Sarah – A Survivor Story

Below is both the audio and the text of a monologue I delivered on September 8, 2019 at St. Paul and Brown United Methodist Churches. Inspired by my reading of Womanist Midrash by Wilda C. Gafney, I imagined how the matriarch Sarah might have described her life in her own words. The manuscript varies slightly from my actual delivery.


My days are almost gone. They are fading fast like the setting sun. I’ve lived for 127 years. It has been a long 127 years. When I look back on my life, I ask myself, would I have done it differently? Could I have done it differently?

When people remember me, what will they remember? A matriarch, full of blessing, full of faith? Or will they see what I see, a woman who has been hurt and in her anger and desperation has hurt others terribly?

Most people know me because of my husband, Abraham. What a great man of faith, they say. And in many ways, he was. But in many ways, he, like the rest of us, had moments where he did not trust the Almighty and took matters into his own hands. There were times where his fear seemed to strip him of his faith.

Most people think of us like two peas in a pod. Where there is one, there is always the other. And that is true. There has never been a time in my life where Abraham has not been a part of it. He was, after all, my older brother first, before he was my husband – we share the same father, Terah. He had already been in the world for 10 years when I came into it. For most of my childhood, I knew that I would have to marry him. Our father said that it was the best way to carry on his family line. I never really questioned it. It was just going to be what it was going to be.

As I got older though, I started to attract the attention of the village boys. There was one in particular that I liked, with long, dark hair, and intense eyes. He picked a flower for me one day and tucked it behind my ear. I hoped that maybe I could talk my father into letting me marry him instead. Do you know that I can’t even remember his name now? But he was from a good family, and I didn’t see that there could be anything bad about that arrangement. But my father said, absolutely not – he had plans for me and he wasn’t about to change them.

And so, as soon as I bled for the first time, my father said that it was time for me to be married. I knew there was no changing his mind, so Abraham (or Abram as he was known back then) and I were married, and I assumed the duties of a young wife, with the expectation that we would soon further the family line. A few months came and went, and no sign of a child. And then a few more months. We didn’t worry too much at first. I was, after all, still so young, and my bleeding was not yet regular. There was still plenty of time to have children, we told ourselves.

But then the months became years, and then the years became decades. There were a couple of times where I hoped – where the bleeding stopped for a month or two and I began to feel the sickness of early pregnancy. But as soon as I began started to let that hope take root, the bleeding would start. I never even told Abraham about those times. They have been my secret sadness for all of these years, and even now, even after all that has happened, I grieve for what might have been. But even as I held my own sadness close to me, I heard the whispers and murmurs around me – accusations that I’d taken something to prevent pregnancy, wonderings about why God had cursed me, calling me the worst of all words to a woman, “barren.” It was never Abraham’s fault, of course. Only mine.

That was me. Barren but beautiful. Desirable, but scorned. In a world where a woman’s worth was measured by her fertility, I was a cast off. Well, at least in that way. But Abraham found another way that I could be useful to him. I still tremble in rage when I stop and think about what he did. I can barely speak about it.

We had left our home because of famine. Our best chance was to go south to Egypt, so we did. But as we went, Abraham said to me, “We need to make a plan, going into Egypt. Sarah, you know you are a beautiful woman, and your beauty is much too tempting to men. When the Egyptians see you, they are going to be jealous of me if they know I am your husband. They might even try to kill me. So here’s what I need you to do for me. Do not let them know that I am your husband. As far as they are concerned, we are only brother and sister.”

I said to him, “But what about me? How will that help me?” Abraham said back to me, “As long as I am safe, it will be good for you. What will happen to you if I get killed?”

It seemed like he didn’t really answer my question, but I didn’t know what else to say, so I said nothing.

When we arrived in Egypt, as Abraham predicted, I immediately caught the eye of Egyptian men – and not just any Egyptian men, but the ones who served Pharaoh. They decided that I looked exactly like the kind of woman Pharaoh liked, and so, they approached Abraham and said, “We’d like to take your sister to the Pharaoh. Trust us, this will be a good arrangement for you.” I half-hoped that Abraham would find a way to prevent this from happening, but I knew in my heart that he would not.

I was taken into the Pharaoh’s harem, and into his bed that very night. I kept my face calm, but inside I was raging, and wondering how this could really be happening to me.

