When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:43-44 ESV
Last week I posted the message, “running out of the cage” which I then gave at one of the nursing homes which I visit. If you missed it, I tell the story of a groundhog I had trapped in our garden and was trying to release him in the woods. It took quite a while, because the animal was so angry at me that he never turned around to see that I had opened his cage door. After giving the message on Friday I asked if anyone needed to run out of the cage of regret, unforgiveness or bitterness, and then we prayed. Then, while visiting with the residents, one man began to share some of the things that kept him in a cage. First, his wife and two daughters had been killed in an automobile accident. Then years later after remarrying, his second wife left him and now with his health deteriorating, he was left with nowhere to live but in a long-term care facility.
Often people who are not involved in nursing home ministry think that everyone there is either a sweet old lady or that they are too far gone to be worth our time. But the truth is that many of our friends in nursing homes are just like us. That unfortunate mindset reminds me of a time I visited a friend who was in jail. While we were just getting ready to end the visit, he said something like, “You know Pete, the only difference between us and the guards, is which side of the bars we are on.” The very same is true in long term care, it is just that their bars look a lot different. They are trapped behind bars of disability, age, neglect and discouragement. They may be invisible, but they can hold a person just as well as any maximum-security prison. The good news is that Jesus still visits graves and prisons. He is well known in hospital corridors and deeply loved nursing homes. But He doesn’t walk in on His own like He did when He was on earth. Are you trapped in a cage today? Jesus gave His life to unlock the door and it is standing wide open. Whenever we just stop biting at the bars and turn around then, just like Lazarus and my groundhog friend we run straight out to Jesus right now!
So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me please.” And he said to them, “I am Joseph whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Genesis 45:4-5 ESV
Too often the unknown stories of residents in long term care are the wounds left behind by unresolved family differences. But the good news is that God isn’t finished with any of us yet. Remember that as a young boy, Joseph had a dream which got him into trouble with his brothers. Some of us probably think of Joseph’s life as a blueprint for success. We figure that if we can just stick it out like Joseph did, then one day we will get the great job, the big home or the perfect marriage that we always dreamed of. But the story behind Joseph’s problem was his father’s favoritism and because of it the hatred that his brothers had towards him. But then God intervened.
God’s dream for Joseph was not about his becoming rich powerful or successful. God’s intention was for Joseph and his family to discover that the greatest treasure of all was forgiveness and reconciliation. Though we can never undo our past, we can find a way forward by learning to forgive, accept and allow God to restore us. The separation of anger, distance or even death can be bridged because on the cross Jesus gave his life so that ours could be restored. This morning’s news is that no matter our memories of past hurts or sorrows; God can heal and through forgiveness discover His greatest purpose is love.
We were driving through Brooklyn looking for the way over to Manhattan. My step father hated asking for directions so with my mother’s help he headed towards the Empire state building which we could see clearly above the small buildings around us. The only problem was that we finally ran out of roads at the East river because he had not counted on having to cross the bridge! We shouldn’t laugh too much at him though because in the same way we are all trying to get to heaven but forget that there is a bridge to carry us over and only one: our Lord Jesus Christ!
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all Isaiah 53:6 ESV
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.” John Milton
On sleepless nights we may struggle with helplessness, regret and despair like Milton as he penned these lines. As we grow older it sometimes seems that our own hopes and goals are further away than ever. But when we feel most alone, we must remind ourselves that God will never forget us. To wait in faith and hope and stand when all appears lost is service enough to God. He remembers the wounds of our Savior and by His blood gives to us the true peace that will keep our hearts when everything else has fallen!
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed Isaiah 53:5