“God: Our Potter”–Advent Midweek Message, November 28, 2018

God the Potter

Isaiah 64:1-3, 7-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

 

There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

 Message:

“We are but cracked pots.” That’s a very loose interpretation of Paul’s statement to the church in Corinth. We are but cracked pots, made by the Potter’s hand. How easy it is to forget that we are the pots. We are not the potter—we do not create ourselves from nothing. We are not the contents—we are not the precious gospel meant to be spread around. We are the pots—fragile containers meant to carry the gospel into the world, often cracked open and spilling our contents all over the places we did not intend. But that’s why God made us the way we are—cracked pots.

The parable goes that a woman had two large pots, and she trudged to the well each day to get water with one pot hung on each end of a pole which the woman carried across the back of her neck and shoulders. One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. By the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full, which caused the woman to struggle under the unbalanced weight of the pots.

Every day, the woman complained about the cracked pot as she filled it, knowing it would not hold all the water she placed in it. She complained about the potter who made it, blaming him for not making it more durable. She complained about her husband, who insisted there was not enough money to replace it. She complained as she trudged back to her house with the unbalanced load, and as she emptied the water into the barrel at home, she complained that she did not have more.

For a full two years this went on daily with the woman ending up with only one and a half pots full of water to use at home.

One day, the woman wept as she turned from the well to return home, noticing the stream already falling from the cracked pot. As she trudged along the path with her head hung in weariness, she noticed one side of the path was bursting with the colors of budding flowers. The beauty of the flowers was stark against the otherwise parched land. She hadn’t noticed the flowers until today, perhaps because she had been so focused on complaining about her cracked pot.

As she walked the path lined on one side with flowers, she realized the flowers were being nourished by the small stream of water running from her cracked pot. That day, when she returned home and emptied the half-filled cracked pot, she smiled, knowing where the remaining water had been left along the path and the purpose it had fulfilled as she walked home.

God is our Potter, and we are but cracked pots, sometimes freely and sometimes unwillingly sharing the beautiful gospel of life and hope to a broken and hurting world. God is not ashamed of God’s work in us. We were never made to contain the good news of Jesus Christ—merely to carry it to its destination.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

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“Patterns and Purpose”–sermon for Reign of Christ Sunday, November 25, 2018

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Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

Revelation 1:4b-8

John 18:33-37

 Children’s Message:

Our passage in Revelation said that God is the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end. That’s like saying that God is the A and the Z. And today, we celebrate that Christ—who is God—rules over all things.

So, I brought a paper with the letters A to Z on it, and you’re going to help me think of things that God loves and is in charge of—everything from A to Z.

Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for watching over everything in this world. Thank you for creating everything. And thank you for the future of everything, too. Amen.

Message:

Today is the last weekend in the liturgical calendar. Many in the Church don’t know what I’m talking about, so let me walk us through it briefly. The liturgical calendar begins with Advent—the time of waiting for the coming of the Lord. Four weeks of waiting and anticipation. Four weeks of frantic Christmas gift-buying, holiday parties, egg-nog, and lights. Four weeks of cookies and candies and obligatory gifts. And then comes Christmas. There’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—Christmas dinners and Christmas exchanges. And then, while in the Church year what follows is the Twelve Days of Christmas, the world practices the days of taking down lights, returning gifts, guiltily stepping on scales, and begrudgingly returning to work and school.

Epiphany begins on January 6. That’s when the glory of Jesus, the infant king, is revealed to the magi from the east. But the world has moved on from the manger, so it’s often forgotten. A blip on the screen for Jesus’ baptism, and then the season of Epiphany draws to a close a few weeks later with Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, in which many Christians try to reinforce their diets by denying themselves chocolate or coffee. In the Church, Lent is when Jesus begins to draw closer to Jerusalem and the cross. The first Sunday is always a reflection of his time of temptation by Satan, and the last Sunday is his entry into Jerusalem riding a donkey—a kind of mimicking of kings of the past.

