Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 10 Sermon (5th Lent)

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
These words were written by Mark Twain after some reports surfaced of his death, it was his cousin who was ill and not him, and I think those words are a proper way for us to think about this Lazarus Sunday. In the Gospel, we hear about Lazarus who was raised from the dead by Jesus after being in the tomb for four days. He experienced death, Mary & Martha mourned for him, even Jesus wept. But the Glory of God shown forth through the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Lazarus could have said it, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

And it reminds me of Jim Parsons, who often joked about how the doctor told his parents that Jim would not live to old age from his childhood illness, and how Jim had outlived that doctor! He was proud of that fact!

It is that Spirit of Life that we hear of in the first reading too. The story of those dry bones of Ezekiel. Can we not hear that voice, of those crying out from Africa and other places, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” And what does the Lord say? “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.” The story of the rebirth of the Israelites is also a way for us to think about our world today, and what God is doing here to bring life.

“Today almost four million Africans have been given access to life saving medication known as Anti-Retroviral Treatment. The raising of Lazarus in John provides the inspiration for the title of “The Lazarus Effect,” a documentary film about those life-saving anti-retroviral medications.

That is what ARVs are doing. They are bringing people back from their deathbeds. They are bringing people who should or could have been dead, back to life. For as little as $0.40 a days and within 40 days we see amazing results. That is the Lazarus Effect! – it is saving parents, teachers, nurses, doctors on a daily basis.

When he resurrected Lazarus from the dead, Jesus set us a model we have to imitate. He asks us to explore whether there is anything that can be restored, can we help deliver hope, hope for the children, the grandparents, he asks us to restore community. He asks us to be compassionate – to come alongside, to morn and to sympathize, just as he did.” (Princess Kasune Zulu)
Princess Kasune Zulu is hiv poisitve and one of those saved by the ARVs. “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” are words she could have written. The stories from Ezekiel and John testify that God is always brining new life to things torn down and dead. Which tells us what we should be up to in this world…
Britney Gengel was a sophomore at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. In many ways she was a typical teenager - but everyone who ever met her were struck by her sense of humor, passion and deep sense of caring for those less fortunate. A few weeks after Christmas, she volunteered for a service project in Haiti, helping out at food stations and orphanages before the new semester began.

"Brit," as she was known to family and friends, had fallen in love with the children of Haiti. She texted to her mom and dad: "They love us so much and everyone is so happy. They love what they have and they work so hard to get nowhere, yet they are all so appreciative. I want to move here and start an orphanage myself."

That was the last they heard from their daughter. The next day, the catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti, killing 250,000 people and destroying the country. The hotel where Britney and the group from Lynn were staying collapsed. Her family waited helplessly for thirty-three anxious days - including a mistaken report that she had been found alive - before her body was found in the rubble of the Hotel Montana. Britney was 19 years old.

Her family was devastated. But they are determined that part of their daughter's dream will be realized. Brit's parents and two brothers have established a nonprofit foundation to build an orphanage that will house 33 boys and 33 girls - symbolizing the 33 days Britney was missing. The family has made several trips to Haiti to see conditions after the earthquake and to study how orphanages function in the Caribbean nation.

They have raised almost a half-million dollars for the project, and having settled on a building site and design plans, are ready to begin construction. They are committed to building a safe, nurturing facility in which Haitian children in their care can grow, learn and thrive that Brit would have wanted. A friend's camera found in the rubble included photos of Britney's last days.

Her mother is convinced this project is what Brit would have wanted - to play a role in helping the country she loved to flourish. "She was genuinely happy there. She was at peace." "We have an obligation as parents to honor our daughter's last wish," her father says, "and that was to help the children of Haiti. The pain is incredible, and maybe that's what powers us."
Even out of such death and destruction and loss, God is working and Brit’s parents and siblings have joined in to help bring life out of devastation, to enable hope to take root in the most barren of places, to lift others out of the pits and rubble of fear and pain.

Today is Lazarus Sunday, a day we celebrate that life Jesus brought out of death. May we in our lives help bring life where death is so present. One more story…

In her 70th winter, her health deteriorated rapidly. Finally, she had to be hospitalized. The doctor confided to her son that she had only a matter of weeks to live. The son agonized for days on whether he should tell her. Was there any hope he could give her? He decided not to tell her for the time being. Instead, he concentrated on her birthday. He thought he would give her the most expensive and beautiful matching nightgown and robe he could find. At the very least she would feel stylish and dignified in her final days.

After unwrapping his gift, his mother said nothing. Finally, she said, “It’s beautiful, dear, but would you mind returning it to the store? I don’t really need it.” She then picked up a newspaper and pointed to an ad for a beautiful leather purse designed for late spring and summer. “This is what I really want.” Her son was flabbergasted. Why would his ever-frugal mother want something so extravagant — a purse she could not use for months?

Then it dawned on him: His mother was asking how long she had to live. If he thought she’d be around long enough to use the purse, then she really would. When he brought the purse to her in her hospital bed, she held it tightly against her, a big smile on her face. A half a dozen purses later, the son bought his mother a new purse — for her 83rd birthday. [Adapted from a sermon by Don Shelby.]
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” that mom could have written. Let us help write that line for others in this world and even for ourselves too. Amen.

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