500 (ish) words

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I don’t feel like I have much to say right now other than that I thought I’d write so much more while under quarantine. But, turns out, everything is just a little boring when you’re staying at home and helping stop the spread of a virus. I walk a lot. I play with my dog. I read a lot and watch Netflix. I tend to my plants. I hug my wife and we put together Legos and puzzles. I mean, I guess there’s grad school. I have plenty to do at least for the next two weeks until I really will need to find something to do to occupy my time. 

It’s not all that exciting right now because we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. No one is sick in this house and we’re not spreading a virus to anyone else. That means what we’re doing is working. What we’re doing is working. In the words of Dr. Derek Shepherd from Grey’s Anatomy, “It’s a beautiful day to save lives.” So, we keep doing what we’re doing. 

Being bored is a privilege and a minor inconvenience. It is not an infringement on my human rights. I refuse to bow to people who are willing to sacrifice human life for the economy and their comfort. I won’t do it. That doesn’t make me morally superior; that just means I’m listening/doing my part. It’s really not so very hard to do that. 

Oh hey, I wrote something! That feels nice. I don’t feel like I have anything important to say. It IS nice to churn out some devotions and sermons so I’ve been doing that, I guess. Just not much book writing. I don’t feel like telling stories from the past when the present is so darned suffocating. Even though right now I have all the time in the world to do so, I just. I don’t want to. I want to write this book but I don’t want to have to sit down and write.

How frustrating that is.

Every writer goes through that at some point. We get stuck in a rut and we can’t seem to get past it. I think that’s where I am at. Feeling a little stuck in the monotony of life. I would love to write like it’s my job. Maybe that’s what’s next for me once I finish this quarter out. I’ll spend the summer finishing this book. I’m writing in my book about writing my book. That’s like breaking some sort of fourth wall. Take that, Deadpool. 

I also have a paper to finish writing and I’m ignoring that so I can do this. What fun. Procrastinating at its finest. Writers are damn good at it. We complain about writing more than we actually write. And just like that, if I keep writing, I’ll get my 500 word count in for the day like I was supposed to be doing all along. Complaining about writing turns into writing. Who knew? What other writing secrets might I stumble upon when I’m attempting to avoid writing, I wonder? Only time will tell…

500 words. That’s roughly a page a day. It can be done if one simply sits down and does the thing. But no one wants to actually do the thing. I’d rather make lists about all the things instead of going and doing them. This whole page…it ought to go in the book so maybe SOMEONE can learn from my mistakes.

500 words

I would write 500 words…and I would write 500 more…

It’s like I need to get loosened up before I get going. Sort of like running. I’m in pain and it’s torture for about 3 miles and then, things really start to move better (ie my legs, feet, the things that help you run). Of course, I don’t run like that anymore, but I should. I should run more, and I should write more. I want to run and write more without feeling like I have to do either. I want to do it because I enjoy it. And I do! I enjoy writing. The running–not so much. We’re getting there. One thing at a time. I’ve been writing consistently since I was seven years old. It was one of my first loves. Sometimes I don’t believe I’m actually good at it. But here we are! Writing words on a page. I ought to publish this to the blog just for shits and giggles. I’m definitely going to do that. Maybe some COVID-19 writing will amuse folks. If you’re here, I hope you’re amused. Until the next 500 or so words, I’m out.

P.S. Don’t forget! I do have a patreon so if you’ve come this far, might as well check it out.

Outside of Time and Space

Sermon: Outside of Time and Space: Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey

HL Holder-Brown

May 17, 2020  for Jubilee Baptist Church via Zoom

Today’s Scripture Reading comes from the book of Acts. To help us orient ourselves to today’s story, I’m going to read it first in The Message translation and second in the New Revised Standard Version:

The first Reading: 

Acts 17:22-31 (MSG)

22-23 So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.

24-29 “The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’ Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?

30-31 “God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he’s calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.”