On Thursday, Jesus shares the Passover with the disciples and is arrested later in the garden. On Friday, he is tried before King Herod and the Roman prefect, Pilate. The crowds insist on his crucifixion, and so he is put to death on a Roman cross. On Sunday, the disciples find his tomb empty. Fifty days later, on Pentecost—somewhere near Memorial Day—the promised Spirit enters the disciples and sends them out to proclaim the good news of Christ to the world. The time after Pentecost is spent reflecting on Christ’s teachings and miracles while the world goes on summer vacations and fall sports events, until ultimately, we come to the pinnacle of the year—Thanksgiving and Black Friday—oh, and Christ the King.

The purpose of the liturgical year is to help us focus on the life and teachings of Jesus over the course of time. But it is foolish—perhaps even heretical—to think we can separate the liturgical and religious life from the world in which we live. In fact, much of the year is influenced by the world around us, aside from Easter, which was recognized and celebrated from nearly the beginning—though the name may have come from a pagan goddess.

Pentecost—a Jewish festival—wasn’t celebrated annually by Christians until the 2nd or 3rd Century. Lent was formed shortly after—first as a three-day preparation for Easter. Later, in the 4th Century, it was noted as a full 40 days (not counting Sundays), and the Triduum—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday—took on its own purpose of telling the Passion story.

Christmas has a different origin, altogether. Until about the 4th century, birthdays generally weren’t celebrated at all. Eventually, Jesus’ birth became something to recognize and celebrate. It seems that the date of December 25 may have been set in order to give Christians something other than pagan gods to focus on around the winter solstice. It wasn’t until the 13th century that Christmas Carols made their debut. Advent came along at about the 5th Century.

However, Christ the King Sunday was only established in 1925 as a response to the First World War by Pope Pius XI. He saw the rise in secularism and wanted people to turn their focus back on the primacy of God as Lord of all. There was also, I read, an attempt to remind people that neither the Kaiser nor Archduke Ferdinand should be where the people’s allegiance should be held. Christ, alone, is King of heaven and earth.

We have a number of other Holy Days, as well, in the Christian Church—Reformation Sunday, All Saints Sunday, Holy Trinity Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday—all ways in which we turn to the gospel in response to the ways of the world. We need this rhythm—this pattern in our lives, lest we find ourselves further and further from the practices of our faith. Because you see, it’s the practices that really shed light on what we believe—what we see as Truth.

Pilate questioned Jesus, demanding to know what he thought of himself. “Do you think you’re a king?” That would be a slap in both Herod’s and Caesar’s faces. But Jesus answers with a question. “Whose idea is it to call me a king? Yours or someone else’s? Because if I were a king like the kings of this world, I wouldn’t be standing here on trial. My people would be fighting for me. But my kingdom doesn’t work or look like your kingdoms. I don’t use violence to get my way. I don’t let the end justify the means. I don’t seek protection at the risk of another’s life. No, my kingdom isn’t from here. And that’s why I stand before you today—to show you the Truth.” And Pilate’s response—whether cynical or serious: “What is Truth?” To which Jesus remains silent.

Theologian Frederick Buechner said:

“Jesus did not say that religion was the truth, or that his own teachings were the truth, or that what people taught about him was the truth, or that the Bible was the truth, or the church, or any system of ethics or theological doctrine. There are individual truths in all of them, we hope and believe, but individual truths were not what Pilate was after, or what you and I are after either, unless I miss my guess. Truths about this or that are a dime a dozen, including religious truths. THE truth is what Pilate is after: the truth about who we are and who God is if there is a God, the truth about life, the truth about death, the truth about truth itself. That is the truth we are all of us after.”

The Truth is who Jesus is and what Jesus does. Jesus is the Christ, the Word of God who has come into this world to reveal to us God’s heart, the Prince of Peace, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This is what he told Thomas as he beckoned the disciples to follow him into abundant life. He is the Crucified Christ through whom all things came into being and by whom all things exist. He is the Risen Christ, the one we look to for hope and redemption.

