Serving God through Our Presence

John 11:32-44

32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled.34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?”

They replied, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus began to cry. 36 The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb

38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”

40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice,“Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

 

Ruth 1:1-18

The family in Moab

1 During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. A man with his wife and two sons went from Bethlehem of Judah to dwell in the territory of Moab. 2 The name of that man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the territory of Moab and settled there.

3 But Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died. Then only she was left, along with her two sons. 4 They took wives for themselves, Moabite women; the name of the first was Orpah and the name of the second was Ruth. And they lived there for about ten years.

5 But both of the sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also died. Only the woman was left, without her two children and without her husband.

6 Then she arose along with her daughters-in-law to return from the field of Moab, because while in the territory of Moab she had heard that the Lord had paid attention to his people by providing food for them. 7 She left the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law went with her. They went along the road to return to the land of Judah.

8 Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the Lord deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. 9 May the Lord provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.

10 But they replied to her, “No, instead we will return with you, to your people.”

11 Naomi replied, “Turn back, my daughters. Why would you go with me? Will there again be sons in my womb, that they would be husbands for you? 12 Turn back, my daughters. Go. I am too old for a husband. If I were to say that I have hope, even if I had a husband tonight, and even more, if I were to bear sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you refrain from having a husband? No, my daughters. This is more bitter for me than for you, since the Lord’s will has come out against me.”

14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth stayed with her. 15 Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her gods. Turn back after your sister-in-law.”

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.”18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

Being present, being physically, emotionally, and spiritually present, matters.  Both of these passages talk about ways that people were (or were not) present and the difference it makes.  Jesus is not there when Lazarus dies and it grieves him.  When he is there, he is able to bring Lazarus back to life.  In the midst of her grief, Naomi tries to send Ruth away, but she refuses.  She offers the gift of presence to Naomi as a sign of love and loyalty.  It truly is a great gift.

When I was in ninth grade, my great-grandfather was ill.  He was living in Burlington, Iowa at the time and so when we went to visit my grandparents in Moline, Illinois some of us decided to go down and see him in the hospital.  My grandfather (his son) went down early in the morning while my grandmother, mother, brother, and I came later in the morning.  My great-grandfather had been unresponsive since the night before.  When we arrived it was almost lunch time so my mother and grandmother went out to get sandwiches while my brother and I hung out in the waiting area for families.  After a while a nurse came in looking for my mother.  She told us that when my mother got back she was supposed to go back to the room right away.  Shortly after my mother and my grandmother went back to see my great-grandfather the nurse came for my brother and I.  I think we were in the room for maybe all of five minutes before he passed away.  I am not a medical expert, but I believe that my great-grandfather was waiting until we were all present in the room before he was ready to die.  Once we were there, he could die in peace.  Our presence matters.

This Sunday we are celebrating the Saints who have passed away.  Their presence has had an impact in our lives and the lives of many others.  They have made a difference to us and I believe they are still present with us.  The book of Hebrews talks about a “great cloud of witnesses”.  It is a reminder to us that even though they die, their spirits live on and they continue to be present in our lives.

We are at a time in our culture when the value of presence has never been greater, and perhaps has never been forgotten so often.  Anyone who has owned a cell phone knows what I am talking about.  Anyone who has been around other people with cell phones knows what I am talking about.  For whatever the reason, cell phones have both connected and disconnected us more fully than any other form of communication before them.  There is not a huge difference between the cordless phone my parents had when I was growing up and the cell phone I carry today and yet how we treat them is totally different.  Not only is how we talk on the phone different, the other things we can use phones for create a real disconnect in our lives.  You can watch a bunch of people be literally in the same room with each other and yet no one is really present. 

I do not want to sound like some Luddite railing against this wave of new technology.  Nor do I want to make this about some difference between generations and how we connect.  There is also great value to the new technology we have.  Bryce and Zoe have a far closer connection to Marianne’s parents than I suspect I did to my grandparents at their age.  The reason is technology.  While my grandparents visited about as often as Marianne’s parents do, thanks to web cams, Bryce and Zoe can see their Nonna and Pops on a regular basis.  This digital connection helps them to be present in the lives of their grandchildren in a way that my grandparents could not be for me.

Our presence is an amazing gift.  Last week we talked about the most important thing we can do to serve God, and that is to pray.  The next most important thing we can do is be present.  Our presence is also an important part of what we can do.  When we talk about serving God through our presence I tend to frame it in two ways, being present for God in worship and being present for others in the community, through worship, and also through small groups.

Being present in worship is powerful because it is a time to set aside our distractions and open ourselves up to what the Holy Spirit is doing in the community.  The Christian faith is not meant to be lived in isolation.  Communal worship is how we collectively seek to experience God’s presence in our lives.  When we show up for worship we are doing something not just for ourselves, we are improving the worship of those around us as well.  Maybe you can worship God on your own sipping coffee on the back deck, but unless you are inviting us all over (I will bring the scones) than it is not just you who loses out, it is all of us.

The importance of being in a group is even more important.  I am an introvert and yet I experience a deep longing for real, authentic community.  While I am not sure it is fair to universalize that, I think it is safe to say that most of us, introverts and extroverts feel a need for real connection with people.  This sort of connection does not happen in large social settings like coffee after worship.  Instead it takes place when we gather with a small group of trusted friends to open ourselves up to each other.  Through the strength and sharing of the group, each of us is better able to deal with the challenges of life.  Each of us is able to grow in our faith.

Our presence matters.  What we do to be present for others is a part of how we serve God.  The best example of the value of presence is in fact the incarnation, when God became fully present and walked among us.  It is through Christ’s life and presence that we have come to better know God and experience God’s love.  Christ is God being present for us.  How are we going to be present for God?

 

Questions to Ponder:

Who is someone in your life that you been present for or someone who you need to be present for you?

What is one thing that makes it harder for you to be present for others?

What is God calling you to do differently in the coming year so that you can better serve God with your presence?

Prayer: God, you are present in our lives, in whirlwinds and silence, in storms and stillness and most of all in person of Jesus Christ.  Thank you for that presence and for the company of all the Saints who remain in our hearts and minds this day.  Bless each of us as well and help us to remember the gift of presence that we have to offer to others. Grant us the courage to offer our presences that others might know your strength and love as well.  AMEN