God is With Us: Reflections from 9/11
September 11, 2011
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
John 11: 35
35 Jesus wept.
Let us pray together. For all whose lives were taken on September 11, 2001, Lord, we send our prayer. We know that they are now in Your loving embrace. We pray and bless their families, the families of first responders, all who helped with the cleanup, and all who helped in any way. May Your blessing and Your mercy be upon them. We pray in Jesusís name. Amen.
Friends, today I want to talk with you about God and our loving Savior, Jesus Christ. Letís look at the Gospel according to Saint John, Chapter 11, starting at verse 28. This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. On this 9/11 Commemoration Sunday I would like to point out three gems from this Holy Scripture for you to take home and to take courage from and for you to be blessed by.
Jesus had three dear, dear friends. Mary, Martha and Lazarus, they were sisters and brother. They lived in a small town called Bethany which was just outside of Jerusalem. It was Jesusís ďheartĒ home. It was where He went when He needed comfort. It was where He went when he needed to be understood.
Martha was a wonderful cook; she was in charge of hospitality and she made sure that Jesus was well taken care of. Mary was a wonderful listener; she often sat at Jesusís feet and listened to His words about life. Lazarus was like a brother to Jesus. Jesus loved them all and their home was a very special place for Him to visit.
Sadly, Lazarus had died and Jesus was not there at the time it happened. The death of Lazarus was a tragedy in and of itself because he was so beloved. But there were even greater implications for the family, because at that time, only men could own property. Because Lazarus had died, the ownership of the home was now in question, the womenís livelihood was in question. It was a serious situation on many levels. Jesus travelled to Bethany when He was told of the death of Lazarus. There was much weeping, Mary spoke with Jesus and the story continues here.
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying quietly, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you."
29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him.
30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him.
31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
32 Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled;
34 and he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see."
35 Jesus wept.
36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
37 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days."
40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?"
41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
42 I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me."
43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Laz'arus, come out."
44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."
This is the word of the Lord, Thanks be to God, Amen.
I was sitting in the Doctorís office waiting for my appointment, the TV was on. It was muted but I could still see the pictures. There were many pictures of the 9/11 site, ground zero. What I found interesting and curious about the pictures was that it seemed to be the same focal point from many different angles, front, back and sides. It was a cross! It was a cross made from the rubble of the 9/11 destruction. Have you seen it on the news? I was amazed, so much of what is on the news these days is anti religion and yet here I was looking at a cross on a secular news station. How amazing and how appropriate. In the midst of the greatest of national tragedies we find ourselves looking at the cross. And that is as it should be. What is this saying to people? I hope that what it is saying is this: the cross is an image of a person with his arms outstretched in love. The cross says, God is with us, even in the midst of this tragedy. The cross says that God feels our pain.
There are three pieces of Scripture that I would like to point out for you today from this gem of a story that we read. How many of you know what the shortest verse in the Bible is? It is composed of only two words. Please say it if you know it. (The congregation responds: Jesus wept.) Jesus wept. (John 11: 35) That is the message of the cross. That is the story of the incarnation in two words. We are devastated by the events of 9/11 and God is devastated. We weep and God weeps. We worship the God who weeps along with us. God is with us in the midst of our sorrow and tears.
See how He loved him.
The second point of Scripture is this. When the people saw how Jesus was weeping over Lazarus, they said, See how He loved him. (John 11: 36) Can we do anything about 9/11? Perhaps that is part of the frustration. We are afraid that we can not. There are some things that we can not change. But wait - maybe there is something we can do about 9/11 - we can learn from it. We can make a personal decision because of it.
We can decide, within the memory of what happened on that tragic day, to never take a moment of life for granted. We can decide, while there is yet time, to speak our love, and not delay.
We can observe this verse - "see how He loved him" - and speak our love. Speak your love, demonstrate your love. Donít wait! Do it now, do it today. Make that phone call, hug your son or daughter. Tell your loved ones that you love them. I am told that cell phones played a great part in the 9/11 tragedy. The main message on the phones was: remember that I love you.
When my father was about 80 years old, I visited him at my parentís farm in South Jersey. It was in New Gretna, near Bass River State Park. He had had several strokes at that point, but still could walk and talk and get around. I invited him to come with me to enjoy a beautiful day at a lake. We got our swim suits, and drove to a wonderful pine scented lake. We went into the water together, my father and I. He put his arms around my shoulders and he floated on the water as I walked along the bottom of that beautiful lake. We had a wonderful day. Later, when we got home, my father said to me with a smile, ďNo one will ever be able to say that we didnít go swimming in the lake together.Ē I said, ďThatís right, Dad. Thanks for a great day. I will always cherish the memory.Ē Speak your love, speak it now, and donít wait.
Unbind him and let him go.
One more gem from this Holy Scripture. Letís keep in mind the final words from this marvelous passage. Jesus said to those amazed people who were witnessing His raising of Lazarus, "Unbind him, and let him go!" These words of Jesus remind us that He wants us to go out into the world, and live fully. Donít let your fears and anxieties prevent you from living your life freely!
On this day of remembrance, what is it that "binds" your spirit? Is it grief? Is it fear? Is it worry? Then, hear these powerful words of our wonderful Lord Jesus: "Unbind him and let him go! Unbind her, and let her go! Set my children free from the worries and fears that keep them in darkness, and let them live in the fullness of life! Unbind them, and let them go!"
Friend, may you know the understanding, loving freeing Spirit of the one who came to set us free to live again, forgive again, and care again. May the One who wept with us, loved us, and set us free be near you to give you new life, this day and every day.
God loves you; I do, too. Have a wonderful week. Amen.
© 2011 Anthony J. Godlefski