This Jesus doesn’t wield his power like a sword but shares it with an open hand. He doesn’t spin the truth, hide the truth, deny the truth, or circumvent the truth. Unfortunately, that can’t be said about the rulers of this world because, to reach a position of worldly power, truth takes a backseat to convenience and consumerism.

Blogger Todd Weir says:

“Consumerism really is a religious cult, you know.  It has been the dominant American religion for decades….  The consumer cult has its theology of supply and demand, a rosy cheeked saint in a red suit who will teach our children their confirmation classes, and prayers that occur every 10 minutes during our favorite shows and pop up on our computer screens thanks to Google, who watches over us from heavenly clouds above and tracks us to make sure all of our preferences are duly noted and catered.  Search engine hear my prayer!  Iphone therefore I am!  A Starbucks shines in the East, giving us the strength of a latte so we can find a babe in a manger, a manger which also adapts to a car seat, or a stroller, a baby SUV.  Yes, Black Friday, the high holy day named for the moment when Quicken moves from red to black, a holiday of accounting miracles, bringing a twinkle to the eye of Ebeneezer Scrouge.”

So, we come back to the reason for the seasons—that our patterns of worship continue to get framed around the world before us. The question is this: will we pattern our faith around the world, as well, or will we pattern the world around our faith? Will we worship the kings of this world—the seasons of Super Bowl and Black Friday—or will we worship the King of Kings, the God of Hope, the Crucified Christ, the Lord of Abundant Life? May our actions reveal the Truth of our hearts as we enter Advent and await the coming of the Lord—be it a humble baby in a barn or a jolly old elf in a red suit.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

”Just the Beginning”—sermon for Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, November 18, 2018

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Daniel 12:1-3
Hebrews 10:11-25
Mark 13:1-8

Children’s Message:
I have some pictures I want to show you, and you can tell me if the thing in the picture is old or new. Here’s the first one (broken down car). Old or new? It’s old! How do you know? Yes, it’s worn out and broken and falling apart. Here’s the next one (worn out shoes). Old again! How do you know? Because they’re falling apart. And the next one (worn out soccer ball). Yep—old again. And how did you know? It’s falling apart. And the last one (abandoned farm house). Old again. Why? Because it’s falling apart.

You knew that the things in the pictures were old because they were falling apart. In our gospel passage today, the disciples are looking at the Temple and just how big and fancy it is. Some of its stones were 40 feet long! It was amazing. But Jesus reminded them that it’s only a building—that even big buildings don’t last forever.

He wasn’t trying to be mean, but he wanted them to understand that things fall apart. And when lots of things fall apart at the same time—which he knew would happen to the disciples—it can get really scary really fast. If they only focus on the kinds of things that fall apart, they’ll always be scared. But Jesus reminds them that God doesn’t fall apart. God doesn’t leave. God will be with them even when they are really scared. And they can trust in God. That’s the good news. God is always with us and will never leave us—especially when we’re scared.

Let’s pray. Thank you God for reminding us that even when everything around us falls apart, you are with us and will hold us close. Amen.

Message:
As I thought about the gospel passage this week, I was reminded of the movie, “Shallow Hal.” Hal, played by Jack Black, is a guy who has considered himself God’s gift to women, and he and his friend, Jason Alexander, are always looking for the sexy gals they think they deserve. But the women overlook these men every time. Hal happens upon Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker, who sees Hal for the shallow man he is. He hypnotizes Hal into seeing the inner beauty of those around him, and it changes his life. He falls in love with his boss’ daughter. Everyone else sees her obesity, but he only sees her gracious and giving spirit. The people who are classically beautiful on the outside but mean and selfish on the inside appear to Hal as simply shriveled up and gross.