The second reading:

Acts 17:22-31 (NRSV)

22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor[i] he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God[j] and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’

29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

The Word of God for the People of God

Sermon:

Now that you’ve heard the text in a few different ways, allow me to further set the scene for this story:

So what was The Areopagus? The areopagus where the Apostle Paul spoke was a place where court was held sometimes and also where philosophers got together to argue and debate one another. Really, it was just a big rock where people had important conversations. The philosophers and religious thinkers in Athens at the time seem particularly interested in Paul’s argument for what he calls “The Unknown God” based on the altar to the “unknown God” in Athens:

Altar to the unknown God: “There is an altar dedicated to the unknown God found in 1820 on the Palatine Hill of Rome. It contains an inscription in Latin that says:

SEI·DEO·SEI·DEIVAE·SAC

G·SEXTIVS·C·F·CALVINVSPR

DE·SENATI·SENTENTIA

RESTITVIT

Which could be translated into English as: “Either for a god or a sacred goddess, Caius Sextius Calvinus, son of Gaius, praetor by order of the Senate restored this.” 

( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unknown_God ) ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Areopagus )

Paul’s argument on the Areopagus Hill? 

Who is this Unknown God? Well, for starters, the unknown God can’t be contained and this unknown God is fully revealed through the person Jesus, who lived on the earth as “God with us.” “God with us.” You can’t put this God in a box or in a temple or a shrine. You can’t put people in a box either. Now, Paul’s goal here is to get people to agree to what he’s saying. The Athenians aren’t necessarily buying in because their belief in gods is a little different. But we can still learn from this.

If God cannot be contained within the four walls of a church, or a temple, why do we think that we, the offspring of God and like God could be contained either. Father Richard Rohr would remind us that God is in everything and that God is in us. What I’m saying is, God is not a church building. And this God with us, came to show love to those on the margins, those that society and the religious leaders at the time (and in our time) deemed unworthy of love.

We’ve been gathering together online since Palm Sunday and I know that’s been hard and different. There are other churches and pastors who have defied stay-at-home orders and have been willing to sacrifice the health of their parishioners instead of showing love and care by helping stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Like most people I know, this year hasn’t turned out the way we thought it would. When I planned out my year in January 2020, I didn’t see myself living through a pandemic, losing my job, or being at home most of my time. 

 

And yet, here I am trying to plan and dream again with two more weeks of class left in my spring quarter. Because what can we be certain of if it isn’t hope of a better world in the future? Our lives are currently dictated by CDC recommendations and stay-at-home orders, face masks, and social distancing/six feet markers in stores. 

 

Meanwhile, there’s a national government and a conservative Christian movement saying that our religious freedoms and our economy are suffering because we’ve chosen to promote the wellbeing of human lives over these things. We’ve been told it isn’t safe to be around one another. Let me tell you a secret: It is not infringing on your rights to be willing to sacrifice your comfort for someone else’s physical safety. You are not losing any rights of personhood. 

 

I know we aren’t supposed to compare ourselves to other churches, but I can’t help but think of these protests to reopen the state as selfish and reckless. And privileged. To ask folks to go back to work and risk their health and lives for your comfort is selfish. Sure, it’s more comfortable and “normal” to meet in a church building But…there’s something more beautiful in what Paul talks about.  

Let me tell you something about the words safety and freedom:

Safety. I’ve spent most of my life just trying to be and feel safe. By doing that, I had to make myself small–shrinking into tight spaces that were not meant for me but I sacrificed myself for the sake of safety. I live with several panic disorders because I’ve not always been safe to be who I am.

 

Freedom. I sacrificed my freedom for safety. Not the kind of freedom that proud White Nationalist Americans talk about but the freedom to be myself without restraint. I’ve spent so much of my life restraining myself and locking my true self away in an attic like the crazy wife in Jane Eyre. I am not the crazy wife in Jane Eyre. And I am not crazy. 

 

I’ve spent so much time trying to be safe. Just trying to survive. Which meant running from anything that looked even vaguely threatening. But I confused safety with complacency. I am finally safe. I do not have to run anymore. And I couldn’t stop running because living has started to look scary. I’ve confused it with being unsafe. Living is not unsafe. It is hard. But it is not unsafe. 

 

WE, are the church–a gathering of people–but that gathering doesn’t have to happen in person. We are a community even when we are a part and no one is preventing us from worshipping God in new and creative ways. A church near where we live has a banner that says, “Socially distant, spiritually present.” It’s cheesy but it also has a point.

