Coming Out of the Cave of Competition

April 6th, 2014

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt Conn

John 11

Come out of that cave!

Come out of that cave!

That is what I’d like to invite each one of us to do today… to come out of that cave.  Whatever cave you’re living in, whatever cave you’re hiding in, whatever cave you are occupying that you might not even know you are occupying.  Today is a day to consider maybe it is time to come out of that cave.  I know what it is like to live in a cave.  I know what it is like to need a place of protection; a place to go when I’m feeling vulnerable; or even afraid.  You know even tough guys can be afraid.  Even folks that seem to have it all together can be afraid.  I know what it is like to hide out in a cave.

Now caves don’t always look like caves.  More likely they look like our “go to” defense mechanism when we feel threatened or exposed.  That is the cave we occupy, and we don’t have to; even when we are afraid; so maybe today is the day to consider coming out of that cave.  There is a man out here who is calling your name.  He is the same man who is calling my name, and the same man who called to Lazarus “come out!”  “Lazarus, come out of that cave!”  His name is Jesus, and when we’re with him it is impossible to be afraid.

Today I’d like to tell you about a cave I was hiding in, and about a friend who helped me hear Jesus inviting me to come out.  His name is Lazarus, as in Lazarus from the Gospel today, and he gave me the courage to hear the invitation:  “Doyt, come out of that cave!”  I consider Lazarus a friend.  He showed something about Jesus that changed my mind, or shall I say, changed my heart.  For me, Lazarus is the most credible, the most authentic; the most radically changed of all of the people who ever met Jesus, because what Lazarus knows for certain is that Jesus is the cosmic Christ, that Jesus is the same as God.  And because of Lazarus I believe this!  What Lazarus witnessed firsthand, was Jesus on both sides of the Great Divide.  And because of this witness, Lazarus was able to write, with beauty and truth and authority, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God, and all things came into being through him.”  Those are powerful, majestic words that came from the heart of a poet who had seen Jesus on both sides of the Great Divide.  Lazarus alone died and returned again.

When he died and when he returned, each time he saw the light, and heard the voice.  He moved toward the voice, and felt that hands of people who loved him peeling away bandages of blindness, and there in front of him stood Jesus.  Lazarus came out of the cave.  And this changed everything for him, and by his witness it changed everything for me.  My cave was the cave of competition, and it could have torn my marriage apart.  You see I live in a generation, maybe the first generation, where men and women grew up competing with each other academically.  Athletics are still divided by gender, but not the classrooms; which is good for brain calisthenics, but not necessarily a good training ground for marriage, at least for me.

Now here is the thing about caves, you mostly don’t recognize when you are in them.  They seem normal, even natural.  I did not know I was standing in the cave of competition.  I was like the frog in the pot of water.  Competition was the pool in which I swam.  I was raised and formed and taught to believe that there were right and there were wrong answers.  I grew up in a cave that echoed with the belief that disagreements could be resolved with more evidence.  “Prove it” is a legitimate response in the classroom.  Then I left the academy, as most people do, and I got married, and I brought as my dowry the habit of competition.

I was standing in a cave and I didn’t even know it.  All I knew was that what I was doing, what I was trained to do and formed to do wasn’t working and I just couldn’t figure out why, so I just did more of it.  Keeping score, it turns out, wasn’t rewarded like it used to be.  I guess there are no scoreboards in the kingdom of God. Then I saw Lazarus walk out of that cave.  You heard how it happened this morning.  Lazarus lived in Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem, and was the brother of Mary and Martha.  We meet him through a note sent to Jesus by his sisters saying:  “He whom you love is ill.” (Jn 11:3)  In the Bible it says that Jesus only specifically loved three people, using the word love.  One was the rich young man in the Gospel of Matthew, Mark and Luke. (Mk 10:21).  The other two are found in the Gospel of John, one was Lazarus, and the other the Beloved Disciple.

