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And Life

The Rev. Joseph Winston

April 10, 2011

Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus
There are words we use almost every day of our lives that are difficult if not
impossible to pin down exactly what they mean. These are those ideas that you
know it when you see it. You can easily describe a play that turns the tide of a
game sometime after the last whistle. Before that time, you literally have no idea
which series will be the one that seals victory for one team and defeat for the other.
Poets use the surplus of meaning found in words that are hard to define ahead
of time to their advantage. The overflowing abundance found in grace fits well into
this category. Grace can be the name of a girl. A graceful movement is also the
elegant way that one navigates through life. Grace is God accepting you without
requiring you to make any changes. And then there are the three beautiful graces of
Greek mythology. A song about grace might invoke one or more of these images.
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians
1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3.

Which one you see when you hear the lyrics depends on your specific situation in
Friends are yet another topic that one can discuss late into the night without
ever agreeing exactly what makes up another person someone that you like be-
ing with. Loyal, kind, and trustworthy are three attributes that are often used to
describe what a friend should be. Then there always seems to be that one person
listening in on such a conversation that pipes up, “Why, that perfectly sums up my
dog.” Yes, a friend is all of this and more.
Our inability to know exactly what a word means does not in any way prevent
us from using words like beauty, hope, and love. In some way or another, they
accurately capture the idea that we are trying to get across. That might sound like
nonsense: not knowing but being totally accurate. Yet, the fact still remains that
this is what these really words do. This is why we continue to use them in everyday
conversation. They say what we mean.
Right there in the middle of today’s Gospel lesson is one of those words ev-
eryone knows what it means but finds it so hard to explain. It is life. It is all of
those things that make it all worthwhile. It is living.
That is what Jesus promises. He begins by giving these words of comfort to
Martha, “Your brother will rise again (John 11:23a).2 ” Martha responds to Jesus,
“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day (John 11:24).”
As if to correct her, as if He is making one small but very important adjustment
to what Martha has already said, Jesus replies to her, “I am the resurrection and
The raising of Lazarus and others is promised earlier in John 5:25-28.

the life (John 11:25b).3 ” To make sure that she hears what He has to say, Jesus
repeats the same message it a second time using slightly different words, “Those
who believe in me, even though they die, will live (John 11:25c).”
Life, as we all know, is not an easy word to define. For some individuals, life
means work. You know the people that I am describing. They are the ones who
enjoy putting in a good day’s work. They always have and they always will. For
them, work is not a chose. It is something that they like to do. They wake up in
the morning looking forward to finishing the tasks that have been set before them.
When they go to sleep at night, they are thankful for what they accomplished.
Maybe that understanding of life is a good thing. After all, God gave humanity
the specific order to keep the Garden of Eden in good shape (Genesis 2:15). It is
hard to see how this will ever change. There is work to be done and someone has
to do it.
For others, life is about friends and family. These are the people who know
everyone’s birthday (and never forget to send a hand written card), they remember
every important event in your life (and want to share it with you), and while at this
year’s family reunion, they are busy planning the next one. God created us to be
in relationships and they can feel this in their bones. Life without of all its stories,
without the time spent sitting on the porch with a dear friend, without pouring
over some precious memories found in a scrapbook, is not complete unless it can
be shared.
This is the only ἐγώ εἰμι formula in the chapter. The versions found in the NRSV translation
in John 11:11 should read “I go to wake up Lazarus” and in John 11:15 should be “I rejoice that I
was not there.”

Then we all know people who love a good meal and all that goes with it.
They do not eat to live but live to eat. They help out in the kitchen and they make
something to take to the homebound. Most tellingly, they love to point out the first
of Christ’s signs in the Gospel according to St. John is turning the water into wine
for the wedding party in Cana. That plus all the meals Jesus attended or hosted
(think the feeding of the multitude on the mountain, the plane, and in the upper
room) means in their minds that Jesus was one of them. For this group, life is best
when there is enough food and drink for all.
Life is rich. You could go on all day long describing that the word really means
to you and even then, you would only scratch the surface.
In the Church, we confess that life is the work of God. Christians trust that
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. You might then want to believe that in the
Church you would be able to see life in all of its glory.
There then would be celebrations that lift up the life God gives. Imagine what
this might look like.
Life is full of firsts. The first night of good sleep after the baby comes home
from the hospital. The first lost tooth reminds you that the little baby is growing
up way too fast. The first sleepover at Mom’s and Dad’s house. The first day of
school that shows you once again how quickly time passes. The first report card
that gives you a glimpse on the future of your child. The first time you can drive
without your parents. The first prom night that always causes a case of butterflies.
The first day of college tells you that eighteen years have already passed. The birth
of the first grandchild means this is starting over for a new generation.

Life has more than its fair share of bumps and bruises. The scraped knee
caused by the playground bully. The emergency room run to fix the broken arm.
The pain when you realize that your precious child will never grow up. The call
home about the totaled car that you just did not want to make. The unexpected
news of separation that shows you that the stark reality of a divorce is just around
the corner. The shame you feel when you need to ask for a little bit to make it
through until tomorrow. The uncomfortable feeling that Mom and Dad are getting
older and need more help than you can provide. The fear in your heart when you
look at the cash on hand and realize you cannot purchase the required medicine
and put food on the table. The bad news of a lab report tells you that you can only
live one day at a time.
Do you see the happiness in the unexpected joy that life brings? Walking down
the halls of Zion, you can find artwork that reminds you of what once hung on your
refrigerator at home. These drawings, made by tiny hands, burst with color. They
show the sun hanging in the sky, the trees in the park, Mom, Dad, and the rest
of the family, and their favorite pets. They all seem to say, “God is good and so
is life.” Before worship starts, children race in so they can hear more about Jesus
and the abundant life that He brings. During worship, the prayers of the people
capture this emotion of excitement and you hear it as they thank the Lord for the
newness of life. Afterwards, there are groups that share all the everyday miracles
God gives His people.
You know what is also there. Mixed in with all the joy there is a sadness that
never completely goes away. Zion needs to remember this part of the life we share

together with the Lord too. The old stained glass windows have seen it all. Imagine
what it would be like if these windows opened into past and they could tell us of
the pain that this life can bring. We could learn how the people survived with
God’s help during the tough years of devastating storms, the terrible times when
disease took its toll on loved ones, and the loss that war brings. During worship,
we need to ask God for help in these hard times that life brings. Care for one
another never finishes. That is why in this vision of the future Zion has groups all
over the city that help people through the difficult times in life.
Worship at Zion is rich not because we have more money than we know what
to do with. Worship here at the cross is priceless because Jesus is the resurrection
and the life. He gives you life today and that life will continue tomorrow.
What the resurrection actually looks like is hard to tell. Some people like to
say that no one has come back from the dead and told us what it is like. I prefer to
talk about what I know something about: the amazing richness found in life.
There is one thing that we all agree about. Nothing would be possible without
Jesus. That is what has me looking forward to the resurrection and the life. I know
the One who gave me both.
“The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and
minds through Christ Jesus.”4

Philippians 4:7.