Hebrews 10: 19-25
John 11: 1-44
Well, here we are. Another week – another place of worship! It’s a journey – a journey that gets us deeply in touch with our Abrahamic roots — his nomadic journey from Haran to Canaan, pitching his tent for the night, and then moving on the next day – following the God who calls and leads.
Scripture is filled with great journeys. Jacob’s flight from his brother Esau, Joseph sold into slavery, and his journey into Egypt. The great journey of the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. The journey of the wise men to see Jesus. Jesus’ journey into the wilderness. Paul’s journey from Jerusalem to Damascus. It seems that God loves to invite us to make journeys. Because through the journey God teaches us, forms us, invites us to grow and change into the person God longs for us to be. To become fully who we were created to be.
So no wonder the Christian faith has, at heart, never been just a body of doctrine or dogma to be received, but rather an invitation to take up the tent pegs, and to set out on a journey. When Jesus calls you to life, he doesn’t invite you to believe certain propositions, he says “Follow me. Come, leave everything behind. Take up your cross and follow me.” No wonder the earliest description of Christians was followers of the Way. “I am the Way. Follow me.”
But it is a dangerous journey because if you follow faithfully you will surely meet God. And that can be so dangerous that it can turn your life upside down, as it did to Paul on the road to Damascus, and as it did to Moses in our Old Testament reading this morning.
As you know, we were hoping to meet in the chapel today. It still has some scaffolding, and the floor is covered with a rather uneven, slightly unsafe surface. Even so, we were planning to put up a sign at the entrance to warn everyone to walk carefully. The sign that I would have liked to put was “Worship at your own risk!”
We eventually decided that it was still a little unsafe, and so we’re are here [in our temporary administrative office space] instead today. But even when we have a beautifully restored chapel and we are worshipping there again, I’d still rather like to put up that sign ‘Worship at your own risk!’
Moses would know all about that. Moses, who had fled for his life from Egypt, made that frightened journey to the land of Midian. And there, one day, as he tended the flock, he met the Lord in a flame of fire out of a bush. So powerful was this encounter, the theophany, that he hid his face for fear. As he worshipped the Lord on that holy ground, his life was changed. God called him to make a journey which would change his life and that of the children of Israel. Someone should have warned Moses – you worship at your risk!
It was too late and he had fallen into the hand of the living God! And at first he didn’t like it. At first he wasn’t so sure. God was calling him to life, yet he hesitated. He gave one excuse after another for not making the journey. He was scared, he was overwhelmed. He says, “O Lord, please send someone else!” (Ex. 4:13) But God says, no, I will be with you – wonderful words of promise!
I wonder if you have ever had an experience of God like that? Have you ever had a deep sense within you that you were being called or invited along a certain path in life, to make a particular choice, or step, which you felt deeply drawn to, that you knew was right, but which also filled you with fear? “I can’t do it. What if I fail? Let me stay with what’s safe, familiar.”
When God calls us to life, we are often reluctant to leave the familiar, the known for the unknown. It’s then, that if we listen carefully, we will hear the Lord saying to us “But I will be with you.” Come – follow me!
That experience of Moses meeting with God at the burning bush is one of the great theophanies or appearances of God in the Old Testament. Whenever God encounters people in such a way, however frightening, God always calls them to Life. So in this sense, the New Testament is full of theophanies: on every page of the Gospels the Lord encounters men and women and calls them to Life.
One of the most powerful of these stories is the raising of Lazarus in our Gospel today. As if to make the point, Jesus here calls to life someone who has actually died!
In this extraordinarily dramatic and powerful story, Jesus appears to Lazarus. It must have been every bit as fearful to the onlookers as the Lord appearing in the burning bush was to Moses. We read, “With a loud voice, the Lord cried, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” (Jn. 11:43) And the man comes out. As with Moses, so Lazarus is being called to life through relationship with God.
In the chapel of New College, Oxford, there is a wonderful statue of Lazarus by Jacob Epstein. Lazarus, still bound by his grave cloths, is looking sideways, almost as if he hears the voice of Jesus calling him, but is not decided whether to come out to life, or to stay where he is, where it is familiar and safe. “Shall I risk coming out of my tomb and allowing others to unbind me? Shall I risk coming to life?”
When we come to worship we open ourselves up, we become vulnerable to the power and tremendous love of our great God, calling us to Life. We worship at our own risk.
When we come to receive the sacrament of bread and wine, we take into ourselves the very body and blood, the very life of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God. That is a huge risk. From that place of intimacy God may call us to do extraordinary things for him. God’s great love may take us and break us: in John Donne’s words, he may “batter my heart, three person’d God… overthrow me, bend me, break me, blow, burn me – to make me new.”
We worship at our own risk. Yet, whenever we meet with the Lord, whether at those theophany moments in our lives when we were powerfully aware of God’s presence, or in the quiet intimacy of our daily prayers, his purpose is always to give us Life – Life in abundance.
Whenever we feel anxious or afraid, be still and listen to those words of assurance. “I will be with you. I will be with you.” Come, follow me.
Then say yes to Life.