The next day, Pharaoh started sending over gifts to Abraham. At first it was a flock of sheep, but over the coming weeks, Pharaoh continued to lavish more upon him. My role in all of this was to keep my mouth shut and please Pharaoh. He was never cruel, but I was never more than a beautiful object in his eyes.

One day, Pharaoh fell ill – and then his first wife, and then his servants, and then his children. He tossed and turned in his bed, filled with anguish and fever. He sent for me, and demanded me to tell him what I had done to him. I was shocked at why he thought I had anything to do with this and I was very afraid. I didn’t know what to do, so I started sobbing and rambling, and I broke down and told him that I wasn’t free like he thought I was, and that Abraham wasn’t just my brother, he was also my husband. If Pharaoh could have gotten up out of bed, I believe he would have gotten up and flung me to the ground, he was so angry. He sent me away from him immediately and called in Abraham to confront him. I don’t know the details of that meeting, but I know that Abraham left in a hurry, and gathered me and the whole household he had acquired from Pharaoh’s gifts, and we left in the dead of night.

We were on the move for a time until we settled in Hebron. Abraham and I never talked about what happened in Egypt. I was too numb and too scared to even think about what had happened, even though I was reminded of it every single day as I looked around at our newly acquired wealth that had come through the giving of my body.

We settled into something of a rhythm of life. I managed the household and oversaw the work of our new servants. I poured myself into those tasks to help me forget about the days in Egypt and to help me forget about the fact that I still had no child. I was almost able to settle into an uneasy peace with my situation.

But then one day, Abraham barged into the house and started telling me about this supposed conversation he had with the Almighty. He declared that God told him that he would have a son, and that not only would he have a son, but his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. I just laughed at him. But he was so convinced. He was obsessed. It was all that he wanted to talk about. There was no pushing my barrenness to the back of my mind now. Abraham just about drove me mad with his constant talk of this promise God had supposedly made to him. God never bothered to talk to me about it.

His obsession became my obsession. I HAD to find a way to give him a child. I tried using herbs that were said to increase fertility, I talked to the midwife about things I could do. Nothing worked. I had given up, when one night, my young slave girl, Hagar, was preparing my bed. And then it hit me. Maybe my body could not give Abraham a child, but I couldgive him a body that could.

I made my plan that very night. I would give my slave girl to Abraham as a surrogate – as a secondary wife (I would still be primary, of course). She could give him a legitimate child. It wouldn’t be as good as if I could give him a child, but it was the only alternative I could see. The next morning, as Hagar was serving me breakfast, I grabbed her arm and asked her to sit. I told her of my plans for her. Her eyes got wider and wider. I could see that she was afraid of what I was asking, but that perhaps she was even more afraid of what I might do if she begged me not to go through with it. I almost changed my mind, looking at her young face, but then I thought back to my days in Egypt, and I hardened my heart. Such is the lot of women.

Abraham was almost too willing to go along with my plan. He gave a hasty and insincere resistance at best. He took her to wife within a matter of days. He was attentive and doted on her, as she was the great hope of fulfilling this promise that God had made to him. I almost immediately regretted my plan, but it was too late. I could barely stand to look at the girl. And then, one day, she announced that she with child. I could not keep from lashing out at her. I struck her across the cheek and called her all kinds of names that I will not now repeat. In tears, she ran.

She was gone for a time. I did not know where she had gone, nor did I care. But then, one day, she came back. Her belly had grown greater. We settled into a cease-fire of sorts and mostly avoided one another. Once her baby was born, I seemed to fade into the background for a time. I was too tired, too done, too empty.

I thought this foolish obsession with a child would be over now that the slave girl had given Abraham a son. But then God spoke to Abraham again and clarified some things. God said I, Sarah, would be the one to bear Abraham a son. And then, not only God, but three visitors one day who said that not only would I have a son, but that I would have him within the year! Scornful laughter at their foolishness was all that I had left. I had long since stopped bleeding.

But then – then the miraculous happened. In spite of my scorn, in spite of my rage, in spite of what I’d done to my slave girl, I became pregnant. Even after I felt the baby kicking in my womb, I still couldn’t believe it. I held my breath for nine months, and then the day came when my water broke. I have never been as scared as I was then. What if there was something wrong? What if they baby was stillborn? What if I died from giving birth? Those hours were long and grueling, and yet now, I barely remember them.

