Friday, November 30, 2012

Reflections on the Gospel – Luke 21:25-36

Read the text here:Luke 21:25-36

Hope: Waiting and Watching
Patience!  How are you with patience? Do you mind waiting for things that you want and enjoy?  How long can you wait?  It seems as though we Americans in particular do not deal well with waiting.  We are an instant gratification people.  We want what we want now!  So for some of us waiting in line at a store or at the movies, or waiting at the doctor’s office, or sitting in traffic can be a very, very stressful experience.  We want to get on with it already! We want to get into the future, and consequently many of us are very impatient with the present. The result of this is that we end up missing the present.  We live in the future, never the present.  The present becomes then only a path to the future that is always in the process of becoming, but we never quite get there.  As we wait impatiently and anxiously for the future, we completely miss the present.
This tendency to live in the future is not only a 21st century, American issue.  It is perhaps exacerbated by the advanced technology that we possess, but this is really a human condition.  Human beings have the ability to anticipate the future, and this leads us all to think ahead, to plan and to worry and fret about what is to come and what is unknown or unknowable.  Jesus is addressing this very issue in our Gospel text today.  Earlier in chapter 21 (verse 7 – pew bibles NT p. 65) the disciples ask Jesus about the last days – “When will this be and what will be the signs.”  And Jesus goes into a rather lengthy answer that takes up the rest of chapter 21.  So what exactly does Jesus say then about the future, the 2nd coming, the final destruction and all of that?
First let me briefly set the context – Israel was ruled with a heavy hand by the Roman Empire.  The people of Israel chaffed under this domination and were anxiously looking for a Messiah who God would send to organize and lead them in a violent overthrow of the Romans.  Many of the disciples believed this was who Jesus was and were always on edge expecting that Jesus would show his true nature and take on the mantel of victorious liberator.  Reading the Gospels with this in mind you can get a real sense of impatience on the part of both the crowd that follows Jesus and the disciples as Jesus engages in teachings and healings and feedings and meals with sinners and outcasts.  At times this impatience spills over into comments that are made to Jesus, who then promptly puts the complainers in their place.  So, by chapter 21 we are in Jerusalem; Jesus has already entered the city in triumph on Palm Sunday; Jesus has already cleared the money-changers from the temple.  The impatience on the part of the disciples is very obvious.  “Come on Jesus, let’s get on with it!” you can almost hear them saying.  This impatience will transform itself into betrayal and rejection by the end of the week, by the way! 
So into the midst of this highly charged context of intense anticipation Jesus states that it will not be long before the Temple is destroyed and the disciples then ask Jesus anxiously when this is to take place.  Jesus’ answer to this question centers around these main points:
1.     We live in a fallen world.  It will always seem as though the end of the world is around the corner.  There will always be wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters, misery, and suffering.  This is a part of the human condition – this is a part of the fallen nature of creation. Within this context there are going to be some (even some who claim to speak in Jesus’ name) who will use these events to stir up fear and attempt to manipulate others.  Do not pay any attention to them.
2.     Only God knows when the Day will come. Do not assume it is come, and do not fret about it, do not rush off to the hills, do not set dates.  Instead – (and this is my favorite line in the text) – stand up and raise your heads for your redemption is coming near!  In other words, keep doing what you’re called to do – keep being faithful!  Live as though Jesus is coming tomorrow in terms of how you relate to others and how you set your priorities.  And Luke has already made clear that people, human beings are God’s priority – they need to be our priority as well!
3.     Do not fear.  Jesus says - stand up and raise your heads for your redemption is coming near!  Jesus is not saying “stand up, raise your heads, because God is going to fish you out of this mess!”  Jesus is saying “stand up,” be confident in the Lord, “raise your heads,” be responsible and be faithful.
