. “Woman… what is that to you or me. It is not yet my hour.” - how do we read that. I suggested we might read it as teasing, playful banter. See - Mary knows! Mary knows who Jesus is and what he can do and that it is nearing his time. and Jesus knows she knows. After Jesus says this, she turns to the servants and says “Do whatever he tells you.” Can you see the smile and knowing wink back at her son?

The servants are instructed to fill water jars - kept for ceremonial purification rituals and each holding 20 or 30 gallons! - and they do. Jesus then tells them to draw some and take it to the chief steward. He reacts with amazement. Crediting the Bridegroom - he exclaims that most put out the best wine first and then once the guests are a bit tipsy, fill in with cheaper wine. “but you have saved the best for last!” Crisis averted. The unnamed bridegroom’s reputation is not only saved but enhanced.

Notice that Jesus and his friends are not front and center here - rather they are far enough off to the side that his mother can see the servants draw the last of the original wine. This is a quiet act - and yet it reveals the glory of God’s abundance. The disciples believe.

But it’s easy to believe in the midst of a party when things are going well. I shared a brief reflection (although I didn’t cover all of the above as well as I would have liked) to help us see how even in the midst of the joyful wedding there was crisis - and that Jesus walks with us at all times. The Choir sang “Jesus Walked this Lonesome Valley” - a powerful hymn that acknowledges the way life is often difficult and that we have to make the journey for ourselves - and yet Christ is with us.

Our 2nd reading presents a different kind of crisis. One we can all likely identify with. Lazarus - a dear friend - is ill and, indeed, has died. Jesus, however, doesn’t rush to visit when he first hears the news. Initially his disciples presume they are staying away due to the threat of stoning they just fled from - but Jesus has a bigger revelation in mind. This story is full of foreshadowing and revelation.

It’s a long reading - 46 verses and I won’t rehash it all here. But notice some key moments.

Thomas doesn’t show any doubt here - rather he is willing to go and die with Jesus. Martha is noted as one Jesus loves - while her sister Mary initially isn’t even named! What a different impression from the story we focused on a few weeks ago.

And both Martha and Mary proclaim a deep faith even in their distress. They both say their brother could have been saved had Jesus been there in time. Martha proclaims she knows Lazarus will rise “on the last day” and Mary too is confident in resurrection. Neither yet sees the fullness of who Jesus is though. “I am the Resurrection and the Life” - the verse we just read at Dick Hedges funeral again assures us. Death and suffering do not have the last word. And yet - despite knowing who he is and what he can do - Jesus himself weeps. Christ is with us in our humanity and our sorrow.

Then to help them and un understand, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb. In the King James he is warned that “Lord, He stinketh!” after being in the tomb 4 days but Jesus says to roll away the stone and calls him out.

And I shared an insight first shared with me by Rev. Adam Barlow Thompson. There is some comedy here. How does Lazarus come out. He’s bound hand and foot - wrapped up like a mummy. Does he roll? Does he hop? What does this amazing moment look like to the crowd? We’re not told - rather, with the crowd, we are commanded to participate in this miracle. “Unbind him!” Jesus calls out. Lazarus is restored through the participation of the community. We are called to works of justice and mercy - bearing each other’s burdens and releasing one another’s binds!

So - laughter, weeping and unbinding. Jesus is with us in all of it. As we journey towards Holy Week, let us leave space to ponder alternative interpretations. To examine our own assumptions and biases and ways of doing things. Let us avoid jumping from high point to high point and ignoring the shadows and depths. Let us enter into the fullness of Easter, knowing that Jesus walks the lonesome valleys of life with us.


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