Trusting In God's Abundance
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: John 11:32-44
I’ve put myself in a bit of an awkward position this week. It’s All Saints, and it’s also a big week for our stewardship campaign. So this sermon is a bit of a two-parter, though the two parts are deeply connected.
First: stewardship. Your pledge packets are in the Narthex if you haven’t already grabbed yours and—spoiler alert—I’m asking you to step up your pledge. Not because we’re struggling—we’re not! So far, y’all have given more than you pledged this year! That’s absolutely mind-blowing and incredible. I’m asking all of us—including me—to step up our pledge because I see enormous potential for this community—to not just survive and break even, which is great, don’t get me wrong—but to flourish. To imagine the ways we might grow our ministry of God’s endless love and belonging even wider.
Last week, I talked about hope, so this week I want to talk about abundance. There’s something about abundance that’s actually a little scary. I don’t think we trust abundance, not really. It’s a lot easier to plan for scarcity. To hoard our resources, just in case. But trusting abundance means letting go of that certainty. It means getting a little uncomfortable.
Let me bring it to our gospel today. Jesus is abundance personified. By the time we get to this story of Lazarus, he has already healed the sick and given sight to the blind. He has shown over and over again that God’s power and love cannot be contained. But despite clear evidence of that abundance, folks are skeptical, which makes them a bit narrow minded—a bit scarcity minded. “If you’d have been here to heal him sooner, Lazarus would still be alive,” Mary says. She believes in Jesus’s power to heal, but she thinks the time has already passed. It’s too late. Martha agrees. When Jesus asks for the stone to be rolled away, she says, “Jesus, he’s been dead four days. It’s not a good scene in there.”
Basically what Mary and Martha and all the gathered people there are saying is, “We believe in your healing power, but not completely. We’re going to hold back our hope, hold back our belief.” Trusting in Jesus’ abundance by opening that tomb just feels too uncomfortable, too scary. As far as they can tell, there’s smelly, rotting corpse in that tomb. What can be done except to avoid confronting that stench, that fear of death, which is the definition of scarcity. But we all know what happens to Lazarus when Jesus says “Come forth.”
This stewardship season, I’m asking us to lean into our trust in God’s abundance. To allow ourselves to get a little uncomfortable with our giving, to open our hearts to the potential of resurrection. This doesn’t mean giving everything we have in order to prove that Jesus will bring us back to life. We are called to get uncomfortable with our giving, not to put ourselves and our families in danger.
And that feeling you sometimes get when you have a ministry team meeting coming up, or that church thing you committed to—that heavy sigh of “oh, yeah, I have to do that.” (Let’s be real: we’ve all been there.) That’s also what it feels like to give until it feels uncomfortable. Stepping up even when we don’t always feel like it. And let me reassure you: I feel the same sometimes.
But let me tell you something else: I feel lighter after those meetings, after I’ve done whatever it was that felt like a burden before I did it. After my monthly pledge payment comes out of my bank account. Because when we come together to do this gospel work, to give our gifts, to be Christ’s body here in this little community, I feel the joy, the love, the resurrection hope of this place. Every. Single. Time.
Stewardship is about our trust in abundance, and abundance is the very essence of resurrection. God cannot be contained, not even by death. And resurrection is at the heart of All Saints’ Day.
I think the very worst thing about resurrection is that it requires death. It requires us to lose. It requires us to suffer. But that’s not really a helpful way to put it. Because I don’t think God sends death, loss, and suffering on us to prove God’s great expansive love in resurrection. That would be cruel.
I think suffering just exists. Loss exists. Death exists. And as I preached a while back, I don’t know why those things exist. And I don’t want to get into the question of, How does an all-loving, all-powerful God allow suffering? There’s no satisfying answer to that question. What I do know is that when we hurt, when we suffer, when we die, it breaks God’s heart. Our scriptures tell us this in so many ways.
Like today, Jesus KNOWS he’s going to bring Lazarus back to life, but he is so moved, he cares so much for Mary and Martha in their pain, he’s still so sad for his friend Lazarus who he loved, that he weeps. He doesn’t jump over the hard part because he knows resurrection is coming. Jesus is with them in their suffering, he feels their loss with them.
Because death is devastating, even when we trust in the abundance of resurrection. It hurts to lose the people we love, even if we trust that we’ll see them again. Their absence leaves a hole in our life, even when we have hope that their legacy will live on.
So now I invite you to remember those you have lost. Take out the photos you have and hold them in your hand. If you don’t have a photo, bring them into your mind. The way their voice sounded. The way their hugs felt. Their smile.
And if your history with them was complicated, I invite you to sit with that. It’s okay. Leaning into the abundance of resurrection sometimes means giving that complication over to God and trusting that God will carry it. There’s no way you’re supposed to feel after someone has died. You only need to feel how you actually feel. God is holding it all.
Let’s sit with our photos, our memories, and everything they make us feel for a few breaths.
After he weeps, Jesus does raise Lazarus from the dead. Mary, Martha, and those gathered watch in discomfort, and probably fear, and maybe some skepticism, as the tombstone is rolled away. But then they bear witness to a stunning testament to God’s uncontainable love, a stunning act of abundance. They bear witness to resurrection. It prepares them for another resurrection to soon come. One that will proclaim to the world that death does not have the final word.
That’s the big picture. The big resurrection. But I think we also experience our own small resurrections in the ways we remember those we’ve lost. How we honor Richard’s memory by collecting cans. How we see those we’ve lost in our child’s smile. In the stories we tell about them. In living the wisdom they gave us. In fact, we ourselves embody their resurrection in the ways that they have shaped us, changed us.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to live into resurrection, to live, as one teacher says, “as if death has no power over your days.” To risk your discomfort, fear, and skepticism for the sake of abundance. In how we give, in how we remember those we’ve lost, in always trusting in God’s endless abundance. Amen.