Your Journey Team

Ezekiel 37: 1-14
JOHN 11: 1-3 & 7-14 & 20-27

March 26, 2023

I have used Peter Townsend’s lyrics before but as we approach Holy Week and as the 2023 Lenten season winds to a close … once again I pause to ask the question, “Who are you?”

After the opening rocking chorus of that Sixties anthem we hear Townsend’s lyrics of recognition, even in his moment of trouble. “I woke up in a Soho doorway, a policeman knew my name. He said, you can go sleep at home tonight if you can get up and walk away.” Friends, how are you recognized out there in the world? Who are you walking with … who is on your journey team … where is your home? They say that ‘our home is where the heart is’ don’t they. Are you ready and willing to walk away from the world so that you can be part of a faith-focused team for your journey with Jesus as the essence of your home here on earth?

And, so begins today’s message … because as Palm Sunday approaches are you considering the experiences of the historical followers of and believers in Jesus? One week from that historical Palm Sunday they were looking forward to arriving in Jerusalem … together as a team. They would follow their traditional route down the Mount of Olives although unlike our plans for next Sunday the waving of palms and shouts of hosanna’s were not in the original script for that day. Their week, which we call Holy Week, would have some mundane tasks as well as opportunities to see friends and shop in the Holy City. On the day of the Seder feast, Jesus would have a room ready for them but then Holy Week’s chaos for those who followed Jesus would forever change their lives and world history. The arrest in the Garden, that Passover Week’s Friday darkness and shock which then took them to the resurrection brilliance of Easter morning … and slowly but assuredly those early followers of Jesus discovered a Risen Lord .. a Risen Savior … and realized they had been walking on their journey with the promised Messiah of God. They discovered just who they were in the days that were coming. In the days of Holy Week … we too can become renewed in the days to come.

So, as Holy Week in the year 2023 approaches, just who are you? Who do those who encompass your daily lives consider you to be? Is your faith walk that of the Hosanna-filled hillside where joy, praise and worship resonate because Jesus Christ is leading your life’s journey team or do those closest to you, outside of this place, see you more as one of the crowd-affiliating chanters of that dark Friday morning who followed worldly leaders enveloped in their own power encouraging them to shout CRUCIFY HIM …. CRUCIFY HIM? Has Easter’s Resurrection changed you forever into knowing that Jesus is Lord … Jesus is Master … Jesus is Savior and Teacher and that Jesus is the Son of God? Do you have a personal and ongoing relationship with God through Jesus?

Each added day in which we are here amongst the breathing provides us with the opportunity to verify who we are. We have the chance to dance with joy and celebration because we are wrapped in God’s love and are following the simple directives of God that teach us to love and forgive and move forward in faith. We have a chance to give back to God every day … yes, through our church and out in the world as well. We need to listen and pay attention but you can and I can live as people of faith who make a difference and are noticed for our faith.

And, so we hear today’s Gospel lesson … a moment in history with profound importance to each of us who are alive and well in the year 2023.

Jesus gets the news that His friend is critically ill. The message includes the words, “the one whom you love” showing that this sick man was no stranger at a well to Jesus but someone whom Jesus laughed with, ate meals with, and whom he enjoyed simple moments in time with.

All too often we overlook the challenge of the disciples lives who had to decide each day whether they should buying into the world and neglect the Holy or stay on the path with Jesus. When Jesus said, let’s go to Judea to Lazarus who is sick the disciples first reaction is “NO NO NO!” We read that they are afraid that the opposition will stone Jesus but I am sure all of us can figure out they were afraid for themselves. And, Jesus uses the metaphor of light in His response … a response that every team of individuals who are connected in faith with God should remember “Whoever walks in the day does not stumble because they see the Light of the world but those who walk in the night stumble because the light is NOT IN THEM.” Jesus does not say that those stumbling have not seen the Light but rather that the Light is not in them.

And, so the question of the day is again fitting here … WHO ARE YOU? Who do those around you consider you to be? Are you walking in the Light of Christ or stumbling around in the darkness of the world? Are you rejoicing in the Lord always not merely occasionally?

Clearly, Jesus won the argument of the day. Jesus even makes a side remark that He was glad He wasn’t there before Lazarus apparently died … in a loud voice looking at the 12 and the others … “I wasn’t there so that you can believe, let’s go.”

In a crucial moment during the utter chaos and challenges of dealing with what she perceived as the death of her brother whom she truly loved, Martha heard that Jesus was coming and she stormed out of the house to meet Him on the road! Ready to tell Him her brother had died; laying blame right onto Jesus. As Martha stepped up to Jesus with her eyes full of tears and her heart breaking she screamed out “IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE … my brother would not have died.”

Jesus knew things would get better but Martha’s only thought was that her dear brother was dead and gone … up until those moments along the roadside there was no doubt that Jesus was a significant part of Martha’s life journey team as well as that of Mary and Lazarus because even as she screamed through her tear-filled eyes at the Son of God she still knew, “even now, whatever You ask of God …. God will give You.”

She verified her faith … amidst her sorrow … as she glared at Jesus after He said that “Lazarus will rise again,” Martha said “I KNOW that he will rise in the resurrection.”