In the same way, the disciples look upon the Temple and see what everyone else sees—massive stones, glorious architecture. It is said that Herod the Great, in rebuilding the Temple, covered the whole outside in so much gold that it would blind those who looked upon it for too long. The disciples saw power and prestige. They saw a fortress. They saw the home of God. But Jesus saw something different.

He saw the people upon whose backs the Temple was built. He saw the poor who were still required to give. He saw the travelers who were overcharged for sacrificial animals. He saw a system that was anything but godly. He saw corruption and weakness, abuse of authority. He saw sin—not power. He saw fragility—not strength. He saw ruins and destruction. “Not one stone will be left upon another.”

But the disciples couldn’t believe anything so drastic could ever happen to such a great monument—especially if God truly did reside there. But as I mentioned briefly last week, Jesus had to remind the disciples that what people thought of as ‘great’ wasn’t really that great, after all. And he would soon tear open the divide and let loose the Spirit of God so that it would be clear that God resides everywhere—not just the Temple.

Now, what if the disciples’ comments weren’t made out of amazement but fear? What if they were saying to Jesus, “I don’t think this was a good idea”? Or maybe, “There’s no way we can take on something this big.” Or, to quote every Star Wars movie, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Whether you’re from a generation confronted with world wars or cold wars or civil rights movements; whether you fear the consequences of a mass immigration or the volatility of national leaders; whether the system you’re confronting seems too big or too corrupt or too powerful or too much, Jesus’ words are for you.

Mark’s gospel account was written around the time that the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. Perhaps it was just before, and the people of Jerusalem were feeling the tumultuous shaking of an unstable system preparing to crumble. Perhaps it was after, as the people realized just how easily the mighty could be felled. Either way, the readers of Mark would be very familiar with discontent and fear. They would recognize the instability of everything they had relied upon.

Given that, I wonder how they would have heard Jesus’ words to the disciples. How do you hear his words today? What if you were to look around you and imagine what this building, this city, this country might look like in a hundred years? Will the building still be here? Will the city resemble what it is today? Will the country implode under the weight of division? Can you imagine all of these things being destroyed? It’s possible. It’s probable, given enough time. Homes, businesses, furniture, vehicles. All those things we hold so high and give so much value. The Husker stadium. The capital building. The White House.

Now, imagine you’re in the midst of this very destruction. Everything you have built is falling apart. Imagine you live in Paradise, CA. Homes, businesses, churches, family members—all gone. How do you hear Jesus’ words in that context? “All this will happen…but it is not the end. Instead, it is the pain that signifies the beginning of new life.”

New life. Birth pangs. The difficult and painful process of bringing life into the world. This is not the end. It seems like the end; it feels like the end. But we already know all things come to an end. All life leads to death, even the life of Jesus. But it is not the end. It is just the beginning. It is the beginning of something greater than we can imagine. It is the beginning of life as we have never known it. It puts all of our ideas of power, of glory, of leadership, of rules, of ‘the good life,’…puts all of it to shame. The temporary things that we center our lives and our well-being around cannot fulfill our expectations or our needs.

The good news in this frightening and dark passage—the good news of Jesus Christ is that life—real and true life—is breaking in and revealing itself. And nothing will be able to hold a candle against the Light of God. This passage from Mark—and from Daniel—is known as ‘apocalyptic literature.’ That doesn’t mean end times. Apocalypse means revealing. Pulling back the covers. Shedding light on what was hidden. Changing how we see things. Allowing us to see what has been hidden on the inside—like Shallow Hal. That’s what Jesus is pointing to in this passage. It may sound like a lot of gloom and doom, but his are words of hope and life and something bigger and better than anything we can build or create.

I love how blogger Debie Thomas envisions Jesus’ words:
“Don’t be alarmed,” [Jesus] says, when truth is shaken, and nations make war, and imposters preach alluring gospels of fear, resentment, and hatred. Don’t give in to terror. Don’t despair. Don’t capitalize on chaos. God is not where people often say [God] is; [God] doesn’t fear-monger. [God] doesn’t incite suspicion. [God] doesn’t thrive on human dread.

