It has become an all too familiar scene but one that never ceases to fill us with amazement; those first responders, seeing the flames or hearing the gunfire, run toward the crisis rather than away from it. We probably first became aware of the phenomena at 9/11 as firefighters and first responders ran up hundreds of flights of stairs in the World Trade Centers, many never to return. That is at least where we gave a name to this kind of bravery. Since then we see it way too often. Last week we watched the news feeds repeatedly, of the five, incredibly brave, Metro police officers that ran, without hesitation through the hallways of Covenant School, in our own part of the world, up the stairs, and directly into the field of danger to prevent further harm.
It is an unbelievable act of selflessness and heroism. Every time I witness this I am in awe, not just of the demonstrated courage, but of the discipline to go completely against the natural reaction to seek cover, shelter in place, get out of harms way. How do these men and women, seemingly, not only go toward the danger, but do it without hesitation, without so much as a flinch? The act of running toward may be the single greatest testimony to the possibilty for good in human character.
There is a “running toward” that predates 9/11. It comes before stories of valor in the Great World Wars. It is earlier that the Knights of the Round Table or other fabled escapades of bravery. In the New Testament, John, chapter 11, John tells the story of the death of Lazarus, a very dear friend of Jesus. Jesus is, as he often is, in the northern part of Israel, near Capernaum, and the word comes that Lazurus is sick, not just any sick, but sick enough to die. Lazurus lives just outside of Jerusalem, south of where Jesus is and very near Jerusalem, in Judea. And things are not good for Jesus in Jerusalem. The Pharasees and the Sadducees are out to get Him. The crowd wants to make Him King. He knows that Jerusalem is not the safest place for Him to be right now.
There is this interesting and confusing little reparte between Jesus and His followers. “He’s not sick enough to die yet.” “Well, he’s Your friend. Aren’t you going to save him?” “Don’t worry. He’s just asleep.” “Well, good. Everything is going to be okay.” Then Jesus says, “He’s dead.” Why did He wait? What about the running toward? In verse 15, Jesus explains, “It was important for Me to not be there until he died do that you could see what is going to happen next.” But wrapped up in all of this, too, is the understanding that this act is going to be the final straw for the religous leaders, and the suffering and death of Jesus is going to be put into motion. Once He turns toward Jerusalem, there will be no turning back. Still, He runs toward.
If you think about it, Jesus had some options. He could have gone sooner and healed Lazarus while he was still alive. He had already done many healings. Surely, that would have flown under the radar of His enemies and bought Him a few more months, or years on this planet. How often, in my suffering have I wondered why God did not act sooner? He could have intervened and saved me from my messes, maybe even saved me from myself, but He seems to wait.
He could have raised Lazarus from a distance. I know this is before ZOOM, and telehealth, but c’mon, this is Jesus. He invented ZOOM and telehealth. He could have said the Word from Capernaum and Lazarus would have come out of the grave in Bethany. The religous guys would never even know He had anything to do with it. Somtimes, it seems to me Jesus just shows up right in the middle of my calamaities. The shooting at Covenant last week, as horrific as it was, is full of stories and testimonies of God intervening, showing up. One story that is being repeated is a child on the play ground, with a group of childrent around, the shooter walks by them and doesn’t ever look their way, that child saying, “It is because there was a bubble over us with two angels sitting on top.” I don’t know why God doesn’t always just step in and stop all tragedy and pain, but I have learned, if I look, I will see so many times that He instead comes right into the middle of the situation.
Finally, He could have called 10,000 angels to come with Him and wipe out the bad guys, roll back the stone, take off the grave clothes, and make everything right. He could have just waded in with all of His power and might and won the day. Imagine the nightly news after that. Who cares about UConn winning the National Championship? Jesus is Number 1 in the World. But Lazurus had to die. Martha had to cry. Mary had to ask why. And when it was all over, Jesus said to the people around, “Loose him and let him go.” Apparently, there is a part that we humans, Christ-followers, mortals made in the image of God, have to play in the sorrow and suffering of this world that is for our good and His glory. That’s why Paul says, in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ, and the power of His ressurection; the fellowship of His suffering, becoming like Him in His death.” God waits. He wades in. And He wants me and you to be involved, maybe to run towards, when the world is hurting.
I still am amazed at the courageous police officers that entered Covenant School last week. I am also amazed at the counselors that went in to broken hearted families. I am amazed at pastors who stepped into the pulpit on Sunday and spoke words of comfort. I am amazed at people who have driven in to lay flowers and teddy bears at the school entrance. There are a thousand ways to run toward, and thousands of people who have done that.
So, who do you know that is suffering? A friend with a wayward child. A brother with a bad diagnosis. A pastor with an addiction. Maybe God is saying to you, “Run toward.” All I know is that suffering is going to happen and God is going to show up. If I can “participate” in that, I’m going to. “God, help me not to flinch.”