In other words – Wait patiently and Keep Awake!  The world is not going to end on December 21st or any other date that some person has come up with; the world is not going to end in fear and destruction despite the popular expectation.  There is in fact nothing to be afraid of – those who are called by Christ are beloved of God and God will never abandon God’s people! God’s love for us – for you – is indestructible and beyond question!  Bearing this in mind then how should we live our lives?  Being fearful and fretful, anxiously always looking towards the unknown future?  No! Absolutely not!  We as disciples of Christ are called to do one thing and one thing only: Be faithful! Live lives that reflect the love, the hope, the grace and the peace that is ours through Christ!
“The good news of Advent is not simply that Christ is coming, but that his coming means that we can hope, despite all that is falling apart in our lives, our communities, and the world around us.  Just as the leaves on the fig tree offer hope in late winter that summer is coming again, so God’s word, in Jesus, promises us new life.  Advent offers us expectation and hope for something new.1” Jesus says: Stand up and raise your heads for your redemption is coming near! … Be alert at all times!  May our experience of Advent this year enable us all to prepare for the breaking forth of God’s Kingdom among us; and may we be strengthened and renewed in our faith and commitment to follow Jesus, our Lord and Savior, with hope and patience no matter where he leads us.
1. Article by Pastor Kathy Beach-Vermey, “Feasting on the Word,” Year C, Volume 1, page 25.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Reflections on the texts for Reign of Christ

Read the text here:Revelation 1:4-8
Read the Gospel text here: St. John 18 & 19
Who is Lord?
In many ways our festival today – The Reign of Christ the King – is a little antiquated.  There was an intense discussion on the ELCA clergy Facebook page about whether or not we ought to even continue to celebrate this festival, as for most of us the whole idea of Kingship is something from the deep historical past and not really a part of our experience.  Quite frankly, even if you look around the world at the various Kings and Queens who continue to rule in some way, none of them holds the kind of absolute power which was held by (for example) the Roman Emperor during the time of Jesus.  When Pilate says to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have the power to release you, and power to crucify you,” this was true according to the political structure at the time.  Pilate acted on behalf of the Emperor and his word was consequently absolute, and since Jesus was not a Roman citizen he had no right of appeal.  The Emperor was absolute; the Emperor was Lord; the Emperor was a god!  And those who questioned this “truth” ended up nailed to a cross!
But yet, Christians continued to proclaim the Lordship of Christ.  “Jesus is Lord!”  This was a popular confession in the early church and appears especially in the letters of Paul (see especially Philippians 2:11).  What they were saying was this: “Jesus is Lord and the Emperor is not!”  Jesus is Lord and I affirm all that Jesus stands for: justice that champions the needs of the neighbor, the needs of the stranger and the poor; self-giving love that reaches out to all who are in need; turning away from greed and acquiring things; living lives that reflect the grace and love of Christ.  Theses are some of the basic things we affirm when we confess that Jesus is Lord.  But at the same time in this confession we are also rejecting the priorities and values of the Empire: a life focused on money, power, success and self-fulfillment, especially at the expense of others – these are categorically rejected. 
The community for whom John of Patmos’ wrote the Apocalypse or Revelation knew first hand both the joys and suffering that came from such a confession.  They had become followers of Christ, and they struggled to live grace-filled lives in a world that rejected their faith and values and persecuted them as a result.  In this passage Jesus is given a number of names that reflect different dimensions of the Lordship of Christ.  Let me list them:
1.           “The faithful witness” (the word witness is, in Greek, the word martyr – Jesus reflects the radical love and grace of God even to the point of giving up his life);
2.           “the firstborn from the dead” (In Jesus the powers of death are destroyed once and for all, death, sorrow, pain, suffering and persecution do not have the last word - in Christ we are a new creation called to live resurrection lives);
3.           “the ruler of the Kings of the earth,” (Christ is above all temporal powers; and the priorities of the empire – which lifts up power and wealth above all at the expense of human beings – these have been defeated and will be ultimately destroyed.)
4.           “The Alpha and the Omega” (The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – the metaphor here is a confession that Christ is at the very beginning and at the very end, and everywhere in between.  There is nothing before, there is nothing after and in between everything is Christ!)
5.           “Lord God” (Jesus is God incarnate.  Jesus is Lord and God; the Emperor is neither!)
