Summary: A sermon for the closing of a church. In the midst of grief and sadness, we continue as Christ's disciples when we honor the legacy of ministry that has nurtured us and is transforming the world.
Years ago on a TV show, a guest appeared that was a body builder. He entered the stage with his huge muscular body, and the crowd went crazy as the body builder began to flex his muscles and show his power. The first question asked of him was this: “What do you use all those muscles for?” Without answering, the body builder again began flexing his muscles while the crowd cheered wildly.
A second time, the question was asked, “What do you do with those muscles?” Again, the body builder flexed his muscles and the crowd became almost ecstatic. After asking a third time, “What do you do with all those muscles?” the body builder just sat in silence. He had no answers. The man was all power but his power had no purpose other than to show off and bring attention to himself.
For something to have meaning, it must have purpose. We easily associate the meaning of Lazarus’ life with his walk out of the tomb after being dead four days; and how Jesus’ miraculous work in Bethany helped show his close association with God the Father. But Lazarus’ life, the events surrounding his death, and Jesus’ miracle in raising Lazarus from the dead have significance far beyond that single moment. Jesus wasn’t just flexing his muscles in a fancy show for the grieving crowd; he was showing us how to grieve, but also how to live.
Today, we mark the final worship service of Middle Valley United Methodist Church. This is indeed a solemn and sad occasion. The ministries of this church in the Middle Valley community have spanned six decades. Some of you grew up in here, and some of you have joined this community only in more recent years. And in our gathering today, whether yesterday or many years ago, we remember the legacy of this church. We cannot engage in such remembering without acknowledging the feeling of grief, perhaps profound grief, that comes as we recall all that this church is and has been in our lives and in this community.
Grief is a strong emotion. It is sadness, but it is more than sadness; it is a sorrow that overwhelms the depth of our being, and it is unavoidable. As humans, one of the inevitable experiences of life is seasons of grief. This is one of the things that is important about the story of Lazarus’ death. Here is one of the few places in the Gospels where there is a deep show of grief from Jesus. We are told three times that Jesus was “deeply moved” or that he wept. In Greek, the usual usage for what is translated here as “deeply moved” is that of a horse snorting. With this in mind, we can only assume that Jesus was seized by such deep emotion that he let out a great involuntary groan from the depths of his heart. Jesus had lost his friend to death, and death is a difficult thing for those of us left in its wake. And in some sense, what we mark here today is a death; the ending of an era.
When my grandfather passed away 11 years ago, I was a sophomore in college. I returned to school after his funeral and the next day I went to the Wesley Fellowship. The campus minister, aware of my recent loss, approached me and putting his hands on my shoulders, he asked how I was doing. Tears welled up in my eyes, but as I tried to choke them back, he looked and me and said, “It’s okay to cry.” And so I did. Jesus wept when his friend died. We, too, can weep in the face of death. Yet even as we grieve, we can continue giving meaning and purpose to the legacy that has been built in this place by this congregation. We can help Christ’s church live on, even thrive, by honoring the impact this church has had in our lives. Certainly we grieve today, but we also celebrate the rich heritage of this church. What better way to continue the legacy of this church than by living out that inspiration in our own lives.
When we think of this church, we recall its early days meeting in a store front not too far from here. I’m sure some of you can remember worshipping in the old sanctuary, which now serves as the Fellowship Hall. Many of you recall those days a couple of decades ago, when the new sanctuary was built, and services were so full that folding chairs had to be carried in each week. Indeed, this congregation has a rich heritage. But I firmly believe that the real legacy is the people, each of you; those who walked out of these services on Sunday mornings and into the world, where you toiled away daily in the name of the Lord.