But, Jesus had a question … the essential question that you and I need to consider what our truthful answer is today. A question that identifies who we are. A question that reflects how we value the collective who share our journey of life with … truthfully, a question that when answered in reality rather than in merely one of the 168 hours of the week reveals our team for life’s journey. Your team for life’s journey … who are you? What team do you value?

And, then Jesus in his resonant voice assuredly stated these words as Martha and His disciples listened and watched Him, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they died. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

And, then the question came out … Jesus’ eyes locked into Martha’s eyes. There along that roadside leading to the Bethany home where Mary was weeping and Lazarus appeared dead to the world. Birds quietly singing … dust from the road blowing about them … carts moving down the road with the curious looking at the crowd that was always there with Jesus. It became a one-on-one moment in time … no looking away from Jesus … only His words filling the air … His brown eyes embracing her … and lovingly but searching for the truth Jesus asked. He asked because in this ultimate moment of crisis … like the crises and challenges we all face in our days of life … Jesus needed to know the truth despite the fact that she was angry and that she was sad … not the best of times for Martha. To paraphrase Dickens, [1]it was the worst of times; the epoch of incredulity (INN-CRED-DULITY) … the season of Darkness and the winter of despair” for Martha … but still Jesus asked this woman who moments before had been screaming at Him through her tears, “DO YOU BELIEVE?”

An honest question for those in church today around the world be it in person or worshiping online. Are you worshiping God in these moments … have you pushed your world out of the way to focus in on God whether you are in mood right now celebrating worldly achievements or if you are just as despondent as Martha was that day.

Martha, her sister Mary, and her brother Lazarus had been seen by all of their friends and family members to be on the Jesus Team of life but now she had to answer … deep down from her aching heart provide an answer. At that moment she had no way of knowing that Lazarus was not dead … Jesus said, “EVERYONE who lives and believes in me will never die … DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?”

And, Martha through her weeping … wiping at her tears in her sorrow-filled strained voice looks at her friend … not even noticing the world passing by and declares in that moment, “Yes, Lord … I believe that You are the Christ, God’s Son, the One who is coming into the world. I BELIEVE!”

So, amidst the darkness and sorrow and anger at God … Martha affirmed she was part of the Jesus team for life’s journey even if her brother was dead at a young age. Friends, do those around you associate you with the Jesus team? With this church? That when your life’s trip around the calendar comes to an end amongst the first descriptive words will those considering who you are be that you were a follower and a believer in Jesus Christ? Will they say that you were an activist for your church? Will they talk about the joy in your life … the impact you made using your unique and special talents and gifts … the impact on others’ lives? And, will they say that even on your darkest most disturbing and challenging day that you lived as if you believed that Jesus is the Christ … God’s Son … the One who came into the world? Just WHO ARE YOU?

Are you running away from church because you are too busy to give more than an hour a week or not even an hour … are you afraid to stand up for justice and to love all of your neighbors? Do you think those around you will think less of you if you invite them to church on Palm Sunday or Easter? Do you feel ignored when you feel your own importance should be celebrated by everyone al the time?

I will give you a fatherly moment of pride in that special kid God has blessed me with. A moment when Megan showed how much being part of a church-team matters to her even though she can’t be here in person most weeks due to her peritoneal dialysis and other health realities. Last week, Megan overheard the conversation that the person who had been purchasing the pretzels for St. Paul’s Pretzel Sunday had decided to stop providing the money that covered the costs so that St. Paul’s could make the money that is taken in on the third Sunday. Megan looked at her mom and said “I love PRETZEL SUNDAY … the kids love PRETZEL SUNDAY … its special. I want to pay for the PRETZELS so PRETZEL SUNDAY does not stop.” Although she does not have a lot of money to her name, we both agreed that since Megan wanted to show her love for the church family that she could afford to cover the cost so here’s Megan’s check out of love of this church .. out of love for the kids … and yes, out of love for the pretzels of PRETZEL SUNDAY.

A simple gift … simple love but how are you showing your love of church? How are you letting Christ work in you? Are you feeling dried up and hopeless in your faith-walk? Have you never energized your faith after taking that first step to say you believed but then the world took over?

The prophet gives us the perfect Lenten season lesson … a field of dried bones friends is brought back to life when those bones allow God to take control. A field of dried bones can take on amazing tasks and overcome challenges together when they journey as a faith team together. The Lord God proclaims, “You will know that I am the Lord … I will raise you up my people! I will put my breath in you and you will live. I will plant you on fertile soil and you will know that I am the Lord.”

The world needs people of faith to live as people of faith! This church needs each of us to step up so that St. Paul’s stays strong … a new year has stated and giving is already down because it seems we only give at Christmas and Thanksgiving but the rest of the year we think that miraculously the church can cover its costs. Our mission team can use a few more bodies … we have spaces in our pews … the world is not filled with the lesson of loving our neighbors and Easter is approaching and more and more people do not have Jesus Christ in their hearts and do not care about God because they worship the world … God wants all of us to be part of God’s team. Jesus came to rescues us and the Holy Spirit is here to guide us. ARE YOU READY … and WILLING … to declare through all the storms and all the good times that YOU BELIEVE … I hope you are!

[1] Charles Dickens, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’

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