6.           “who is, who was and who is to come” (see #4 above)
7.           “The Almighty” (a word which in the Old Testament is used only for God.  So in no uncertain terms this is a proclamation of the Incarnation!
And in the middle of this passage we, Jesus’ followers and disciples are described as those who are loved and freed, who have been made a Kingdom (citizens of the Kingdom of God) and priests – that is those through whom God reaches out to this beloved but hurting and fallen world, and through whom God’s love and grace flows.
Our texts today, especially the passage from Revelation, calls for us to join the chorus and confess that Jesus is Lord and accept the implications of this confession, and begin to work on living lives that reflect the priorities that this confession implies.
I began with Pilate – let me end with Pilate.  It is very interesting to note that during the trial in John (18:28 through 19:16) Jesus opens up to Pilate in ways that seem as though Jesus is actually inviting Pilate to become a follower.  And what does Pilate do?  He waffles – he actually goes back and forth between Jesus and the Temple authorities a total of 5 times trying to decide what to do.  He simply can’t make up his mind.  He catches a glimpse the “abundant life” which Jesus is offering, but the power and pull of the empire are too strong and ultimately he cannot resist this and gives in to it. 
What about you?  What about us as a community?  Are we able to stand up and confess the Lordship of Christ, and accept all that this confession brings with it?  Are we ready to stand up and say NO to the powers of wealth, greed, power, accumulating stuff and self-centeredness?  Are you ready to accept the Reign of Christ in your lives? 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Reflections from the Pastor – Mark 13: “The Little Apocalypse”

The the text of the Gospel here: Mark 13:1-8

God’s Revelation: Jesus
When you think of the 2nd coming of Jesus – “The Apocalypse” – what imagines come to mind?  Are they images of death, and terror and destruction?  Does thinking about this provoke fear, or confidence?  Or do you just try not to think about it?  The prevailing popular attitude about the “last days” or Jesus 2nd coming seems to be death and complete destruction.  Just think of any number of movies or books which have the end of the world as its setting – “Cloud Atlas,” “The Book of Eli,” even “WALL-E.”  Death, destruction, terror, fear, suffering – these are all the impression many of us have of the coming apocalypse.  And to this we add (taken out of context from the book of Revelation) images of judgment and the (completely unbiblical, but yet very popular) belief in a “rapture” and what we end up with is something that is indeed very terrifying.  But the central question that all of this raises is this: How does this then relate to the Gospel of God’s love and grace shown forth in the incarnation, passion and resurrection of Jesus?  The difficulty with all of this popular fear-mongering is that the apocalyptic emphasis too often crowds out the grace of God and replaces it with judgment and destruction.
This weekend’s Gospel text from Mark 13 is a section of the Gospel that is called “The Little Apocalypse.”  And as we begin to look at this chapter for an answer to our central question I want to start by defining the word “apocalypse.”  The word is a Greek word that means “Revelation.”   The title of the last book of the Bible is actually “The Apocalypse of John;” that is, “The Revelation of John.”  So it is not an event – it is a revelation, an unveiling or uncovering; it is a casting into the light that which is unknown and in darkness.” So what then is the revelation of God through Jesus?
Let’s turn next to the context of this teaching: Jesus preaching in the Temple during Holy Week.  Jesus has already entered into Jerusalem.  He has already cleared the money-changers out the temple.  He has been going to the temple to teach every day since and his teachings include (in chapter 12) the parable of the wicked tenants, the answer to the question about paying taxes to Caesar, the Great Commandment and last week’s pointing to the old woman who puts her whole life into the treasury.  And following chapter 13 we move into the story of the passion itself.  And as always, following Luther’s teaching, we must read this passage not only within the immediate context of the text but also within the context of the Gospel itself.  
