Narrative Lectionary - John 11:1-44 - Lent I
Let’s talk about finding God this Lent. Yeah, it’s a pain.
God is not an easy one to pin down. Sometimes we feel we have the big guy, or big lady, totally figured out. We believe we know where the Divine appears, how the Divine appears and when the Divine appears. However, sometimes we actually allow ourselves to be honest and acknowledge the fact that God perplexes us all. Sure the church has doctrines she teaches and we like to believe we have determined, at least partially, who God is and how God comes to us but at the end of the day…the honest person will say: “Where is God, what the heck even is God”?
Not only do we wonder where God is when we see famine, pain and war across the globe, we wonder where God is when we get sick and have a cold. Where is God when my child is sick or the car breaks down?! How does God operate? Let’s be brutally honest here, if it were up to us we would fire him most days and start an interview process. Sometimes it feels likes we are totally on our own and God is perhaps nowhere to be found. On our most honest of days, we might even say, point blank: “Is there a God to be found?” Of course, most of us do not allow ourselves to dwell on these tough questions for fear some fiery wrath from heaven will visit us for doing so.
However, I want to embolden you to start asking the tough questions. Lent is a time to ask these questions and to be gutsy doing so, both personally in prayer and with one another in our community setting. Lent is a calling to enter into a wilderness with the hope that an oasis of life and resurrection awaits us on the other side. However, we don’t know for sure if we will survive the desert, it can be downright scary but it can also be exciting. Exciting to risk it all in order to reach an honest destination. This Lent, I encourage you to be willing to risk it all in the desert to see where your faith takes you. You don’t need to protect God, stop doing so this Lent, and you might just end up finding God for real.
There will be days of Lent where you simply want to jump to Easter Sunday, you want to see new life coming from a grave and hear the terrific Alleluia’s. Sorry, put on the breaks. In those moments accept there are still weeks, yes weeks, to go and a horrifying cross awaits us all before an empty grave can ever come into focus. We tend to be a people that want our food, clothing, entertainment and, yes, even our God instantly and without much effort, searching or waiting. Lent, on the other hand, asks us to wait, to dig, to search, to question, to peer across the sandy storms of life with just a little faith that the search isn’t the end, there is more.
Lent isn’t easy. It isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t for those who already have all of life’s questions figured out. I dare say Lent is not for the religious nor for those without doubt in their faith. The more doubt, the better the Lent, I like to think. It’s for the ones who are ready to experience a journey like none other and get dirty doing so. Lent is an opportunity to begin to search for the real God that many of us have rarely, if ever, noticed or connected with.
Lent is about finding God in all the places that we were never told to look at, finding God in the least religious places on earth. Maybe even looking into the “sinful” and taboo areas of life that affect us all but we pretend are outside of God’s realm. Maybe we can find God in the dirty, smelly person who starts walking toward us in the supermarket. Or even more personally, seeing God inexplicably in our coughs and diseases because they remind us we are still alive and have an opportunity to still love, the greatest miracle God gives to us. Perhaps we will find God in the faces of those who are hungry, and we will actually respond by giving sacrificially from our own pockets and checkbooks, even when TJMaxx has a gorgeous new home accessory we feel we must have. God might just be waiting for us in our sexual relationships, you know the bedroom, yeah - God isn’t afraid of the steamy talk either. Lent is about finding God within us, even when we wonder if God exists at all.
People love to talk about their Lenten rituals. The foods they give up, the extra prayers they do and the Scriptures they memorize. Well, I hate to break it to you but if that is all Lent is about, you make Jesus cry. Jesus didn’t come and journey to a cross of torturous death in order to encourage you to give up meat for forty days or spend a little more time on your knees. Jesus was whipped, beaten and crucified to wake us up and get us off our rear ends! Jesus died as an emphatic call for each of us to start making a difference in the world by manifesting God in our thoughts, words and most importantly actions. Actions that can lead to “nasty places” in order to show another they are totally 100% loved. Actions that don’t give a hoot about what others deem to be religious or correct because the action is concerned with the well-being of the one in need, not the opinion of often annoying self-proclaimed Christians.
Want a few ideas for some Lenten practices they might help you really enter into the desert and shake things up in your innermost being? Each morning of Lent this year, wake up, look in a mirror and say: “Good morning God, you are looking fabulous, you go __(girl or boy)__!” Seriously, try it for 40 days, miracles will happen and it won’t be as easy to do as you think. If you want to bring the food factor into Lent, try this - pack two lunches and give one to those annoying people who stand at the intersections. They very well might not need it, but you do because that’s living Jesus style and it isn’t easy and it oftentimes seem pointless. You want to pray this Lent, go for it, but if it ends in your cozy bed each night, you have failed. Pray by talking to people you can’t stand for the next forty days, that’s real communication with the Divine. If you do even one of these mold-breaking Lenten rituals, you will see some change and you might not like the changes at first but they lead to a place of new restored life.
Today’s Gospel reading gives us a little hope for this tough Lenten journey that some of us will dare to take up and others will run from hiding behind familiar prayers and catchy annoying phrases like: “God has a plan, I trust in Him without any fear or doubt.” Does anyone ever truly feel like that every moment of every day of their life? The Gospel reminds us that even stinky, dead people are not forgotten for one moment by the Divine and maybe that just means we aren’t forgotten either. The Gospel lets us in on a secret and here it is: “Bad stuff happens, God even lets it happen, God cries when it happens too, but on the other end of the story somehow it works out.” Tough thing is there is no guarantee how it will work out, just the promise it will, and often it takes a lot longer to work out then it should because God, aka - you and I, are too self absorbed to be the miracle a situation needs.
Lazarus had died in the story today, completely, no doubt about it. We will die. It’s okay to be afraid about that. I guarantee you Lazarus was, yet Jesus didn’t count it against him. We might even die a little bit, or a heck of a lot, this Lent in our belief and faith in order to have a true resurrectional experience on the other end. I dare you to be willing to ask questions that might just kill what you know to be “true” in order to get some real truth that is hiding in the Lenten desert waiting for you. You won’t be alone on the journey, I, for one, am joining you. We will help one another out, we will allow one another to speak from the heart in an honest and gritty way. We will walk hand in hand through the desert looking for God under the rocks and in the nasty places and, God willing, we will eventually find ourselves at a cross. At that cross we will die to everything we believed in so strongly, that was nothing more than truly the junk that kept us in the dark about God, and then…we will behold a glorious light of resurrection and say an “Alleluia,” or two for good measure. Go for it! Find God this Lent. Jesus is calling us to…”Come Forth!”