Sermon April 7, 2019
We use the word dream to mean two different things. This past week, I awoke early in the morning and then I went back to sleep. In that last sleep, I had a dream which I have not forgotten. I dreamed that I was back in seminary and I had to take a test. But I was really struggling because I didn’t understand any of the questions and I certainly didn’t know any of the answers. I kept looking at the questions and had no idea what to write. According to Craig Hamilton-Parker, author of The Hidden Meaning of Dreams, taking an exam in your dreams might reveal an underlying fear of failure. I am not so sure. All I know is that I was glad when I finally woke up and realized it wasn’t a real life experience.
My dream was about something that happened in my sleep. But we also dream when we are awake. Sometimes we imagine what our future will be like and we hope that something special will happen. When it comes to those kinds of dreams we have been taught to never give up on our dreams or told that we should keep our dreams alive. What dream do you have for what God will do in your life? What is your dream for your relationship with God? As we come together, we thank God for what God has done and we ask God that our dream of everlasting life will be fulfilled.
I believe that our four Scriptural readings for today were carefully constructed. We realize that God provides a path of new life for us. Each story builds on the last one and brings us to a place where we understand that God blesses us on our path, that we should look forward to our future life in Christ, and that we should offer thanks to God for where God leads us.
Let’s begin with the reading from Isaiah. God provided a path out of Egypt for the Hebrew people. God sent them on dry land through the red Sea and kept the Egyptians from following them. As a desert people, we hear words of hope in this passage. “God will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert”. God gives us a new path.
The Psalm expresses that same sentiment. “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream”. God helped them to realize their dreams, to live into their hopes. The Psalm continues, “Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy”. God took the people out of their troubles and brought them to a new place of joy.
In Paul’s writing, we are encouraged to look forward not backward. Before Paul found Jesus, he thought he was on the right road and that he was a faithful follower of God. He carefully followed all of the rules. He wrote about pressing on toward the goal of reaching the resurrection from the dead. After he found Christ, Paul said of himself “I choose to forget what I have left behind and press on toward the goal because of the call of God that I find in Jesus Christ our Lord”. Paul realized that Jesus Christ was his savior and that Jesus was the one who brought him closer to God. It was only through faith in Jesus that he was able to attain a righteous life, not by following all of the rules he had been given.
God makes it possible for us to leave behind what we have been and to move toward our future. Paul credited Jesus with changing his life and giving him the strength to move forward on a new path. That is how I feel about the dream I had as I slept. I know that there is no need for me to look backwards. I passed all of my classes in seminary and I have my Masters of Divinity degree. I only have to look forward from here.
The message that God provides the path forward is brought to fruition in the gospel reading. In order to make full sense of it, we must take a step back. The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead is told in the eleventh chapter of John’s gospel, immediately before this latest story. You may remember that Martha and Mary sent a message to Jesus that Lazarus was ill. By the time Jesus finally arrived Lazarus was dead. Martha came out to meet Jesus. She told Jesus that if he had been there Lazarus would not have died. Jesus told Martha that Lazarus would rise again and Martha misunderstood thinking that Jesus was talking about his resurrection on the last day. We know that Jesus was referring to the miracle he was about to perform. And then, Martha returned to her home and sent Mary out to meet Jesus. Mary repeated the words of Martha saying that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died. That is when Jesus goes to the tomb and raises Lazarus from the dead.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for all of them? Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead and now they have returned to their house. Lazarus is there with them alive and well. Martha was so jubilant, so thankful that her brother was alive that she took the perfume and anointed Jesus.
Each of our scripture lessons speaks of God giving us a new way forward. Jesus demonstrated the gift of new life in raising Lazarus from the dead. Martha gave thanks for all that Jesus had done and proclaimed that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Let us put away our old ways and live into the new ways. Let us be joyful that God listens to our dreams.
This gospel made me think about the humanity of Jesus. For example, when Jesus came face to face with those who wept over the death of Lazarus, he too wept. When Martha anointed Jesus with perfume Judas complained and Jesus responded by saying, you will not always have me with you. Jesus knew that he was going to Jerusalem and that he would be killed. While he was committed to going through with God’s call, we know that Jesus felt great trepidation. He wished it were not so. I see Martha’s action as a way of blessing the human Jesus, letting Jesus know that despite what would happen people believed in him and I believe that the anointing of his feet offered Jesus strength for the journey that was to come.
Our journey this Lenten season has offered us Scriptures that remind us of the need to repent. We turn from evil ways and turn to God. Some have chosen a path of study, seeking to learn more about God and in so doing trying to bring themselves closer to God. Some have chosen abstinence as a way of bringing their mind and heart closer to God. Others have reached out to people trying to make their lives of others better. It is a fulfilling journey and it continues. Today, our Scripture points us toward the result of turning to God. I feel the coming of Easter in these passages. God gives us new life. Jesus leads us through the resurrection into God’s glory. While our trip never ends, we experience the strength of God’s blessing.
One of the steps on the Way of Love that we are considering this Lent is Bless. God does bless us. In return, we reach out and seek to bless others. Just as Martha offered a blessing to Jesus, we may ask how can we bless Jesus on this day in thanks for all that we have received. We do so by offering God’s blessing to other people.
I have always been touched by the washing of the feet liturgy on Maundy Thursday. I consider it a time for us to share our human vulnerability. We allow others to see our warts when we let them wash our feet. We show that we are vulnerable. When we wash the feet of others, we admit that we are not perfect, that we are flawed, that we are not able to go through life on our own and thus we wash the feet of others to show our weakness.
There are so many ways that our thanks to God can be reflected in the blessings we offer to others. Jesus gave us one way when he said the poor will always be with you. May you find a way to reach out and bless the life of someone this week. May you connect to the work of Martha and may you sense the new life that is given to you in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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