Now, the temple in Jerusalem was huge and it was grand. The dome was covered with plate gold so that in the sun it was so bright that people could not even look at it. Not only that but the belief was that the Temple was the place where God dwelled.  If you wanted to be close to God, or to experience the presence of God, you would go to the temple.  “Wow,” says the awe-inspired disciples, “this place is amazing!”  And Jesus says, “this temple is going to be destroyed and these magnificent stones are all going to be cast down!”  And why, because you have placed too much importance and confidence in these stones; because God will not be confined to one place; God’s love and grace knows no boundaries.
But as usual the disciples (and Jesus other listeners) cannot connect the dots. They are shocked by the idea that the great Temple could be destroyed.  Surely that can’t happen because that is where God is!  So Peter, Andrew and John question Jesus further about it, “When will this be?  How can this happen?”  And Jesus’ answer is really instructive.  He basically tells them – “Those are the wrong questions.”  All you need to do is to “Keep awake!”  The time and place of the last days along with how it will occur are really not your concern.  You have other things to do, you have others to care for, you have a calling to follow!
This is the word for us as well.  “Keep Awake!”  Do not get distracted by those who would use fear to manipulate you, who try to distract you from your call by focusing too much on “last days” and “rapture.”  Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms not to pay any attention to their lies and nonsense.  Instead to bear these things in mind:  1.) We live in a fallen world where there is pain and suffering; 2.) God’s love for God’s creation is overwhelming; 3.) God’s love is shown forth in Jesus whose passion and resurrection demonstrate God’s commitment and love and grace; 4.) And Jesus is here with us in the midst of our struggles in the form of the disciples whom he has called to be his hands and feet in the midst of this hurting world.
The amazing and unexpected “apocalypse” or revelation of God is that God’s love is so wide and deep that God continues to involved with the creation reaching out in love to all.  Our popular imagination logically comes up with destruction and terror – but God’s apocalypse is love and grace; so many expect last days to be a time of judgment and death – but God’s apocalypse in Jesus is forgiveness and life affirming!  God’s apocalypse/revelation is not death and destruction – it is life and peace!  God’s apocalypse is Jesus!
So, our Gospel for today calls for us to continue our pilgrimage, being responsible and devoted disciples of Jesus; doing the ministry God has called on us to do.  Recognizing that God is calling us to continue to Baptize disciples, to feed the saints with bread and wine, and to extend the hand of peace and fellowship to all whom we encounter; God calls us to “take up our cross and follow!”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Reflections from the Pastor on Ruth – Part II:

How Big Is A Corner?
Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!  Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God…  Ruth 1:16
And with these words Ruth commits herself to her mother-in-law as they travel, poor and destitute to Bethlehem, leaving the loss, sorrow and misery they experienced in Moab behind.  Naomi is bitter but her young former daughter-in-law is determined.  And finally Naomi gives up trying to send Ruth away and they travel together to Bethlehem.  Bethlehem is Naomi’s former home, the home where Naomi grew up, where her family lives, where she has old friends.  But for Ruth, Bethlehem is a foreign place in a foreign country.  Bethlehem is even a potentially hostile place for Ruth, after all Israelites and Moabites don’t like each other very much and the Old Testament recounts much animosity and violence between them.  Nevertheless Ruth is committed to Naomi and she is resolved.
But after arriving the first order of business is something basic – food.  These widows have nothing, even in Naomi’s ancestral home they are still poor and hungry.  But it so happens that the law of Moses makes provision for widows such as Ruth and Naomi.  Farmers were expected to leave the edges and corners of their fields unharvested so that the poor could come into the fields and glean whatever they could find of what was left over, missed or fallen.  (Find this in Leviticus19:9-10 or Deuteronomy 24:19-22).  The problem was that there was no authority who would check up on these landowners – they were expected to perform this duty on their honor.  So some farmers were very generous in defining how big a corner should be and how wide to designate as the edges; and others defined it as narrowly as possible and went out of their way to discourage gleaners.  Not only that but the environment for gleaners was very harsh.  Not only was the work itself backbreaking and physically demanding, but the experience of dealing with the other gleaners could be very difficult.  The strongest, the most aggressive would be the ones who collected the most grain.  Gleaners would push and jostle for position; they would intimidate others as well.  There would be violence at times and an unattached young woman would have been especially vulnerable to harassment and assault.  But the word has gotten out that one landowner, Boaz, is a particularly devout and generous man.  He is gracious and allows the gleaners to have more than they can get at other fields.  Not only that but he seems to take issues of honor and safety seriously and as a part of his own responsibility and he specifically instructs his foreman to make sure this one vulnerable young woman in particular is treated honorably and fairly. 
