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Marble Lion

Pastor John Gibson preached this sermon on John 11:1-45 Sunday April 2, 2017.  

Henri Nouwen in his book Clowning in Rome tells a story of “a sculptor who worked hard with hammer and chisel on a large block of marble. A little child who was watching him saw nothing more than large and small pieces of stone falling away left and right. He had no idea what was happening. But when the boy returned to the studio a few weeks later, he saw, to his surprise, a large, powerful lion sitting in the place where the marble had stood. With great excitement, the boy ran to the sculptor and said, ‘Sir, tell me, how did you know there was a lion in the marble?’ ‘I knew there was a lion in the marble because before I saw the lion in the marble, I saw him in my own heart. The secret is that it was the lion in my heart that recognized the lion in the marble.’” (1)

Today’s Gospel, I think, is somewhat like this story. The Gospel is about becoming who we really already are. The theologian Josef Fuchs said, “You are a new creation in Christ. In Christ, you are raised. Therefore, be who you are.” (2) Jesus calls us in today’s Gospel to be who we are.

Martha and Lazarus today show us what it means to be a new creation, to be raised with Christ, and to be who we really are as individuals and as a congregation. Martha at first sees Jesus simply as a miracle worker, who could have healed her brother. After she talks to Jesus, she realizes that he is the resurrection and the life, the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (John 11:27).

If Martha tells us Jesus is much more than a miracle worker, Lazarus reveals the difference the one who is the resurrection and the life makes in someone’s life. At Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus commands the stone to be removed, orders Lazarus to come out, and says, “Unbind him and let him go” (John 11:44). We can imagine the stunned crowd scurrying to unwrap the bandages from his arms, hands and head. Jesus, the resurrection and the life, the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world, brings nothing less than new life.

While I was preparing for this sermon, I read a commentary by Robert Koch, a Presbyterian Pastor in Baltimore. Koch wrote, “During my stay with the Cherith Brook Catholic Worker in Kansas City, I helped as the community hosted showers and opened a clothes closet for people living on the street. Many entered the shower room waiting area looking beaten, tired, and as neglected as the urban cityscape itself. People avoided eye contact. Conversation was limited. But as each emerged out of the showers, clean and wearing a fresh set of clothes, a new life seemed to come into their eyes. They shone with the warmth of their humanity restored, shining with the luster of care and dignity.” (3)

Last Wednesday, I was invited to give a lecture Tuesday to a graduate class at North Carolina State about Confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Yesterday, to prepare, I asked my Spanish teacher, who is Mexican and lives in Mexico, about her experience saying confession in the Roman Catholic Church. She told me that she always leaves the confessional feeling renewed and at peace. It’s as if she had washed her soul’s dirty clothing and left wearing clean clothing.

Although in very different ways, the homeless people and my Spanish teacher had the stone rolled away from the tombs of their lives, been ordered to come out and been unbound. They experienced being raised. They felt what it means to be a new creation in Christ.

Of course, we never realize this completely or permanently in this life. In today’s Gospel, immediately after Martha confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, she cautioned against rolling the stone away from the tomb because there would be a stench from the dead body.

Even so, being a new creation in Christ makes a difference in our lives personally and in our community. Last year the PEW Research found that people who pray daily and worship weekly “are more engaged with their extended families, more likely to volunteer, more involved in their communities and generally happier with the way things are going in their lives” (4) than those who are less religious. All of these are good things we would want for our lives and for the lives of our friends and family members.

The first step to being a new creation is to make a commitment in your heart to Jesus. If you have had made a commitment before but feel you need to make another one, that’s okay. Faith in Christ is a journey. Sometimes we wander or stop for a while by the side of the path. If we do, it is good to commit ourselves again to the way of Jesus. I know I have committed myself over and over again to Jesus when I have wandered away or waned in my devotion.

If you have never made a commitment to Jesus, I encourage you to do so today. Since today is a healing Sunday, if you make a faith commitment, I invite you to come forward and we’ll pray together for Jesus to bless your commitment of faith.

Each one of us male and female was created in the image of God. Although at times it is hard to see in ourselves and others, at the heart of our being is the very image of God. Jesus came into the world to reveal you are. He looks at you in his heart and sees you as you are. Like a great sculpture, he patiently works to reveal what truly was there all along. In Jesus, that image is fully revealed. In Jesus, you are a new creation. Be who you are!

(1) Henri Nouwen, Clowning in Rome, (Image, 2000) 83-84.

(2) Jennifer Gamber and Bill Lewellis, Your Faith, Your Life: An Invitation to the Episcopal Church (New York: Church Publishing, 2009), 14.

(3) Robert Hoch, “Commentary on John 11:1-45,” Working Preacher (St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary, 2017), April 6, 2014.

(4) PewResearchCenter, “Religion and Everyday Life,” PewResearchCenter (April 12, 2016).