But what I do remember clear as day was the moment that the midwife placed that tiny, wrinkled slip of a human on my chest and the piercing sound of his first loud cry. Would you believe that I laughed out loud at the sound of it? The absurdity, the joy, the overwhelming love. What else could I do?

My Isaac was the joy of my life. My everything. Things were perfect. Or, almost. She was still there, and so was her son – threatening to take my child’s promised inheritance. A mother will do anything for her child. And I finally exploded on her one day and commanded Abraham to send her and her child away for good. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was going to keep MY child from getting what his due. I have come to regret what I did, banishing Hagar and her son from my home, but the thing has long been done. I have no idea where they went, but I did have a dream one night not too long ago where I saw Hagar was sitting by a well of water, with her son next to her, a bow across his back, and a deer at his feet. May God forgive me for what I have done to that poor woman and her child. Her lot in life was not of her choosing and I only made it worse for her. I pray to this day that God blesses her and her child.

As my days grow short, I grow more and more tired. I know I will soon sleep. I have the joy of knowing my Isaac is a man grown, and will soon seek out a wife and start a family. I wish that I could see that day. As I think back over my life, I know that I have had wrong done to me and I have done wrong to others. I know I am a woman who has had little to no faith in God for most of her life. And yet…yet…  somehow, in spite of all that has happened, through all that has happened, the grace of the Almighty has still been visited upon me. I didn’t expect it, and I certainly haven’t deserved it, but it was given to me all the same. I have peace for the first time in my life. Such a gift. Such a God. I laugh at the mystery of it all.


5.29.11 Sermon: “Looking for the unknown God”

Text: Acts 17:22-33

As many of you know, I spent a year living in Scotland. Now Scotland isn’t all that different from the United States compared to many other countries, but there are some definite difference in culture. I experienced some culture shock when I first moved over there. First thing I noticed (which reveals a little something about me): I couldn’t get regular bacon! If I asked for bacon, I got something more like country ham. It was so sad! Second thing I discovered out was that if I happened to mention in the company of any British folks that I needed to change my pants, they would likely assume that meant that I had soiled my underwear rather than understanding me to mean that I wanted to change into a different pair of jeans. Let’s just say that moment of discovery was embarrassing. Then of course there were the other differences in vocabulary and slang. We all spoke English, but we weren’t always speaking the same language! If someone said, let’s go get some tatties they were not talking about tattoos but about eating potatoes. If someone mentioned a kirk, they weren’t talking about Star Trek, they were talking about the church. If, in a conversation, someone said to me, “yer ma!”, they were not, in fact, making a comment about my mother, but telling me that they couldn’t believe what I was saying. Not only was vocabulary different, but there were different social cues and expectations, different ettiquette. There were other things that were different as well, like traffic patterns. They drive on the opposite side of the road and the driver’s side of the car is on the right side. I only tried driving over there a couple of times and then decided that was enough if I wanted to, you know, not wreck. Towns were more defined and lacked the suburban sprawl that we live in. It was very apparent when you reached the edge of the town. The largest grocery store in St. Andrews was about the size of Fas Check, and offered a much slimmer variety than our grocery stores. Coming back home I had to get used to everything super-sized again from Wal-mart, to restaurant meals, to cars. I had to get used to having to drive everywhere again, rather than being able to walk, ride my bike, or take the train.

Needless to say, I underwent something of a culture shock when I moved to Scotland, but also when I moved back home. I had to learn how to understand and navigate in a culture different from the one that I was accustomed to, and today’s story in Acts that follows Paul’s work in Athens underscores this idea. Paul was in the midst of his second missionary journey when he went to Athens, and when he was there, he was likely experiencing a bit of culture shock. Athens was much more cosmopolitan than his home, and it was also a center for religious worship and philosophy. I can only imagine what Paul was thinking as he walked around Athens, as he saw the Parthenon up on the Acropolis, all of the temples, and all of the buildings of learning and philosophy. Athens is often called the seat of Western Civilization. It was here that the great philosophers of Socrates and Aristotle established their schools of learning, it was here that the roots of democracy was born. There really was no place quite like Athens in the ancient world, and even though its prominence had lessened some by the time Paul got there, Athens was still a fairly central city in the ancient world. Paul may have been used to the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem, but nothing could have prepared him for Athens. So I imagine that as Paul looked around this city that he had just arrived in that he might have felt a little uncomfortable, a little out of place, a little unsure of everything and everyone that he was seeing.

