Fully alive in our finances

by susan on April 27, 2015

money jarLast night, we gathered for worship and a celebration of the past few months of ministry together.  Our worship focus was on finances, a topic none of us love talking about.  We heard an earlier story of resurrection together (the raising of Lazarus) and then imagined hearing Jesus’ words of life spoken into our world today.  Here is the message that was shared.

Fully alive in our finances
John 11:1-45

How many of us ever daydream about a world where money is not necessary to have the things we need?  I must confess, I do.

I long for a day when there will be no more unexpected & expensive home repairs, no more “payment due” reminders and no more “how are we going to afford this?” conversations.

Finances can consume us. Particularly, when we find ourselves swimming in a sea of debt, as many Americans do. Here are the latest numbers:

U.S. household consumer debt profile for 2014
Average credit card debt: $15,611
Average mortgage debt: $155,192
Average student loan debt: $32,264
(http://www.nerdwallet.com)

When finances are discussed, it’s no wonder we use these words: overwhelmed, guilty, ashamed, seeing no way out, stress & “we had another disagreement”.

For those who think more money can be the solution, having more can consume us in other ways.  We become obsessed with how to spend our money, with looking to things to make us happy, with getting the latest, greatest and newest of everything.

Whether we feel we don’t have enough or we have more than enough, we can all become consumed & burdened by finances.

To be honest, I am not sure that people in Jesus’ day knew the same kind of complex financial pressures we experience.  However, they did know what it was like to encounter an impossible situation – an impossible situation like the death of a brother and friend.

The story of the raising of Lazarus is more than just another healing in Jesus’ reperatoire. And this man, Lazarus, is more than just a friend of a friend that is brought to Jesus. Lazarus and his sisters are close friends of Jesus. He has been to their hometown at least two other times.

So, it must have been shocking to Lazarus’ sisters that Jesus does not immediately drop whatever he is doing to come and heal their brother.

Instead, he waits four days to respond. By the time he makes it, things are not good. The worst has happened.

Mary and Martha’s lives are already changed forever.
Their brother, who was their economic security and their future, is dead.
Without him, they were alone and vulnerable, prey for a patriarchical society.

Maybe this is why they both immediately confront Jesus with similar words: “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died!”

They know he could have prevented this disaster.
They believe in Jesus’ power to heal.
They are not as familiar, though, with his ability to bring people back from the dead.

Into their despair, Jesus makes several significant announcements.

The first announcement is made to Lazarus’ sister Martha. Martha believes, like all Jews, that her brother will rise again some day, but Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Jesus reshaped Martha’s perspective. Resurrection and new life are not just something that happens when you physically die. Through Jesus, God is giving new life even in our most challenging moments.

This announcement by Jesus prompts Martha to confess her belief in him. Even though her situation looks bleak, she trusts he will take care of her. Even as she faces her own kind of death, she will live through him.

The other announcements are made to those gathered at the tomb and finally to Lazarus himself.

To those gathered to mourn, Jesus commands: “Take away the stone.” In Jesus’ day, graves were like caves whose openings were covered by stones that fit tightly into a groove. The stone secured the grave & kept the odor of the decaying body sealed away. The stone was the first barrier preventing Lazarus from coming back to life and Jesus orders it to be removed.

The other barrier was Lazarus himself. I’m not sure what it’s like to experience death. But, I imagine coming back to life is a very strange and unsettling ordeal. I imagine the dead person has to choose life over death. After all, you’ve already given up and given in. You’ve taken your last breath. Maybe that’s why Jesus cries out to Lazarus in a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!” And, then since Lazarus emerges still wrapped from head to toe, his community of stunned onlookers are commanded,  “Unbind him and let him go!”

Through Jesus, we not only see God working through seemingly impossible situations. We hear him inviting us to confront the barriers that keep us and our neighbors from being anything less than fully alive.

What would it mean for us to hear Jesus announce these words of life today…particularly into our financial circumstances?

What would it mean for us to hear him say: “I am the resurrection and the life”?
Perhaps, we would have our perspective reshaped and be reminded that our lives are not dependent on our financial situations. Our hope and our future are in Christ.

Opportunities for perspective abound and often they come in unexpected ways. A couple of weeks ago, I greeted the neighbor who sifts through our recycling bin each week and asked how he was. His response: “I can’t complain. God woke me up for another morning of collecting cans.” We all need these not-so-subtle reminders.

What would it mean to hear Jesus instruct us to roll back stones and unbind one another?
As much as our lives are not dependent on finances, let’s be honest and admit that some in our church and in our community have more than their fair share of struggle. The odds seem always stacked against them. As soon as they seem to get ahead, another hardship comes up.

In moving the stone and unbinding Lazarus, his community became part of his healing.
Rolling back stones might look like sharing financial practices with one another. It could look like empowering one another toward life-changing goals.
It could also look like working together to confront the economic injustices that keeps our neighbors bound.

And, finally, what would it mean to hear Jesus shout for us to come out of graves?
It might reminds us to stop hiding behind our shame over bad choices and to take steps toward financial healing.  We will never be free from the things that we avoid. We must choose to be honest, to accept help and to move forward.

This is really true of anything that keeps us from being fully alive.

Can you imagine what could happen if we allowed these words of life to guide us? Can you imagine the freedom that we might experience together if we altered our perspectives, removed stones, unbound one another and came out of our tombs? And, once freed, can you imagine the possibilities for what we could do collectively with our resources to free others in the name of Jesus?

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