The Truth and The Life

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The Raising of Lazarus by Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet, 1706

Today’s readings:
Psalms 119:73-80; 145, Jeremiah 11:18-20; 12:1-16 (17), Philippians 3:1-14, John 12:9-19


Poor Lazarus.

One might think being brought back from the dead by Jesus would set a person upon a joyous path, but the consequences were not all good. As Jesus’s friend, surely Lazarus must have felt conflicted that the miracle performed on him was the one that finally gave the Pharisees resolve to carry out their murderous intent. Furthermore, though his eventual fate is unknown, Lazarus also became a target of their evil designs; as long as he lived (again), he was a testament to Jesus’s true divinity, so they plotted to kill him, too.

People in power, especially when their grip on that power is tenuous, would often rather destroy the truth than let it change things. Ironically, that very inclination ultimately contributes to the demise of their influence. Sometimes it’s not even power that makes us hate truth, but fear – fear that we might be wrong. We fear that if we tug out one thread of our belief system, the whole might unravel. But God is bigger than a belief system.

The church condemned Galileo for promoting the truth of heliocentrism, yet God survived our travels to space. The church took evolution to court and despite the overwhelming evidence of the fossil record, God survived. The church as expressed in all denominations has been involved in enough cover-ups, scandals, and hypocrisies that it’s a miracle anyone darkens her doors, yet God survives.

When people like Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, or Berta Cáceres speak truth to the powerful, the fearful, or both … truth is assassinated, yet God survives.

God will outlast our beliefs, doctrines, and denials. This isn’t to say we can’t learn or know the truth, but that those who insist only they do – and who would force us to agree – are showing the weakness of their position. Truth-telling may require persistence, but it does not require force.

Christ himself does not force us to believe, but being his friend may put us in precarious circumstances. Whether being a friend to the truth means becoming a target or facing change, let’s remember that because Christ survives, we will too.

Comfort: God endures.

Challenge: Read about the life, work, and death of Berta Cáceres.

Prayer: I welcome your Truth, O Lord, whatever it may be. Amen.

Discussion: What truth have you discovered that has changed your life?

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It Takes a Village to Raise a Lazarus

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 99; 146, Jonah 2:2-9, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 11:17-27, 38-44
Eve of Epiphany Readings:
Isaiah 66:18-23, Romans 15:7-13 


Is  faith sufficient as an individual experience, or does it need to be shared among a community of believers? When Jesus returned to Bethany because his friend Lazarus had died, the grief of Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus, was certainly shared. Neither knew what to expect, but they shared faith in Jesus. They only knew that in their time of great grief, they needed to be with him. Even after he told them he was the resurrection and the life, the sisters didn’t imagine he would bring Lazarus back to them. When he asked the mourners to roll back the stone covering the tomb, Martha said four days had passed and there would be a stench. Yet moments later Jesus commanded Lazarus to walk out of the tomb, and he did.

Jesus was the source, but it was a community that made his final sign meaningful.
Mary and Martha, each with an imperfect but united faith, together believed that whatever Jesus thought fit to ask, God would deliver. At least a few mourners must have volunteered to move the stone, as it was large and heavy enough to cover the mouth of a cave. The gathered crowd  listened to Jesus loudly giving thanks to God for their benefit so they might believe. Finally, Lazarus arose and returned to his friends and family, restoring their community.

Experienced in isolation, faith may be a comfort to us but it’s of little use to the greater body of Christ. When a community shares its faith – when one person answers Christ’s call to dive into the stench and darkness of tombs like poverty and disease, and another person trusts God to provide even when a loved one is caught in the hopeless living death of addiction, and the rest of us are inspired by and act because of their belief, and therefore sisters and brothers we thought lost forever return to us – that community finds new life as no individual could.

Faith requires community to achieve its fullest expression. Our own imperfect faith is a gift because it reminds us to seek others.

Comfort: When you have faith you are never alone.

Challenge: Explore a faith community that is unfamiliar to you.  Perhaps a charity, or another congregation. If you can, spend some time helping them with their mission.

Prayer: Thank you God for easing my burden by making me only one member of a larger body in Christ. Amen.