Glennon Doyle, author of the book Untamed says we try to put people into glasses like we’re water that can be contained, but really, we’re the sea. We are the sea; people and their many identities and categories can’t be summed up with binaries like male or female, gay or straight, etc. The same is true of our faith community and God. God cannot be contained or prevented from being with us in Spirit just like we are spiritually present with one another. This is to the unknown God we worship who cannot be contained. May we continue to be present together in whatever ways are possible and safe right now just as God is present with us. Amen.

Benediction: Litany for Becoming from enfleshed.com 

One:

To become is a life long process.

Nothing is constant,

not even the self.

We evolve in the midst of narratives meant only for some

and ways of being made narrow by fear and power.

We must, then, have the courage to listen to the truth of our own lives,

to the wisdom that comes from within –

responding without resistance or need to control,

but with welcome and curiosity.

This is what ensures our becoming is an unfolding

of our truest self.

This lifelong labor cannot be carried out alone. It requires help

from friends, and lovers, family, and creaturely companions

who bear witness to what makes us come alive.

And say to us, “Listen. Look. Feel. Pay attention to that.”

Many: This is loving and being loved.

One:

There is no me without you.

We shape one another.

The Sacred that birthed us

weaves our lives together

so that we can only find ourselves through shared becoming.

For my journey and all its winding ways.

For yours.

For all the saints who labored for what is,

all the kin whose lives made ours possible.

For all those yet to come for whom

living our truths today will mean breaking possibilities open for them tomorrow:

We pause. We give thanks. We acknowledge.

Many: This is loving and being loved

Into the Unknown

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Scripture and Meditation            

HL Holder-Brown

Sermon Given via Zoom for Jubilee Baptist Church

Lectio Divina: Close your eyes for a moment while I read this passage. I want you to try putting yourself into the story and use your senses. 

Luke 24:13-35

The Walk to Emmaus

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[f] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[g] 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[h] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[i] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[j] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[k] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Word of God for the people of God

Thanks be to God

Sermon:

Into the Unknown

“These are unprecedented times…” – literally everyone.

How many times have you heard that sentence or something similar over the past few months and weeks? If you’re like me, you’re either tired of that phrase or terrified because everything changes from day to day and it’s scary. Change is scary. Grief is scary. These are the emotions I feel when I read this passage. 

Today in our story these disciples of Jesus are traveling to Emmaus from Jerusalem. This in-between place is where they call home. There were several towns called Emmaus in this part of the world so scholars aren’t exactly sure where This Emmaus is located. Our only clue is that it’s near Jerusalem.

The city of Emmaus is an in-between place. It’s not the final destination. It’s sort of the middle of nowhere on the way to where you really want to go. Imagine again with me. All your friends are hiding, isolating themselves in grief and afraid for their lives. But you–you choose to process it in your own way. You’ve gone to Jerusalem and heard stories that the friend you’ve lost might be alive. 

And then…Jesus appears to grieving people walking home. It’s like a scene out of Lord of the Rings almost. You know, the one where Gandalf appears to Hobbits and brings them comfort when he was previously presumed to be dead. Jesus shows up on the road to Emmaus but he isn’t recognized. I guess you could say death and resurrection change a person? Jesus also asks Cleopas what has been going on and why they look so sad? It’s not every day you rise from the dead and get to talk to your friends about it.

So, there’s a series of episodes of Grey’s Anatomy where they deal with losing their friend and fellow Doctor, George O’Malley dies tragically. The doctors were treating their friend who was unrecognizable because of his injuries and finally, someone recognizes him even though he doesn’t look like himself and can’t talk.

In these few episodes, all the main characters walk us through their stages of grief. The theory of the Five Stages of Grief comes from an American-Swiss psychiatrist namedDr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. 

The thing about these Stages of grief  is that they aren’t linear; they’re cyclical and you can be experiencing more than one at a time. Also, you don’t experience them in order. 

Maybe you’re experiencing

Denial or…

Anger

Depression

Bargaining 

Acceptance

Maybe you’re experiencing all of these at once.

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I know we’re in a season of Easter where we should be celebrating hope! And Resurrection. I want to draw our attention to those things too. But I also don’t want us to miss this experience Jesus has with his grieving disciples. He gives them time to process what has just happened and THEN he provides them with comfort. It isn’t until he is breaking bread with them that they recognize him. 

