Yesterday I was given a delightful break from preaching. Now, I love to preach (even though I am not certain how good I am at it) but it was good to hear the word proclaimed from someone else’s voice for a change. That is a bit of a rarity when you are a solo pastor. The preacher was one of my campus ministry students, Lucas. He has entered the candidacy process for the ELCA and will be starting at LTSS in Columbia in the fall and, as part of his discernment and preparation process, we’ve been able to give him a few preaching opportunities here during the school year.
Sunday’s text was really long. When I sent him the texts for the day, Lucas even asked if I was sure I got the verses correct. It was the whole Lazarus narrative from John. A daunting task, to be certain. When I’ve preached on this in the past, I chose to focus on one portion for the sermon because the story seems unwieldy and awkward in its entirety. Plus, I am a big fan of Martha and I’m happy to preach on her declaration of faith in Jesus any day!
At any rate, somewhere close to the end of last week, Lucas said, “there’s a lot more to this Lazarus story than I thought…” He preached a fine sermon on Sunday and included many important parts and engaged people thoughtfully in the text and even successfully touched on all three of the readings for the day. When we talked about the sermon and his preparation last night, I was reminded of a very important thing in the study of the scriptures, especially for those of us who think we “know” what a text is about.
Lucas commented that he’d always seen this story as revealing a particularly human side of Jesus, especially in the ‘weeping’ section. This is not at all uncommon. I’d bet that the majority of people who read this text would say the same thing and this isn’t an invalid reading of it. However, he was amazed to discover the many places that the text emphasized Jesus’ divinity.
From the “I Am” statement to Martha to the calling of Lazarus out of the tomb, the text reveals Jesus as divine. Just as all the similarly worded titles in the Gospel of John, the carefully crafted words, “I Am the resurrection and the life”, are no accident and are a direct line back to the “I Am” that spoke to Moses in the burning bush. This is familiar to many of us, but the second point here is less so. Because this text was paired with the valley of dry bones text from Ezekiel, we witness a significant difference between the prophet speaking to the dried up house of Israel by reciting the words given to him by God and Jesus speaking himself when calling out Lazarus. Ezekiel does not speak his own words to the bones but God’s. Jesus speaks not on behalf of someone else but for himself. Jesus’ own words give life.
So this story shows us the very human Jesus weeping at the loss or the suffering of his friends and, simultaneously, the clearly divine Jesus with the power to give life and defeat death. I’m sure somewhere along the line I probably learned this but when I think of this text, these aren’t the first or second things that came to mind. Hearing someone else’s take on a text, someone else’s discoveries about a piece of scripture makes it fresh again–and that’s a priceless gift! But it is also a reminder to look a second time at those readings that I think I “already know” all about.