Have you ever been somewhere where you felt a little out of place? A little unsure of the people there? Wondering how you can talk to people? Many of you who may have grown up in and lived most of your life in the church can feel this sort of discomfort and uncertainty with people who are not a part of the church. You might feel unsure about how to talk or interact with people, especially about the Gospel. For some of you, spending time with people outside of the church might make you feel just as uncomfortable or as uncertain as Paul probably felt when he went to Athens the first time. But Paul was an astute learner and reader of culture, and he wasn’t afraid to engage a culture that was different than his own. Paul wasn’t afraid of this new situation, and he also didn’t try to speak the language and vocabulary of his own culture, knowing that he first needed to find a point of connection with the culture of Athens.

So what did Paul do when he got to Athens? First he went to the synagogue to preach, like he was in the habit of doing. It was a more familiar place, and a place where he could speak using words and terms that he was used to. Paul was a Jew and he knew Jewish customs, practices, and beliefs. There was much less of a cultural barrier at the synagogue. However, soon Paul actually caught the ear of some of the philosophers of Athens who were intrigued by what he had to say on an intellectual and philosophical level, so they invited him to come to the Areopagus to speak and debate with them.

How Paul responds here shows us how he is a good student of culture. He goes to the Areopagus, and as he looks around and sees all of the religious monuments and altars, rather than speaking the language of condemnation and judgment, he looks instead for a point of connection, a way that he can begin to build a platform of good will from the Athenians in order to share the good news. As Paul goes to the Areopagus, he notices one altar in particular: the altar to the unknown god. This altar was present because the Athenians worshipped many gods, and the created this altar to make sure that they weren’t missing anyone. They were trying to cover all of their bases. So as Paul notices this altar and he also notices the importance of religion in Athens, he begins his speech at the Areopagus in this way: ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

Paul, even though he is rightly disturbed by the worship of many false gods, recognizes the opportunity to appeal to the religious and philosophical culture of Athens. He recognizes where God may already be working, and he speaks in a way that already makes sense to the Athenians. Paul can see that the Athenians are already in tuned to the worship and reverence of what they consider to be sacred. While it may be the wrong thing, at least Paul sees that they are at least trying to be on the right track. Knowing this, Paul appeals to these questions of spirituality and he looks for the good that is already there and attempts to build upon it. As he sees the altar to the unknown God, he knows that this is the place to communicate. He has come to tell them about this unknown God that is already recognized, but unknown by the Athenians. Paul has come to help them understand who this unknown God is.

We live in a time and a place that is, in some ways, similar to Athens. Here, in America, while we may not be surrounded by literal altars to multiple gods, but there are two observations that I would make about the larger, dominant culture of America. First: we do have many gods or idols: money, fame, country, youth, beauty, sex, . Second, regardless of what we once may have been, we are not a Christian nation now, but spirituality is still something that many are very open to and seek in less conventional ways. In fact, I want to say a little bit more about this second observation, of people willing to define themselves as spiritual, but not religious. The word “religion” for many has come to be equated not with God, but with institutionalized organizations of faith, like the church. For many, God is not the issue, but the people who claim God through the church. Today, there are many people who are setting up altars to an unknown God. Let me cite a couple of pop culture references:

First, George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars. He said this in an interview in Time Magazine: “I put the Force in the movie (Star Wars) in order to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people—more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery. Not having enough interest in the mysteries of life to ask the question, ‘Is there a God or is there not a God?’—this is for me the worst thing that can happen. I think you should have an opinion about that. Or you should be saying, ‘I’m looking. I’m very curious about this and am going to continue to look until I can find an answer, and if I can’t find an answer then I’ll die trying.’ I think it’s important to have a belief system and to have a faith.”

Second, I want to mention Oprah. She is the most recognized spiritual leader of the 21st century in America. (You might questions this, but the reality is, the city of New York asked her to lead the prayer service after 9/11) Oprah Winfrey has said that Jesus can’t possibly be the only way to the truth. When audience members expressed their convictions in Christ, Oprah said that she couldn’t get into a religious argument.