I’ve heard so many sermons on this passage pondering what it was that made Cleopas and the other disciple recognize Jesus. One theory is that they recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread because they had so many meals with him before. They KNEW him. He was their friend and this was something they missed doing with their friend. Much like today, where we are separated from one another and miss sharing meals and stories together in person. Even though we’re not grieving the loss of a friend, like these disciples, we’re certainly grieving time together and that is a process. 

Unlike the story of Thomas and the other disciples, they don’t get a chance to really talk to Jesus before he disappears! He gets whisked away as if by some magic and then reappears when they’ve met up with friends again in Jerusalem to talk about their experience.

So, what’s the point? I could tell you that because Jesus conquered death through rising from the dead that we should be comforted because sickness and death don’t have the final say. I could tell you we’re all going to get through this together! But the realist and the cynic in me tells me that’s not what you want to hear right now. I could say, one day this will all be over and we will be together again. And that’s true. I also know we’ve lost so many lives tragically and I want to acknowledge that. So now what. I don’t have any warm fuzzies from this passage other than I look forward to reuniting with all of you and I miss you. We will be together again soon. Amen.

Show Me the Scars

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[Image of Mary Magdalene telling the disciples Christ was risen while they stand apart from her in silence.]

John 20:24-29

Reflections on the Resurrection at midnight on Easter because I have insomnia

When I was six years old, I got my first scar. My first grade class was lining up to go back inside from recess. I remember what jacket I was wearing–it was a pink and teal windbreaker because it was cold. And because it was the 90s. I had a red turtleneck and jeans. I remember that it was really cold that day.

As I ran to line up, my foot caught a crack in the sidewalk and I fell head first into a brick wall, leaving a gash on my head right above my right eye. My teacher Mrs. Bray freaked out and called my mother to come get me. As we held ice over my eye once I got home, my mom called my dad who took me to the emergency room where I got seven stitches. I still have a scar across my right eyebrow almost 23 years later. Scars have memories. We all have stories of how we got them and why. 

Coincidentally, also in 1st grade, The Lion King was my favorite movie and my family still calls me Scar every now and then. 

There was also this guy named Thomas who followed Jesus around. He was a little obsessed with scars too. When his friend Jesus died and all the disciples said he came back from the dead, Thomas naturally demanded proof it was really him: “Show me the scars.”

Scars are also a memory of trauma the body has endured. Jesus’ body had endured one of the worst deaths imaginable and he had the scars to prove it. The trauma didn’t go away just because he was alive again. Scars bear witness. 

When a trans person undergoes gender affirming surgery, they are proud of their scars. The scars bear witness of the lengths they have gone to in order to be themselves. I plan on having surgery to remove my breasts and have a flat chest. I can’t wait to have two horizontal lines across my chest that symbolize the journey I’ve been on. Scars show us who we are. 

[Image Description: The new Image {on the right} by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin is of three people leaning in to look at the chest of a fourth person holding open their shirt. They are looking down at their chest which reveals scars from top surgery. The finger of one of the other people is pointing to/just touching the scars on the chest. This is a play off of the old “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” painting wherein three men leaning in to look at the bare chest of Jesus post-resurrection. “Doubting Thomas” has his finger inside the wound on Jesus’ chest from a spear.] Originally seen on https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fenfleshedword%2Fposts%2F2534776473418721&width=500“>Facebook on enfleshed.

Thomas said he wouldn’t believe Jesus was really back unless he could put his hands on the scars Jesus had from being crucified. Jesus’ scars were still fresh–he was three days dead and newly resurrected scars don’t heal quite that fast, I’m assuming. But scars show us we are real. That our bodies can bear pain and survive it. 

The resurrection reminds us that the impossible can happen and that there is hope. It doesn’t take the trauma, pain, or scars away. I used to think the hope of the resurrection was that death is not the end. And it is. It gives us something to hope for but it sounds impossible. I think what we learn from Jesus’ scarred body is that the resurrection shows us that death still happens but it doesn’t destroy us. 

For every queer/trans person who’s ever drowned in a sea of doubt, who has ever left scars on their own body because they weren’t sure they could be loved for who they were, this story is for you. Jesus said “This is my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” We remember the scars that show us who we are and we remember that we are more than what has broken us. Amen.

No One Should Die Alone

301B3712-AD0B-4365-92D1-BD78012DF368A grieving, angry meditation for Good Friday

Mark 15:33-47

Jesus’ friends watched him die. 