So Ruth gleans and is successful.  She also is not shy.  She actually goes to Boaz and makes an outrageous request: she asks to be allowed to go where gleaners are never permitted to go – to work besides the field hands!  In other words she asks to be allowed to collect grain right out of the field itself.  What nerve!  Gleaners always came last and they were usually only permitted into the fields once the hired workers were done.  Gleaners always got the leftovers!  But Ruth asks for more, Ruth asks to be allowed to take of the first fruits!  And she does this, not for herself – but for her mother-in-law Naomi!  And Boaz agrees!  Boaz gives of his first fruits to a poor widow women who he does not know! And why? Out of a sense of responsibility.  And not only that but he does it cheerfully!
There is a lot going on in the story on a whole of levels, but I want to focus on this particular point today:  Boaz gives of his first fruits – he defines a corner as large as possible – he does not give his leftovers!  On this weekend when we focus on our own giving, Boaz becomes a model for us.  How often do we simply give to God and the work of Christ’s church the leftovers in terms of both money and time?  I am going here, I have this activity and that, but I have a little tiny bit of time on….. (you can fill in the rest).  Or - I like to spend my money on this activity and that gadget and those things, and I have this little bit left over, so I’ll put that in my envelope.  Are we guilty of that?  Yes, we all are.
God calls for us to follow the model of Boaz and give of our first fruits – which means 10% right off the top; God calls for us to define the corners of our lives much broader than we might be inclined and to put participating and contributing to the ministry of Christ as a high priority.  The Gospel in this wonderful story of Ruth for this day is a challenge to us to give back to God out of our abundance, willingly and gratefully – both in terms of time and financial support.  Recognizing that the gifts that God has given to us cannot even be defines, and in gratitude for this we give back willingly and gratefully. 
And so, this is the challenge of our text today: how big as a corner?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Vote for Biblical Values!

Within the last two weeks I, like many others, have been inundated with calls from “pastors” and others urging me to encourage my congregation to “vote Biblical Values!.”  I have seen posts on social media and even people wearing buttons that say “Vote the Bible” or “Vote for Biblical Values!” And so I would like to say first, that I will be voting biblical values!  And not only that but I encourage all Christians to also keep the values we are taught from scripture in mind as you consider your vote on Tuesday.  But the next question, of course is what does that mean? Exactly what values are we supposed to be voting for?  So, in this little article I will simply lay out I consider to be the most important biblical values which we should consider and for this I am going to the Gospels – in fact I am going to start with the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10: Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  And then Jesus launches into the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  So what is the foundational biblical value we can glean from this parable – “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  And this is not just Luke 10 – this principal shows up again and again in the Old and New Testaments.  As Christians we are called to place the needs of our neighbor above our own needs.
And what are these values interpreted to our own day and time?  Reading through the Gospel of Luke from beginning to end these are really quite clear:
1.                    Care for others is at the top of the list.  No matter what, the first priority is to make sure that our neighbor has all of their basic needs.  This means – food, shelter, health care.  This means to me that as a citizen I then have a responsibility to cast my vote for the candidate whose positions most encompass care for the other, care for the poor and care for those on the margins.
2.                    Care for creation! We are placed as stewards over creation to care for and cherish it.  This means taking care of our natural resources. So, therefore the candidate whose positions on taking care of our resources, finding alternatives to fossil fuels and working hard to curb green house gas emissions is the one who will get my vote.
3.                    Care for the aged.  Our elders have given much and now as they enter into the autumn of their lives they need to have the support systems that they have been counting on and paying into for their entire lives maintained and functional – that is Social Security and Medicaid.