These are just two examples of a culture that affirms “spirituality”, but is wary of “religion.” These are two examples of a culture that is seeking something akin to the Athenians who put up an altar to the unknown god.

Before we give in to the temptation to say “these people just don’t get it”, a more important thing to do is to ask the question: if there are many people in this country on a quest for spiritual fulfillment, why doesn’t anyone seem to want to include the church? Why would George Lucas want to encourage young people to have a faith in God, but not be a part of a religious system? Why would Oprah be considered a spiritual leader to many but not want to talk about religion? Why is there an increasing interest in spirituality but a decline in mainstream church attendance and membership?

I think the biggest answer to these questions is that the church is not viewed as a place of mystery or as a place where one can ask questions and seek truth. Instead, it is often viewed as a stodgy, judgmental, and exclusive institution. And why is this the case? Well, for starters, sometimes the church does actually behave like a stodgy, judgmental, and exclusive institution. But not always. Many churches, including ours, are full of well-intentioned people who seek after God and want others to do the same. So we now come full-circle back to the question of culture and how we engage (or more often, dis-engage) in the world around us. As the church, we so often isolate ourselves from the world. We want to seclude ourselves in order to protect ourselves from false idols, from sin and temptation. The problem is, in doing so, we neglect the great commission, and we end up only paying lip service to wanting to see God’s salvation play out in our communities.

This past Tuesday at Adventures in Missing the Point, which is the new group for young adults to have conversation and study, we talked some about how many Christians seem to be afraid of the world. Brian McLaren wrote in the chapter we read this week, “We want to protect folks from alcoholism and drunkenness, so we tell them not to drink any alcoholic beverage. To protect them from alcohol, we recommend they avoid establishments that serve it. To be on the safe side, we tell them to avoid people who drink alcohol… and to avoid excessive laughter as you’d hear from tipsy people…and in fact to avoid parties in general except boring ones. We want to protect folks from following the crowd and succumbing to peer pressure, so we imply or outright assert that good Christians don’t go to R-rated movies, don’t listen to rap music, or any popular music at all. We discourage them from making non-Christian friends. We approve of them spending all their time in church services, church meetings, church activities—safe rabbit holes, a protective Christian ghetto. We want to protect folks from losing their faith, so we warn them against reading philosophy, from participating in culture and the arts, from dealing with tough questions and controversial issues.” Don’t mishear what I am saying, thinking, “Cindy told me that it was ok to go get drunk!” Or “Cindy told me it doesn’t matter if I listen to music that talks about sex and violence.” That is not what I am saying at all. What I am saying is that we, as the church, have become so afraid of becoming like the world that we simply retreat from it. We isolate ourselves and pronounce judgment on those outside of the church. No wonder many people do not want to include the church in their quest for spiritual fulfillment!

But what if, for instance, some of us chose to go hang out in bars? Not because we want to get drunk, but because we just hang out with and get to know the people who are already there? Personally speaking, I have had some of the best conversations about God hanging out with people in bars. Why? Because it is one of the few natural social settings where it is accepted and expected that you talk with people you might have only just met, and it is a natural place to hang out with friends. I can’t help but imagine that if Jesus were here today, we would frequently find him hanging out in bars just talking with people.

My question today is, why are we so afraid of the world sometimes? Why do we retreat to our Christian ghetto, as Brian McLaren calls it? I think for many of us, we can just feel a little lost and confused if we get too far outside of our comfort zone, out of the church culture that most of us have known for most of our lives. But today, we need to take a lesson from Paul in Athens. Paul didn’t stay where he was comfortable, or where he felt safe.

How many of you have close friends who are not Christian? How many of you spend time and build relationships regularly with people outside of the church? If you already do this, this is great. But if you only see other Christian friends and stay away from places where people outside of the church are, then you are falling short of the Great Commission. I’m not saying that we, as Christians need to become like the world. In fact, as Christians, we are supposed to stand out. We are supposed to be different. But that doesn’t mean we are supposed to avoid the world. Jesus tells us that we are to be in the world, but not of the world. As Brian McLaren points out, “There are of course, two ways that we can go wrong. Living within our culture as we do, we can accommodate it, be infected with it’s evil, forget our unique identity, and thus become of it as well as in it. That’s obviously tragic. Or we can slide into the opposite and more subtle tragedy: we isolate ourselves. Rather than being servants in our culture, doctors healing sickness, seekers after lost sheep, coins, and sons, we instead become an elitist clique, angry critics, snobs standing above culture, a frightened minority cringing outside of it.” We don’t want to do either of those things. Instead, Jesus wants us to remember our identity as Christians, but also our mission to the world, and he wants us to join him in entering the world to celebrate everything that is good, and to work to transform everything that is not. We can’t do that if we keep ourselves isolated, if we fail to become students of culture.

