The Gospel: John 11:1-45
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Well, I am not sure if you have seen the discussion, on Facebook recently, about the saying: "God won't give you more than you can handle." Maybe it is just because I follow certain religious or spiritual posts that Facebook's algorithms decide that is a conversation that I want to be part of.
It is a discussion that pops up on a fairly regular basis and it can certainly get people stirred up. There are those people who ardently want to defend the idea and there are those who are ardently against it. They go back and forth citing scripture and their personal experience seeking to validate their perspective. I am sure if we were to survey the congregation we would get a variety of opinions and responses.
Now, if I suggested that this morning's Gospel reading is an example of the truth of this concept I would receive some strong reactions both for and against the idea.
Before we go too far down that trail I would like to suggest another potentially controversial adage, or phrase, which I feel actually is more accurate in relationship to the story of Mary, the question that is put to her, and her eventual answer.
Then, to look briefly, at what her answer leads us to, and how it challenges us. To help us examine barriers, we might have in place, when it comes to God's call on our lives.
The phrase or saying I would like to look at this morning is "God doesn't call the equipped, he equips the called."
Now, before we go too far, I am sure that there are already people who are formulating their response around the fact that God does call people who are equipped, they are trained, and they may have skills for specific tasks. Let me just say, that I agree with that and that I know that is true.
But often as we examine the stories of our faith, the stories of our spiritual heritage, we can see that there are many, who respond to God's call, for them to act, or to carry out a specific task, who do not feel equipped for that task.
I believe that is one of the reasons we are encouraged to read Scripture, on a regular basis. We begin to see the characters and the personalities of the people in the stories that we tend to turn into stained glass figures. You know those "otherworldly" persons that are frozen in a window in some dramatic and beatific pose as a super holy personage.
The list is long of people who received a call from the Lord and wanted to not carry out the task they were given. Moses, who stands mumbling and stuttering before God, Jonah, who runs in the opposite direction, and Isaiah, who declares, he cannot speak on God's behalf, because he has unclean lips, to just name a few.
In fact, the story of Mary's response, in the Gospel this morning, is set in contrast to the response of Zechariah. He is a holy man serving in the temple and acting on behalf of the people of Israel in their religious obedience and making sacrifices on their behalf.
He flat-out says that what is proposed by the angel is impossible. He is struck dumb because of his response to the word of the Angel to him. He cannot speak until what the angel said would happen happens and his son John is born.
Then Mary's fiance Joseph is all ready to set Mary aside because he doesn't believe her when she tells him what has happened. He needs his own visit from an Angelic being to convince him to go ahead and marry Mary.
Scripture is full of those who consider themselves unprepared, unready, and unworthy of God's call to them. So, let me go back to the phrase or the adage that I wanted to talk about this morning: "God doesn't call the equipped, he equips the called."
What is God looking for when he calls on someone to fulfill a role or a task? I would like to suggest this morning that God isn't looking necessarily for ability, but willingness. He knows how we view ourselves, he knows what we consider to be our limitations, and he knows what we consider to be the impediments that would keep us from achieving what he is asking of us.
Let's briefly look at Moses, since we used him as an example earlier. How does God respond to Moses when he attempts to use his poor self-image, his limitations, or his impediments as an excuse not to take on the task? We see in Exodus chapter 4:10-11: But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?
The Lord cuts through Moses' understanding, and presentation of himself and declares that he will overcome anything that stands in Moses' way. He declares that he will equip the person he has chosen.
Now we have to be honest and say that even Mary expresses some doubt and lack of assurance in her initial response to the angel: Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
The angel in response does not address Mary's inability, limitations, or impediments, but proclaims the Lord's, the Holy Spirit's, creative, all-powerful indwelling, which will accomplish, what is considered humanly impossible. All that is needed from Mary is her yes that God can do what can he wills to do. All that is needed is her willingness to join in accomplishing it. He will equip her for the task. Then as an added incentive or assurance, the angel tells Mary that she can witness God's miraculous equipping by visiting Elizabeth, who despite all her lack of ability, limitations, and impediments, is six months pregnant.
Let's look at Luke chapter 1:34-37:
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Next, we see this simple and profound response: Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Mary's willingness to accept the role and the task just strikes deep within me. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
How often do I long to respond with that level of willingness?
Now, let's be honest here there are those people who suggest that Mary was on some different spiritual plane even before her encounter with the angel. They say: "that there must have been something going on there that made it possible for her to accomplish what she did." They then go on to say things like: "I can't even come close to that. I am not that spiritual. Those folks can do those things because they are particularly skilled or on a different spiritual plane than the rest of us."
Do you hear the echoes down through history, of Moses and Jonah, and even Isaiah?
To take this to a more personal note let's look at 1 Corinthians chapter 1:26-29: "Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to abolish things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God."
As we consider the story of Mary and her response to the call of God on her life, is there something that the Lord is calling you to accomplish today?
Can we respond as Mary does: “let it be with me according to your word.”
Perhaps right now there is nothing specific, but how do you respond to the general call of the Third Prayer for Mission in The BCP Morning Prayer service:
"Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen."
Bishops & Father Mike