4.                    Care for the stranger.  For a Christian Jesus made it quite clear that there were no such things as strangers, only brothers and sisters.  So, it is important that we are welcoming and work to be fair and equitable to those who come to us from outside the country.  A fair and just immigration policy that is compassionate and cares for the needs to those who are our guests needs to be a priority.
5.                    Justice as a priority! Beginning with the prophets and moving into the Gospel of Luke the just and fair distribution of resources and wealth is a priority for the bible.  In fact, the Old Testament even mandated a special Jubilee Year for the express purpose of making sure that in the realm of economics the system was fair.  This means that tax laws that are unjust and which allow some to amass great untaxed wealth while the rest of us have to shoulder the tax burden is simply not in keeping with biblical values.
6.                    I could go on – opposition to racism, support of women’s equality, justice and equal status under the law for ALL Americans and opposition to any law that singles out some American’s for special treatment – positive or negative – these are also a part of an overall understanding of Biblical values.
Voting Biblical values means that I take my neighbor’s needs into consideration.  And I must ask myself this question – “is my neighbor better off” under this party’s policies or the other.
Finally, I have to make another statement.  There is one candidate that until recently made it quite clear that he was quite proud to be a disciple of the mid-20th century philosopher Ayn Rand.  Her philosophy has actually become quite popular in libertarian circles, which is not surprising as it lifts up selfishness and greed as virtues; condemns the poor as leeches and denigrates compassion as being akin with weakness.  The philosophy of Ayn Rand is completely and totally antithetical to biblical values.  The bible says that to be a follower of Jesus one must give up everything they have, make reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised a priority, and to recognize that compassion is an important emotion that humanizes us and is a gift from God that leads us away from a self-centered focus to enable us to see the needs of others.  The philosophy of Ayn Rand is not Christian, it is (I believe) an insidious evil.  I will personally not vote for anyone who is a disciple of this philosophy for it runs contrary not only to everything I believe as a Christian – that is it runs contrary to biblical values – but it also undermines the very framework upon which this nation was founded and will lead to nothing but misery and destruction. 
So in closing.  I intend to vote Biblical Values and those values are to make the needs of other human beings the number one priority.  Allow me to close with the words to what is perhaps the most beautiful song in the New Testament and a song which clearly outlines God’s priorities as manifested in Jesus: The Song of Mary, from Luke 2:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Reflections The Feast of All Saints – Ruth and John 11

Read the Ruth text here: Ruth 1:1-18
Read the Gospel text here: John 11

The Silence of God
I still remember it like it was yesterday.  I was working as a chaplain at Ohio State University Hospitals and I was on call one evening when the buzzer went off late and I had to report to the ICU.  A young girl had been shot and the family had just been told that there was nothing more that could be done for her.  That is when they called for me.  So, I sat with the family through most of the night.  Sometimes we sat in silence, sometimes we cried, sometimes we talked, sometimes we shared scripture.  Near the end of our time as I got up to go, the older brother, who had sat off by himself quietly throughout most of the time, looked at me and said, “Pastor, where is God?  Why is God so silent when we need him the most?”
The story of Ruth, which will be our Old Testament lessons both this week and next, begins with similar devastating loss and grief.  A married couple with small children, Naomi and Elimelech are forced to leave their home, family and friends in Bethlehem and travel to a foreign land, Moab, because of famine and drought.  After a time Elimelech dies leaving Naomi with her two young boys.  The boys marry Moabite wives but then in a tragic twist both of the young men die as well leaving Naomi and her two young daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, as widows.  This is the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen.  At a time when there was no safety net or assistance at all for widows, and women only had status because of their husbands or fathers, these three women are set adrift in a harsh world. They are destitute. We can get a sense of the intense feelings of grief and loss in chapter 2 when Naomi greets some old friends and then tells them that her name is no longer Naomi anymore, but rather they should call her MARA, which means bitter.  And all of this happens within the first 5 verses of the book of Ruth!  As we read chapter one Naomi blames God – “… the hand of the LORD has turned against me…”  “Where is God?  Why is God so silent when you need him the most?”
