Before this week’s message we heard from Richard, who has had his whole life turned around by Jesus, if you didn’t watch it please click the link and jump to 25m40s, it’s a truly remarkable story.
When I first preached week 1 of the raising of Lazarus live in the Jubilee Centre - Richard came running up to me afterwards with joy on his face - ’That’s me, that’s my story, I was dead, now I’m alive and I’m taking off the grave clothes!’
Amen Richard, and that neatly leads in to this week’s message - Time to take off the Covid graveclothes!
The bible text tells us: John 11:44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” NKJV
We don’t know exactly how Lazarus would have been bound, but what we do know is that he needed some help.
Jesus could have caused the graveclothes to have fallen off, just as his own graveclothes did when he was resurrected. For me as a church leader this is a massively encouraging part of the miracle, that Jesus did what only he could do and then invited his friends to do the rest. This was a first prophetic act of what the church would become - Jesus will do the saving and the raising back to life, but he would call on his friends, the church, to do the job of helping remove the grave clothes - of removing the past.
And the reality is the Richards of the future need a church free from grave clothes, either of our past lives or simply of Covid, if we are going to be available to help them leave the past behind by being a loving, nurturing, developing community of faith.
We have all needed the church family to help us leave the past behind and step into the new life Christ has for us.
In light of Emerging Brighter from Covid, the challenge this passage brings to us is this - what are the Covid graveclothes you’ve been wrapped in that you need to be loosed from? Just as they wrapped Lazarus in cloth strips, so you have been forced through the covid restrictions to wrap yourself in some new habits, some new ways of thinking and acting. Whilst some of them have been good, others need to be untied or, as they feared with Lazarus, you will start to stink!!
I would ask every single member of the Light Church to take some prayerful time, either by yourself with a friend or with your home church, to stop and ask God to reveal the new habits or ways of thinking that you have put on in Covid that you need to take off as you come out of the covid tomb?
I spoke about two on Sunday, but there will be many more:
1. We have been forced to wrap ourselves in the covid graveclothes of me me me me.
Because of enforced social isolation we are at risk of staying in our family bubbles and reducing our worlds down to a very small group of people. If this happens, then the enemy has won. When you said yes to Jesus you said yes to living an expansive, inclusive life that doesn’t revolve just around you.
Your life, your home, your family, your hospitality, your energy - all of it has been focussed on you. Time to turn it around!
Share your life. Share your home. Share your family. Share hospitality. Share your energy.
Or as Jesus put it, love your neighbour.
2. We need to leave behind the grave clothes of coping mechanisms…..
Some of the covid grave clothes we have all got wrapped up in are effectively coping mechanisms to help us through the trauma.
This is not surprising, when anxiety comes along, we can all in our humanity turn to coping mechanisms, even though we know that God’s peace and presence is the best coping mechanism of all.
What has your coping mechanism been? Food, alcohol, Netflix? Or maybe it’s the coping mechanism of routine and predictability……our weeks have become a bit monotonous and predictable. We have sub consciously become wired in such a way that we have lost some of our sense of adventure.
God did not call you out of your tomb for your life to get stuck in a rut. That is not life in all of its fullness……
And if the end result of Covid was that we all ended up more self centred, living more predictable mundane lives then I reckon we can truly say the enemy has won.
I can’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing. But what I can say, is that just like last week, we can discern are we moving towards Jesus or away from him? In the same way, are you moving towards others, sharing the love of God and your eternal life with them? Or are you going to stay wrapped in Covid grave clothes.
One final passage of scripture to end….
Eph 4:22 You were taught, with regard to your former COVID way of life, to put off your old COVID self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new POST COVID self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
For me the biggest question any Christian should ask themselves is this…. ‘Am I walking towards Jesus, or am I wandering away from him?’ Because the reality is there is no sense of ‘arriving’ of finally getting ’there’ - as the apostle Paul himself said, ’Not that I have already attained this.’ So the question can never be ‘have I arrived?’ Instead, it must be, ‘Am I moving the right direction?’
In week 3 of our Emerge Brighter series as we look intently at the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11, I asked the question, will you emerge as a worshipper or a wanderer?
In the story we see both, who are you?
Cynicism has hardened the hearts of some of those who looked on during this miracle.
Jesus is having his most demonstrative emotional moments recorded in all of scripture….
v33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
He wept, he cried, he was DEEPLY MOVED! And how do the hard hearted cynics respond?
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
As we have journeyed through this pandemic, we have all faced the challenge of keeping our hearts soft and open to the things of God.
Time to break out of the hardened shell of the Covid cocoon Light Church. Don’t allow that hardening to become your identity, there is a beautiful non cynical butterfly waiting to emerge.
How? Worship! Whole life worship! And in the midst of this story we meet one of the most beautiful, inspirational whole life worshippers of the New Testament. Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen give it up for Mary of Bethany.
