Necessary Gifts

Sermon for Sunday, November 7, 2021 || All Saints B || John 11:32-44

I’m going to start today’s sermon with the end of it. Here it is. Are you ready? Jesus’ commands include in them the gifts needed to carry them out. Got that? I’ll say it again: Jesus’ commands include in them the gifts needed to carry them out. This is a statement of faith that I think comes with quite a bit of evidence in the Gospel, especially in the passage I just read, the raising of Lazarus. I’m talking about commands and gifts this morning because in a few minutes, we are going to reaffirm our Baptismal promises. I’ll get back to Baptism in a bit, but first, here’s the evidence for that statement of faith: Jesus’ commands include in them the gifts needed to carry them out.

Jesus arrives in Bethany four days after his friend Lazarus died. This Lazarus is one of the only people in the Gospel described specifically as someone Jesus loved. When Jesus encounters Lazarus’s sister Mary and the mourners, he is deeply moved in his spirit and he weeps with them. The reality of the death of his friend is all around: in the weeping and mourning, in the stone blocking the entrance to the tomb, in Martha’s practical advice against rolling the stone away because of the smell of decomposition. None of this deters Jesus, who strides purposefully up to the tomb and shouts out a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

Then Jesus cries with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Or as my colleague and now bishop of North Carolina, Sam Rodman once memorably translated this command: “Lazarus, here! Now!”

Did Jesus skip a step? Am I missing something here? What did Jesus forget? Yes! He forgot the guy was dead. As far as I know, apart from zombie and vampire movies, dead people don’t walk around. How could Lazarus possibly come out of the tomb if he’s dead?

The step that Jesus seems to have skipped was bringing Lazarus back to life. “Seems” is the operative word here, because when all is said and done, I don’t think Jesus did forget this step. Remember, Jesus’ commands include in them the gifts needed to carry them out. So when Jesus shouts, “Lazarus, come out,” embedded in that command are the gifts needed to fulfill the command – in this case, the gift of being brought back to life.

Lazarus rises from the dead in order to fulfill Jesus’ command to leave the tomb. Jesus does not give Lazarus the option of rising from the dead and then staying in the tomb. No, Jesus issues a command. Lazarus follows the command. And Jesus enables this following with the gift of life. Pretty cool, huh?

The same thing happens way back in Chapter 5 of John’s Gospel. The man at the pool of Beth-zatha has been coming to the pool for 38 years looking for relief from his paralysis. Without a single word of healing, Jesus gives the man a command that he should be absolutely incapable of completing – namely, standing up and walking. But then the man gets up and walks! Somewhere between Jesus’ commanding and the man’s obeying, Jesus gives him the gift of healing the paralysis so the man is capable of fulfilling Jesus’ command. Jesus’ commands include in them the gifts needed to carry them out.

Last week, we heard Jesus’ summary of Holy Scripture in the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The command to love brings with it the ability to love: as we quoted the First Letter of John last Sunday, “We love because God first loved us.”

And that brings us to today. In just a few minutes, we will baptize these beloved children of God into this particular branch of God’s family. The action of baptism – that is, the ritual washing with water – is simply the outward sign of the movement of God in the life of those we are baptizing. The baptismal life continues as we follow Jesus, as we obey his command to love, and as we recognize the gifts Jesus offers us in order to fulfill his commands.

To frame our role in this fulfillment, the baptismal service we’re about to share offers us a covenant built around nine questions. The first three locate us within the Christian expression of God’s presence in creation. The final six invite us to promise, with God’s help, to live the baptismal life. We promise to build God’s beloved community based on the apostles’ teaching, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. We promise to re-embrace our identity as God’s children whenever we fall away. We promise to speak and act the good news of God’s reconciling love. We promise to seek God’s belovedness in all we meet and serve them as Christ served. We promise to strive for the justice and peace that comes when the dignity of all people is respected. And we promise to care for the wondrous works of God in creation. That’s the baptismal life. It’s my life. It’s your life. It’s the life we live with God’s help.

God’s help comes in the form of the gifts we engage whenever we actively live out these promises. We never go it alone. We have the gift of each other. And we have the gifts God constantly showers upon us, gifts we can receive and cultivate each day of our lives. Like Lazarus coming out of the tomb, we embrace the gift of life, a life lived fully in God, when we follow the lifegiving way of Jesus.

So, that’s enough from me today because we have a baptism to get to. I encourage you, when you get home today, remember this statement of faith and stick these words to your refrigerators: “Jesus’ commands include in them the gifts needed to carry them out.”

For a small poster to put on your fridge, please click here.

Banner image by Herbert Goetsch via Unsplash.

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Season 4, Episode 6
“Into the Wardrobe”

The Podcast for Nerdy Christians, where faith meets fandom. This episode, we’re going back to childhood and imagining our way into following Jesus with the help of The Chronicles of Narnia, My Neighbor Totoro, Godly Play, and more. We’ll also tackle some chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

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