St, John's, Centreville
November 4, 2018
All Saints' Day B
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee, by faith, before the world confess: thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia! Alleluia!" These words from our opening anthem sum up All Saints' Day that we are celebrating today. It is one of the principal feast days of the church, a day when we remember and honor those who have died and gone before us, those who are sitting right next to us, and the generation of saints who are yet to come.
I would venture to say that most of us do not feel like saints, especially if we limit our definition of saints to those who have done great things, like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr, and the prophets and apostles of long ago. I don't feel like a saint as I go about my everyday life. I don't feel that I do anything "special" to deserve the label of "saint". Perhaps you feel the same way.
But all of us ARE saints because we seek to be open to the presence of God in our lives and to follow the Holy Spirit. THAT'S what makes us saints - not that we've converted thousands of people to Christianity, or we have abolished poverty in our community or that we are perfect. Being a saint of God means that we are doing what we can with the gifts that we have been given to help bring in the kingdom of God, in small ways as well as big ways, by following our calling, whatever that may be.
All Saints' Day proclaims how God has reached out to humanity in Jesus Christ and called into service a great number of people, people of every nation and language and culture. All Saints' Day calls us to believe that all people have the potential to respond to God's love. It's not something we deserve or have to earn. God's love is there for the taking. All we have to do is respond.
Let's take a look at the saints we have in our gospel lesson this morning. Mary, Martha and Lazarus are good friends of Jesus. He has been to their home and he has taught them. Word gets to Jesus that Lazarus is quite ill and that Jesus should come. From what we know of Jesus, we would think that he would drop everything and hurry to be with his friends. But he doesn't. We are told that he waits two days before he goes to Bethany. We are not told why he waits. Perhaps because he knows what will happen, that he will raise Lazarus from the dead so more may believe that he is the Messiah. Or perhaps it was because he had enemies in Jerusalem, which is near Bethany, and the disciples did not want him to go anywhere near Jerusalem, so they try to convince him not to go.
Whatever the reason, by the time Jesus gets to Lazarus, he has been dead for four days. The Jews believed that the soul of the person stayed near the body for three days, so on the fourth day, there was no question that the person was dead.
When Martha, and later Mary arrive at Lazarus tomb, they both say to Jesus, "Master, if you had been here, our brother would not have died." They had great faith in Jesus. They knew that he was the Messiah. But because he was not there, Lazarus died, and his sisters are in grief.
Before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, he thanks God for giving him the power to do this and to glorify God. So as Mary and Martha and probably a crowd who surround the tomb, Jesus calls to Lazarus to come out. As they all hold their breath, Lazarus appears at the entrance to the cave, still wrapped in his burial cloths. And Jesus says, "Unbind him and let him go." "Unbind him and let him go."
Let's think for a moment about Mary and Martha. They had watched their beloved brother die. And their friend Jesus was not there. They feel hopeless, distraught, angry. Jesus arrived too late to do anything about their brother, at least so they thought. But then they watch as Jesus stands outside the tomb and calls Lazarus out - out of death into life, out of darkness into light. He tells the amazed people around him to unbind him and let him go. Free him from the bonds that have held him. Even in death he is set free.
And doesn't Jesus do the same thing for us? He liberates us, sets us free from the bonds that restrict us, that tie us up, that don't let us be who God wants us to be. Jesus sets us free, opens our world to us, and helps us to live.
Have you ever felt that kind of hopelessness that Mary and Martha must have felt? When you feel everything is lost, when there seems to be no way forward, when we can't see a way out of the mess we are in, we can hear Jesus call us by name. "Lazarus, come out!" "Susan come out!" Jack come out!" God calls us each by name because of God's love for us. God does not want to see us in the midst of pain and despair. But if we listen, we can hear God call us by name, perhaps not to take away our illnesses or problems, but to stand with us to give us renewed faith and courage. And when the time is right, God may also say "Unbind him and let him go." When we are set free, we are more able to work through our problems, perhaps see other answers or insights that we hadn't seen before. When we release ourselves from the bonds of self-centeredness, or greed, or hatred, we can see things in a new light, start living with new life and new purpose. Perhaps that is what Lazarus felt when he was called out of the tomb.
God calls us to see things from a new perspective, when God calls us each by name, when God calls us in service to others and to spread the gospel. God calls us each to be the saints of God, not perfect people, but people who open themselves to listen to the voice of God, to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in and around us.
In a few minutes, we will read the names of loved ones who have gone before us, who have finished their lives on this earth and are now with God. But let us not forget to see saints who are all around us, quietly working to further the kingdom of God, in big ways and small ways. For to them belongs the kingdom of God. Amen.