So avoid hasty, knee-jerk judgments. Be perceptive, not pious. Imaginative, not immature. Make peace, choose hope, cultivate patience, and incarnate love as the world reels and changes.

This is what it looks like to be a disciple of Christ. We know that life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. And often, it gets darker when we follow the One who takes on corruption and speaks truth to power and never backs away from the message of God’s incarnate peace. But never forget that Jesus is the light in the darkness—the dawn that reveals the truth about us and about God. And we are children of God, empowered and called to reflect that light for those who know nothing but chaos, war, and hatred. We are called to bear our baptismal candles and not lose heart, for God is with us. God will not topple, will not fail, will not be thrown down. Even the cross couldn’t undo the love and life of the One who created us.

Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
Lincoln, NE

“What is Good For You”–Sermon for 25th Day after Pentecost, November 11, 2018

These photos are from the Illinois farm bureau staff photographer. DO NOT USE FOR ANY OTHER PROJECT EXCEPT PARTNERS.

MADATORY CREDIT Ken Kashian

One hundred years ago today/this week, a peace treaty was signed following the ‘War to End All Wars,’ and November 11 was declared Armistice Day—or, ‘Peace Day.’ Unfortunately, the evil in our world does not allow peace to last without a fight. Today, what we know as ‘Veterans Day’ gives us reason to continue to hold, not only those who have served and fought but also those who long for peace, in prayer.

Let us pray. Almighty God, let your protection be upon all those who are in the service of our nation. Guard them from all danger and harm; sustain and comfort those at home, especially in hours of anxiety, loneliness, and sorrow. Prepare the dying for death and the living for your service. Uphold those who bear arms on land and sea and in the air; and grant unto us and all nations a speedy, just, and lasting peace, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

Children’s Message:

I understand that the beginner/kindergarten Sunday School class will be collecting food for the food bank this week. Why do you think that’s important?

Yes, there are many people in our community who struggle to afford food. Kids go without nourishing meals. Have you ever had to skip a meal because there wasn’t enough food in your house? If you haven’t, you’re quite lucky.

Our gospel passage today is a hard one. Sometimes, people hold onto what they have, even when they don’t need it. And sometimes, people give so much they have nothing to live on. We need to be somewhere in between.

So, Christmas is in less than two months. How many of you have a lot of toys you don’t play with anymore? And are you going to ask for more toys for Christmas? That’s not bad—but you might think about how you can share your abundance—your ‘more-than-enough’ with kids who don’t have enough. Maybe, when you make your Christmas list, you only ask for one thing for yourself and you ask for something to be given to someone else.

Let’s pray. Dear God, we thank you for giving us what we need. Please help us share it with others. Amen.

Message:

There was once a farmer who grew award-winning corn. Each year he entered his corn in the state fair where it won first prize. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned the farmer’s strategy for growing winning corn. The farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors.

“How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

“Why” said the farmer, “don’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”

Today’s gospel passage has, for years, been used as a stewardship sermon to encourage better giving for the sake of the widow and the orphan and so on. And yes, this is a passage about stewardship. But no, Jesus is not drawing attention to the widow as an example of good stewardship and an example for which to strive.

Let’s start at the beginning of the passage. Jesus begins by teaching to beware the scribes. Scribes are Temple officials. They may have been in charge of the Temple finances. Obviously, Jesus is not impressed by the fact that they are honored so much in society—having the best seats and places of honor and regarded with respect. In fact, Jesus notes, they have built their wealth and reputation by deceit—by not sharing the wealth given to the Temple with those for whom it belongs. They were supposed to make sure that the vulnerable were cared for with the donations offered. Instead, they were taking the offerings made in good faith, padding their own pockets, and building monuments to themselves. They gloried in the wealth and status around them.

