Sermon from All Saints: The Pain of a New Start

The Pain of a New Start

All Saints Sunday; November 4, 2018

John 11:32-44

Last Sunday I asked you to share with one another and with me your thoughts about what you hope for in Christ. After the service, one of you said to me, "I hope in Christ." And I asked, "What do you hope for?" You said, "Resurrection!"

Yes. Although every Sunday we celebrate the hope of Resurrection, today is one of those days we especially focus on it. We give thanks for the hope we have in Christ, for the promise of life eternal in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-6), and for the sign of Lazarus: Lazarus, Jesus' friend, whose death gave Jesus the chance to show that God has given him the power of life.

But the story is not without pain. I imagine the dead man in his tomb, his spirit at rest, waiting for the day of resurrection, hearing the voice of Jesus: "Lazarus, come out!" "No," he replies, "I don't want to! I don't want to go through all that again!" Imagine Lazarus' pain, being restored to life only to know that he will die again before he too gets to taste resurrection.

I talked to a chiropractor this week who pointed something out to me, something I had never thought about. Women who have given birth have experienced pain that we men do not really comprehend. But what of the infant who is born? The chiropractor said that birth is a strain for the spinal column. There is the physical trauma, of course, but also the emotional trauma of being expelled from a safe, nurturing place into this wild, wonderful, but frightening world.

There must be something like that about death and resurrection – the pain of birth. Lazarus had to go through that twice. Some of you probably recognize the pain of rebirth as something you have already experienced: starting a new life after something about your life has died. Being born is usually completed within a matter of hours; dying can take longer, but Resurrection will probably feel quick when it happens. Dying to an old life and being reborn during the time in between can take years, can't it?

And so to keep us firmly hoping in Christ, we celebrate today those who have finished the race, who have completed the process of dying and rebirth and have blazed the way to resurrection, following Christ but leading us. Let's pause and remember them.

Adam Koslosky was a builder. With Kathy, he built a wonderful (albeit somewhat quirky) family. He invested himself heavily in this Church, not only literally in what we have been able to do with this building but also in the life and program of this Church. And he built businesses. Adam was a skilled businessman, and with a purpose: he built businesses not only as a means of making money, but also as a means of learning new skills and overcoming new obstacles, and as a means of providing employment to others and goods and services that the world needs.

Robert Sanderhoff was a teacher. He taught us that a physical disability does not need to be as limiting as many would assume. Of course, he credited his mother for that, in that she did not treat him – a polio survivor – as fragile. She expected him to get into – and cause – as much trouble as other boys. But, as you may know, he was also a stellar classroom teacher. One of my favorite stories was of the year that the school administration put all the difficult boys in one class, his class, and that class was only boys. Robert always gave everyone a fresh start – he would not read the student's file to form an opinion before meeting the student – and so he took that class of boys, as with all his classes, and they learned from him.

Dorothy Mattern was a care-giver. Professionally, of course, she was a nurse, and she exercised her calling as a ministry of care. But part of what is fun to remember about Dot is her sense of time: it was always Husker football season, and it was always Christmas. And it was always time for dessert. When she was herself a client in the care center where she had worked and Cindy or Billie would ask her, "What did they serve for dinner?" she would reply, "We had strawberry shortcake for dessert!" I think she had her priorities right.

And Gale Biggerstaff: she was a mother, a lover of her Church, a lover of her Lord. The thing that stands out most for me about Gale was her non-judgmental attitude about people. She could see someone behaving badly, but in her mind, that didn't define the person. She would say to her sons, "Now, don't be quick to judge! He's someone's son; she's someone's sister." You don't know the whole story; all you see is one page out of one chapter of a person's life. Don't judge a whole life by that one page.

All four of them – and all the others we remember today – have ended a chapter, but their story is still being written. It is being written by the hope for resurrection that we have in Jesus Christ but it is also being written on the hearts and in the lives of us who have been touched by them. Some of you remember the Rev. Gale Prentice, who was associate pastor here. Gale is remembered for his kindness and his music-making. Some remember the Rev. Greg Reid, father and grandfather of our members. I loved looking through his Bible and enjoying his handwritten notes in the margin: quotations in Latin, scholarly notes in Hebrew, word notes in Greek, comments from theologians and philosophers, and jokes, such as this one at Genesis 2: Why did God create only two people? So that no one can say, "I come from better stock than you."

It helps to laugh, doesn't it? Imagine the jokes Lazarus, Mary, and Martha told after he started breathing again and had to go back to work. Laughter, I'm told, is a sign that we feel safe: safe to laugh, safe to cry, safe to express our pain. One young widow was asked how she lost her husband. She said, "He's not lost. He had a great sense of direction. He's DEAD." Another was sitting with her sister-in-law shortly after her husband's death; they were crying together, and then the widow said, "Well, at least I don't have to watch his bad movies anymore." At first they were stunned, and then they both started to laugh.[1]

Lazarus had to get up and start over again; maybe you can identify with his pain. And if you can't, he's dying to tell you.

Robert A. Keefer

Presbyterian Church of the Master

Omaha, Nebraska

[1] Both of these stories are from Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017), pages 166-167. 

Sermon from November 11: A Matter of Context
Sermon from October 28: What More Do We Need?


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