‪People talk about letting themselves grieve what this pandemic took from them. Ya know, I finally found an amazing faith community/friends where I could be myself. And now. I can’t be with those people. And that’s what I’m grieving because this is the first time in my life I’ve had that. And I’m fucking pissed about it. 

Today is Good Friday, the day we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus, the man who claimed to be the Son of God. The hero of our story fucking dies. Our heroes aren’t supposed to die and leave us staring into the darkness after we’ve watched him bleed out and struggle to breathe. I’ve watched enough Grey’s Anatomy to know that the phrase “We did all we could” doesn’t help in a time like this. When the guy you’ve been following around for several years gets crucified…

How do we sit with that? Peter and company ran away and hid. John the beloved stays beside Jesus’ mother as she grieves. Mary Magdalene in this particular account stays and watches him die and watches where his body is laid to rest so she can anoint him. What’s it like watching your best friend die? Or having one friend betray you and sell you out for a few pieces of silver, another pretends he doesn’t even know you to protect himself.

There’s not anything fair about death and grief. They fucking suck. We’ve seen so many reports of people dying from COVID-19. Many of them are dying alone because family members aren’t allowed to be with them. Dying is awful enough; dying alone is absolutely tragic. There are so many lonely people out there right now having to live in isolation. I miss being with my friends. I miss being with my faith community. I miss the laughter and moments shared in a room full of people who care deeply for one another. I’m an introvert of the introverts with social anxiety that’s off the charts, and I still need people. Everything is hard. Everything takes so much more energy. We’re all so very tired. So tired of watching people die. Especially when it’s because of lack of access to medical care and supplies that everyone should have but doesn’t because there are selfish people and power hungry government leaders. I digress. Or maybe…this is exactly what I should be talking about. 

So Jesus dies. Actually, Jesus is murdered. Executed by the State for daring to challenge the status quo and threatening us all with a good time where we love one another and treat each other well. Even Jesus asks why God has forsaken him. He dies but he doesn’t die alone.

At some point in our lives, if it hasn’t already happened already, we will witness death. And at some point, all of us will experience death personally. Death is personal, is what I’m trying to say. But it’s also communal. No one should die alone. At the end of his life, Jesus’ friends showed up and witnessed death with him. They stayed with him even though there was this separation. They showed up, they stayed, they buried their friend and took care of him in death just as they did in life. 

Good Friday isn’t just about death. Ok, it’s mostly about death, but death doesn’t have to be the end of the road. May we walk with one another through life and through death. And may we all participate in life with one another even from a distance. 

The Dinner Party Before the Storm

 

April 7, 2020

Devotion written for Jubilee Baptist Church for Holy Week

John 12:1-11

It’s the Tuesday of Holy Week as I’m writing this. Last time we were with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Lazarus had just died. This time Jesus is hanging out with his friends, and as the writer of John notes, “Jesus came to Bethany the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.” In case anyone reading it forgot, John wants us to remember this detail. Oh, you remember Lazarus right? The guy Jesus raised from the dead! Yes, how could we forget. As if that weren’t strange enough, Mary anoints Jesus’ feet and Judas Iscariot throws a hissy fit because the perfume is really expensive. Jesus is about to die (as he tells his disciples repeatedly) and Judas is worried about Mary’s spending habits. 

What I think is so interesting about this is that Jesus knows his death is near, and he lets his friends throw him a party that attracts the attention of the religious leaders and crowds because of Lazarus being alive again. And of course, the religious leaders want to kill not only Jesus but also Lazarus for attracting too much attention by being alive instead of dead. Oops. 

Holy Week is a time when we reflect on not just the life of Jesus but the week he was betrayed, murdered by the Romans, and miraculously comes back to life. It’s usually a time when we can gather together to reflect on the events that lead to Jesus’ death and resurrection, but these are strange times. These are “unprecedented times” as we’ve all heard way too many times on the news. I wish I could tell you it is all going to be better soon or offer a cliche of it will get worse before it gets better. 

Let’s be honest, these aren’t just unprecedented times, these are scary times. I look at this passage and see a celebration right before Jesus’ friends and disciples are grief stricken and either hiding or preparing his body for burial. They didn’t know what was going to happen next but they were making the best of it. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. We do know we’re a community that gets through things together even when we are apart. Perhaps I cannot say everything will be “back to normal” soon. I can say, whatever happens, you are not alone. Whatever this Holy Week brings, whatever else this pandemic brings, we are not alone. 

If You Had Been Here

Sermon for Lent, March 29, 2020, posted in the newsletter for Jubilee Baptist Church because COVID-194E13209F-05CF-4591-98EE-B32B245264F4

John 11:1-45

11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.  So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,

 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”  Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”

 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”

Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”  And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.

The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep.

So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Sermon:

If You Had Been Here

Reading about Lazarus in a time of self-isolation, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders takes on a new meaning. I’m sure by now everyone is so tired of hearing about COVID-19  and also so anxious to hear about it because it seems to be changing almost hourly.

I am also reading this through my experience as a queer, disabled, non binary human. 

How curious is it that Jesus, upon hearing that his friend Lazarus was sick, said “this sickness is not unto death…” even though Lazarus literally died. There’s also something comforting in Jesus referring to Lazarus’s death as sleep. Lazarus had found a way to rest after suffering with the sickness he had. 

Many a theologian and pastor has speculated about how Jesus waited four days to go see his sick friend. Some would say Jesus didn’t actually care, or that he only cared so that he could raise him from the dead to make himself look good. 

During a time when people are having to quarantine themselves for 14 days to stop the spread of the coronavirus, I have to wonder though…

Perhaps, this was Jesus’ way of showing how much he did care. By giving Lazarus time and space. 

Or…perhaps it is ok to give ourselves permission to be frustrated with how Jesus behaves. I’m with Martha and Mary on this one. Jesus could have done something and didn’t. 

I don’t know if y’all know this about me, but I’m an introvert. I’m an introvert and I’m also a hugger. We all need people. Sometimes though, what people need from us and the best way we can care for one another is to separate ourselves in order to keep each other safe. A lot of us know of people who are sick right now. It’s overwhelming and we can’t be with the people we love.

By the time Jesus DID go to see Lazarus, he wasn’t really there for Lazarus, he was there for Mary and Martha and held space for them to grieve while grieving the loss of his friend. Perhaps, you’re reading this passage and you’re feeling that Mary and Martha are right. 

Why wouldn’t Jesus do all he could to save his friend? Aren’t we doing that right now by self-isolating ourselves? Why wouldn’t Jesus–who can HEAL PEOPLE, save his friend? 

The fact that I’m writing this sermon to be read instead of for y’all to listen to is one of those ways of keeping each other safe. It’s hard to write or focus in the middle of a pandemic.

People are having a hard time finding groceries they need like bread, toilet paper, meds, fruits and veggies. I am so tired and wonder if I’ve already been sick and didn’t realize it. The virus has been here and now we can’t see it. Most of us don’t have resources to test for it. Several people don’t even have symptoms. But it just keeps spreading. 

If I focus on how bad it is, it gets too overwhelming. So, I’ve been trying to distract myself. It’s really hard to rest and with Amy here, I don’t feel like I can introvert as much. It does feel less lonely and that’s nice. I’ve been trying to read but the only things I’ve been able to focus on are children’s books. They’re whimsical even if they sometimes get too serious. I can’t focus on anything too serious. The world is already serious enough. 

Being genderqueer during a pandemic sure is one heck of a ride. Being queer during a pandemic, really. I keep thinking about all the people who had HIV/AIDS and the government did nothing. Because as long as it only affected gay people, it was fine. But as soon as it started affecting straight people, then it was a problem. 

What is it like to be dying, to meet Death head on but to come back from it? As a queer person, I know a little something about that. I thought when I came out a few years ago, it might kill me. But in the end, it was what brought me life even when my family and faith community at the time saw me as “sick.”

There are some things worse than dying, I think. One of them might be never getting to live as yourself and being bound to others’ views of you. In the words of Rev. Caleb Tabor,  “We know what it is to be dead…but better yet, we know what it is to be born again. We know what it is to rise up from death.” 

At the end of the day, Jesus showed up for his friends, and reminds us that death doesn’t have to be the end. Death doesn’t get the final say and we can walk with one another through death dealing times. Let us be the friends who show up when someone is sick and help where we can.And sometimes the way we show up is by staying home and flattening the curve.

 May we walk through death with one another, may we call to each other to “come out” and rise up from death into life.

P.S. I have a patreon now!