Acts 18:24-27+Psalm 111+1 Peter 1:3-9+John 11:28-44
And when he had said this, with a loud voice he cried out, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, bound hand and foot with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” (John 11: 44)
In the early 2000s, megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes released a bestselling book with the title “Loose That Man & Let Him Go.” Now, I am not a fan of the kind of patriarchal, complementarian, prosperity gospel theology that Jakes and his Potter’s House Church promote, but I cannot hear the story of the raising of Lazarus with thinking of that title. In Jakes’s version, it’s about freeing men from the insecurity of living in “complex times” (according to Amazon) to fully claim their manhood in Christ, or something like that. The idea that men are no longer allowed to be manly men is laughable – and toxic – but there is real truth in the words “loose that man. Unbind him. Let him go.”
As a people, we are bound by all kinds of things. We are constrained by cultural expectations, geography, family history – any number of things over which we have greater or lesser degrees of control.
But one thing we can control, the one epidemic that binds us and keeps us stuck is fear.
Now, there is nothing wrong with being afraid. A healthy amount caution during a global pandemic is just smart. Taking shelter during a lightning storm is, too. There are all kinds of circumstances where fear is a hardwired survival mechanism.
But there are other places in our lives where fear binds us in unhealthy ways – relationships, jobs, inhibiting our ability to flourish in this life we’ve been given.
This week, I’ve thought a lot about the kind of fear that keeps this nation trapped in a cycle of gun violence that sacrifices the lives of children and grocery shoppers and churchgoers because we are too afraid to change it. We would rather have more guns to “protect” ourselves, putting armed officers in schools and increasing the supply of guns out there than to limit access to these weapons of mass death. Mass shootings aren’t even the worst of it, although there were 692 of them last year. More than half of deaths by gun are suicides. The likelihood of that happening in your home increases exponentially when firearms are present.
Shortly after I arrived at All Saints, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was the scene of a horrific school shooting that killed 17. Two years later, the Washington Post published the following stats on what had happened since Florida passed legislation requiring armed officers in every school in that state:
- The percentage of youth arrests happening at school hit a five-year high of 20 percent.
- The number of students expelled from school increased 43 percent.
- For the first time ever, there are more police officers working in Florida schools — 3,650 — than there are school nurses, who number 2,286.
- The number of police officers in schools is more than double the number of school social workers (1,414) and school psychologists (1,452).
- Schools reported more than four times as many incidents of using physical restraints on students.
Why do we tolerate this? I hear the day school kids holding “shelter in place” drills regularly because they are required to do it, and evidence is already pointing to the effects on mental health outcomes from having our kids live in a persistent state of high alert.
Why are we so afraid to change this narrative?
This 7th Sunday of Easter is the Sunday after Christ ascended into the heavens to sit at the right hand of God. While it may have been a baffling and disconcerting thing for those who witnessed it, and while they could have gone back to Jerusalem or returned home to Galilee and taken up fishing or farming again, they didn’t. They were so filled with joy that they spent all their time in the temple praising God, and when the Holy Spirit came on them on Pentecost, they were unbound, loosed into the world to fearlessly spread the Good News to the ends of the earth.
One of the most mind-boggling things to me is that by percentage of population, more people in this country claim church membership than any of our peer countries, and yet we far surpass any of them in gun ownership.
God desires nothing more than the flourishing of all that God created. We cannot flourish if we are trapped in fear. We avoid the hard conversations, we let a racist comment go without challenging it, we avoid walking in certain parts of the city, we go back to business as usual as 21 families are trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.
Jesus sets us free, my friends. “Unbind them and let them go!” We have to come out of this tomb we are in and create a better world, for God’s sake. Otherwise, we might as well just stay in this grave of fear and hope that the terror doesn’t visit our homes. And what kind of gospel-centered life is that?
I am glad you all are here this morning. I am glad you came to praise God and to pray as a community. Part of my prayer this morning is that we will all be unbound, loosed, unleashed to work towards the day when God’s will is done on earth as in heaven.