riving back from Mayberry after visiting my 89 year old mother I took time to get off I-85 to check on a church that my dad served 40+ years ago. Nobody was around so I took a stroll through the churchyard. Memories came flooding forth, some good, some bad. I remembered the fear of having the neighborhood bully, Butch, pick on me on the school bus. He had warts all over the backs of his hands and one day he got me in a hammerlock and rubbed his warty hands on my face. Another time he and his brothers tied me to a tree and shot me with their BB guns. Looking back on it I dont know if they selected me as a target because I was younger, or a preachers kid, or maybe because I was just available. However, one mistake that they made was that they forgot my big brother Eddie (seven years my senior) who was the star fullback on the high school football team. One afternoon as the school bus neared our driveway I saw off in the distance the silhouette of my big brother standing beside the mailbox. When the bus door opened on walked Eddie who asked, "Wheres Butch?" That solved that problem and Eddie still holds me in debt.
Back to the churchyard where I was still stumbling along. I wandered over to the graveyard and read some familiar names. An old grandmother type who brought homemade coconut cakes to the dinners on the grounds. A woman I remember being a young bride who had died at 44. There were several infants graves with little lambs formed on their tombstones. Then there was a new gravestone and on it was the name of Butch. I was momentarily relieved, and may have breathed a sigh. But then my heart was glad that at least he was buried in our church graveyard and that perhaps some preacher, or preachers kid, had been an agent of grace in his last days. And there I weeped and groaned in my spirit.
In our story from the life of Jesus we find him in a graveyard weeping and groaning in his spirit. His too were complicated tears.
"Jesus wept" because he was sad over the death of his dear friend Lazarus. This story is an eternal reminder that in Christ God joins us in our tears. He wept and we weep. You have to be a full grown person to weep these bitter tears of bereavement for only then do you truly feel the final earthly separation from those we love so much.
After nine long years I still sometimes am surprised by a renewed feeling of deep pain over the death of my dear Dad. I have experienced waves of sadness that have ambushed me much like ocean waves that sneak up behind you when you are trying to walk in the surf. But in those times the Spirit has been faithful to touch my heart with the assurance that there is a land of the living beyond the grave. Jesus certainly knew this in his mind, but still he wept out of a broken heart.
It also appears from the story, only told by the beloved Apostle John, that Jesus weeping and "groaning in his spirit" may have been from disappointment and frustration that the crowds, and even his select band, had not understood the eternal significance of the event surrounding them on that day. Here Jesus, himself on the way to his own tomb, calls Lazarus forth from a tomb--- as a sign, as evidence to those who were there with open eyes and hearts, that God was in the process of doing a mighty work in their moment in time. Sometimes we cry tears of disappointment, at the end of our rope.
Emory Professor, Dr. Roberta Bondi shares her personal end of the rope story, in her book Memories of God. A multitude of calamities all caved in on her in one dark day of her soul. She sat in a chair in her study and wept: She was a failure as a mother, and wife; she felt a failure as a teacher and as a historian; personal problems compounded everything else. But then as she groaned the Spirit understood her groanings and in an instant brought her peace and assurance that he was with her in the tears, and that there would be a way through.
There is always a way out of no way with God--- and we are living proof. He has never failed me and he will never fail you. God in Christ suffered the agony of a torturous death, tied to a tree in humiliation and shame. But, the main thing we all need to remember on this All Saints Sunday is that God brought Jesus back from the dead just as Jesus had called Lazarus from the tomb.
What tombs are you squeezed into that trap your soul?
You can be freed from the bounds of doubt. What insignificant creatures we are that think we can doubt anyway. Gods heavens got much bigger for me on the cover of "Newsweek" this week. The Hubble telescope in the sky is looking further and finding out so much more about limitless space that our minds are baffled even more. In that fantastic still picture, and later I saw a video, our entire Milky Way Galaxy would be less than a pin head. And yet some strut as if they are important in themselves. But the hard won truth is that we are only able to find meaning through a faith relationship of intertwined hearts with the Creator.
Now many believed after seeing Lazarus come forth from the tomb. But others went out to plot his crucifixion. Today there are still only two kind of people in the world, those who come to Jesus and those to seek to do him in: Either by intention, or by neglect.
But he never gives up and hes here today to capture, or recapture, our affections. What a glorious day to have faith in him!
Let us close by hearing again the verses that many of you have heard at funerals this past 12 months: It is from the 14th chapter of Johns gospel: "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Fathers house are many mansions: If it were not so I would have told you. I go and prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also."
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor