by Rev. Steve Jerbi
Most of us as church leaders are trying to reimagine how we strengthen our communities while living in separation. In the midst of zoom meetings and streaming services I also have this nagging thought. Most of the time it lies in the background but there are moments when it comes to the forefront. Hearing the surgeon general say, “This week, it’s gonna get bad” was one of those moments. And reading these texts - about death and death and death - is another.
People are getting sick. People will die. People we know. So preaching about dry bones and the death of the flesh and Lazarus seems about right.
There is an element in this Sunday that compels us toward compassion. We will have folx that are anxious and afraid. We will have people questioning the severity of the moment. Some of the service will tend to that.
But we come to DISRUPT because we seek ways that shake the status quo of many of our congregations. Shelter-in-place is already a disruption, but not quite the holy disturbance we need.
Our response - to this moment and as a people in any moment - is not safety. The USA loves to brag about safety. From our policing military and our militarized police, we claim it is for our safety. Privileged communities love safety. Communities isolate, evacuate, escalate. They gentrify, mollify, and codify. All this is done while waving the banner of safety. Safer schools, safer streets, safer retirement funds.
Don’t get me wrong - safety isn’t a bad thing. I want my kids to be safe. I want my congregation to be safe. But a moment like this shows just how illusory safety can be.
We can imagine Mary and Martha wanting some safety and security for their brother. “The one you love is sick” is a not so subtle message for Jesus to come home and help Lazarus. And they aren’t wrong. If Jesus showed up sooner Lazarus wouldn’t have died.
How many times will our communities say, “The one you love is sick?” How many times will we as preachers hear it?
One of the ways I make sense of this jarring reality is to recognize the people and communities that have taught me about death.I have been part of communities that know well the valley of the shadow. I’ve known it in communities with gun violence and gang actions. I’ve seen it in the violence visited upon our unhoused neighbors. Here there is no couching the harsh reality of death in theological platitudes or polite euphemisms. These are communities that have their own jeremiads because their wounds have been treated carelessly, “saying ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace.”
So let’s center the voices that have never had the illusions of peace, of safety. Who are the survivors that cried for deliverance but their brother still died? Who do we know that has gazed upon a valley of skeletons? Who stayed at the side of the cross when everyone else fled…for safety? This collective fear might be new to some of us - but not to all of us. Others have already trodden this path.
This is who we must be as a church in a world without safety and certainty. We cry out for Jesus. And when he doesn’t show up like we want, on our schedule, in the ways we expect, we stay. Because we are people of faith. This moment requires faith, not safety. It begs faith in a story that does not end in this crisis. It reveals a faith that has faced death before and still brings forward life. Yes, Lazarus died. Yes, people we love will die. Yes, there are already valleys filled with the bones of the death. Yes, we are seeing the weakness of the flesh. Yes there is death.
And faith still prophesies. Faith still claims the Spirit within us. Faith says, “Yes, in the last days we will rise again.”
THAT bold faith, that disrupting faith, prepares us for miracles. Muscle and sinew returns. Breath returns. Stones are rolled back and the dead are called back to life.
Communities that know death intimately, that can call her Sister as St. Francis did, these are the places where faith triumphs. They reveal the presence of life in the face of death. They remind us there is a balm in Gilead. They dare ask, O Death where is thy victory, O Death where is thy sting?
We need the faith of their resistance to pull us out of the complacency of safety into the dawn of Resurrection.
And this is our good news.
This is the Revised Common Lectionary sermonizing archive.