Mary knew how to worship, and here are 3 ways she did it that you can too!
1. She sat at his feet
We first meet Mary in Luke 10 where she famously sat her Jesus feet, giving him her whole attention, worshipping him by listening to him, receiving his instruction, and enjoying his presence. You can do the same!
2. She fell at his feet
In the middle of the Lazarus raising story we read: v32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
It’s interesting to note that she said exactly the same words as her sister Martha recorded in verse 21 but Mary did it FALLING AT HIS FEET. She expressed her love and communicated it through extravagant acts, but that was nothing compared to….
3. She laid it all at his feet
In the very next chapter of the bible John 12, we see her doing the most incredible act of worship and sacrifice seen in the New Testament, other than Christ’s death. She poured a whole pint of anointing perfume all over his feet! Just imagine a pint for a moment. That’s a lot of perfume. This cost her a whole year’s wages, it may have been her dowry as it was unlikely she worked for money?
WOW, just wow. My sacrifice looks so meagre in comparison.
So what about you? How is your whole life worship? Because the only way to avoid a hard heart is through whole life worship.
Sung worship - having mumbled your way through you tube worship for a year, will you step out and pour out your praise, empty your lungs, thrash those vocal chords??
Compassion worship - will you reconnect with those in need that you used to serve, giving yourselves for others?
Hospitality worship - will you open up your home again, and show people what God’s love looks like?
Devotional worship - you remember that new practice you started this time last year? Will you return to it, knowing that failure is not your future, and you can become a devoted quiet time worshipper?
Let’s throw off the hard shell of Covid and Emerge Brighter as true worshippers.
Emerge Brighter week 2
Last week - I put out a call for all of us to choose resurrection as we emerge from this pandemic…..
Like a caterpillar emerging from a cocoon as a beautiful butterfly, so God would desire for us as a church and for you as an individual to emerge from the pandemic as a more beautiful representation of him to the world around you.
That just as Lazarus made a bigger kingdom impact post resurrection, so can we make a bigger post covid impact!
However, one thing we learn from the story of raising Lazarus is that we have a God who is happy to take his time. He is not in a rush, and nor should we be either.
Many of us have a problem with hurry and struggle to have patience. I am one of those people, in fact I would call myself a recovering Hurry addict. I reached a place in my life where I was counting the minutes and the seconds, trying to squeeze out every last drop of productivity.
Yet Jesus was never in a hurry.
And I want to be like Jesus.
In the story of the raising of Lazarus we see that sometimes, our God really does take his time.
v5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days
John tells us two things in this verse:
1. How much he loves this family
2. Jesus delayed going to heal Lazarus
In fact as you read the rest of the dialogue, it is clear that Jesus is deliberately letting Lazarus die! Because let’s face it Jesus could have healed him from a distance, instantly, if he had wanted to!
Even when Jesus does finally get to Bethany a few days later, does he head for the tomb? Or maybe to the family that is grieving? Nope. He just takes his time, stops and talks to a some people, leaving the grieving family to have to come and find him!
Sometimes, it’s really rock hard to work out what God is doing.
But Jesus explains his ‘Why?’ Because he had a bigger purpose! v4 it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it
No matter how hard a delay can be, and let’s face it, they can sometimes be bone achingly challenging. And even at times when God allows someone to die, if we allow it, God’s glory can be shown through those tough tough times.
He goes on to say there is good that can come out of every delay and every tough situation….
‘v14 for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe’
If we will allow it, the most heart wrenching of circumstances can, by God’s miraculous grace, help us to believe deeper than ever before. IF we choose to trust.
As we think about emerging brighter, I want to let you know that the God who takes his time is ok with you taking yours.
I want you to know that even though I’m not big on patience, I’ve got time for you to take your time as well.
Some of you will be ‘run out of the covid grave’ kind of people. You’ve already had many different groups of six round in the garden, your holiday is booked, you’re half way through organising a street party, you’ve booked a table in your favourite restaurant and you’ve been practicing hugging.
Or you might be one of the last to emerge. You still have genuine concerns that it’s opening up too fast. You have concerns about your own health. You are even feeling some significant anxiety about what it will be like to be in a crowd, or to have people round again. Maybe coming back to church meetings will take you some time. Maybe having people round won’t feel right for a while.
Here’s the big thing - it’s fine to take time. If Jesus can take time when it comes to saving one of his best friends….. You can certainly go at your pace - but! And this is key! You’ve got to come out of the Covid tomb.
He’s calling you out of that tomb. You can run out, or you can sit up, take your time, unlike Lazarus you can unwrap the grave clothes, and wander out.
But – we’ve got to get out.
Delay is ok.
Taking your time is fine.
But staying in the covid tomb is not an option…..