Lazarus died.  Four days he was in the tomb.  Jesus determines the time frame. The story says:  “Jesus stayed two days longer in the place he was…” He was in Bethsaida, a two day journey from Bethany.  Lazarus was in the tomb four days.  Jesus arrived and said, “Roll away the rock.”  Martha said, “It will stink.”  Under normal circumstances she would have been right.  But Jesus said roll away the rock … so they did.  Now imagine this from Lazarus’s point of view as he lay there on that cold stone slab.  First he sees the light.  Then he hears his name, called by a familiar voice.  “Lazarus, come out!”  So he moves; he moves like a man would who has bands of cloth wrapped around his eyes; he moves toward the light at the mouth of the cave.  There he was met by people who love him.  They peeled away the bandages and he sees Jesus,and this is an experience he has experienced before.  There in front of him, again, is the cosmic Christ.

What Lazarus experienced when he died the first time what he experienced when he was called out of the tomb the second time…Jesus is God.  Now I believe Lazarus’ story, not because it is spelled out for me.  In fact, I had to root out the details from the Gospel of John myself.  I believe this story because of what Lazarus did next; from the moment he left the cave, he stuck to Jesus, because that is what you do when you know for certain that Jesus is God.  Nothing rattled Lazarus from that moment on.

He was the one who leaned against Jesus at the Last Supper, and asked, “Who is going to betray you, Lord?”  Lazarus was the one who went with Jesus into the High Priest Caiaphas’ house, even though Caiaphas had a hit out on him.  When all of the other disciples ran away, it was Lazarus there at the foot of the cross with Mary. Lazarus was the one who out ran Peter to the tomb.  Lazarus was the one who recognized Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after the resurrection; because Lazarus was the Beloved Disciple who never left Jesus’ side; he never left because he knew, first hand, that Jesus is God.

But what moved me most about Lazarus is that he wrote himself out of the story of the Gospel of John. It happens in chapter 12.  Suddenly Lazarus is gone, his name erased completely, and replaced by a name that could be any of our names, because it is all of our names, the Beloved Disciple.  All of us are beloved to Jesus, which is why he invites us to “come out of that cave.”  Lazarus matters to me because he is a powerful, credible witness to the reality that Jesus is God.  And Lazarus matters to me because he gave up his name for the sake of another.  And that is what it means to be in deep, abiding, loving relationship.  And that is helpful to know when you’re married.

Now here is what I use to say…”Doesn’t God really want me to be happy?”  And being right makes me happy.  “Doesn’t God want me to achieve my goals?”  And getting my way achieves my goals.  ”Doesn’t God want me to maximize my talents?”  And having the last word feels like I’m maximizing my talents.  That is what the cave of competition looked like for me.  It may work in the classroom or on a test, but as a fundamental operating principle for a marriage…. not so much.  And yet it was the cave I went to when I didn’t know where to go.  It was my habit in the face of fear, vulnerability and insecurity, until I saw Lazarus come out of that cave.

Now sticking to Jesus has a cost.  For Lazarus it was giving up his name, his identity, his status in the community, he was a rich man, after all, and the man who was raised from the dead.  Talk about celebrity!  People came from all over to see him, it says in the Gospel of John.  Lazarus gave up all of that for Jesus and to model for you and me how to be Beloved Disciples who come out of that cave.  We can be like Lazarus.

Whatever cave you’re being called out of today; whether the cave of competition; or the cave of wealth accumulation; or the cave of alcohol or pain killers; or the cave of anxiety, working out, or working too much; or the cave of complaining, hording, lying, labeling, or stony cold silence, whatever your cave is, come on out, come out of that cave.  And when you get to the mouth of that cave, look around.  Who is standing there?  Who is your closest neighbor?  Ask yourself, “How can I lift them up?”  What extraordinary gifts has God given to them?

Look to that person you are closest to, and I mean in proximity to your life today, and know that God made you to be a witness to how great they are.  So tell them, and tell the world.  Honor them, because this matters, and it makes God smile.  It is how we respond when we respond to the call to come out of that cave.  And here is the lovely little secret about life in the kingdom of God, when the world acts as it was divinely designed to act, when all of the cylinders are firing, when we are all lifting one another up, then we too will be lifted up.  And the cave will stand empty, or shall I say the caves will be emptied out, because we responded to the invitation that Jesus makes to each one of us because we are so Beloved to him:

“Come out of that cave.”

“Come out of that cave.”

“Come out of that cave.”