So how do we follow the command of Jesus and the example of Paul as he engaged the Athenians at the Areopagus? How do we navigate a culture that might be a little different and frightening? How do we deal with the culture shock? There are a couple of ways that we can stay on track. First, we need to live missionally. We need to stay focused on Jesus’ Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations. We need to see every place in our community as the mission field and as a place where people can encounter God. Second, we need to live in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ as we encourage one another on. We also need to ask ourselves the question, am I setting a bad example to them either by my isolation from or conformity to the world? Am I listening to their warnings when I get closer to danger? Third, we need to live without judgment. Is it possible for us to believe the best about others without getting preachy or inquisitory? Can we learn to engage others based upon our common ground and look for the places where God is already working? And finally, we need to live carefully. Sin can be tricky. We need to be aware of our own weaknesses. If you struggle with alcohol, a bar is clearly not a good place to hang out.

As Christians, we walk a path that Jesus said is narrow. When he said this, he was not legitimizing narrow-mindedness: the reality is quite the opposite. To take one more image from Brian McLaren, “If we try to avoid the rattlesnake that is beside the path on the left, we’d better be careful not to edge too far over to the right either, because there’s a crocodile in the bushes there.” Narrow minds can only see dangers on one side of the narrow path. Broad minds can see both. There are people out there who looking for spiritual fulfillment. Let us be like Paul, people who are not afraid leave the comfort of our own familiar Christian culture to proclaim the truth of the unknown God.

4.10.11 Sermon: “Out of the Tomb”

Text: John 11:33-44

When Darick and I went on our honeymoon back in February, we drove up much of the northeast and part of our time was spent on the road in New Jersey. I don’t know if you have ever been to New Jersey, but they have a law that all of their gas stations must be full-service stations. When we had to stop for gas, all we had to do was pull into the station, roll down our window and let the gas station attendant take care of the rest. Then we would roll up the window and be on our merry way. We didn’t even have to get out of the car. Full service operation!

Tonight I am talking about the sin of sloth, or what we might call apathy, and we are going to focus in on spiritual apathy, the great immobilizer of the church. We have become conditioned to view the church and its worship gatherings as something akin to the full-service gas station. We just roll in, stay and our seats and wait to be filled up with whatever: with music, preaching, programs. We, in a sense, come expecting to be serviced. We wait to be filled up by these things, often expecting others to do them: we expect the band to fill us up with good music, the preacher to fill us up with the word of God. We expect to come away from worship with our spiritual needs met. If we do come away from worship with those spiritual needs met, then that is great. But that is not why we are here. A worship service is not about each of us being served, and if we come with the expectation that this worship service is for us, then we are following down the road that leads to spiritual death.

How many of you have ever broken a bone or injured yourself in a way that prevents you from using the muscles in that particular limb? What did you find after you had the cast or brace removed? What did you have to do?

When I was in high school, I dislocated my knee. Sadly, I don’t even have a good story of how I dislocated it. All I did was get out of my car and my knee somehow managed to pop out of joint. I had to wear an immobilizer on my leg for a while as my knee healed, and then when I had to go through physical therapy to get my knee back up to strength again. When you have a cast on your arm or leg and you can’t use the muscles for an extended period, they get weak. They lose muscle mass. They atrophy.

When we come here, expecting to have our needs met met by others, seeing a worship service as being about us, then we, in a sense, are letting our spiritual muscles atrophy, leading us to become immobilized. When this happens, we also become increasingly self-absorbed in what we want so that we can’t even really see that we have become apathetic to God’s call on our lives. Have you ever had a time where you have actually slept too much? I know that I have. And when I sleep too long, I don’t feel alive or invigorated. Instead I just feel like I want to sleep even more. We are reaching a point in the church where we have been sleeping too long. We have come, in large part, to see the church as being about us. Its our place, where we worship God. Sure, in part, the church is a gathering of the people of God in worship. But truly I tell you, the Church with a capital “C” is the body of Christ, broken and redeemed for the world. The church is not here just for the benefit of Christians. It is for the benefit of everyone. I challenge you with this question: how is Jesus Christ good news not just for those who will come to faith in Christ, but for those who may never believe? How can the church be an instrument of good news to all people, regardless of where they are now in their lives or where they may be down the road?

