The other day, someone asked me, “Do you believe in miracles?” To which I quickly, without much thought, emphatically replied, “Of course I believe in miracles!” My questioner couldn’t have been satisfied with my answer, because he went on to insist that I couldn’t possibly believe in miracles because he had it on good authority that I didn’t believe that Jesus could raise people from the dead. After a long list of things my questioner, insisted that he had it on good authority that I didn’t believe in, my inquisitor concluded that as a progressive christian pastor, I couldn’t possibly believe in miracles. This mini-inquisition concluded when I assured my inquisitor that I do indeed believe in miracles, but perhaps not the same miracles as he believed in.
The particular miracle in question, is the miracle described in the gospel story assigned for this All Saints’ Sunday. My inquisitor was doing his best to get me to confess that Jesus of Nazareth possessed the super-natural ability to raise the dead. He seemed fixated on forcing me to recant any notion which I might have about the nature of reality. The proof of my doctrinal errors, were, in the not so humble opinion of my inquisitor to be found in the gospel story about the raising of Lazarus. “DO YOU OR DON’T YOU BELIEVE THAT JESUS RAISED LAZARUS FROM THE DEAD?” he shouted at me in all caps, as our email correspondence disintegrated into his failed attempt to have me take leave of my senses.Continue reading →
I am indebted to John Dominic Crossan and Gretta Vosper for the content and the challenges of this sermon.
Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 11:1-45
In churches all over the world, preachers are hauling Lazarus out of his well-worn tomb. Some preachers will go over the details of this story in an effort to persuade their congregations that Jesus was a miracle worker who could raise the dead. Some preachers will deconstruct the details of this story in an effort to relieve their listeners of the responsibility of believing that Jesus was a miracle worker who could raise the dead. Other preachers will dazzle their congregations with their knowledge of the biblical details, the history of the community that produced the text, the traditional doctrines and dogmas that the church has used to interpret this text and once dazzled by the preacher’s intellect congregations will be set up to prepare themselves for the forth-coming Holy Week. Other preachers will zero in on a particular detail in the text and relate it to something that is going on in the world. I must confess that over the years I have used all of these approaches. Earlier this week, I traveled back to Lazarus’ tomb to sniff around for a sermon that would make some sense of this text in light of what many of us have been studying in the Sunday Morning Adult Education Class and the Wednesday Morning Lenten Study. I had hoped that somewhere between “Painting the Stars’” evolutionary approach and “Atheism for Lent’s” intellectual critique, I would discover a way to dazzle you with a new way of understanding Lazarus, but all I really came up with was, “He stinketh!” So, I pulled out my best sermon on the raising of Lazarus and began to rework it using some of the details I have learned since I last preached on this text. I produced quite an entertaining scholarly sermon with just the right amount of humour to keep you smiling, as I dazzled you with fascinating details about the story and deconstructed what some believe is a miracle so that the story could be of some use to us as we journey through Lent in the 21st century. It’s a pretty good sermon, but I left it on my hard-drive and maybe I’ll preach it some day. But not today. You see, a few of us spent the last few days listening to John Dominic Crossan as he dazzled us with his brilliance which shed such a bright light on the history of the life and times of Jesus that left us all sighing so appreciatively as we realized that what we thought we knew is just peering through a class darkly and there is a totally clear way of approaching this story; a way that will not offend our 21st century intelligence.Continue reading →