And then Jesus sits down opposite the treasury—the place where donations were made and sacrifices purchased. That word, ‘opposite,’ would also be used as ‘against.’ Jesus sat ‘against’ the treasury—against the Temple—in opposition to what was happening before him. In opposition to how the money was being used, especially money offered by the very people it was meant to help, like the widow. She gave everything—her whole life. The last of her coins. Not even enough to buy a slice of bread. She gave it. Have you ever wondered what she did next?

Perhaps she went home to die. Maybe she thought, those few coins can’t help her, but combined with the gifts from others, maybe it can help someone else. Maybe she thought that it was her duty—her duty to give something, even when she had nothing to give. Either way, I think Jesus’ opposition to such things is clear. He sat down over against the system that took from the very people it was meant to help.

It was only in the previous chapter that Jesus stormed into the Temple, turning over tables and chastising the system that overcharged for sacrificial animals. He said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.” And the passage that directly follows today’s passage—the one we’ll hear next week—has the disciples marveling at the immensity of the Temple and its glory. And Jesus tells them that even such glorious and strong stones will be toppled. That what is ‘great’ is not all that great after all.

So, what do we do with this passage? How do we make sense of the criticism? How do we know if we are giving too much or too little? Who are we supposed to be like if it’s neither the scribes nor the widow?

My predecessor, Pastor Lowell, often liked to say that ‘God wants from us what is good for us.’ God wants from us what is good for us. Let’s break that down a bit. First, it makes it clear that it does no good to compare ourselves to someone else. We don’t know what someone might be going through—what assets they have, what unknown expenses they have. It makes me think of a video I saw a while back of a little girl trying to buckle her car seat. Her dad wanted to help, but she just kept rebuffing his offers, saying, “Worry about yourself.” Worry about yourself.

Second, we can get awfully caught up in guilt and the needs of the world, thinking we need to solve this problem and that problem—that without our gifts, the world will fall apart. But giving isn’t ultimately about what others need to receive but about what we need to give. What will it take for you to let go of your dependence on your stuff? What will it take to worry less about what others think of you so that you can consider what you think of yourself? How much you should give depends on what you’re holding onto.

Third, giving isn’t the only form of stewardship. Jesus didn’t talk about how much the scribes gave but about how they used what was given. If we aren’t careful, we’ll focus more on what we fear and desire than on what the world needs. As stewards of God’s creation, it’s our job to use these gifts wisely and generously.

And that brings me to the last part—‘us.’ Everything we have in this world is God’s gift for the world. It’s not God’s gift for you or for me alone but for the world. The food raised by farmers—for the world. Water—not just for your lawn but for the wellbeing of the world. We are a community, intentionally bound together by the God of creation. Like the corn farmer I mentioned before. It is good for us to give our best to others. When our neighbor benefits, we do, too. God wants from us what is good for us.

And it is not good for the widow to live in destitution—to give everything she has to live on to the very system that has undermined its mission of caring for her and those like her. It is not good that we have so many holidays in which we must remember those who have died in war or returned with visible and invisible scars—who have, like the widow, given everything and often received nothing in return. It is not good for us to continue to watch news feeds of mass shootings and terrorism without the willingness to give up something for the sake of all.

God wants from us what is good for us. Not for God’s sake. Not for our place in a heavenly realm after we die. Not for the Church’s recognition of our piety. Not to prove something to the neighbor or the pastor or the bishop or the world. But for our own sake. For the well-being of our souls and those around us today.

God wants from us what is good for us. That includes our love, our devotion, our attention, our time, our generosity, our care. The tangible stuff is just expression of those gifts. And there’s countless ways in which they can be stewarded for the sake of the world.

Pastor Tobi White, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Lincoln, NE

“Jesus Wept”–a Reflection for All Saints Sunday, November 4, 2018

all-saints-day-1

John 11:32-44

Many of us, when we think of All Saints Sunday, think of grief and the mourning of loved ones who have died. We think about the faithful lives lived. We think about the struggles faced. We think about the holes left in our lives and in our hearts. We think of these things as we lift up the names of those we have had to say goodbye to in the past year.

