So this week, one of my speech mannersims has caused me a little trouble – that is my habit of saying ‘to be frank’ – which is silly because I am not Frank 🙂 [The name of our Kenyan Mission partner]. So imagine my consternation when I tell you that regarding our gospel I want to tell you a story, about Frank – but not This Frank. Another Frank 🙂 a very frank Frank 🙂
Frank was a member of my congregation back in England. He Was Very frank in his speech – something which didn’t enamour him to everyone, expecially on those ODD occasions when his frankness was not, how shall I put it, was not seasoned with Christian Grace and Mercy. Frank and I shared something very important in common in that we were, along with Clemency Wright :-), natives of Carlisle, that DOUR border city in the North of England. I must say, Frank was not at ALL like Clemency :-). It was Frank and I who shared that Northern English trait of being ‘frank’.
OK, enough of frankness in all it’s guises, apart of course from our good friend here with us today 🙂 Except to say that I didn’t call Frank, Frank, I along with his daughter called him Lazarus. I literally lost count of the times over the years that I was either called to a bedside or informed by phone – ‘Oooh he’s fading fast Vicar’, only to encounter him the very next day, up and walking around, being Frank. And so the name Lazarus stuck, for he was always coming back from the dead . . . except of course when he didn’t – well he was in his 90’s 🙂
Now we need to remember that the raising of Lazarus is NOT such a miraculous resuscitation. We never buried Frank . . . except when finally we did, yet Lazarus ‘had already been in the tomb four days’. John is careful to mention this – not three days – he is telling us this is NOT the resurrection. But Lazarus IS Dead. As Jesus said to his disciples when they were unsure, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
We may well hear an echo here of last weeks gospel, the man born blind – This man was born blind ‘so that God’s works (the separation of Light and Dark) might be shown in him.’ Jesus does Not rush off to Lazarus when he hears he is ill, ‘he stayed there two more days’ He does not go to Lazarus, because if he had been there Lazarus would not have died as Mary so rightly says “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And, as the man born blind was born blind so that the works of GOd might be revealed in him, so also Lazarus dies, so that the works of God might be revealed in HIM – so that we might believe.
As John says towards the end of his gospel, Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
There are many myths about Jesus which do the rounds, none of which do us any help. When it comes to Jesus, we need the medicine of the Truth. As it says in the advertisements, ‘Accept no alternatives!’. As I have frequently said, it is amazing to me how regularly one can be in the company of Christians speaking of faith, and even in the Church’s official pronouncements Jesus is never named – So there is the invisible Jesus ‘myth’.
Then there is the ‘Jesus went about doing good’ myth. Which leads onto that famous question ‘What would Jesus do . . .’ as if copying Jesus was what it was all about . . . Well OK then, so far in John’s gospel, Jesus has gone about doing good by turning water into wine, by healing the dying son of a Royal Official, with less good grace than we might perhaps expect, when the man begs him to heal his son (read all about it at the end of Chapter four); then he heals a paralysed man; then he feeds 5000 people; then he heals a man born blind; then he raises Lazarus from the Dead . . . Jesus went about doing good, so should we – ermmm . . .
The signs that Jesus performs are just that – Signs – they are meant to Direct our Gaze – To Jesus. He is the Messiah, the one who will tell us all things – he reveals by telling the Samaritan woman the truth about herself – He Is the bread of life he reveals by feeding the 5000 – He Is the Light of the World he reveals by healing the blind man – He is the Resurrection – AND HE is THE Life – The One Ezekiel hoped in as the one breathing life into those dry bones.
Mary was right and indeed if he had been there her brother would not have died – but not because he has special powers, because He IS Life – Jesus Is Resurrection – Jesus Is Light – Jesus IS Truth – Jesus Is Bread. And He Is Life.
Why is Lazarus Alive – because of the presence of the Living One – the one who through the miracle of new birth Lives now in him
Last week, as we thought about Loving God with our minds, we reflected that this was to give our minds over to God for His purposes – St Paul puts it like this ‘in view of God’s mercies, offer yourselves as living Sacrifices – Holy and Acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship. The woman at the well rushes back to that community which her history had excluded her from to tell them about Jesus; the man born blind bears courageous witness to the Truth of Jesus, to the point of being thrown out of the synagogue. Lazarus? Well how might life be for one whom Jesus Life has so dramatically filled? We read ‘the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.’ Why try to kill Lazarus – for he is now a Living Sign to the Life of Jesus. He is Full of the Life that the darkness tries in vain to overcome – The Life of God in Jesus Christ.
One final myth – the myth of what I call ‘The Chaplain God’ – the myth that is the most pervasive, pernicious and indeed destructive of true faith in Jesus. That Jesus is there for us – that he exists for our sakes – that he is there to help us live our life. No – We Live for Him. If we are born again – as Lazarus is in the most dramatic way – then we are vessels of HIs Life – His Spirit guides and directs our lives in every part. We spend each moment in attentiveness to him – for apart from him we can do nothing. But in response to Him – we can do all things. Jesus said to Martha, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone [from the grave]. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
Jesus Command Is Life – Jesus Is the Creative Word of God – In Him Is Life and that Life is the Light of all people
The presence of Frank – that is This Frank 🙂 and Flora and the rest of the team from Kenya with us these two weeks – is in celebration of the coming of the gospel to these lands 200 years ago. But what is the Gospel? What Is the Good News? It is nothing more nor less than the Life of Jesus Christ, present amongst us. He is our Treasure beyond value. He is Our Life. And apart from Him, we have nothing.