A huge thanks to Rev. Mindi at Rev-0-lution.org for this year’s Lenten theme, which I’ve slightly reworked under the title: “Advancing the Kingdom, Resisting the World.”
This week’s Lenten theme is “revolution.” And among other things, that means I’ve had a song stuck in my head all week.
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world…
So begins one of those anthems from the late 60’s. Some of you were probably singing along before I even got to the end of that third line.
For whatever reason, I almost always think of this song when the word “revolution” comes up. But despite its pop-ey, upbeat melody, the Beatles’ song Revolution has always sounded a bit skeptical to me.
Maybe it’s lines like “we’re doing what we can,” where it feels as though they are acknowledging that “what we can” just isn’t enough yet.
Maybe it’s my own skepticism when people claim to have “a real solution” or a “plan” to the complex problems of our world.
Maybe it’s the awareness that changing the “constitution” or the “institutions” doesn’t translate into changes in “head,” heart, or “mind,” as the later verses acknowledge.
But I also think this song resonates with me because I identify with the kind of melancholy hope it suggests. I do believe that “we all want to change the world,” even if we are misguided or don’t know how to do it. I really do believe that the average person is “doing what they can” to make it a better place. And my faith tells me that “it’s going to be all right, all right, all right……”
Our scripture text today provides some key insights into the revolution of love that Jesus initiates in the world–a revolution that we (as his followers) continue to pursue and practice as we pray: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
But first: let us begin our reading with John 11:1-16.
Part I: John 11:1-16
Overcoming Fear of Being Hurt by Others
Jesus and his friends have a lot of genuine concerns in this first section of verses from our scripture reading.
They are concerned about their friend Lazarus’ illness
The disciples have concerns about Jesus’ judgment
There are concerns about encountering resistance from those opposing Jesus’ ministry
There is the genuine possibility of physical harm
And there is even a possibility—as voiced by Thomas/Didymus—that this brief road trip back to Bethany could be the end of the line for the Jesus movement
They are—quite in fact—putting themselves into direct harm by going to their friends’ side. Last time they were there—just days before, it appears—the locals tried to kill them. In order to walk with Jesus, the disciples have to overcome the fear of being hurt by others. In order to advance Jesus’ revolution, they must obey him to the point of laying down their very own lives on account of Jesus’ great love for others.
Let’s read some more……
Part II: John 11:17-27
Overcoming Fear of Death Itself
One does not make friends by being late to a funeral. You can be late to almost anything else in life, but if you are late to a funeral, the family of the deceased will write you off as someone who never really cared. I can’t help believe that reality has always been so.
I have witnessed too many heated exchanges after funerals to imagine this confrontation between Martha and Jesus in any other way. At least, that’s the way it begins. Jesus has a way of simultaneously diffusing and exacerbating the depth of emotion around him.
Jesus is so late he missed the funeral entirely. Martha, hearing Jesus is finally in town, goes out to meet him. Mary stays home, perhaps not even wanting to see Jesus’ face at this time of deep grief and perceived betrayal.
Yet within Martha’s grief remains the kernel of faith. She knows that “with God all things are possible,” as Jesus says elsewhere in the gospels (Mt 19:26; Mk 10:27). And with that faith comes a hope—the hope of resurrection both in the next life and in this one. Her hope allows her to overcome the fear of death itself. For in the revolution of Jesus, the impossible becomes possible
But our story is not yet over……
Part III: John 11:28-45
Overcoming the Grave
Jesus, as scripture testifies, is genuinely moved by the grief of his friends and his own grief. I have sat with so many grieving folks over the years—folks that too often think grief demonstrates a lack of faith on their part. They believe that if only their faith were stronger they could face death with a certain casualness and rationality, instead of experiencing such heartbreak and devastation.
This story should completely and utterly undermine that way of thinking. There has not been another human being on earth in all of history whose faith and utter reliance on God can be compared with Jesus. Yet here we find him—devastated and weeping—at the death of his friend. Even though he is going to invite Lazarus to rejoin the living in just moments, this text shows that even Jesus has to discover the hope that overcomes the grave.
Fear & Revolution
Fear is a powerful motivator, and (according to the experts in such things) fear of death is the strongest motivator of all. It’s a beneficial evolutionary trait, the scientists say; fear keeps us alive.
But in coming to earth—in living and loving and dying—Jesus initiates a revolution of love.
No longer will we be bound and limited by fear.
No longer will death hold sway over us.
No longer will fear form the basis of our life and relationships.
In the revolution began in Christ, “perfect love drives out fear,” as we read in 1John 4:18. And (as this story of Jesus demonstrates) perfect love is made real in our world when we risk ourselves for one another. In a few more chapters (in John 15:13), Jesus will make this even more clear to us when he says “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (NIV11).
(In our text this morning) Hope overcame fear only because Jesus and his disciples were willing to risk their own lives to be with Martha and Mary. In doing so, they made love real in the world, and they advanced this revolution Jesus calls the Kingdom of God.
By the ways of this world, fear keeps us alive. But according to the revolution of Jesus, it is in risking ourselves for others that we discover eternal life.
As we learn to see through Jesus’ eyes, we observe that fear binds and limits us, while hope frees us up to the limitless possibilities of our God-given potential.
What we are talking about here is not merely a reformation of our thinking and being, as we discussed with the Nicodemus text a couple weeks back (March 12). Nor is this a resolution to challenge our faulty ways of thinking, as we discussed last week in story of the blind man’s healing.
Here Jesus is demonstrating the way of revolution—the way to “overcome the world,” as Jesus will explicitely state in John 16:33. His actions here demonstrate how to subvert the powers of the world, how to free ourselves from the slavery of the fear of death, how to experience the liberating hope of God’s redemption, and how to live in the abundant life of God.
The means of accomplishing all of this… the means of advancing this revolution is this: to overcome fear with love.
Now, even though we’ve worked through 45 verses this morning, the story is still far from over. In fact, John’s gospel becomes a bit of a page turner at this point, as each story builds into the next. You see, before the chapter ends, the author provides some significant foreshadowing, telling us that this resurrection of Lazarus echoes with consequences all the way to the office of the High Priest.
Jesus’ life has been threatened before, but it was always by impassioned crowds reacting to their traditions being questioned. Here, at the end of John chapter 45, there begins an intentional, covert plan of action with the purpose of ending Jesus’ life. Here, at the end of this chapter, Jesus can no longer move about publicly, instead hiding in the wilderness outside a small town.
Beginning at the end of this chapter, things get even more dangerous for Jesus, as there is a building expectation that Jesus will make another dangerous choice—another choice to go where peril is certain—this time, to go to Jerusalem and die.
It’s a pattern in Jesus’ life precisely because it is the means of the Jesus revolution:
Risk yourself for others and love will conquer fear.
Risk yourself for others and hope will overpower despair.
Risk yourself for others and the Kingdom of God will be advanced.
“You say you want a revolution”? You want to save the world?
Choose love, even at personal expense.
Choose hope, even when it hurts.
Choose Christ, even when it costs you the world.
Our scripture text today is permeated with emotion,
And most prominent among these is love.
May we remember the lessons of this chapter:
That love combats fear,
Love comforts grief,
Love grows faith,
And love—yes love—even conquers the grave.
Thank you for the example of love
that we have in your son, our Savior, Jesus the Christ.
And give us the courage to offer all of ourselves
in the cause of Christ, the revolution of love,
that is the Kingdom of God.