But that question makes things much more difficult and it challenges the church’s sin of apathy. We can no longer just sit on our butts in worship and hope other people show up. We all actually have to get up and do something. Not just pastors, not just the current leaders of the church. In fact, I would say pastors, myself included, have done a great disservice to the church by thinking that we need to have our hands in every project and program a church does. We have done a great disservice in letting people believe that we just need more or better programs to be a better church. We have done a great disservice in not empowering more people in our congregations to lead in worship and to lead in ministry. All of this lends itself to the idea that the church is a place of goods and services that we just come to consume instead of understanding it as a group of people, united in service to the world in the name of and for the sake of Jesus Christ. But now is the time for all of that to change!

Today, we hear the story of Lazarus, dearly loved by Jesus, who has died of an illness. His sisters have laid him to rest in the tomb, as they grieve over his loss. Lazarus has been in there for four days, and his decaying body is really starting to smell the place up. Then Jesus shows up and calls Lazarus forth out of the tomb.

I want to imagine this story now as if Lazarus represents the church. The church, dearly loved by Jesus has been ill for a long time with the disease of spiritual apathy. For many years its muscles have been atrophying as it has been getting weaker and weaker. Finally the church is just so sick and feeble and weak that it dies. The church building has become a tomb, trapped within itself, trapped within its own walls. As the lifeless corpse of the church stays inside the building, things really start to smell. They really start to stink. But then one day, Jesus comes and he weeps that his dearly beloved church has died and is stuck within the tomb of its walls. He knows of the wasting disease that crippled and finally killed the church, and he decides that it is time to call the church forth, out of its tomb so that all can see the glory of God. So Jesus goes up to the church, laying lifeless, stuck inside of its walls and he shouts “People of God! Get up! Get out! You are alive! Get out of your tomb!” So come with me now. It’s time for us to get out of our tomb.

::At this point in the message, we all got up out of our seats and went outside by the wooden cross on the lawn in front of the Grosscup Ave. building::

We are so fortunate to have these buildings that we have. We are so fortunate to come together and worship each week. We are so fortunate to have a church home. But if we think that the church is here for us, then we are missing the point. If we are a part of the church to be served, to be filled up, then we are missing the point. The son of God came not to be served, but to serve. Sometimes, in our worship services, and in the life of our congregation, it is really easy for us to get stuck in the tomb. It is really easy to think that the church is here to serve us. But look around you now. Look at Dunbar. This is what the church exists for. We are the church, and the church exists for the sake of the world, not our own sakes! Each of us here has been created with a purpose: to love God and to love our neighbor. This is our neighborhood. We can’t serve our neighbors if we never leave our house. This is not just a job for pastors. This is not just a job for church musicians. This is the responsibility of all Christians.

When Jesus went around preaching, his most common preaching was that “the kingdom of God has come among you! It has come near to you!” How are we proclaiming this good news? How are we a living church for the sake of the world? We may have a building where we gather for worship, but we need to live like a church without a building. We need to get up and wake up to the world around us. We need to look with fresh eyes at the people we meet on a daily basis. We are standing with the cross here in front of us, with houses as the backdrop. This cross needs to become the lens through which we view the whole world. We need to view Dunbar through the lens of this cross.

It’s easy for us to sit in our seats at church and participate in programs that fill us up, but if we are looking only to fill ourselves, then we, as a church, will die from spiritual atrophy and apathy because we will only be focused inwards. We will die, no questions asked. We will die and we will be buried in the tomb of our own walls.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the church to die. I don’t want it to just merely survive either. I want the people of God to live and be a blessing to its communities. I want the church to live and be a bearer of good news to those who may one day believe and to those who might never believe, but one thing is for sure. We must start thinking beyond ourselves and beyond our walls if we want this to happen. Over the coming weeks and months, lets ask God continually to open our eyes our ears and our hearts so that we can hear him as he calls us up out of the tomb and into our community.