"We are ambassadors who represent Christ." – 2 Corinthians 5:20

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Coming Out of the Tomb and Coming to Our Senses

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always pleasing in your sight, oh lord, our rock and our redeemer.

This gospel reading is so powerful, so deep, and leaves me with so many questions that my brain aches.

Did it really happen like this? Lazarus coming out of the tomb? Or was the gospel writer using the story to try to describe how people experienced jesus—as someone so empowered by god that he could bring life out of death. (just as god enabled ezekiel to do in the old testament reading).   Maybe both of those?

I have no answers.

But what strikes me is this:

The story of lazarus is a perfect metaphor for jesus’ entire life and ministry.

Because there is more than one way of being dead; in fact, there are lots of ways, and

Jesus was always calling people out of some kind of death and into life.  In another part of john’s gospel, jesus says, “i came so that they could have life, indeed so they could live life to the fullest.”

Jesus restored health and offered more aliveness to those around him in so many ways:  a life of sight in place of blindness, a life filled with sound, instead of deafness, the ability to walk in place of being lame, health instead of the pain and isolation of leprosy.

He was also a spiritual healer, casting out demons—which today we might call mental illness—and healing all kinds of emotional wounds.

As we all know, this is just a small taste of what jesus did.

Today, i’d like to look at our part in living our lives to the fullest, in order to see how we may inadvertantly, or sometimes even intentionally deaden ourselves.

The point isn’t to berate ourselves, but to open our eyes and see how we might accept the invitation of jesus to “come out” of tombs of our own making.

We all have our own ways of deadening ourselves

Some of it is built into our genes, some is part of our culture.  Some comes from our family upbringing.

I do believe that we were made for aliveness and for joy!

But my mother’s family going back for several generations, sure had a hard time finding it.

I think our family motto must have been “expect the worst, and when it doesn’t happen, you’ll feel better.”  Not “then you will rejoice” you just won’t feel so bad.  Now isn’t that a backwards, hope-dashing way to live your life!

We were not easter people, we were good friday folks, our eyes fixed on the cross with no sign of resurrection in sight.

It’s not just me and my family.  I think that we all pick up attitudes and ways of looking at life that leave us restricting our lives, entombing ourselves in small spaces and rolling a huge stone in front of it.  It’s a very human thing to do.

What might those be for you?

Whatever they are, we can all take hope in the fact that

The portion of the holy that each of us carries inside ourselves, keeps urging us to come out into a more spacious, spellbinding world, to come to life.

Sometimes i can imagine that part of me whispering, “barb, toss your ‘to do’ list into the trash and just look around you!”

Our automatic ways of living our lives (our own personalities) can also be deadening.

For instance, being in a hurry, can drain the life out of us.

I don’t know how often my partner kathy has said to me,

“we are retired.  We are in florida on vacation.  We don’t need to rush!”

And every time she says that—and brings me back to my senses–i realize that i’ve been scooting along on the surface of things, missing out on what really matters.

Rainer maria rilke, an austrian poet whose poems are deeply spiritual and mystical, forced me to stop “dead in my tracks” –pun intended—when i read this line of his:

“all this hurrying soon will be over.  Only when we tarry do we touch the holy.”  “tarry,” that old fashioned word for “just stay a while.”

“all this hurrying soon will be over” gives a sense of “don’t miss out!”  “learn to just stay a whle.”

So how do we move in that direction?

To stop and take in what is happening within us and around us?

I think we start by focusing on our senses: really seeing what is in front of us, hearing the sounds that surround us, touching and being touched, taste, smell, and our kinesthetic sense of how our bodies feel as we move through the world.

Because our senses have a way of holding us still in the present moment, connecting us with the world that is beyond our distracted, thinking selves.

You know, thinking isn’t always as great as we make it out to be!  It, too, can become one of the ways that we deaden ourselves.

Do you ever feel caught up in your thoughts?

The phrase “lost in thought” is really true!

We can lose ourselves in it:

We arrive at work without remembering how we drove there.

Or lie awake at night thinking, anticipating, worrying about the same old stuff.

Even more importantly, our thoughts about the world, our expectations, can actually determine how we feel and what we see and hear.

Sometimes it can even change reality for us.

I’ll give you an example from my own experience that shows how deeply ingrained my family’s gloomy negativity is in me.

I was visiting my parents when my mom’s alzheimer’s disease had suddenly progressed and she was temporarily hospitalized.  When i left the hospital, i went to mcdonald’s to grab a cup of coffee.  I looked up at the menu board overhead and saw the word “funmeal” but what i read was “funeral.”

My mom lived another three years, but some part of me was already anticipating her passing.  And my thoughts created what i saw.

It was a real eye opener for me, and i realized that i had a knack for turning “fun” into “funeral” a lot of the time!

It has been helpful for me to know that, because i can catch myself and choose another way.

Do you have patterns like that?  Ways of getting your sneakers stuck repeatedly on the same places along the path of your life?

Another source of entombing ourselves happens when our attachments to something become so tight fisted that our need for that thing shrinks our world: addiction to substances is one example, and it can truly make us numb.  But the same is true for the person who is driven to overwork or over exercise, it was in the dad i saw on the beach who was on his cell phone the whole time that his little boy was jumping the waves by himself.  He and his son both missing out.

Our focus on minor or maybe even not so minor things can lead us to miss the real meaning of the moment.

The poet in the parking lot

A couple of months ago, Kathy and  I were in the parking lot of a grocery store when a guy came up to us holding some sheets of paper.

He said he was a pastor, and that he had a poetry ministry.

He told us, in great detail, how many hundreds of poems he had written, and handed us one.

I’m interested in poetry myself, and told him i thought poetry had a way of showing us the things that really matter.

He agreed, and said he had that experience just the other day in walmart.  He was standing in line at the cash register, when the woman in front of him discovered that she didn’t have enough money on her walmart card to be able to pay for her groceries.  The woman was trying to decide which items to put back, the pastor said, “when it suddenly came over me in that moment.  You know what i did?”  He paused, and said, “i wrote an entire poem in 8 minutes!”

We were expecting him to say that he had paid for her groceries!

True story!

He was so caught up in his poetry that he missed that more important opportunity!

And you know what, i’m sure that i miss those opportunities too, more often than i can imagine!

I wonder what attachments you and i have that could use a little loosening up in order to make space for more important things.

Emerging from the tomb, being fully alive, means opening up, enlarging our personal world—making it spacious by building our connections with one another, with nature, and with the sacred, which i believe surrounds us, even though i may just catch glimpses of it from time to time.

We can’t do this alone—we need each other.

One of the downsides of spending most of our time with people who are like us and think like us is that we don’t get challenged, our vision is narrowed and we miss other ways of looking at things.

Congregations, communities and, i think, whole countries can share the same small, dark, tomblike space and need someone else to roll that stone aside and let the light in.

And so i invite each of us (myself included) in these last weeks of lent to take some time to explore how we might open ourselves to living more fully.

Singer and songwriter cris williamson addressed this “opening up” in her song “invocation.”

I would like to end by reading the lyrics (it’s better as a song, but i will spare you that!)

I say it as a prayer for all of us.

Invocation

When in dreaming sacred comes,
Let our eyes be opened.
Music frightens fear away,
Let our ears be opened.
Knowledge of the blood abounds,
Let our hearts be opened.
Hatred holds such fearful sway,
Let our minds be opened.
Wisdom be with us this day,
Let our souls be opened.
Living long where love abides,
Let our lives be opened.|
Let our lives be opened.

Amen

 

-Barbara Mansfield