Discussion: What do you find most rewarding about community? Most difficult?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Jesus Wept

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 51; 148, Job 29:1, 31:24-40, Acts 15:12-21, John 11:30-44


Anyone who grew up attending Sunday school has almost certainly been asked, at some point, to select and memorize a favorite Bible verse to share with the class. If the teacher isn’t savvy enough to exclude it, there’s always the one kid who picks John 11:35. In many (most?) translations, it’s the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”

When did Jesus weep? He wept when his friends were mourning the death of Lazarus. They kept insisting that he would have survived if Jesus had only gotten to Bethany sooner. Why did Jesus weep? We could suppose it was because Lazarus was his friend too, but Jesus had known for days that Lazarus was dead – and that he would bring him back from the grave. The story might suggest he was weeping in solidarity with his friends, but when the scripture says Jesus “was disturbed and greatly moved,” the original Greek points not to sadness but to indignation. Could it be that Jesus wept because he was frustrated and infuriated that after all the time he’d spent with them, those closest to him still understood neither who he was nor the life God offered through him? A Jesus who weeps because he grieves with us is a comforting image, but in this case it just isn’t so.

The weeping of an angry Jesus may at first seem disappointing or even unsettling. On reflection, what seemed like a humanizing, relatable moment may begin to feel like condemnation. Upon further consideration though, how can we not be touched by the idea that God deeply desires a relationship with us on a level that is so primal our inability to conceive of it frustrates Christ to tears? At one time or another all of us have been frustrated, also sometimes to tears, by a loved one who just seems lost. We want them to be whole and well. Christ loves us so much that he doesn’t just want to cry with us, but to help us understand how God’s love can lift us from this vale of tears to a place of peace.

Comfort: God’s love for you – for each of us – is beyond measure.

Challenge: Sometimes it is also beyond understanding.

Prayer: Merciful and Gracious God, thank you for the love you give me. Even when it is greater than I can understand – greater than I can believe I deserve – I remain grateful. Amen.

Discussion: Even death could not separate Lazarus from the love of Christ. Do you ever feel like you’ve stepped outside the boundaries of God’s love?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

The Future is Now

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 147:12-20, Job 29:1, 31:1-23, Acts 15:1-11, John 11:17-29


“The future is now.”

That’s what Jesus was trying to tell his friend Martha when she was grieving for her brother Lazarus. If only he had arrived earlier, she believed Jesus would have saved his life. When Jesus told her “Your brother will rise again,” she assumed he was referring to the resurrection in a distant future. Even after he said “I am the resurrection and the life,” she still didn’t quite get it: Jesus had every intention of bringing Lazarus back from the grave.

Christians spend a lot of time focusing on the afterlife. A lot. Of time. In many ways it makes sense – eternity is a long time and we don’t want to mess it up. But like Martha, we can lose sight of the here and now. It’s not just our faith that lives in the future; we spend a lot of time dismissing the present. We’ll start a diet “after the holidays” even if that holiday is Arbor Day. We’ll schedule that long vacation after our careers slow down a little. We’ll join that Bible study after we get our lives in order. That kind of thinking is a trap, because we train ourselves to believe nothing starts today.

Martha wouldn’t understand the resurrection was standing next to her until Lazarus crawled out of his tomb.  We should know better, but the promise of eternal life in the present moment can seem too good to be true. Jesus says otherwise. Do we think we need to improve ourselves before God can bless us? Before God can use us? If we believe that all good things come from God, why do we think we need to put Him off until we’ve laid all the groundwork? Aren’t we actually telling God … not yet?

The future really is now. Christ is among us. You are being called to rise up from underneath all that is burying you. You may have to shake off the dirt, but take that first step. Breathe the fresh air. Step into the life God has ready for you; Christ has already delivered your future.

For more thoughts on today’s passage from John 11, see It Takes a Village to Raise a Lazarus
For more thoughts on today’s passage from Acts 15, see Entrance Exams

Comfort: God is ready for you.

Challenge: Believe you are ready for God.

Prayer: Eternal God, teach me to find new life in the present, and to trust you with my future. Amen.

Discussion: What have you been putting off?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!