But All Saints Sunday is not primarily about grief but about hope. The gospel passage focuses on both this day. Mary comes to Jesus saying, “If only.” She regrets that the unthinkable has happened without Jesus’ hand to turn back time and undo the thing that haunts her. We read that Jesus weeps in grief—over the death of his friend, over the loss experienced by Mary and Martha, over the despair felt in the absence of hope. And at the end of the passage, Jesus calls Lazarus out and says, “Unbind him and let him go.” He calls the crowd to participate in the release of the dead.

We, like Mary, often say, ‘if only.’ If only I had left earlier. If only they had listened. If only we had said ‘I love you’ one last time. But if only’s never change the past. They only keep us living in the past, wondering what could have made a difference. If only’s refuse to let us give thanks for what has been and what is. Mary tells Jesus that if only he had been there, Lazarus would not have died. But that isn’t true. He may not have died that day, but he would indeed die. In fact, even after Jesus brought him back, he would die again. Death cannot be avoided forever. And Jesus’ promise was never to keep it from happening. Instead, his promise is to make our lives abundant, to free us from our worries about death, and to never let death have the last word.

It is also important to remember that grief and tears are not unfaithful responses to difficult events. Rather, they are evidence of faith, evidence of love, evidence of life. When Jesus wept, he accomplished several things.[1] First, he legitimizes human grief. His tears mix with ours. Though we have hope in the resurrection, his tears mean that our grief is real. Our lives are valuable, and when they are over, those who love us grieve.

His tears bring truth to the fact that even when we are in Christ, we are not always (or perhaps very rarely) going to be ‘happy clappy Christians.’ It’s okay (and maybe even necessary) to be angry Christians when the world tries to undermine the joy and freedom we have. It’s okay to lament as Christians when we see people who have been abused by a spouse, a parent, a classmate, a pastor, even a government. And yet, as Paul says, we are called to ‘rejoice always’—not out of some desire to meet unrealistic expectations but simply because we know in whom we have life. We know where the light shines. We know that Jesus is with us and that nothing can get between us and God’s love—not even death (Rom. 8:38-39).

When Jesus weeps, he is claiming his own mortality. At this point, he is faced with the risks that Lazarus’ death brings. He could play it safe and leave him dead. But that isn’t who he is or what he came to do. So, instead, he raises his friend from death, and from that point on, the authorities have him in their sights—and they’re ready to take out Lazarus, as well, just to stop him from sharing his story. That is the Jesus we get—the one who risks his own life in order to step into ours.

Finally, through tears, people are moved to act. It is when we are moved in anger and sorrow that we say, ‘Enough!’ We say enough to unnecessary pain, unnecessary fear, unnecessary grief, unnecessary death. We say enough to all those things that move us closer to complicity with death—hatred, negativity, fear, minimizing, dehumanizing, despair, and destruction.

When Jesus says to the crowd, “Unbind him and let him go,” it is a call to us to say YES—yes to life, yes to hope, yes to mystery, yes to freedom, yes to risk, yes to grace, yes to generosity. This is the faith to which we cling—that the God who weeps is the God who resurrects. The God who allows death to happen is the same God who reigns death in—confining it—saying, “you may go this far and no further. You cannot and will not have the last word. I am the Alpha and Omega—the beginning and the end. I am the first Word and I am the last Word.”

And because of this claim that God has on you and me and the whole creation, we do not mourn as those who have no hope. We mourn—oh, yes, we mourn. We cry. We grieve. But we need not regret. We need not despair. We need not fear the future or despair the past. Because our God is a God of life, not death. God calls us out of the pain and loss. God unbinds us and frees us to go into the world proclaiming a gospel of joy and hope, even as this world clings to hate and fear.

Thanks be to God for the good news of Jesus Christ!

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

[1] https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/1999-when-jesus-weeps