Summary: Jesus enourage us to avoid if onlys about the past but instead look to the future with what if (I believe).
Back to the Future. Young teenager Marty McFly has a chance to go back in time due to the invention of his friend Doc Ement Brown. While in the past he has the chance to change things and make his future a better one by encouraging his father to act in a better way. Then in the second movie he travels to the future and his wife laments that if only he’d avoided getting in to a car accident his life would have been so much better. And so in the third movie he does of course get the chance to avoid the accident by not giving in the charge of being a chicken when dared to do something stupid.
[alternative opening for a youth audience – S Club 7’s “Have you ever” and Kate Winslet’s “What if”]
It is something we often think about isn’t it. If only. We have regrets about the past. If only I hadn’t stayed up all night long playing computer games instead of studying for that exam. If only I spent all my university career playing pool. If only I had attended those tutorials and done the work. If only I could go back and do things differently. If only I could change the past then everything would be all right now and in the future.
If only. A question asked by many in the story we read this morning. Martha is the first to ask the question. The two sisters Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus were well known to Jesus although we have not yet come across them in the gospel. From this story it is obvious that Jesus knew them well and like them. The place they came from Bethany was just 2 miles from Jerusalem, less than half an hours walk from Jerusalem. The name literally meant the house of the poor and it probably was, an area just outside Jerusalem where a lot of the poor stayed. Given the rest of the gospels it is probable that the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus was where Jesus and his disciples stayed when they visited Jerusalem. Jesus was a good friend of Lazarus, in fact the message that is sent to Jesus does not even mention Lazarus by name but merely refers to him as the one you love. Jesus hears that Lazarus is sick and he in fact knows that he is going to die but at least to first appearances he does nothing. He stays where is. So when he finally shows up Lazarus is dead. And Martha respondes with if only you had been here. And then Jesus meets Mary, who also throws the accusation at Jesus “If only you had been here my brother would not have died.”
It is a very common complaint from the lips of Christians and non Christians alike. If only ... We look at the present and think what could have been if only something different had happened in the past. If only ...
If only God ...
For Mary and Martha, the if only was one which we too often wish. If only God. God had the power to cure them, to stop them dying, to intervene in this situation, to stop it from happening. If only God had been here or done something. Its a very common question and in most cases a very reasonable question.
We believe in an all powerful God. He has the power to do anything. So why doesn’t he intervene on our behalf. Why wasn’t he here when we needed him the most. There is the classic response to suffering in the world and the existence of God. When we look at the way the world is, if God is all powerful then he is not all loving, or if he is all loving then he is not all powerful. Most of us are not that altruistic, we would settle for God solving our problems.
It is easy to sympathise why Martha and Mary. We know God could act if he chose to and so often we want to know why he doesn’t choose to. We feel alone and abandoned and feel like flinging the words “If only you were here ...” into God’s face. “If only ...” Said with bitter regret or fierce anger the intent is the same. We would not be in the situation or mess that we are in if only God.
Sometimes it is a case of if only God. There was nothing the sisters could do for Lazarus Jesus was their only hope of avoiding the situation they found themselves in. Sometimes that is the case. We could not have saved our loved ones from disease or death, we could not have prevented the situation. But sometimes there is another case as well, we shouldn’t really be saying if only God but if only I