4/6/14, "Go Free"

Ezekiel 37, 12-14; Romans 8:8-11, John 11:1-45

This evening I am going to be bold and tell you a story with enough Holy Spirit weirdness to it that I wonder why I didn’t run for the back door of the church when it was happening.  But I didn’t, and this story changed my life and continues to change my life the longer time goes on.  So here it is.

One day in 1994, several people from another Protestant congregation in my home town of Eureka, CA approached me and said, “Sandi, there’s a revival meeting going on down in San Francisco hosted by a Canadian pastor and his wife.  The Holy Spirit has been moving powerfully in their community and they feel God has directed them to go anywhere that will welcome them to share this good news.  We think you ought to go with us.”

Now although I had some exposure to the charismatic Jesus movement in the 70’s, I am by nature a private and self-controlled person.  I had no desire to expose myself to what could be an uncomfortably uncontrolled atmosphere.  So I declined their invitation, but guess what?  They checked out my calendar and noted that I didn’t really have any pressing obligations that weekend.  So they came back to my house and stuffed me into the back seat of their station wagon between two other friends, making it almost certain that I couldn’t escape on the way.

Well, I decided to just shut up,  be a good observer and support them in whatever way they needed supporting, because of course, they were the needy ones!  I was fully in control of my intellect and my emotions.  Being seminary educated, I should be able to sort truth from error.

The gathering started out pretty much as I expected.  There was a lot of rousing praise music and then a message from the pastor telling how their community in Toronto had been experiencing a visitation of the Holy Spirit. This was strengthening their members to pray for others with a simple invitation to spiritual renewal in whatever way God chose.

Some folks reached out and asked for prayer almost immediately.  Several prayer people would stand with that supplicant and begin to pray quietly.  Most often, what would happen is that the person being prayed for would list backwards and be gently eased to the floor where prayer would continue.

My friends wanted to ask for prayer, so the least I could do was stand with them and assure them a safe trip to the floor if they fell.  But I sure wasn’t going to be an “askee!”  Nevertheless, out of nowhere the pastor’s wife came up to where I was, pointed at me and said, “I want to pray for THIS one.”  Compliant as I usually am, what could I do but assent?  And sure enough, after a few minutes I too found myself on my back on the floor, where this unknown praying woman petitioned the Holy Spirit to break the chains of generational religious bondage that held me, setting me free to be what I was called to be.

I knew exactly what she was talking about, even though I had not consciously wrestled with this issue before.  The Holy Spirit was making me aware that the Calvinistic doctrine of Christianity in which I had been so well-schooled had become a set of chains binding me to a certain way of expecting God to accomplish spiritual work.  Those chains had to be broken so that I’d be free to enter a much wider world of the way people experience God and grow in their lives of faith.

In today’s gospel message, Lazarus is said to be buried in a stone cold tomb.  His hands and feet are bound, and even his face is wrapped in a burial cloth.  He can’t walk or speak or see or take someone’s hand.  He is dead, immobilized.

The question of whether Jesus literally raised Lazarus from death or whether this is a metaphorical story continues to be argued.  That conversation will likely come up when we discuss chapter 57 of the Spong book we are exploring.   However, on this fifth Sunday of Lent, as we continue to look at some of the pieces of our liturgy that have undergone change, it’s more appropriate that we take time to reflect on the final verses of the dramatic reading assigned for today.

Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus came out of the tomb, still bound hand and foot with linen strips, his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus told the crowd, “Untie him and let him go free.”  Many of those who had come to console Martha and Mary, and saw what Jesus did, put their faith in him.

Notice that the summary words of this reading are, “Those who saw what Jesus did put their faith in him.”  Here I want to point briefly to the reason that our Lumen Christi liturgy does not include the recitation of the traditional Nicene Creed.  Many Christians sense that the old doctrines and language of Christianity say things to which contemporary faith cannot give honest assent. Our faith is not in a 2000 year old accumulation of statements put forth by an ancient institution. Sometimes those very catechisms and creeds bind us.  Our faith is in the person of Christ who demonstrated compassionate love in his being and integrity in his dying.   Christ’s invitation to living in freedom allows us to find new ways to express that faith in our actions and in our liturgies.  

As for the previous four Sundays of this Lenten season, I have prepared a condensation of Marcus Borg’s discussion of Creeds for your personal study.  You’ll find it on the table along with previous readings.  Pick it up as you exit.

For me, this story of the resurrection of Lazarus evokes the memory of being in a cold tomb of religiosity, not seeing new possibilities, not able to speak or act with true freedom.  Through another woman of faith, Jesus’ voice spoke saying, “Untie her and let her go free.”  I imagine that Lazarus would have lived differently after being given new life following his days of death.  For me, the memory of being set free is ongoing.  I have to remind myself frequently that there are many ways in which religious systems can bind and blind me, robbing me of the freedom to walk the spiritual path in the company of the living Christ.  I invite you to take some time during this final week of Lent to ask yourself if you are in a religious tomb or have dogmatic bindings that rob you of freedom to walk your spiritual path in the company of the living Christ.  To you I say, be unbound and go free!

By Sandi DeMaster