Have you ever asked that question?  Have you ever wondered about the silence of God?  Here within the last week our country has experienced one of the worst hurricanes in history, the loss and devastation is great on the east coast. So, where is God?  Is God silent in the face of this?  Some have taken to the airwaves with claims that God’s silence and the loss and misery are all because we are such terrible sinners and this is judgment! Of course the problem with that kind of interpretation is inconsistent and thus unbiblical.  What had that family I spoke of above done to warrant such judgment?  What about Naomi and her daughters-in-law?  What had they done to deserve this judgment? No, Jesus makes it quite clear that God doesn’t work that way.  God is not arbitrary and cruel.  So then what do we say about what seems like deafening silence in the face of horrible loss and grief?
In our Gospel text for today we hear the story of yet another family who has experienced heart-breaking loss.  Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, has died and even though the sisters had sent for Jesus before he died, by the time Jesus arrives Lazarus has already been buried.  “If you had been here…”  The sisters both vent their grief and sorrow at Jesus when he arrives.  And Jesus response?  Does he start berating the sisters for their lack of faith?  Does he inform them that this is God’s judgment for their failures and sins?  No!  Jesus weeps!  And in Jesus’ weeping, God weeps.  And so, this is the first response to the question – where is God?  God is not sitting on his throne far away watching us impassively during our times of greatest need, rather God stands here with us; God holds us and God weeps with us!  God feels our loss and pain and grief and enters into it with us.
And then Jesus raises Lazarus, with a shout!  Through Jesus then we see that God will not allow death and loss and pain and grief to be the last word, but rather God will transform them.  This doesn’t mean we won’t experience loss and that nothing bad will ever happen.  We still live in a fallen world where “life happens.”  In our world there are hurricanes and accidents and we get sick and death comes to us – but because of Jesus we can affirm that this is not the last word.  Because of the Jesus’ resurrection we know that the experience of sorrow, loss, pain, grief and death will be transformed into joy ad life. 
But there is something else. There is a verse right at the end of the John text that is often missed.  We get so focused on the miracle and Jesus dramatic command to Lazarus to “come out” that we simply read by this other command of Jesus (vs. 44): “unbind him and let him go.”  In other words, Jesus calls on those who are present to get involved and participate in this miracle too.  Lazarus is raised in John 11 but the miracle includes others who are called to get act, care and help Lazarus transition back into life.  And if we turn back to Ruth we see something similar.  While Naomi is wallowing in her intense pain and loss, while she is bitterly complaining about God’s absence and silence there is a daughter-in-law, Ruth who refuses to leave her side, who commits herself to care for her and to accompany her and to love her no matter what: Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”
So, where is God?  Right there in the love of Ruth!  God’s silence is broken by the words of this foreign Moabite woman who commits herself to Naomi.  At first Naomi cannot see it, she does not even want to acknowledge it.  But slowly throughout the story it begins to dawn on her and by the end she sees that God has in fact been present with her throughout, God has reached out to her, loved her, cared for her and provided for her through Ruth. 
During our All Saints liturgy we will be reading the names of those who have died during the last year.  Each one of those names is a person who was dearly, dearly loved and cherished and whose death, regardless of the circumstances, brought pain and grief to family and friends.  And where is God throughout?  God is there with you, as you continue to grieve bringing about healing; God is there through all the Saints who have reached out to you in Christ’s love and God will continue to reach out to you through them.  The silence of God has been broken by the kind and thoughtful words and deeds that have been shared with you by the Saints.  The silence of God has also been broken with these words – The Body of Christ, given for you; the blood of Christ, shed for you – that reminds us weekly that death does not have the last word and that our loved ones are now seated at the great banquet table of our Lord, held in God’s love and presence forever. And, finally, that we, as we continue our lives living in this fallen world, are not only joined by the Saints who live around and among us and who God reaches through to touch us with his love and grace; but that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses – the Saints of all times and places!